SKS Rifle Review

SKS Rifle

It’s a bit funny reviewing something that’s 60-70 years old, but due to production numbers, the cost of an SKS is very low in countries where it’s still being imported like Canada. That cost ($229 from Cabelas Canada), combined with inexpensive ammo, makes the SKS a fantastically fun, cheap plinking rifle, and a lot of people have requested I do a proper breakdown of an SKS.

Video Review of the SKS

Feeding the Beast: 7.62x39mm

Stepping away from the rifle itself, let’s take a look at the cartridge: 7.62X39. Typically, we’re talking about a 123 grain, 30 caliber bullet at around 2,400 fps. Similar in power to a 30-30. Compared with other rifle cartridges of the time, it was pretty revolutionary. Its reduced recoil and smaller size meant fast follow up shots and more capacity. In a hunting application, the smaller size and minor recoil compared to a full power rifle round aren’t necessarily as important, depending what you’re hunting. Soft point rounds are readily available and should be used instead of the (illegal to hunt with in most areas) surplus full metal jacket rounds. Energy is pretty low: 2000 ft-lbs at the muzzle, and it drops below 1000 ft-lbs at 150 yards; again, very similar to the 30-30. So when we’re looking at applications for this round, they should be limited to 150-ish yards. Nothing really wrong with that; so long as your shots are going to be close in, 7.62x39mm will do the job. Crates of inexpensive surplus ammo are readily available for great amounts of practice and fun, and soft point ammo is usually reasonably priced as well, albeit not as readily available as more traditional hunting cartridges.

SKS rear sight

SKS rear sight

Mounting Optics on the SKS

In short: try not to. The iron sights are solid, and fit the “rough and tumble, short range rifle” application really well. Receiver cover mounted scopes are either flimsy or make the rifle more tedious to take down for cleaning because they use set screws. The accuracy and range of the SKS don’t really require magnified optics either. Have I failed to dissuade you? No? OK, here are some options that might work:

  • A low, rear sight mounted red dot improves the speed at which you can take a shot, at the cost of using another thing that can break, another thing that needs batteries, and more $$ cost on an inexpensive, short range rifle. Midwest Industries makes one that mates with a Burris Fast Fire II or clones and mounts exceptionally low.
  • Williams SKS Firesights. With a rear peep and fibre optic front sight, they’re going to be easier to see and shoot with for most people.
  • There are also thinner, colored front sights that can be easier to pick up and are easy to use.

If you’re really adamant about using a magnified optic on the SKS, go all out and get a drill and tap mount. They’re solid, you can still take down the receiver cover normally, and they’re not too expensive. There’s also the full length rail that goes right from the rear receiver pin to the rear sight block, but I don’t have enough experience with them, and the extra cost gets this rifle very close to much more capable bolt action hunting rifles.

The SKS as a Hunting Platform

As a serious hunting rifle, there are a few changes I’d recommend for a typical SKS:

  • Leave the bayonet, cleaning rod, and cleaning module from the buttstock back at home or the hunting camp if they rattle at all on your rifle. The bayonet can be used as a field monopod, but keeping our 150 yard shot in mind, you shouldn’t need the weight or noise.
  • If your safety is spring loaded (my Soviet SKS wasn’t) consider modifying it to soften the *click* as the safety goes off. Again, this is for noise considerations with a short range rifle when game are going to be close in.
  • If you hunt without a big heavy jacket or  you’re taller and prefer a longer length of pull, take a look at aftermarket stocks or adding on a slip-on buttpad. The factory SKS stock has a pretty short length of pull and can be uncomfortable for some. Don’t rush to a plastic stock though, because some can make it tougher to strip down the rifle, or make it front heavy.
  • Wear it in: a straight, post-war SKS may still need to be shot and worn in. My 1951 Soviet SKS had an awful trigger and a safety that was practically unusable out of the box.
  • Get a trigger job done if yours needs it. Either yourself off a video if you’re handy and careful, or by a qualified gunsmith. Another option is to get aftermarket trigger components like this one from Murray.

SKS Side

Modifications I Wouldn’t Recommend for a Hunting SKS

Because of how ubiquitous the SKS is, there are lots of mods out there, some of which don’t make a lot of sense for a hunting rifle.

  • Receiver cover scope mounts. The receiver cover isn’t built to be solid to the receiver, it has to come off to properly clean the rifle. If you’re strictly hunting with it, and strictly using a low volume of non-corrosive ammo, you might be able to get away without fully cleaning the bolt/bolt carrier often.
  • Detachable mags. Normally, I prefer DM’s over a hinged floorplate, but I just haven’t liked the duckbill mags for the SKS. The factory 10 round fixed is more reliable, low profile, fast enough to reload with stripper clips and unless you’re culling a pile of pigs like Steve Lee or are in the US where you can have 5+ round mags, I think the fixed mag works just fine.
  • Muzzle brakes or other muzzle devices. Unnecessary for a hunting rifle in this caliber, just adds weight and length.
Minor firing pin scratch on a mil-spec primer cup

Minor firing pin scratch on a mil-spec primer cup


All Over The Board. These were made during WW-II, in developing countries, and under varying cost requirements.

For the Norinco Type 56 SKS’s, I’ve found they: have pretty soft stocks, have chrome barrels (nice!), and condition wasn’t that bad. My Norinco was a ton of fun, but the barrel was drilled off-axis, giving a horizontal spread when the barrel heated up. Accuracy was also pretty awful: 4-6 MOA if I was lucky.

For my Soviet SKS with laminate stock: the rifle I bought for $219 was unused, parts were very tight, and the laminate stock was kinda cool. Better than a plain old boring stock. That all said, no matter which SKS you get, there will be visible milling marks and rough finished surfaces visible. Cabela’s Canada has SKS’s for around $220-$250.

  • Jonah

    What about a firing pin spring to prevent slam fire?

  • I’ve only seen one SKS slamfire, and it was due to cosmoline in the firing pin channel. If you wanted to shoot soft primer cups, I guess a firing pin spring may help but considering that most 7.62×39 comes with hard military primers, it shouldn’t be much of a consideration. Reloaders can use hard primers, and much of the commercial stuff available uses harder cups as well. The Hornady ammo I use in my SKS also comes with a hard primer that the floating firing pin on my SKS barely makes a scratch on.

  • some guy

    They’re nice rifles but since (it would appear that) they were made for small oriental people, my thumb hits my nose when I fire it so I find it way to small. Good thing it’s become my daughter’s favorite rifle!

  • Comrade

    Bought my 1st SKS about a year ago……it is without a doubt the most fun i’ve ever had at the range……cheap ammo and highly accurate….1″ groups at 100 yards (Standing)…..anyways i bought another one!

  • Matt

    I picked up a “supergrade” 1950 Russian SKS about a month ago from a local shop for $200canadian/150USD.

    They had 20+ in stock, all refurbed but a very nice firearms (I looked at several). Most had all matching numbers, spring-loaded firing pin and original hardwood stock.

    Girlfriend and I were regularly hitting a 8″ gong at 200 yards with iron sights the first time we took mine to the range.

    This one is staying factory but I am tempted to pick up another to set up with some modern bits while they are so inexpensive and plentiful.

  • Jesus

    I was just given an SKS. Your video was very informative. Thank you!

  • Zmm

    ahh i want one..

  • S Williamson

    Well, it’s an old post now but people still read the stuff so here goes my thoughts. Don’t read anything I say here as negative toward you as we all have our own ideas on what makes a good gun and I understand that. My thoughts on the SKS are pretty much keep it simple, as in, as close to original design. It was designed and manufactured the way it was for good reason. I suspect few of us are in a position to call ourselves tactical users right? Leave that to the army and police. So I don’t understand why remove a perfectly good wood stock and replace it with one of the many synthetic, pistol grip equipped, assault look stocks. Sights? The only mod possibly needed might be to either paint or switch out the front post to something highly visible as perhaps blaze orange. I know it would help my aging eyesight if I could pick up that post under all lighting conditions. As for the rear sight, well it’s already distance adjustable and it is after all what the military personnel had to live with and the lack of windage is overcome by the judicious use of the good old method of Kentucky Windage, further more, and correct me here if I’m wrong, but I doubt the carbine can shoot all that accurately out to distances acquired with the addition of a scope. Now having said all this I will add that there are two things I don’t care for and they are gone from my gun. That non-user-friendly Russian issue sling and the bayonet. WHAT ? BLASPHEMY ! I can hear you yell and here is what works all so well and far more efficient. A USGI M14 nylon sling or the earlier cotton/canvas M1 Garand of the same design. Quick and simple to attach using the quick release clip at the butt stock swivel and an Uncle Mike’s QD at the forward end utilizing the original bayonet mount screw. And just how does that work you would be justified in asking? I manufactured a link for the bayonet mount. Picture a barrel link for a 1911 only slightly Larger. The wider end drilled for the bayo screw and the narrow end drilled for the Uncle Mike’s. Cold blue it and it’s barley noticeable but extremely functional where the sling is on/off in a blink, adjusted for length just as fast and allows the use of the sling as a free standing support. See now? No cutting, welding or anything permanent, and pop the sling off and with the exception of that little swinging link, it just looks like a wonderful ols SKS. and by golly we all like our SKS don’t we?


    Its originally a russian design and they are not “small people”

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