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July 3, 2019

Why Do People Like SKS Rifles?

By Danielle Hollembaek

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Lightweight, fast, and reliable, what’s not to like about the SKS rifle? If you explore any gun auction catalog or browse the internet looking for semi-automatic rifles, you are bound to come across one the many variations of SKS rifles that exist in the marketplace. With dozens of countries using them for the past 70 years, finding one is no challenge, but if you want a specific type or version that has been unaltered, that is a different story.

Ten consecutively serial numbered Yugoslavian Zastava Model 59/66 SKS rifles with shipping Crate and accessories.

History of the SKS Rifle

View Current Auction Catalog For SKS Rifles

The original SKS rifle was designed by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov which is why SKS stands for “Self-Loading Carbine of the Simonov System.” Manufactured in 1945, the SKS rifle became the primary military rifle used by the Soviet Union replacing the previously popular and long serving Mosin-Nagant. The predecessor had its flaws with weight and heavy recoil due to its excessively powerful ammo. A lighter and more controllable option needed to be explored.

An Izhevsk Model 91/30 Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle.

Simonov was no stranger to the world of firearms and had already designed a select fire rifle for Russia called the AVS-36 in 1936. AVS loosely translates to “Automatic Rifle of the Simonov System.” The requirements for the AVS rifle were similar to the SKS: a moderate capacity magazine on a fast and dependable gun. The rifle could fire as a semi-automatic, but being primitive in nature, it was hard to control as it still relied on the 7.62x54R cartridge, causing it to be lackluster in accuracy. It was not the most user friendly firearm with complicated locking system and its inability to avert dirt from entering gun’s inner workings. Its many parts made it both time consuming to manufacture and difficult for troops to maintain.

A Soviet Tula Arsenal SKS carbine with crate and a Chinese Norinco Model SKS M carbine.

In the early 1940s, Simonov undertook the challenge of improving upon the AVS to correct its major shortcomings. Chambering the new gun in 7.62×39mm gave it medium firepower and the ability to load the box magazine with a stripper clip cut back on reloading time. The SKS rifle was gas operated with a tilting bolt locking system for safety with the original design sporting a spring-loaded firing pin, but other country’s adaptations of the SKS adjusted the firing mechanism. The barrels of SKS rifles were typically chrome lined to prevent excessive wear-and-tear due to weather and use. All Soviet SKS military models had a standard issue 180 degree folding bayonet connected on the underside of the barrel. Although this is not necessary for uses today, it was a requirement for military rifles at the time.

The SKS rifle was an improvement, but it was not a prime example for accuracy and craftsmanship of the 1940s. Even so, the government liked it because it was easy to use, maintain, and manufacture. It also was cheap and fast to produce for the large numbers of Russian troops.

A Norinco SKS semi-automatic rifle, serial number 001.

Very few SKS-45 rifles actually saw use in World War II due to the end of the war coming so soon after the rifle’s creation, but a select number of rifles were produced and used against Germany in the last months of World War II as a trial for the new and experimental gun. Unfortunately for the Soviet SKS rifle, it saw a very short run after its mass government production in 1948-49 by Tula Arsenal. The AK-47 proved to be a better weapon for the Soviets having all the good qualities of the SKS plus being capable of full-auto fire. Tula Arsenal still produced the rifle for the civilian market until 1955.

A Norinco SKS paratrooper carbine sold for 1,955 at RIAC in March of 2021. The SKS paratrooper differs from a standard SKS in that it has a cut down barrel.

The SKS Rifle Around the World

Luckily for the classic gun, instead of being lost to history, other countries began to adapt the SKS rifle. China led production with millions and millions of SKS rifles and used them from the early 1950s into the late 1970s. The “People’s War”, the Chinese Civil War and The Vietnam War were fought mainly with Chinese-made SKS rifles. The People’s Liberation Forces used the rifle for decades to protect themselves and their villages.

Scarce East German SKS rifle with sling and 7th Army Vietnam war capture papers.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union gave its allies the SKS rifle manufacturing plans. This gave countries like Albanian, Yugoslavia, and Romania the ability to produce a large numbers of SKS rifles. North Vietnam and East Germany also made SKS rifles, but in small quantities making them very rare today.

Even as recently as the early 2010s, some forces around the world have been seen carrying SKS rifle variations. Countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and North Korea still like the weapon and assign it for their military personnel.

The SKS rifle is a battle-proven gun with a classic look. Its wooden stock is a sign to many of a traditional, reliable, and ready-to-use rifle. It is not hard to find an SKS in great condition with little wear and tear, at an attractive price since so many were produced. People aren’t purchasing the SKS rifle for looks in many cases however, but instead for its function and price point.

A Yugoslavian M59/66 SKS Semi-Automatic Rifle sold for $1,293 at Rock Island Auction Company.

The ammunition for the SKS is one of the cheapest centerfire choices on the market. Chambered in 7.62×39mm, it has power and can take down most common game animals. Most SKS rifles cost around $400 to $1,000 making them an achievable firearm for almost every gun enthusiasts. As for the reliability and capacity of the gun, the SKS rifle is a great option for new gun owners and a fantastic first rifle beyond the 22LR.

The SKS, not surprisingly, is a popular hunting rifle. Due to its known mid-to-longer range ability, the SKS rifle is commonly used to hunt deer. The only downfall in using the gun as a hunting rifle is the lack of a scope or ability to mount one. The original design was created with an iron sight only. With anything around 50-100 yards, a person should be fine using the sight alone, but some hunters like the peace of mind and versatility of having a scope.

A Soviet Izhevsk Russian SKS 1954r sold for $1,380 in June of 2018.

Why Do People Modify SKS Rifles?

Modifying a firearm to fit a need or make an improvement for personal use is less of a big deal on modern firearms, but in classic or collectible firearms it can be an important choice. Especially if a person plans to one day resell it and expects the same price as an original example of the same gun. Some modifications may be necessary, and even encouraged, if a gun is in disrepair and needs to be refinished and or repaired. Bubbaing however, the common practice of taking an old gun and adding extraneous paint, accessories, or attachments on to it to make it “cool” or  “interesting” often ventures beyond the realm of functionality, good taste, and aesthetics.  Bubbaing is not necessarily bad if a person does it to a non-historic or non-valuable gun that he or she plans to use. Unnecessary modifications are not an advised practice by any gun experts or authorities who wants to maintain originality.

In the case of the SKS, bubbaing is all too wide spread on any and all variations of the gun. Before the 1994 “Assault Weapon Ban”, purchasing an SKS would cost you well under $100 for a nice quality and good condition gun. When you can get a gun at that low of a price, the firearm modifiers of the world, both good and bad, flock and take the opportunity for all its worth. Some people just enjoy tinkering with their guns and will add anything to put their “personal” touch on it. SKS modifications tend to happen to the barrel with additions like scopes and some even add a homemade buttpad extensions. Painting or trying to improve the wood’s finish is another common SKS modification. Some refinished SKS rifles looks pretty sharp when done by a seasoned gunsmith or professional.

A Tula Arsenal SKS rifle dated "1954".

As mentioned earlier, one downfall of the SKS that turns some people away is its lack of a scope or a way to mount one. To the DIYers of firearms, they don’t worry about this and simply add a mount and a scope. Does this increase the usability of the guns and perhaps the desirability of the SKS? Perhaps, but why not just invest in a different gun without collector value or any other milsurp that does not require permanent modification to mount an optic?

A Chinese Type 56 SKS rifle with documented Vietnam War U.S.M.C. capture papers sold for $4,025 at Rock Island Auction Company in December 2017.

The main issue when a person modifies a SKS rifle, or any classic gun for that matter, is that only decreases the value. Putting on a scope or other accessories takes away from the originality of the firearm. With old guns like an original SKS, it is highly frowned upon to alter them. If a person doesn’t care about resale value or originality, altering a gun is a more acceptable. Just don’t try and sell the gun later and expect the price to be the same as untouched SKS rifles.

A Chinese Type 53 Mosin-Nagant carbine considered to be a pre-production trial example, bearing serial number A000001 as manufactured in 1953. Historian Lin Xu stated, "It should be one of the very first pre-production rifles off the production line."

All in all, experts and specialists do not advise altering a gun if maintaining value and originality is of concern.

SKS rifle for Sale

Rock Island Auction Company frequently offers Russian rifles for sale like the SKS, Mosin Nagant, the SVT rifle, and the PPSh-41. Check out the weekly Rock Island Auction newsletter for fresh gun blogs and gun videos highlighting WW2 era firearms like the FG42, the MP40, and more.

The average SVT-40 price by year at Rock Island Auction Company.

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