History 101: SKS – Informative Overview [2020]

Most gun enthusiasts accept the fact that the German Sturmgewehr MP-43/44 was the first assault rifle in the world, but few know that the first successful self-loading rifle was created by Manuel Mondragon, as early as 1890.

However, Mondragon's improved design M1908 was chambered for the rifle caliber 7x57mm Mauser, Mexican service cartridge.

Utilizing lighter, smaller “intermediate” ammunition rounds in WWII is the real breakthrough in self-loading rifles, which eventually replaced full-size rifle cartridges that had been in use since the start of the 20th century.

Comparison Chart of the Best SKS Variants

PRODUCT
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Century Arms Yugoslavian M59/66A1 SKS

  • Designed in 1943
  • Typically have a capacity of 10 rounds
  • Chambered to fire 7.62x39mm rounds
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Chinese State Factories SKS

  • Made in 1943
  • 10-round capacity
  • Barrels measured at 18 inches
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Inter Ordinance 59/66 SKS

  • Contains 10 rounds
  • 23-inch barrel length
  • Included front and rear sights
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Norinco SKS

  • Sling loops included
  • Barrel measured at 20 inches
  • Made from high-quality blued steel and hardwood
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Russian State Factories SKS

  • Wooden stock
  • 20-inch long barrel
  • Holds up to 10 rounds
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Why Was the SKS Designed and Deployed?

Intermediate ammunition rounds, like the German 7.92x33mm Kurz, achieved universal acceptance.

During World War II, the Soviets examined them with great interest, for they had been doing experiments into short cartridges before the war began.

They developed a lower recoiling M43 7.62x39mm short cartridge with good ballistic properties, and then turned to Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov and suggested the creation of a self-loading rifle to suit.

The Simonov Carbine (SKS) has an eclectic appearance compared to its counterparts. It is a mashup between the powerful, but aging Mosin Nagant bolt-actions and the fast firing, but short-range submachine guns.

Simonov carbine (Source)

In fact, the design was influenced by the combat statistics and fighting lessons learned in World War 2, where most infantry firefights occurred within mid-ranges of 200 m to 500 m. The military soon discovered that the full-powered bolt-action rifles were not well suited for the new form of warfare.

Based on experiences from his earlier AVS-36 battle rifle and PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle, Simonov developed a self-loading carbine in the original mid-range 7.62x41mm cartridge, which would later re-chambered to 7.62x39mm.

At 8.8 pounds and an overall length of 40.16 inches, the SKS carbine was somewhat heavy and long for its intermediate round. But it was also smaller, lighter, and much more maneuverable than the SVT 40 and the Mosin Nagant it preceded.

Simonov improved his first design from 1936 and submitted a new rifle for the test in 1941, but as we all know, 1941 was no time for changing armaments, and the idea was put to the side.  

However, he then redesigned it to suit the new cartridge, and by the summer of 1944, pre-production models were in the hands of troops on the First Belorussian Front for practical testing in combat.

After some modifications, in the summer of 1945, his design was approved for issue as the first Russian weapon to fire the 7.62x39mm short cartridge.

The rifle was designated as an SKS-45 carbine, or Samozaryadny Karabin sistemy Simonova, 1945 (SKS), meaning Simonov's self-loading carbine.

Its appearance was traditional, a fully wooden-stocked weapon featuring forged receiver section with a pronounced Browning Stop and a ventilated wraparound wooden handguard similar to the other rifles of the 1940s.

This gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle features a gas tube and barrel protruding well forward of the furniture, bracketed very close together and a tall hooded front sight post near the muzzle.

Another SKS trademark is an integral bayonet with spike or sword style blade that recesses into the fore grip via a hinged connection underneath the barrel when not in use.

The reciprocating charging handle is on the right side of the receiver. This means the handle moves with the bolt when the weapon is fired.

The SKS sports a sloped, fixed magazine extension holding ten rounds. With the action locked in its open position, the internal magazine may be fed by hand one round at a time, or can be almost instantly reloaded using 10-round stripper clips.

Interestingly, you can charge the SKS upside down, from the bottom, as it is faster if the optic is mounted on the rifle. That method also decreases the possibility of a bolt slamming forward on your thumb (a la “M-1 thumb”).

The SKS is a gas-operated rifle with a spring-loaded bolt carrier and gas piston rod, employing a tilting bolt locking system instead of the more familiar rotating bolt.

The SKS carbine was intended during World War II to supplement the semiautomatic SVT 38, the SVT 40 and the bolt-action Mosin Nagant battle rifles, all chambered to fire the powerful 7.62x54R Russian cartridge.

Mass-production began in 1946, while the Soviet Army's official adoption of the rifle finally occurred in 1949, as the second Soviet weapon to fire the 7.62x39mm cartridge, with the first being the RPD.

Although it became the standard Soviet rifle and later was supplied to several communist bloc countries, its front-line service in the Soviet Union was brief, as work on Kalashnikov's AK-47 design was finished around the same time.

Quick Take - The Best SKS ​Available Today

Who Manufactures the SKS?

Like many Russian weapons, the SKS was shared with other Communist satellite nations, so it was widely copied in China, North Korea, East Germany, and Yugoslavia.

Although millions of SKS were produced during a short time frame, the SKS carbines were building at the Tula Arsenal from 1949 to 1958 and at the Izhevsk plant from 1953 until 1954. They were considered of the highest quality, while the non-Soviet SKS carbines varied significantly in this matter.

Tula Arsenal (Source)

The Tula Arms Plant was established in Tula, Tula Oblast, in 1712 after the First decree of Peter the Great and was first named Tula Arsenal.

During the early to mid-Soviet era, the factory produced a variety of military arms, including the Nagant M1895 revolver, the Mosin–Nagant, and the SVT-40 rifle.

Due to the the course of German Operation Barbarossa in 1941, it had to be evacuated far to the East. Immediately after the war, Tula began to manufacture the SKS carbines and a little after that, the legendary AK-47.

Soviet AK-47 (top), and a Simonov SKS (bottom) with bayonet folded back (Source)

Currently, the plant also produces small-caliber rifles and double-barreled shotguns such as TOZ-34, as well as large quantities of small arms ammunition.

The Russians founded the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant, or IZHMEKH for short, in 1942  in the town of Izhevsk, located in the Western Ural Mountains.

During World War II, the plant manufactured small arms such as the Mosin–Nagant and the SVT-40 rifles.

Later, it continued producing firearms, both for military and hunting applications like the Makarov and the Yarygin pistols. In 2013, Izhmash and Izhevsk Mechanical Plant merged and were formally renamed the Kalashnikov Concern.

Foreign manufacturers include Albania, East Germany, North Korea, North Vietnam, Poland, Romania, some Chinese versions, and the Yugoslav M59/66 -- which is exceptionally well built compared to other SKS models.

While the design of all produced SKS rifles by the nations mentioned above was mostly unchanged, there is some frequent discussion as to the relative quality of each nation's SKS production.

Reviews of the Best SKS Variants in History

So, what variants of the SKS can you still find for reasonable prices these days? Plenty! Let's cover them:

Yugoslavia/Serbia

One of the most common models on the market is the Yugoslav M59/66 SKS variant. Despite the fact that the barrel is not chrome-lined, Yugoslav PAP M59/66 is generally considered to be better made than Chinese rifles.

Differentiating the Yugoslavian SKS from other SKS variants is the grenade firing capability, which uses a special blank cartridge to propel a rifle grenade.

Yugoslav M59/66 (source)

Unlike the other SKS carbines, the Yugoslavian M59/66 (now Zastava Arms factory, Serbia) is heavier and longer due to the added 3.74-inch NATO spec 22mm diameter grenade launcher.

The M59/66 has provisions for launching rifle grenades and includes a flash hider/grenade launcher attachment, a ladder-type flip-up grenade sight, and a gas tube shut-off valve.

Zastava Arms based in Kragujevac, Serbia was founded in 1853 and under their provenance, we have hunting rifles of Mauser 98 type and the family of Zastava M70, a Kalashnikov rifle.

Pros

  • Included folding bayonet
  • Reliability is uncontested
  • Excellent durability and construction
  • Perfect for hunting and marksmanship shooting
  • A favorite SKS model among civilian users today

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

Many new users of this SKS model were looking for something that would be reliable and easily useable in situations like target shooting or hunting. Users of the former application were shooting targets casually or competing in such shooting situations.

One user said this model tends to be really accurate and can fire off so many rounds that will leave consistently tight shooting groups. Furthermore, he added that he was able to pull the trigger with less pressure applied and that lead to some quick follow-up shots (which he had no problem with).

Why it Stands Out to Us

Despite Yugoslavia splitting up well over three decades ago, the model that had been a suitable replacement for the AK-47 stills holds up as one of the best SKS models for civilians today. It might be a replica of a past time in Europe, but the design, along with the overall accuracy and reliability, makes this a hard-to-resist rifle. Now that it has established a presence stateside, it’s become one of the best semi-automatic rifles on the market that does not bear the name of AR-15 or the like.

Who Will Use This Most

If you love hunting big game, varmints, or just want to shoot off targets for fun or competition, this is the go-to choice for rifles. It’s no secret that you want something reliable, powerful, and that has long been appreciated for well over 75 years. This rifle might be one of the best you’ll ever own if you want smooth shooting and some serious power behind every shot. It’s no secret you’ll want something that will last you quite a while whether out in the field or at the range.

Bottom Line

The Century Arms Yugoslavian SKS Rifles have been pretty solid and reliable over the years. It’s a pretty dang good rifle that will get the job done when it comes to hitting bullseyes or knocking down deer. So, if you’re looking for something that has long been trusted for decades and still comes through the clutch like a champ, then the Century Arms Yugoslavian SKS Rifles might be right up your alley.

Inter Ordinance SKS: 
Inter Ordinance 59/66 SKS

Pros

  • Excellent overall quality
  • Solid and durable construction
  • Great when used for target shooting
  • Front and rear sights are easy to deploy and use
  • Accurate, precise shooting across various distances

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

New users say one of the most impressive things they got out of this model of rifles was the consistently tight shooting groups. It didn’t matter what kind of rounds they used, they were able to get these consistent results across various distances at the range. One user said his shooting groups were tight between distances of 100 to 200 yards (with some being a little closer to each other the farther it went out).

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Inter Ordinance brand rifles are probably some of the best SKS rifles out there for those who want to work on their marksmanship at a higher level. Yes, this thing can reach out and touch something at various distances. It is also great for fun or competition. No matter which route you take, there’s a good chance this rifle might be useful at the range to many users. The front and rear sights on this rifle are easy to deploy, easy to adjust, and will make sure your shooting is on the straight and narrow each and every time.

Who Will Use This Most

These rifles were at one point relied on by most military members around the world (mostly in Europe and some parts of Asia). But now, it’s a perfect rifle for target shooters who like to shoot rounds for fun or who need a rifle to give them an edge over the competition. If you want reliability, excellent accuracy across various distances, and solid construction that is hard to match, this SKS rifle might be exactly what you are looking for.

Bottom Line

The Inter Ordnance 59/66 SKS rifle might just be a marksman’s dream rifle. And for as long as these models have been around, you don't have to wonder why many have relied upon them for all their sharpshooting needs for so long. Just load up a magazine of your favorite SKS shots and go to town with all your targets. You won’t be disappointed with how much shooting power you put to good use with this rifle.

China

Although relatively close to the SKS, the Chinese carbines also pop up frequently on the civilian market, due to the enormous production.

Although these variants have some shortcomings, we should point out several Chinese SKS models such as the Types 56, 63, 68, 81, and 84.

The licensed copy of the SKS Type 56 carbines from the Jianshe Arsenal, has remained in production longer than in any other country. You can recognize them by the 26 inside of a triangle on the left side of the receiver.

Type 63 Chinese Rifle (source)

The NORINCO Type 63 is a hybrid of the SKS and the several East-bloc rifles, using the AK-47 style rotary bolt and detachable magazine, as well as a selective-fire rifle.

The Chinese Type 63 is the only SKS variant capable of automatic fire that led to the development of a series of new rifles with many design variations between them.

Some variants feature a stamped sheet-steel receiver, three-round burst capability, or a shorter 16" paratrooper barrel.

Pros

  • Reliable and dependable shooting
  • Wood stocks are hard and smooth
  • Great for hunting and target shooting
  • Front and rear sights are easy to adjust
  • Accurate and precise shots almost every time

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of recent buyers say that this rifle was quite useful to them either in the range or out in the field. Regardless, they enjoyed being able to hit their shots with such accuracy and precision that before they pulled the trigger, they knew exactly where the shots were going to go. The trigger pull on these rifles was pretty solid and allowed for quick and timely shooting. One user even said he managed to quickly get a shot off and nailed a whitetail deer on his last hunting trip.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Chinese SKS rifles are quite similar to the original Soviet Union designs. The only difference with these rifles was the sights being more adjustable and easier to deploy instead of being fixed. Not only that, but it also has a feature where you can attach a bayonet and quickly deploy it in self-defense or tactical situations. The rifles are constructed pretty solidly and the wood stock is probably one of the most hardcore stocks of them all. They can absorb a good amount of shock and recoil while still giving you reliable, accurate shooting.

Who Will Use This Most

This is a great hunting rifle, but we can expect a good number of SKS users to try this puppy on for size at the range. Once they have plowed through so many shots, they’ll find it more fun just using this as a target practice rifle. If you want something that is solid in construction, super easy to use, and can stand out as one of the best multi-purpose semi-automatic rifles out there, you may be hard-pressed to find an SKS rifle quite like this.

Bottom Line

The Chinese State Factories SKS might just be one of the best rifles to come out of China. Yes, we know all too well about the cheap and flimsy accessories or rifles that come from there. But the performance and overall durability are some things you really don’t want to miss if you want to know more about these SKS rifles, in particular. If you are able to snag one, you won’t be disappointed in how well it can do in target shooting or hunting settings.

Norinco SKS Variant:
Norinco SKS

Pros

  • No malfunctions to report
  • Magazines are easy to load
  • Shoots with razor-sharp accuracy
  • Allows for the fitting of many slings
  • Perfect for hunting and competition shooting

Cons

  • Trigger pull might be a little heavy
  • Oils and solvents may damage the wood stock

What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of the new buyers had nothing but great things to say about this rifle. Most used this for hunting purposes, while some others have used it for competitive shooting. Either way, they were seriously impressed with the accuracy and reliability of this rifle. One user said the sights were excellent in allowing his shots to go exactly where he wanted them to go. And, as a result, it netted him top honors (and the win) at a recent shooting competition.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Norinco rifles have been known for being some of the most accurate SKS rifles on the market. Yes, durability and reliability are just a couple of things you can get out of a Norinco rifle. But this rifle is known for making some pretty excellent shots (and accurate ones at that). Pick any kind of ammo that will fit an SKS rifle and load them into a magazine. The shooting groups will be tight for sure. But you will know exactly where each shot will go long before you ever pull the trigger. If you really want to gain the upper hand on your competition in the next shooting contest, this might be the rifle that could be your sidekick.

Who Will Use This Most

Norinco rifles will excel better than most in a competition setting. You know for a fact that once you try this out, this is the kind of rifle built for the marksman (beginner or seasoned). If you are in search of a rifle that can make target shooting twice as fun, this might be the rifle you’ll end up having in your arsenal. It’s proven to be reliable and solid, so you can bet that this will end up lasting you years down the road.

Bottom Line

The Norinco SKS rifles might be the best rifle for competitive shooters on the market. Even if you don’t want to take part in competitions and want to shoot targets for fun, this is the rifle that will be an excellent choice. If you have the rounds and the targets, you’re pretty much all set and good to go. No other rifle can excel at the range better than a Norinco. If you are inclined to agree, then you know that the choice is a no-brainer.

North Korea

Another model that should not be confused with the NORINCO Type 63 is the North Korean variant of the SKS also called Type 63, and it is scarce.

North Korea Type 63 (source)

Its sub-variants may feature a unique side-swinging bayonet or a grenade launching system similar to that on the Yugo M59/66.

North Vietnam

North Vietnam Model Type 1 (source)

One of the rarest SKS variants is the North Vietnam model Type 1. It is similar in configuration to late Soviet SKS, but is identified by a small star with a one inside of it. The star is located on the left side of the receiver and is a well-known marker. 

Albania

As Albanians changed sides and allies, they got different military hardware, including Chinese assistance in producing a copy of their Type 56 SKS rifles.

The Albanian "July 10 Rifle" differs slightly from its original counterpart by having a long three vent handguards that extend out to the gas block.

With this, there's a slightly different shape of magazine compared to other SKS carbines.

However, the most apparent difference from other SKS carbines is its hook-type, AK-47 style charging handle.

Chinese vs Romanian SKS

 Top: Romanian M56 - Bottom: Chinese Type 56 (source)

Romania

The Romanian SKS carbines, designated as Model 56, were produced in the venerable Cugir plant and their arsenal stamp is similar to the Izhevsk Arsenal of Russia.

These relatively uncommon SKS versions have no other differences from the original SKS, except the M56 sword-type bayonet that is finished in dull chrome plating.

Located in Transylvania, the Uzina Mecanica Cugir plant started metal production in 1799. Cugir's more popular products were the Orița 9mm submachine gun, a Mosin Nagant M-44, the Romanian TT-33 Tokarev pistol, the PSL-54c, and many commercial and military grade AK variants, like the md.63 or WASR.

East Germany

Another rare model by SKS standards is the East German rifle called the Karabiner-S, with a specific groove cut into the buttstock for the sling and swivel.

Karabiner-S (source)

Unlike Soviet's SKS, Karabiner-S has no provisions for carrying a cleaning kit in the stock and there is no cleaning rod.

Czechoslovakia

The period immediately after the end of WWII brought many similar self-loading rifles, but the Czechoslovak Vz.52 service rifle manufactured by Ceska Zbrojovka was similar in design to the competing SKS. 

Initially, the Vz.52 semi-automatic carbine was adopted in the 7.5x45mm, to be later changed into the 7.62x39 Soviet cartridge. It become known as the "vz. 52/57".

While it may bear some cosmetic resemblance to the SKS, the interior was entirely different for the Russian carbine. It featured an operating system based on the tilting block action, with an annular gas-piston in the form of a sleeve surrounding part of the barrel and action on the bolt carrier.

When this version of the SKS was introduced in post-war years, many nations were struggling with the concept of going from battle rifle to the select-fire, detachable-magazine assault rifle.

Czechoslovak Vz.52 Service Rifle (source)

New rifle designs featured a cheap stamped sheet-steel receiver, while the receiver on the SKS was forged, which is another reason why the SKS production was phased-out.

However, the Simonov semi-automatics remained in use by second line troops and reserve forces long after the AK-47 entered into service.

In any case, the venerable Simonov SKS has served with distinction and survived as a beautifully balanced weapon on ceremonial duties. Generally, Honor Guards boast all-chrome metal parts, with a lighter-colored wood stock.

Is the SKS Still In Use Today?

There are many others variants available on the commercial market disguised as sport hunting versions usually featuring a thumb hole or one-piece stock, a redesigned front sight, a receiver-mounted scope mount, or a modified trigger such as the Serbian LKP 66, with a "Monte Carlo" style stock.

While the hinged sword bayonet was making several generations of conscripts very wary, carbines marked for sale on the civilian market shouldn't have attached blades or grenade launchers.

Accordingly, the bayonet mount is sometimes deleted from rifles, but influenced the operation of the weapon, as it is susceptible to its overall longitudinal balance, which ultimately may affect accuracy.

Molot VPO-208

One exciting project is the VPO Molot that comes from a small arms manufacturer and ammo maker, the Techkrim LTD. Designed for the Russian civilian market, this is a version of the old Simonov SKS carbine with a smooth-bored barrel equipped with Paradox rifling at the muzzle.

Dubbed the VPO-208, this semi-automatic rifle is chambered for newly developed .336 TKM ammunition with a 7.62x39 M43 case, necked up to 9.55mm (.336") and loaded with FMJ, soft-point bullets or shotshell with shots encapsulated inside a bullet-shaped plastic container.

Pros

  • Great jam-free reliability
  • Excellent build and durability
  • Easy to load, takes a few minutes
  • Perfect for hunting and target shooting
  • Trigger pull is great - not gritty or over traveling

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

As expected, a lot of new users were not disappointed with this rifle in the slightest. Not only did it make shooting targets like big game, small game, or paper targets as fun as possible, it was a great rifle that was reliable and had no malfunctions to report. One user even said that of all the semi-automatic rifles he has used in the past, this SKS rifle was probably the best one he has used.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is the original model made back in the Soviet era. This rifle might bear a striking resemblance to the Chinese model (after all, it was this design that inspired the Chinese State Factories to design their SKS rifles). Other than that, the design is straightforward and low profile. Meanwhile, the inner workings are a sight to behold. They are excellent in quality and will certainly make the rifle run like a well-oiled machine. It’s easy to clean, easy to load, and a whole lot of fun putting to good use. While the Soviet era is long gone, the model rifles that have originated from that time still go on.

Who Will Use This Most

This would be an excellent rifle that would serve a purpose for target shooters and hunters. One of the major reasons why is reliability. This can go straight to work whenever you need to use it the most. You won’t experience any jamming or malfunctions and you can get quick shots off with no problem. If you need a rifle that has long been appreciated by many around the world, this SKS rifle might just be your cup of coffee.

Bottom Line

The Russian State Factories SKS rifle is truly one of the best models out there. And if you need something reliable and accurate for just about any application imaginable, this rifle won’t steer you wrong. It’s solid in construction, accurate in shooting, and leaves many of its users happy.

How Does the SKS Shoot?

The SKS is not a cheap plinking rifle. In fact, it is an improvement in firing accuracy over the AK-47 and the AKM.

Service Rifle competitions were always popular, and today you can see veterans like M-1 Garand, SVT-40, M14 or SKS on ranges shoulder to shoulder with modern assault guns.

Unlike IPSC style run-and-gun matches, Service Rifle competitions focus on practical marksmanship from a variety of shooting stances.

The SKS average accuracy is four to five- inch groups at 100 yards with military surplus ammo and three-inch groups with hand loads.

Of course, an SKS trigger has to be set down to three-and-a-half pounds, and the carbine has to be manually charged to cool. It happens if the free-floating firing pin on the SKS is not cleaned properly or if it is installed upside-down during assembly.

The match usually occurs in three positions like prone, kneeling, and standing, shooting from 200 all the way to 500 meters, depending on the range.

As far as precision is concerned, for the SKS, it is not a problem to hit anything up to 200 meters if the rifle is leaning against the sandbag. However, it is very cumbersome and unbalanced for shooting from a standing position.

The balance of the rifle is moved all the way forward and the buttstock is too short, so it always tends to get out of balance on the shoulder.

Conclusion

Among many gun experts, the prevailing opinion is that the Simonov carbine is probably one of the most underrated rifles in military surplus wish lists.

Regardless of everything, with well over 15 million items manufactured, the SKS ensured itself a place in firearms history in many parts of the world.

The number of nations that have operated the SKS is estimated at more than 60, while it appears more popular in the United States, where it is classified as an antique relic and can be sold with most of the military accessories intact.

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