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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.