One of the most often argued topics, when it comes to SHTF rifles, is whether the AR15 or the AK47 is the best weapon. I suppose these two always come up in that topic because they are two of the most popular rifles in America; if not in the entire world.
By far, these two rifles are not the only choices available to you. Yet, due to their popularity they remain reasonably affordable, and parts and ammunition for them are easily obtained.
Affordable Robust Rifle
Well, for many people this argument maybe moot because they can’t afford either one of those two rifles. What may be considered affordable for some may still be just out of reach for others.
Over the years, in search of what I consider to be the best and most affordable SHTF defense rifle, my thoughts often turned to the SKS.
Many are unaware, but the SKS (having been designed in 1943) predates the AK 47 by a few years. The SKS was intended to be the ruling weapon for the Russian army until Mikhail Kalashnikov invented his AK 47.
The SKS in WWII
Although not officially adopted as the Soviet military weapon until 1949, the SKS was actually test fielded in limited numbers by the Soviets against Germany in 1945 during WWII.
The AK 47 was in production by that time and was quickly adapted as the weapon of choice in 1949 by the Soviets, and so the SKS never gained its full respect due as a military weapon until later.
The SKS post-WWII
However, post WWII the SKS saw theatre in wars in Southeast Asia, in both the Korean and the Vietnam wars where it quickly proved its mettle as a robust and effective implement of war. Many more conflicts soon followed.
The SKS is still in use in many parts of the world. For example, Chinese army reserve units field the SKS, while China and Russia still use the type 56 SKS as a drill and ceremony rifle. Many other countries still use the SKS as their main battle rifle.
The Prolific SKS
The rifle (Ok, technically it’s a carbine), was picked up by several countries as their military weapon of choice by the 1950’s and millions of them were manufactured around the world.
A quality economical rifle enters the civilian marketplace.
Due to the high number of these rifles worldwide, when they first became available onto the civilian market they could often be purchased for as little as $50. I actually paid only $50 for the first one I ever bought in 1991.
Back then you could also buy a case of Norinco steel core ammo for them for only $90, this is the best 7.62x39 ammo IMO, unfortunately it is no longer imported and so it has become quite expensive, not to mention outlawed in some states (because they consider this mild steel core as AP, but it really isn’t).
Generally low priced steel case ammo like Tula and Wolf is the best suited and most effective 7.62x39 ammo for your SKS and AK47.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: That’s steel case, not steel core, 2 different things. This may be discussed in a future article about ammo types.
Although these reliable weapons once could be had for merely fifty or seventy five dollars in the early 1990s, by the late 1990’s/early 2000’s the prices had risen upwards of $150 for “lesser brands” like Norinco and Yugos; but a genuine Russian SKS still held a premium of $250 or so.
Now, due to the weapon no longer being imported, their prices have gone up again, but the SKS are still affordable weapons for most.
These guns can be had for anywhere from $300 up to $500, depending on the make and model. The most affordable, and plentiful, of these SKS rifles is probably the Chinese Norinco type 56.
Usually, one can pick up one of these at a gun show or from an individual through a classified ad, depending on your state, for $300-$400.I live in KY and here we can sell face to face with no transfer paperwork required and we can advertise in classifieds to sell.
Owning an SKS
The SKS fires the same intermediate round, (7.62x39), as the AK47.With a 20” barrel, rather than a 16” like the AK47 has, the SKS boasts a slightly higher muzzle velocity and slightly longer effective range by a couple hundred yards over the AK47. Of the many SKS I have had or currently own, I have never witnessed an inaccurate SKS.
Milled Vs. Stamped Ak47 Variants and Accuracy
While higher quality (and more expensive) milled versions of the AK47 can claim reasonable to excellent accuracy, many of the stamped versions of the AK simply are not very accurate. They perform fine in the 100yd or less range, but when you start talking about 300-400 yds the AK47 is often lacking.
My Arsenal SLR95 AK47 was a very accurate rifle up to 300-400 yds, easily hitting a man torso sized target, but the cheaper AK’s I owned barely hit a man at 200 yds.
This is likely due to the cheaper stamped AK’s loose manufacturing tolerances, and the AK being originally intended as a full auto weapon and so inherently less accurate.
It is safe to say that every SKS I ever owned was more accurate than any lower priced AK47 I owned. For example, I would rather have any SKS than a WASR AK.
Keeping it Real
My son uses this rifle and he can hit saucer sized targets at 300yds with no problem. We haven’t had a chance to try it at greater distances, but I feel that it would increase that distance considerably (50%) without increasing the group size more than double, so still within a ten to twelve inch ring. (Head shot)
Now, I’m aware that this is not considered accurate for the “snipers” out there, but I’m not talking about a sniper weapon. I’m talking an affordable defense weapon that still has the power to reach out there and touch something if it needs to.
Original Configuration Vs. Dressing It up Tacticool Style Is a Matter of Personal Preference
I prefer to keep the rifles in their natural state (like my Russian pictured at the beginning of this article).Bayonet intact (blade preferred), and keep the 10 rnd box mag, and loading it with the 10 rnd stripper clips.
Although many enjoy dressing them up similar to the way my son’s has been outfitted. It’s really just a matter of personal preference. Dressed up is fine for range toys but in a real world scenario I think I’d keep it natural.
Sks Box Magazines, Stripper Clips and Banana Magazines
The SKS is originally fitted with a 10 rnd box magazine that is loaded with stripper clips via a notch in the bolt carrier.
The clip is inserted into this notch and the 10 rounds pushed into the magazine with the thumb. Upon pulling the stripper clip out, the bolt closes and feeds a round into the chamber and the rifle is ready to roll.
Here is a video showing loading from a stripper clip:
There are 20, 30, and 40rnd “banana” magazines, and 75 rnd drum magazines available for the SKS rifle. There are also many choices for stocks to dress up your SKS such as Monte Carlo stocks and even a bullpup configuration.
I have had good experience with the Tapco 20 rnd mags and the Korean wind up drums, but I have experienced a lot of problems with the larger banana mags. As for stocks I like the Monte Carlo stocks and the Tapco T6 like my son has on one of his SKS, I have never used a bullpup but the sure look cool.
Here is a video of a bullpup configured SKS:
These are fun for playing with, but for SHTF I strongly recommend keeping the original configuration for four main reasons:
1) That this is how the gun was originally designed and is proven at its most reliable.
2) You can carry more ammo on stripper clips than carrying a bunch of magazines.
3) The original stock of the SKS has a cleaning kit in the end inside a flap door (it is used with the cleaning rod stowed under the barrel).
4) The original configuration of the SKS has a bayonet that may come in handy. (All rifles should have a stabby thing on the end IMHO)
One summer about five years ago I got bored, and so I made a twin gun Gatling style gun out of two of my Norinco SKS just for kicks and giggles.
It has two 75 rnd drum mags, a grip (not seen) with a separate trigger style safety, and this nifty crank handle for spitting out bullets (pictured above).
Word of Advice
If you buy an SKS always give it a good once over and thorough cleaning. When these are “NIB” (new in box) they are thickly slathered in Cosmoline to prevent them from rusting while in long term storage. This Cosmoline is very sticky and so even if someone had the rifle before you there is no guarantee that they got all of the Cosmoline off.
The SKS rifle has a free floating firing pin and if the Cosmoline is not thoroughly cleaned from the rifle INSIDE AND OUT you may experience a phenomenon known as slam firing. Slam firing is when the firing pin is stuck in the forward position, and so when the bolt “slams” into battery the round fed into the chamber will fire.
During the normal cycling of the gun this can continue until the magazine is empty. Slam firing can occur on many types of rifles, not just an SKS; it is caused by a gun not being properly cleaned to the point that the firing pin becomes stuck.
But, since the SKS has been packed in Cosmoline if the bolt and carrier is not thoroughly cleaned the rifle does have a higher risk of slam firing than other rifles, although I have never had it happen to me and I’ve owned a couple dozen SKS over the years.
Author’s Note: So with this information given to warn you about the possible dangers that can occur with a dirty SKS and other rifles, whatever you do: DON’T PURPOSELY JAM YOUR FIRING PIN WITH THE INTENT OF CREATING A “FULL AUTO.”
Slam firing is a dangerous and uncontrolled event. The gun can continue firing until your entire magazine is empty. So KEEP YOUR GUNS CLEAN!
For the prepper or survivalist on a budget, or even someone that just wants a good, cheap, powerful gun to play with that won’t break the bank to crack out several hundred rounds at the range, the SKS is a rugged weapon that has been proven reliable for 60 years in conflicts around the world.
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.
A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.
The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.