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February 01, 2005

SKS Explained

I found another article on the inexpensive and reliable SKS. This one was posted on a blog named Heads Bunker. If you're interested in the article in it's original form, you can find it here.

Firearm Feature: What's this 'SKS' I keep hearing about?
Another topic often assumed to be common knowledge among shooters is common rifle types. For the gun nut, terms in the daily lexicon like "1911" and "Glock" and "Deer rfile" are obvious in their meaning, but to the non gun owner these terms are sometimes meaningless. One such term is "SKS". It is such a common rifle and turns up in gun discussions among non firearms owners enough that it might be worthwhile to briefly look at the SKS.

yugos_01_400.jpg

Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov's little carbine, the "Samozaryadnyi Karabin Sisyemi Simonova", is perhaps one of the most popular Soviet era weapons to be imported into the U.S. There are many thousands of them here, mostly Chinese variants, and many, many folks use them for plinking and hunting alike. Best known by its acronym, the "SKS" is a somewhat controversial little rifle. Because these rifles are semiautomatics, and perhaps even because they have a bayonet, they have drawn undue attention to themselves in liberal anti-gun circles. Unfortunate as it is, some high profile shootings have been committed with the SKS, or wrongly attributed to this rifle. The good news is that these rifles are in fact here by the utter thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, and so it is only sad statistics that bring up this rifle, or any gun of number, in crime statistics. Why bring up crime stats at all in regard to the SKS? Well, the reality is that it has a somewhat vilified image among many, even among some sporting types and surprisingly among some more severely bitten by the gun bug. I attribute this to the media, for should a crime be committed with a rifle (rare), and the rifle happens to be an SKS, it is immediately reported as such by name, as if the SKS had some added evil mojo surrounding it. Next to the media's favorite, the AK-47, the next most commonly named 'evil assault rifle' is indeed the SKS.

But this reputation in the media is, of course, arbitrary. As any gun owner knows, there are far more capable weapons available with greater power, range and accuracy. The fact that the media likes a good photo op with an evil bayonet and a menacing name like "SKS Assault Rifle" is par for the course.

The SKS is a fine little rifle. Firing the common medium sized 7.62x39 cartridge, the SKS is in the same general category as a Winchester 30-30 lever action in terms of terminal ballistics. Being a small, medium powered carbine, the SKS is quite popular among deer hunters who do not expect to take shots more than 100 yards or so. Its also a very popular plinker and general purpose rifle, used for weekend recreational shooting and as a ranch utility rifle.

The history of the SKS begins prior to WWII, but it was out of the lessons learned in WWII that Simonov was able to refine his ideas. For a complete history of the SKS, I recommend OG's Curio & Relic Firearms page, it is a very complete look at the development of this rifle.

There are currently 5 major flavors of SKS available to the U.S. market, classed by national origin. In the U.S. you can purchase Chinese variants, the Russian originals, Romanian rifles, Albanian rifles, and Yugoslavian rifles. Historians agree that a small number of other countries made SKS rifles, but they do not necessarily agree on which. East Germany made the SKS rifle, and Vietnam or Korea is reported to possibly have made SKS rifles. Until a few years ago, few people would have considered that Albania made the SKS rifle, but in fact they did, and they are possibly the most scarce variants of the big 5 national flavors. The holy grail among SKS collectors is the East German variant, but personally I have never seen one, they are exceedingly rare.

Concerning the popular Chinese SKS rifles, most of these were made specifically for the US market. There are so many variants of Chinese SKS, and so many manufacturer factory markings, that it is an area of study all to itself. A shortened so-called "paratrooper" rifle was made for the US market, as well as a variant that accepts AK magazines called the SKS-D. These too are commercial rifles, in fact it is more often the rule that a Chinese SKS is a commercially made rifle, military variants are the exception.

The Chinese rifles were imported in numbers beginning in the mid 1980s and were literally dirt cheap. The Chinese are generally not known for their superior manufacturing standards, but where firearms are concerned the Chinese tend to make quality stuff. The SKS is no exception. These days, a used Chinese SKS, basic no-frills model, will run $150-$250. This is in great contrast to $75 when they first arrived! Chinese rifles can be identified by the inscription on the receiver, usually a triangle with a factory numeral inside, chinese characters, or an english inscription noting the manufacturer as "Norinco" or similar company, or simply a notation that the rifle was made in China. Incedentally, Norinco is 'North China Industries', and is a state run company partly owned by the Chinese military. This, for obvious reasons, puts a lot of folks off.

Popular SKS rifles currently on the market are the Yugoslavian Model 59/66 rifles. Compared to the Chinese SKS, these are very high quality rifles. Hardwood stocks and an added NATO-spec grenade launcher make them a bit heavier that other SKS rifles, but they are well-made and priced right. Get your own Yugo at AIM Surplus, they are running $159 for brand new, unissued military rifles. Lesser grades have been seen over the last two years selling from $89 and up. In fact, teh Yugo SKS in the photo linked below was an $89 "shooter grade" SKS from AIM. You will kick yourself later if you don't get yours now, much like all of us who didn't buy a Chinese SKS when they were new! Yugoslavian SKS rifles are the only SKS variants to feature a bore that is not chrome lined. Chrome lined bores offer protection from corrosive powder residue. Never fear. While this can be bad should you fire corrosive ammo in your rifle, it should never put you off of buying one. Simply take the precaution of cleaning your rifle's bore with hot, sudsy water as soon as possible after firing questionable ammo, then clean as normal, and you will have no problems. The water dissolves the corrosive salts, standard bore solvents will not dissolve these residual deposits and rust will attack your bore almost immediately.

Russian SKS rifles turn up from time to time, and if you find one, they hold their value fairly well. Expect to pay between $250 to $400 for a Russian, depending on condition and other variables. Russian rifles were made at two arsenals, either Izhevsk or Tula. Tula rifles are far more common, being identified by the large star and date found on the receiver cover top. Some were marked with a small star on the receiver side. The Izhevsk riles feature the Izhevsk triangle and arrow mongram. Many Russian rifles were "rearsenaled", SKS rifles included. Rearsenaled simply means they were taken out of service, sent to a field depot or back to the arsenal, and refurbished to like-new condition. All Russian rearsenaled guns are marked as such with a small stamp. When the metal is reworked, a small square with a bisecting line through the center can be found clearly on the gun. When the wood is reworked, it is stamped with a square with a diagonal line through it liek a spare symbol on a bowling scoresheet. This is important when buying a Russian rifle. If you find a nce one that is in pristine condition and lacks the rearsenal marks, it might be worth a premium to collectors. Should you encounter such a rifle, hit the internet and learn the other signs of rearsenaled rifles, you might score a fine deal! For a rifle you simply intend to shoot, rearsenaled rifles are probably your best bet.

Romanian SKS rifles were the first foreign SKS variant, made directly with the help of the Russians beginning in 1957. Romanian SKS rifles are difficult to find now, so expect to pay a premium. If you are looking for a shooter, the Romy is probably not for you. Romanina SKS rifles are almost identical to Russian rifles, even the Romanian arsenal mark (Cugir arsenal) resembles the Russian Izhevsk arsenal.

Finally, the oddball of the Simonov world is the Albanian SKS. Manufactured with some obvious visual differences, the Albanian is unique. Like the Romanians, these rifles are not numerous, and should probably not be on the short list for a shooting rifle. If its an SKS collection you are after, an Albanian sample is a must.

General comments about the SKS would include adjectives like handy, reliable, durable, practical. They shoot well, hold up well, and compared to other semiautomatic rifles they are inexpensive. All of the SKS rifles except the Chinese qualify as Curio & Relics, so getting one shipped to your front door is not problem. What? You don't have your Curio and Relic Federal Firearms License?!? Drop everything, find $30, and go here. A curio and relic FFL, or "C&R", is the gun collector's best friend. Of course, it can be a ticket to poverty should you be the compulsive type.

A great resource, though some of it is outdated, is found at Simonov.net.

SKS Photos


Romanian SKS

Chinese SKS

Yugoslavian SKS

Albanian SKS

Russian SKS

Posted by James Rummel