We’ve all seen one and we know where they – generally – hail from.
The SKS possesses a fascinating history as one of the most official, non-official, surplus guns in the American market. It’s hard not to find a gun-lover who hasn’t heard of or even shot an SKS, let alone own one.
Many own several just because they can, and that is easily possible.
Are they still any good though? Are they worth it? Let’s answer that and more!
Table of Contents
It Started When I Was Young
As a kid, my grandfather had a Norinco SKS that I would always take out into the woods. There weren’t too many firearms that made a statement on my young mind, but that rifle made a lasting impression that follows me to this day.
Even as a young’un I could take it into the field, shoot, reload, clean, and carry with little effort and even littler hands. The Norinco is easy to shoot, reliable, and not that terrible looking. It just goes to show that the SKS is near child-proof.
While my preference of the SKS aesthetics is purely subjective, there are some who love to make it look like pure plastic trash. A screw here, a little weld there, and they’re left with a steaming pile of ugly… Ugly reliability.
Looking at where the SKS comes from and how it’s been used we can really see the history of reliability and can promise you if you don’t have one, you’ll want one.
Boring But Interesting Early SKS History. Unless You Like History:
There might be a lot of information you already know, but bear with me.
The SKS is a Russian design with original experimental production dating back to 1943. Knowing the history of how Russia releases information, its designs may have started before then but that’s purely speculation.
The first rifles were made by the Tula factory – and highly sought after by collectors – but wasn’t completely adopted by the USSR until 1949. To put that into perspective, the AK47 was designed in 1945 and finished in 1947 – hence, the ‘47.
So, it’s easy to see why this wasn’t a common military firearm since the AK production was very close behind and was even adopted by the USSR military in the same year: 1949!
The SKS most American’s are familiar with is probably the Chinese version. The early versions of this rifle – called the Type 56 due to having been imported starting in 1956 – are a bit confusing. It’s safe to say that China was given some SKSs by the USSR as some form of cooperative support.
These versions are called the ‘Sino-Soviet’ due to the diplomatic connection between the USSR and China. As history stands, in the mid 50’s Russia sent tooling and Soviet engineers to China’s Jianshe Arsenal, also known as ‘Arsenal Number 26.’
With in-house production, China adopted the Type 56 with some minor changes from their Soviet counterparts, namely a stamped trigger guard instead of a milled one.
One could speculate the China’s production on the SKS was not expected to be as successful as it was. China sold the Type 56 rifles to many nations across the world, some of which ended up being used against American troops in Vietnam and Korea.
All things considered, China started producing SKS rifles to alarming quantities in several factories and continues to this day.
Plethora of Variations
You thought the variations of the AK was complicated? China has produced many types of SKS rifles and too much to go over in this one article.
However, the most common would by the Type 56 in all its glorious forms. For this, let’s consider all paratrooper, spiked bayonet, bladed bayonet, jungle stock, and laminated Egyptian export as a Type 56.
All these variations are nearly identical in terms of receiver and use, but have some modifications in barrel length, stock or type of bayonet used.
One of the most sought-after variations produced by China is the “M” or “D” model. That’s not a euphemism for anything, get your mind out of the gutter.
It’s actually a Type 56 with a modified receiver and stock allowing the rifle to accept standard AK mags. If I ever found one of these reasonably priced I’d be so happy, but it doesn’t look like anyone wants to sell them!
Another noteworthy Chinese variation is the Sheetmetal Type 56. I set this one aside as it is quite different in receiver construction compared to the other Type 56 rifles.
Other than the receiver construction, they appear to be identical in nearly every other way to the standard Type 56. It’s just a fascinating part of history and grossly unreliable one.
Other countries to produce the SKS are: North Korea (also highly collectable), East Germany (very few remain), North Vietnam, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and Albania.
One noteworthy maker of the SKS is Yugoslavia with their PAP M59/66 and PAP M59/66A1. The reason this SKS stands out compared to many of the others is in the barrel construction, gas system and grenade launcher.
If you want to legally possess a grenade launcher, this is one of the few ways to do so. The Yugoslavians needed to stay within NATO guidelines and produced the PAP 59/66 from ‘67-’89 but also needed to modify the gas system to work with it.
I’ll get into more details below!
The Hidden Potential of the SKS
The SKS — in all its forms — retains some inherent, potential benefits that not many other rifles in this price-point can match. It’s virtually impossible to find a decent quality milled rifle, especially in an autoloader.
With the price of firearms on the rise and production costs cut wherever possible, having a milled receiver is rare. Since most SKSs are milled they will provide much better durability over a lengthy period of time with less flex and damage than stamped alternatives.
Add in a chrome-lined barrel, and the SKS might outlive the next Chinese dictatorship.
Piston Driven gas systems are proven to be incredibly durable. Many would argue that they are more accurate than Direct Impingement (DI) gas systems.
Let’s be very clear; they are absolutely more robust. Short or long stroke gas systems also keep the actual receiver much cleaner, since the gas is not cycled directly into the receiver or carrier.
I can’t in good conscience say that they are more accurate than modern AR’s, despite what that one guy on Facebook told me about his.
In addition to all of the inherent benefits in the overall design, the SKS has been around for such a long time that it’s very easy to find accessories and aftermarket parts.
Changing it into some polymer/steel hybrid is called ‘bubba-ing’ a rifle, but to each their own. If that’s what you need out of a rifle then do what you must.
The SKS is arguably a great looking rifle in its original form and allows for prone use rather easily. J-B Weld was not invented for the SKS.
Often overlooked, is the ability to carry more ammunition with less weight. Since the rifle is loaded via stripper clips, it reduces the overall magazine weight making the carry weight almost a wash compared to modern alternatives.
To me, this is one of the best reasons this can make a great ‘prepper’ style rifle!
But… There Are Issues…
Okay, there are quite a few potential downsides. Being an older rifle, many have not been stored properly and might be in poor condition. That’s right, the back of the closet for 20 years is not good firearm storage.
It’s critical to find one that clean inside and out. Surplus ammunition didn’t just foul up the barrel but was highly corrosive and especially dangerous to the Yugoslavian SKS.
Something important to note is that many were brought back from battlefields in Vietnam and Korea which had observed extensive use before and during the wars.
The weight is another significant downside of the rifle, compared to an AR alternative. It is possible to lighten the weight by replacing the stock and removing the bayonet.
For the most part, it is what it is, and will always be heavier than an AR15 and most AKMs. Break out those muscles, boys… girls? People.
Having an exposed bolt is also a major drawback. While it is comparable to the M14 or M1 Garand, it still means the rifle is more likely to get gummed up from foreign objects. Do not stick your dick in it.
Likewise, the magazine is fixed to the stock (in most variations) and loaded with stripper clips. This makes reloading quickly a potential issue, prevents the use of an optic and still allows the gumming up of the magazine itself.
Type 56, Norinco
Manufactured and Imported by Norinco, my Type 56 is a great rifle. I traded a crossbow for it a few years back but had grown up shooting my grandfather’s Type 56.
In a midlife crisis, I decided it was necessary to relive my childhood via a gun purchase.
Norinco imported an outrageous amount of SKS into the United States.
People used to purchase them by the crates and keep them for a ‘rainy day’ or just to see if their value would increase over time. Many were covered in Cosmoline and left just as it was shipped.
You used to buy a Norinco for $50 USD and then beat them to death as if they were disposable. Only, as many found out, the SKS was far from disposable and it kept running.
The previous owner of my SKS had put on a Tapco polymer stock and bipod. He’d lost the original stock and magazine. When I took a look through the barrel it looked practically new and there was still the smell some of cosmoline.
To my excitement, after the first few rounds the receiver bluing began to wear away from the bolt friction. I believe the rifle had been previously unfired.
Unchangeable Features… Usually
The standard Type 56 is a completely milled firearm, excluding the trigger guard. Featuring a 22-inch barrel and chrome-lined for a long lifespan.
Other than a few exceptions, the Type 56 features an integral 10 round magazine fed by stripper clips utilizing 7.62×39 ammunition. This rifle considers Barnaul and TulAmmo steel cased, bimetal bullets as a gourmet meal.
Literally, comparing steel cased ammunition is like rating the quality of instant ramen in college; It’s all good but also so bad.
Yugoslavlian PAP M59/66 and M59/66A1
About a year after I got my Type 56 I came across a 59/66 for sale nearby. I called up the owner and asked him to meet me at my workshop.
I have to tell you; this man was amazing and drove nearly an hour to sell me his rifle. We talked, shared some stories, and then traded money and steel.
I had to completely disassemble this rifle because it was covered in cosmoline in every nook and cranny. It took several days just to get the cosmoline out of the metalwork and I’m still finding some in odd places.
Heating up the stock also allowed me to melt some which had been absorbed by the stock, but also to smooth over a cosmoline finish.
I can say, without a doubt, that this rifle had never been fired before my acquisition.
The 59/66 is near identical to the Type 56, but unique with its integrated grenade launcher and sight attached to the 24” barrel.
Many argue that the Yugo SKS is worse quality because the barrel is not chrome lined. While I would agree that many are eroded away due to corrosive surplus ammunition, the lack of chrome lining will make the rifling more accurate.
Since the grenade launcher requires use of a blank, the gas system can be turned off and the rifle will function as a bolt action, meaning the bolt must be manipulated manually after each shot to eject the spent case and load a new round into the chamber.
One other distinct feature is the standard addition of a bladed bayonet. In order to have a bladed bayonet attached, the stock had more of a bulge near the front of the rifle.
This prevents a used from poking their hand with the bayonet while using the rifle. The stock used is also often left unfinished. Raw and pointy, just the way I like it.
The major drawback of the Yugoslavian variation of SKS is the weight. Not just that this variation is heavier, but that it’s front heavy.
The additional 2-inches of barrel does not add much weight, but the grenade launcher, sight, gas system modifications, and larger bayonet make a much more front heavy rifle and bigger triceps.
That said, it also reduces recoil and muzzle climb.
Yugoslavia did also produce an M59/66A1 which had attached night sights.
Does it Work and Will it Hit Stuff
Keep in mind; these rifles are surplus rifles and while I’m fairly confident that they were never shot before I received them. I cannot be 100% sure; especially with horrendous modifications having been done to the Norinco.
Out on the range the Norinco loaded up super easily. The integral magazine does require some finesse but a quick adjustment sliding into the magazine became a breeze.
Simple TulAmmo FMJ was loaded up. On a bag rest and out to 50 yards I was able to hit about a 2-inch group just to get the feel for the rifle.
Extending out to 100 yards I was grouping in at about 2.5MOA. That’s not bad for a chrome lined barrel with steel cased ammunition and iron sights.
For me, this is a raving success.
The Yugo needed a bit of fine tuning to get exactly how I wanted. At the range it’s very tough to shoot standing due to weight, so a bag rest was almost necessary.
Loading the Yugo with standard TulAmmo FMJ was actually a bit more difficult than the Norinco, but I’ll say that was because I had just removed all the cosmoline out of a factory fresh rifle.
However, I could just be a weakling. On the rest, I was able to get a grouping with standard gas at 1.5 inches at 50 yards. Moving out to 100 yards, I was able to hit 2MOA.
By the Numbers:
The SKS has a notoriously high reputation for reliability. When I first received my Yugo, I shot it while all gummed up in cosmoline and there were a few rough cycles and then it ran like a top, all while having a gas tube filled with wax.
That said, the SKS is also notorious for slamfire issues: the firing pin stuck while protruding from the bolt causing it to hit a primer as the bolt moves forward causing the case to fire. The only way to stop a slamfire is to let the rifle run until there’s no more ammunition.
The exposed bolt system also will allow for more issues with debris and sticking your dick in the receiver when directions are unclear.
Accuracy is good. This is by no means a sub-MOA rifle, and it’s not designed to be one. Once the sights are set in it’s a 2MOA rifle in the hands of a proper shooter.
Having said that, this rifle could easily outshoot most shooters and only held back by the skill of the operator.
Especially when compared to a bolt action or AKM, the ergonomics is absolutely top notch. Minor details like the safety lever allow it to be operated comfortably and smoothly. It’s a heavy rifle.
Being able to utilize all the features without fiddling around too much makes the SKS one of the easiest guns to shoot.
If you find one that has a polymer stock and made to look like an old Soviet machine gun, it’s going to look — and probably run — like a pile of pure garbage.
That said, in its original form the SKS is a great looking rifle. Many would disagree with me on the aesthetic value of a stock SKS, but a truly well-crafted tool deserves to look the part.
If this were few years ago, I said this is a 5/5, but now-a-days reasonably prices SKS are hard to find. At $400-500 for a matching and standard SKS you’re overpaying, in my opinion.
Five years ago, an SKS in exceptional condition could be found for $200 or less. That’s over for now but even at today’s prices, they remain good value for the money.
When it comes to owning a milled, autoloading firearm that has been proven in military conflicts there’s no overlooking the SKS. Price mixed with function sets this rifle ahead of many of its peers.
Don’t confuse my admiration for the SKS as the perfect rifle, it’s far from it. The intended use for this rifle easily fits the overall score, even if it’s worse than an AR or AK for engaging hostiles or meeting your daughter’s new boyfriend.
The SKS is not just a rifle meant to keep working in most environments; It’s a rifle meant to be used in the harshest environments and then be passed along to the next person.
With a few minor issues to look out for – like the barrel condition on a Yugo made SKS – these are ‘set-and-forget’ tools. There is no way anyone could be disappointed with a properly made and maintained SKS.
You can be very disappointed with the spotty craftsmanship of some ‘home grown gunsmiths’ who make the SKS look like a Swamp Moster.
While pricing is consistently increasing it’s still possible to find a moderately priced SKS in good condition.
Care should be taken when examining and cleaning any ‘new’ old rifle. Remember, your potential SKS may have been sitting in a rice field just waiting for the next target.
Do you want more classic firearm reviews? What are your favorite milsurps? Let us know in the comments! Need a lead on where to get some great milsurp rifles, take a look at the Best Military Surplus Rifles and the Best Surplus Handguns!