The SKS Carbine is Still Viable After a Quarter Century

Chinese SKS Type-56 762x39
China’s Type-56 SKS carbine saw combat all over the globe, both in the hands of PLA troops and many others. IMG Jim Grant

U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- The SKS is one of the most well-known military arms all around the world, and has been embraced by shooters and collectors since they first began being imported to this day. The history of the SKS is well known, designed in 1943 by Sergei Simonov in the new 7.62 x 39mm cartridge that was an intermediate between the smaller submachine gun rounds (7.62x25mm) and the 7.62x54mm round.

The semi-automatic design of the SKS was based on a gas operating system that was found to be utterly reliable and will work even if it can’t be cleaned regularly. Something that in the harsh conditions of the Russian winters and the soldiers, many of whom might be farmers or peasants, could work with and operate simply. When the SKS was to be cleaned, to take down the bolt and gas tube, only the bullet end of a cartridge was needed and in only a couple of steps the gun is apart and ready for cleaning.

The SKS served in Soviet Russia for only a few years, by the time it was officially adopted in 1949, it had already been passed like it was standing still by the AK-47, which was quick to take the world by storm when it would be encountered on the battlefield. Not being selective-fire like the AK-47 or having a detachable magazine was part of the drawbacks, but even though it wasn’t in front line service anymore, the SKS was issued to troops behind the lines and to Air Defense Forces to guard anti-aircraft sites and other installations into the 1980’s.

A Viet Cong guerilla with his SKS carbine.

Where the popularity of the SKS exploded was in the Soviet Union’s allies, with China being at the very top of the list. The Chinese had a different type of warfare that relied more on ambushes, sniping, and smaller units that were more mobile. The People’s Liberation Army quickly adopted the SKS, known as the Type 56, (not to be confused with the Chinese version of the AK-47, also known as the Type 56 Assault Rifle). The Chinese Type 56 SKS served as a front-line weapon for over thirty years.

The Chinese PLA Honor Guard with their Type 56 SKS carbines.

The first European nation to adopt the SKS design was Romania, which began producing their SKS in 1957 and then only to 1960, they’re essentially a clone of the Russian SKS and are not all that common in the US compared to some of the other versions.

In Yugoslavia, the Zastava M59/66 PAP is a Serbian made SKS that was contracted and produced by Zastava Arms from 1964 to 1989 with two hundred and fifty thousand made for the Yugoslavian military, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of guns made by Soviet Russia and China. The Yugoslavian SKS is instantly recognizable because of the barrel-mounted grenade launcher that used the rifle’s gas operating system and a blank round to give the SKS another facet on the battlefield.

Another SKS variant that collectors have sought out is the Albanian, which came as a result of that country’s dictator, Enver Hoxha’s switching his allegiance from the Soviet Union to China. In 1962 Mao Zedong granted the Albanians a license to produce the Type 56 and somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 were produced by the time production ended in 1978.

The Albanian SKS was identical to the Chinese Type 56 in the way the gun functioned, but there were a few mostly cosmetic changes. The bolt handle was curved instead of the knob, the magazine was slightly more curved, the stock was longer and the handguard covered the gas tube entirely and there were two trapdoor holes in the buttstock.

Over the last few decades, in many states where gun control laws have been affecting other semi-auto rifles, the SKS has been pretty much ignored, making it a popular option despite having to be loaded with a stripper clip. There are aftermarket detachable magazines, but they vary in reliability from one to the next.

The SKS loads by way of ten-round stripper clips instead of a detachable boxed magazine.

I bought my first SKS some twenty years ago when they were much more affordable than they are right now. Mine was a Russian-made gun, made at the Tula arsenal and was well under three-hundred dollars. Now those same guns are easily fetching a thousand dollars in some places and online as the demand for rifles, especially reliable surplus rifles, is higher than it’s ever been.

Recently I located a Type 56 SKS, one of the desirable guns from the Jianshe Arsenal, also known as Arsenal 26. The best I could tell is that this gun is from the late 1950s and is numbers matching except for the magazine because the previous owner had a detachable magazine fixed to it. The gun is typical of some of the military issue Type 56’s, the wood was worn and used, but the action worked perfectly. So, I grabbed some ammunition and headed to the range.

Markings on the Type 56 SKS for Arsenal 26, also known as the Jianshe arsenal.

One note before I proceed, there has been a lot of debate over the SKS being a dangerous gun and prone to slam firing. This is because the firing pin, which on the SKS is free-floating, can get stuck if the gun is not cleaned and when the bolt is slammed home, the firing pin is all the way forward and will set off the first round and possibly all that follow. Take the bolt out of the gun and shake it back and forth. If you hear a clicking sound as you, do it, that’s the firing pin moving freely. If you hear no sound at all, stop and clean out or lubricate the firing pin channel so that the pin isn’t stuck in place.

I tried out both Tula steel case FMJ and Winchester brass-cased FMJ 123 grain ammunition first at 30 yards and got a pretty tight group. Some people question using commercially made ammunition because supposedly the primers are softer and it leads to slam fires. I never had one issue with any of the Winchester ammunition and it all went off without a hitch.

Certainly not match-grade, but the SKS is capable of very serviceable accuracy.

At 100 yards I shot ten rounds of Tula ammo and was pleasantly surprised at how well it did. The action on the SKS is smooth and it functioned flawlessly.

And the handy carbine is more than accurate enough to engage human-sized targets at 300 yards.

The SKS, no matter which version, is still a great alternative to the AR-15 and is excellent living where politicians have restricted what you can or can’t have. Don’t let the fact that you’re loading ten rounds from a stripper clip deter you from buying one. These guns were designed to work in some of the worst conditions and in places where the populace might not have much in the way of education and they’re tough as nails. Give the SKS a try, you’ll be surprised at how much you like it.


About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff’s Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting, and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

David LaPell

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Luv2shoot
Luv2shoot
1 month ago

I really enjoy my Norinco Type 56 SKS. My only complaint is the trigger pull is like dragging a concrete block over rough concrete. A few years ago I sent the bolt and bolt carrier out to a place in Texas. They modified the bolt, put in a new firing pin and return spring and returned all the original parts. No worries about slam fires. I wish I could remember the name because I would like to send out the trigger group to be reworked.

Bozz
Bozz
1 month ago

The SKS is still viable after a quarter century. I don’t get it. That would be 1996.

Nightingale
Nightingale
1 month ago
Reply to  Bozz

The headline is a mistake. Maybe meant to write “… after three-quarters of a century”. Was adopted in 1945, so that’s now 76 years ago.

Not A. Potato
Not A. Potato
1 month ago

They are neat rifles. but the Norinco import ban and the sky-high prices everyone asks these days makes it very hard to justify buying one.

And they keep climbing, The other day I saw one at a pawn shop for thousand bucks. A thousand!

Until prices return to sane levels something like a mini-14 would probably be a more sensible budget-friendly alternative.

Russn8r
Russn8r
1 month ago
Reply to  Not A. Potato

Remember who banned “Assault Weapon” imports?

George HW Bush, big assist by the Coors Bros & “Heritage” Foundation.

Chuck
Chuck
1 month ago

LOL, “Under $300” 20 years ago. How about $75 in the late 80’s. Extra Cosmoline Free of Charge? Oh had I the foresight to see the SKS go up in price. I should have bought a barrel or two. I left the SKS in the late 90’s when I could afford an AR. Sold it to my brother in law and he still uses it. Biggest problem were the original stocks. Designed for Asians and not a long enough length of pull. The aftermarket stock I installed, came from a company called Cobray (famous for their Mac 10 and Mac… Read more »

Nightingale
Nightingale
1 month ago

I have a real love for the original Russian SKS with their excellent post-war quality of manufacture at the Tula and Izhevsk arsenals. The metal work, polishing and blueing, and their laminated arctic birch stocks make for a unique military weapon, and these are still used as the Russian parade rifles in Red Square. Thanks for the good article, especially the safety precaution about the free-floating firing pins, but the safety information offered is incomplete. Let me add a few words – Yes, a free floating firing pin should rattle when shaken, and that is proof the pin isn’t stuck… Read more »

Beobear
Beobear
1 month ago

Wish I had bought one way back when. A buddy of mine bought one for $79 when they first came out. It looked like it was brand new.

There wasn’t really an internet to research stuff at the time and all I had heard was how prone to slam firing it was so I passed on them. These days we can research things quickly and make a reasonably good decision but back then you only knew what you were told by others. There wasn’t a good way to know whether or not they knew what they were talking about.

JLS
JLS
1 month ago

The SKS is the second most popular hunting rifle in Russia, right behind the Mosin. They use it for everything up to moose. Since the fall of communism and the end of the Soviet Union, western firearms have made a showing in Russia, but they are priced far out of range for most hunters.

Gregory Peter DuPont
Gregory Peter DuPont
1 month ago

Still included among my” grab it and go” arms…and still just plain works.

Dave
Dave
1 month ago

Had a FFL in the late 70s early 80s and would get the ten rifle crates and would sell them out fast. Always wanted to keep a couple for myself but someone always made to good an offer. Best selling rifle I ever had in stock.

Montgomery
Montgomery
1 month ago

The SKS is a weapons so bad that the country that developed it got rid of it as soon as it could. It was only kept alive by the Chinese, who do what the Chinese always do: copy other country’s designs and make endless knock-off copies. The only virtue of the SKS relative to other platforms is that it WAS a cheap alternative for those who could not afford better. If simply must have an albatross rifle that was rendered obsolete immediately after it was pressed into service, get an M14 (M1A)—at least those are good rifles.

Ron
Ron
1 month ago
Reply to  Montgomery

Apparently Montgomery has never owned an SKS. They are one of the best rifles there are.

Xaun Loc
Xaun Loc
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

I might not go as far as “one of the best” but they were certainly a good and reliable battle rifle. Only the 10-round fixed magazine would keep it out of my “one of the best” list. But remember that when the SKS was designed most other battle rifles were still bolt actions and the one significant semi-auto battle rifle had an 8-round fixed magazine!It was the Soviet answer to the M1 Garand while introducing the development of the “intermediate cartridge” that was subsequently adopted by armies worldwide. Only the genius of Mikhail Kalashnikov designing the AK47 so soon afterward… Read more »

Knute
Knute
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

Yet another unmarried marriage counselor! 🙂
Unless he just so happens to sell M1As for a living…

Last edited 1 month ago by Knute
Roland T. Gunner
Roland T. Gunner
1 month ago

Not an alternative to an AR-15.

Montana454Casull
1 month ago

Bought one when they first were sold on American soil for under $100 . I got a good one with the screw in barrel . I still have it and shoot it . Very accurate and still shoots and functions very well . I left it with the 10 round magazine capacity and never overheated the barrel like most people did with 30 round mags .

Ryben Flynn
Ryben Flynn
1 month ago

Too bad all these MilSurp rifles have got so expensive.
There was a time you could get them for $100 or less.
My first Mosin Nagant cost me $130 in a private sale, now they go for $300 and up.
I bought a 1950 8mm. Mauser for about the same and now they are expensive.

Knute
Knute
1 month ago
Reply to  Ryben Flynn

I bought cases of ten SKSs for 559 USDs back in the 90’s. They moved fast at 99 USD per.

swmft
swmft
1 month ago
Reply to  Knute

still have the empty wooden crates, wish I had kept one full

willyd
willyd
1 month ago
Reply to  swmft

I bought a used SKS in the mid 90’s, it worked great, still does, but a year later I got a chance at buying a new one, bad part it was a case of them, all matching numbers, log books, and test firings put in the log books, new ammo pouch and sling, dumb is that I only bought one and not the case, at least I have one of them!!!!!!!!!!
,

Knute
Knute
1 month ago

The SKS is about the greatest truck gun ever devised. It’s obvious why select fire and a detachable magazine are preferable for a military rifle, so OFC it was quickly superseded by the AK. But for hunting and packing around on a horse or cycle, it is better than the AK. In those applications its lack of capacity and slower reloads is more than made up for by its handiness. In a hunting application, 10 rounds is plenty, and reload speed becomes irrelevant.
IMO, OFC…

swmft
swmft
1 month ago
Reply to  Knute

if they had made an sks with a 12guage that would be the truck gun ,even a 410 as second

Knute
Knute
1 month ago
Reply to  swmft

In Montana, a shotgun is too short ranged for the task. For use in the Eastern Woodlands you are likely correct.