Hunting with an SKS

Hunting SKS

Straight up, it has been 2 years and I’m now a better writer. Better post here:

One of the cheapest “fun” guns out there in Canada and the US is the SKS. Made primarily by Russia, China, and Yugoslavia, the SKS is a compact little semi auto chambered in 7.62X39. Due to the inexpensive rifle AND the crates of cheap surplus ammo, many shooters get pretty proficient with their SKSs. So the next question that comes up is, “can I hunt with this?”


First, the cartridge. 7.62X39 is considered an “intermediate” cartridge; less than full power, but more than pistol. For hunting purposes, it’s clearly low power. Even medium range is out of the question. The general rule of thumb is 1000 ft-lbs of energy for deer on impact, and most SKS ammunition will only take you out to 150 yards with that in mind. With soft point bullets, it’s still lethal on deer. Check your local provincial or state laws to see if it’s legal. Here in Alberta, it currently is, so long as you’re using soft point bullets. If anyone gives you any guff about using the small cartridge, remind them that the 30-30 shares similar ballistics. 150 yards is about the most you should be doing with this rifle. Note that there is a small risk by using commercial ammunition in the SKS because of the floating firing pin. That floating firing pin lightly hits the primer of a round as the bolt slams forward. There is a potential for a slam-fire. That’s why the firing pin should never be gunked up or oiled or greased. If the oil or grease froze in the cold winter, you could be in for a surprise. Also, try to get soft point ammunition that has hard, military style primers. These reduce the chance of a slam-fire.

The Rifle

In my opinion, the perfect hunting rifle is easily scoped, easy to load and unload quietly, has a quiet safety or hammer, and is accurate to the ranges I see hunting in Western Canada (which can be far at times). The SKS offers none of these. The receiver cover floats, so don’t trust it for a scope mount. The only way to do it solidly is with a drilled and tapped side mount. Ugh. While the SKS is pretty easy to load with stripper clips, it’s pretty loud. The hinged magazine isn’t so bad, but be careful of aftermarket detachable mags. Some of these don’t work all that reliably. The safety itself isn’t so quiet either, but you can make it to be quiet even with heavy gloves on. Finally, the accuracy on typical SKSs isn’t going to knock your socks off. ~4 MOA is typical at 100 yards, but that’s perfectly reasonable if we hold our shots to less than the ammunition limitation of 150 yards.

Hunting with the SKS

In Canada, SKS magazines are pinned to 5 rounds. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass, because it means you have to fashion your own 5 round stripper clips to take hunting but it’s also a decent amount of ammo to take out on a hunt. A lot of the guys sporting WSM or WSSMs only have 2 or 3 rounds per magazine. I typically charge the magazine with 5 rounds from one of these special 5 round clips when I begin my hunt. I wriggle the rounds around in the magazine a bit to ensure they’re all free and they’re not bound up or jammed forward. As I get closer, I may close the bolt, making sure that it’s fully forward. I’ll engage the safety at this point as well and treat the rifle as it it doesn’t have the safety on (no pointing at people or in directions of households, etc. When deer come within range, make your first shot count. Even though the SKS is semi automatic and has 4 more rounds in the magazine, your first shot is easily your best chance at making a killing shot. You should treat firing the SKS at game as if you were on your last round and you had to make it count.

  • some guy

    I love my Russian SKS! It is pretty accurate and as you said, if you know the limitations, it’s a great deer rifle. Out here in Northern Ontario, it’s gaining a lot of popularity.

  • It’s definitely the right rifle to bring into the bush and tough conditions that you wouldn’t want to subject a Sako too.

  • Gregory Allard

    My Go to dear rifle for many areas.

  • kw

    i was going to put a scope above the gas tube..what do you think.not sure i want to drill and tap.gunsmiths wont do it.i installed a tube with a rail.enjoyed reading your column..

  • MetisDen

    I really like the looks of the Wartak rail….and a better range of scopes to use.

  • SheldonT

    Remember to remove the bayonet, at least in Alberta, it is illegal to hunt with one attached to your rifle.

  • William Gibbons

    Can you show me that ruling? I just bought an SKS and don’t want to fall afoul of the law.


  • William Gibbons

    They were almost sold sold out at the BMO gun show (Calgary) last weekend. people bought dozens of them

  • Rob Stewart

    Great article. Not sure I agree with the comment about the 5 round stripper clips. Personally I just use a 10 round clip and push 1/2 in at a time. Alternatively you can just put 5 on a clip and leave it at that. The truth is that, for hunting, you probably only need 1 round on a good day and 2 or 3 on a really bad day so stripper clips are probably more of a pain anyway! 🙂

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  • BallinLikeStalin

    But comrade, what if deer is facist? SKS made to be used with bayonet.

  • Sylvain Paquette

    So legally you can go hunt deer with it? I would like to make sure of this. I guess theres a particular round allowed for hunting?

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