This is understandable, considering more than 70 million of these rifles have been made and the model has spawned numerous offshoots such as the AKM and AK-74.
However, the AK was actually not the first weapon to be chambered for the caliber. That distinction belongs to the SKS semi-auto carbine, which also happens to be the first rifle I’ve ever owned.
SKS Early History and Specifications
The SKS was first developed in 1945 and was named for its inventor, Russian small arms designer Sergey Gavrilovich Simonov (1894 – 1986), who also invented the WWII-era PTRS-41 14.5x114mm anti-tank rifle. As noted by American Rifleman in May 2021:
“[T]he Russian military began to look for a new self-loading carbine chambered for a new, less powerful cartridge compared to the 7.62×54 mm that was standard at the time…In 1943, the Red Army developed and adopted a less powerful cartridge compared to the 7.62×54 mm R, the 7.62×39 mm M1943, and sought a new semi-automatic rifle chambered for the new cartridge. Simonov downsized the operating system of the large PTRS-41 around the smaller cartridge into a semi-automatic carbine, which was accepted by the end of the war and adopted in 1949 as the Self-loading Carbine System Simonov 1945, or SKS-45…The SKS-45 is a gas-operated carbine with a conventional layout for the time, with a wood stock covering most of the body. The bolt carrier is spring loaded, using the pressure of the gas-driven operating rod to unlock the bolt.”
Unlike the AK-47 with its detachable box magazine, the SKS loads more like the M1 Garand — from the top of the receiver via stripper clips into a fixed internal magazine. Also unlike the AK, the SKS is semiauto-only, with a sustained rate of fire of 35 to 40 rounds per minute.
Additional specifications include a weight of 8.5 pounds, an overall length of 44 inches, and a barrel length of 22 inches that generates a muzzle velocity of 2,411 feet per second. Its effective firing range is 440 yards.
The SKS was adopted as the standard service rifle of the Red Army, replacing the SVT-40, but it was replaced in turn by the AK in 1949. The SKS did continue to see Soviet service throughout the Cold War with border guards, internal forces and reserves, as well as in other Communist countries that started building them under license, such as China and Yugoslavia (yes, I know, Marshal Tito insisted his nation was merely “socialist” and not “Communist,” but eh, semantics) and non-state Communist entities such as the Viet Cong.
More than 15 million SKSs have been produced around the world.
Personal Shooting Impressions
As I mentioned earlier, the SKS was my first-ever rifle purchase. Indeed, it was my first long gun purchase of any kind. Anyway, it was in July 1994, one month shy of my 19th birthday, that I bought a Chinese-made Norinco SKS from Paul Cole’s Gun World and Target Range (nowadays known simply as The Target Range) in Van Nuys, California. I paid $139 for it, equivalent to $280.60 today.
In the 12 years that I owned that rifle, I put roughly 3,000 rounds through the thing, and in addition to providing me optimal accuracy — not comparable to 7.62x54mmR or .223 Remington/5.56x45mm, but more than adequate — and ease of maintenance, I don’t recall any jams or misfires with the weapon. About the only malady that I recall was an occasional “doubling” when the recoil would inadvertently bounce my trigger finger against the trigger too rapidly for me to take an aimed follow-up shot.
In 2006, I sold that SKS to my local gun shop in southern Illinois in anticipation of my move back to Southern California after finishing my U.S. Air Force career. Fast-forward to November 2008, and in the wake of the election of Barack Obama as POTUS, there was plenty of panic-buying on AK-pattern rifles.
I was slow on the draw and unable to obtain any AKs at any of my local gun shops, so I settled for a Yugoslav SKS that cost me roughly twice as much as the Chinese model I had bought 14 years earlier. Alas, this was badly rusted and pitted, and I was lucky to go 10 rounds with it without a jam.
I sold that one off just before leaving for my first Iraq contract in 2011.
Want Your Own?
SKSs currently list for sale on the Guns International website at a price range from $600.99 all the way up to $2,195, depending on the collectability of the individual weapon. Meanwhile, Guns.Com lists a price range from $440.99 to $1,499.99.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.