SKS Carbine - A Hidden Gem
The SKS is a hidden gem as a relatively inexpensive semiautomatic deer rifle.
SKS rifles were developed by the Soviet Union’s Sergei Gavrilivich Simonov in 1945. The Samazaryadyi Karabin Simonova (Self-loading carbine Siminov) saw military use with the Soviet Union only briefly as a front line weapon being almost immediately replaced by the AK47 which is chambered with the same 7.62x39 cartridge. But millions of the carbines were made as second line weapons and the technology was widely distributed to soviet bloc nations throughout the 1950s. China, North Korea, Germany, Albania, Yugoslavia, and a number of other nations produced millions of the little carbines and thirty years later they flooded the US surplus market. I bought my first SKS for $60. Today you can still find them in near mint condition for about $250.
Beyond the obvious value as a defensive weapon these pieces of history can serve admirably as a short range deer rifle with fast semi auto follow up shots if needed. Ballistics are similar to the venerable 30-30 cartridge which has earned a place in deer hunting legend. So, just in case anyone is wondering if the SKS rifles are suitable for hunting white tail deer - here is my experience using them for that.
God blessed me with my 3rd and 4th deer in 1997 when I was carrying Chinese made SKS using semi jacketed lead point 7.62x39 ammunition made in Germany and China respectively. Just for historical trivia’s sake, those steel cased cartridges cost me just 9 cents each. The only modification necessary (in NY) was to swap the standard 10 round fixed magazine with a five round magazine. I also removed the bayonet. Both modifications required no special tools beyond a screw driver and a mallet.
On the opening day of NY’s southern zone regular deer season I had a tag for one antlered deer and one antlerless deer. I left my home before dawn and decided to hunt just a few hundred yards behind the house as the sun rose. I was hoping to catch deer passing along a deer trail that linked feeding and bedding areas. I stood between two maple trees leaning against the downhill tree and hoping that the other would block me from the sight of any deer uphill on a trail that crossed the face of the hill about 50 yards beyond where I stood.
The sun rose behind me turning the dark to grey and tingeing the sky with pink. I heard fat grey squirrels come down from their nests to search the fallen leaves for acorns and watched them play. One worked his way toward me, climbed a tree about 5 yards away and ran along a branch a few yards over my head and into the tree I was leaning against before moving on. I saw a partridge hen fly down and feed through my field of vision. Both moved off to my left. My plan was to watch this trail during the sunrise, then slowly work my way uphill and southward in an attempt to drive deer to my hunting companions. As the morning wore on I continued to hear the squirrels and partridge off to my left but paid little attention as I had seen the small animals already and knew what was making the noise. But when I decided to move I worked my way in that direction walking quietly and cautiously along over the stone wall and from rock to rock to minimize the noise of my foot steps. I had travelled about 50 yards when I distinctly heard footsteps ahead of me. Well I thought – it’s waaaay too noisy to be deer but I’ll take a look to see what it is.
Peering down hill I saw not one, but TWO deer. A fork horned buck was following tight behind a doe. He must have heard, smelled, or sensed me because just as I settled the SKS’s hooded front site post into the V notch of the rear sight on his shoulder, he looked back at me. They were +/- 70 yards away and about 20 feet down slope. Recognizing the danger, the buck swung his head forward and launched himself into a bound that should have carried him safely into the thick brush and then rapidly out of sight downhill. Except that his lady friend was squarely in front of his chest mere inches away. He rebounded off her butt and twisted sideways to get around the doe who had no idea that I was anywhere near them. When he stepped around her he brought his front shoulder out of alignment with her hind quarters. That was the opening I had been waiting for. She was no longer in the bullet’s path as I sent the 123 grain projectile high into his left side. The bullet passed just over his heart, on a downward angle and exited through the offside leg at the elbow.
Stunned by the noise and impact of the buck from behind, the doe wasn’t sure what was going on. It would have been easy to take her with the semi auto carbine, but I let her go. Somehow it just seemed greedy to drop both of them within seconds of each other. As soon as she spotted me, she bounded out of sight. The buck fell just 5 yards away and ended my hunting for the week.
On the last day of the same season I hunted up to the top of the hill and onto the adjacent property. I had attempted stalks on deer bedding at the top of the hill several times since opening morning without success. Each time the deer had seen or heard me and gone down the hill on the far side as I approached. The back side of the hill was covered with thick pines where I could not see them. But this time I followed them and after I jumped them and tracked them into a stand of pines too thick for me to even crawl through. I gambled that they were still hiding in the thick growth and circled the trees to wait for them to emerge. I took a position inside a group of tall straight hardwoods. It was a park like setting without undergrowth so from behind a large tree 50 yards away I had an unobstructed view of the pine thicket. I was betting that eventually they would return to their bedding area after they thought that the danger had passed.
I waited patiently. Then I waited impatiently. I counted all 317 trees within sight. I chewed gum until my jaws ached, and then I waited longer.
Finally in the afternoon, three does emerged from the pines and fed into view while browsing on low growth. They were just 50 yards away through the open hardwoods. It was the last day of the season and I had a doe tag to fill. Which one should I take? I resolved to take the first one that offered an unobstructed shot. They fed away from me bunched together for several yards until at about 75 yards one of them stepped away from the others offering the opportunity to squeeze a shot between two trees and through her heart. At the sound of the shot she leapt into the air and when she hit the ground, she was already dead. She folded on the spot without a single kick. The single shot entering through the near side (knocking out an inch sized chunk of rib), then passed through the heart and exited between the ribs of the far side. She collapsed so suddenly that the other does looked at her curiously but did not flee until I began to walk toward them and shooed them away.
When I field dressed the doe I found that the bullet had passed cleanly through her heat and the chunk of rib had slashed through the center of the heart horizontally cutting through all four chambers. When I opened her chest cavity warm blood literally poured out. Before I had finished field dressing her, a rustle in the leaves and movement caught my eye. A snow white ermine flowed over the brown leaves like liquid silk drawn to the scent of blood. The little carnivore came within 5 yards before it spotted me, reversed direction and disappeared like white furred lightening. That was a very special moment. I felt like I had been visited by a woodland nymph. The memory is even more special because those stately park-like hardwoods were logged off the next spring. So I probably had the last hunt of anyone in those old trees.
The Chinese made SKS certainly proved itself as a capable deer rifle with that double harvest. While the range was short (in both cases about 75 yards) I had two clean one shot kills with the bullets passing completely through both deer. The jacketed soft point ammunition worked admirable and I have to believe that most soft point 7.62x39 would perform equally as well at ranges up to 100 yards or slightly beyond. Just how far you are willing to take a shot depends on your experience but I would say that if you practiced the shot and could reliably hit your target, that the SKS is fully capable of cleanly taking game including white tail deer and small-medium hogs out to 150 yards and is particularly well suited to hunts in hilly or wooded terrain where the shots will be close and a fast follow up potentially needed.