In the US, the iconic and well-known AR-15 is, by far, the most popular rifle on the market. Gun stores are full of them, the US Military uses them, and Americans buy them like bubble gum from a candy store. While the AR-15 is popular in the United States, the AK-47 is arguably the most popular rifle on the planet. Nicknamed the mud-gun, the AK-47 will shoot when it’s, you know, muddy. The AK was a Soviet-made weapon and is still used by more than 20 standing militaries today.
So, what does this have to do with an SKS? If you have ever heard the term “poor man’s AK,” it is referring to an SKS that has been modified to be more like an AK-47. The popularity of the AK-47 overshadows the lesser-known SKS and there is a reason for this: it’s better. The SKS is a good rifle but it’s not AK-good and the price reflects this. Because of the number of people who’ve tried making their SKS into an AK, they have been compared a great deal. The problem is the SKS is not an AK-47 and shouldn’t be made into one. But let’s look at why people are determined to make this conversion.
History of the SKS
The SKS was invented by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov of the Soviet Union in 1945. For just a couple of years, the SKS was the bomb. It’s a semi-auto rifle, chambered in 7.62×39, and holds 10 rounds in its internal magazine. And, it can shoot as fast as you can pull the trigger. However, the SKS was quickly kicked in the closet by 1947 when Mikhail Kalashnikov invented the Automatic Kalashnikov, or AK-47. This improved weapon accepts 30-round detachable magazines and shoots upwards of 600 rounds per minute (in full-auto, of course).
During its short-lived stardom, multiple countries began producing the SKS for their own forces. Even as the AK-47 began to be distributed in Russia in the 1950’s, the SKS was used by their reserve forces. Of course, I exaggerate some on the SKS’s short-lived stardom. The AK-47 started being used in the 50’s but it was not until 1959 that it was modified to accept stamped receivers, making it cheaper to produce. The SKS is still used in some countries today, but it has not been produced in large quantities since the 1960’s when the AK-47 started dominating the production lines. A cheap, reliable gun was the way of the future.
Why a poor man’s AK?
So where did the term “poor man’s AK” come from? Back in the day, an AK-47 was cheaper than now, but an SKS was dirt cheap. When I was little, you could buy an SKS for under $200 at local gun stores. When they were on sale, you could even get them for under $100. Because the demand for the AK-47 was growing, production went up, but the market was already flooded with SKS rifles. Now everyone wanted the new AK and not the SKS, so the price went down.
Because the AK was harder to get ahold of and cost more, people began buying the SKS rifle and converting as much of it as they could to make it look like an AK. I say “look” like one because you can’t turn an SKS into an AK-47. Companies make conversion kits that allow the SKS to use detachable 30-round mags and you can buy synthetic stocks that have pistol grips like the AK. With these conversions, the SKS does look a little more like an AK. The cost of this setup was cheaper than an AK-47 and thus, a poor man’s AK. But again, it was never an AK because they are not made to the same specs, and therefore, don’t perform the same.
What’s wrong with an SKS the way it is?
Today, an AK-47 still costs more than an SKS, but the price gap is not as big. Cheaper AKs can be found for $500 and SKS rifles can be found for $350-$500 depending on the manufacturer and condition. For those who want a good quality AK-47, there are lots of options if you want to pay top dollar. The days of buying an SKS because you can’t afford an AK, however, are gone. They have both gone up in price and the SKS is not as easy to find. So why not modify the SKS? Because it’s a different rifle than the AK-47 and shouldn’t be compared to one. Ever. The SKS was designed to be an infantry rifle. It features a fixed bayonet for hand-to-hand fighting, a longer barrel, and full-wooden stock.
The AK-47 was made to be a replacement machine gun for the PPSh-41. The SKS was made to replace the Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifles. Over time the Soviets realized the AK-47 proved to be a worthy gun to replace both because of the cost to manufacture and its overall reliability on the battlefield. With the extremely low production of the SKS, it will continue to be harder to find in years to come, which will continue to drive prices up.
The SKS is a great rifle, and so is the AK-47. I think the AK is a better rifle overall, but they were made for two different purposes. Both weapons were designed to withstand the harsh environments of Russia and both can take a beating. The SKS is made with tighter tolerances making it a little more prone to malfunctions than the AK-47 which has loose tolerances. The SKS has a milled receiver and the AK a stamped receiver. This makes the AK cheaper and lighter, but the SKS receiver is stronger. I don’t know that this matters because an AK will run longer than your Chevy pickup.
The SKS has a 20” barrel compared to the AK’s 16” giving it more room between the sights. This could make it slightly more accurate when using open sights than the AK-47. The AK-47 holds more bullets and can be reloaded much faster. Which one you pick depends on what you want to do with it. When hunting or shooting for fun, I lean towards the SKS. The AK is great for those too, but I like how the SKS handles with open sights at longer ranges. For home defense, war, or the zombie apocalypse, I would opt for the AK-47. In the end, they are both great guns and that will never change. The only thing that has changed is that the SKS is no longer a poor man’s AK.