Semi Automatic Firepower on the Cheap

Remember how cheap these used to be? Those of us who are fond of visiting gun shows and purchasing unique shooting irons, often more for show than plinking, have no doubt handled the Russian-made SKS 45 7.62x39mm semi-automatic carbine. A quick glance at this rifle, with its spike-bayonet folded neatly beneath its barrel, its canvas sling taut and its rear sight raised, calibrated to 1,000 meters, makes this little baby rather menacing.

Imagine its look from the receiving end, with the bayonet extended! We have Russian designer Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov to thank for the SKS 45. Comrade Simonov designed the SKS, and the Soviets produced it at the Tula Armory from 1949 until 1955, and at the Izhevsk Armory from 1953 to 1954. SKS is an abbreviation for Samozaryadniy Karabin sistemi Simonova, Russian for self-loading carbine Simonov’s system, 1945. SKS 7.62x39mm M43 ammunition is the same round as the ammo used in the wildly effective, popular, and mass-produced AK-47. The AK-47 later became the weapon of choice for Russian troops over the SKS, due to its increased ammunition capacity and automatic capabilities.

Viet Cong, 1968
1968, a Viet Cong soldier crouches in an underground tunnel with an SKS rifle.
The SKS 45 is a gas-operated, self-loading carbine with a wooden stock and no pistol grip. The Russians have distributed it widely, notably to Russian-friendly Warsaw Pact countries and China. In East Germany, it was adapted and named the Karabiner S, in North Korea, the Type 63, and in Red China, the Type 56. SKS versions have found their way into the hands of Yugoslav, Romanian, Albanian, and North Korean combatants. Most versions of the SKS 45 sport an integral folding, spike bayonet. The Yugoslav version, the M59/66 has been equipped with grenade launching capability. The Russian army adopted the SKS in 1949, but soldiers quickly relegated it to second-class status by the fully automatic AK-47 assault rifle. The SKS saw action in Vietnam—in the hands of the Viet Cong—and in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. Still, the SKS lacked the firepower of the more popular assault rifles like the M16 and the AK-47.

In Australia, the Chinese SKS rifle (along with the Russian SKS rifle) was very popular with recreational hunters and target shooters during the 1980s and early 1990s before the Australian government banned semi-automatic rifles from legal ownership in 1996. Since the introduction of the 1996 gun bans in Australia, the Mosin-Nagant series of bolt-action rifles and carbines have now filled the void created by the now illegal SKS. In the early 1990s, the Chinese SKS rapidly became the “poor man’s deer rifle” in some Southern areas of the United States due to its low price, lower even than such old favorites in that role as the Marlin 336. The United States government banned importation of the Chinese SKS in 1994.

Norinco SKS
A Norinco SKS
Empty, it weighs 8.5 pounds. With the bayonet folded, the SKS measures slightly more than 40 inches with a 20.5-inch barrel. The SKS loads from the top like the U.S.-made Garand. It has a 10-round internal magazine and boasts a muzzle velocity approaching 2,500 feet per second. The SKS has a hooded post front sight and a tangent rear sight that shooters can adjust to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), although its effective range is realistically closer to 1,312 feet or 400 meters.

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