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23 August, 2010

How I Made my SKS Shootable (Part I)

by Hal Carlisle

There are millions of SKS rifles in use across the world today, and why not?  While I don't think anyone will ever try to make the case that the SKS is the best rifle ever made, they are great guns.  Chambered in 7.62 x 39mm, with a ten shot fixed magazine and rock-solid reliability, this is a firearm you can count on, one you can plink with, and one that can be used effectively on deer-sized game (I must say here that I have yet to take a deer with mine). The SKS also comes into its own when introducing smaller-statured persons to shooting, as it can deliver a good adrenaline rush and make for an exciting trip to the range without beating your new shooter to pieces. 

The story of my life with the SKS is a long one but easily summarized:  I was about 13 years old, with a small wad of cash, and walking around a gun show with my dad.  I saw this guy walking the floor with a pretty interesting looking rifle slung over his shoulder, and I had to ask what it was.  In maybe his late 30's, with longish messy hair and a bit of the look of a motorcycle rider, he showed me this old rifle like it was the coolest thing ever (of course, he was selling it).

And boy, you should have seen it.  When I first laid eyes on it I had no idea what the actual, original SKS was supposed to look like, so I had no possible way to know how Bubba'd up his was.  The original wood stock was painted a semi-gloss olive drab, and there was a plain pistol grip, epoxy-grafted onto the stock and trigger guard, covering the button where you release the trigger group.  A no-name 2.5x scope sat in some cheap, wobbly rings, riding atop a primitive mounting rail that was spot welded to the inherently shaky bolt cover.  An after-factory 30 rnd. banana clip finished off the job, and boy was it ever a "Bubba AK".  The asking price was right, the bore and action were clean, and 1,000 rnd. cases of ammo were selling for around $100 at that time, so after a short debate with Dad, the rifle was mine.

When we finally got home and I had the chance to try out my new cool gun.  What ensued was, to say the least, not the makings of a good first impression.  The gun jammed a lot, having a serious problem getting rounds out of the magazine and into the chamber, and ergonomically it was 2 thumbs down, as well.  My dad has always been into American-made pistols and hunting rifles, so he was no help whatsoever with this strange conglomeration of Russian design, Chinese manufacture, and American "customization".  Between the two of us, we couldn't even figure out how to properly clean and field strip the thing, much less diagnose the failure to feed issue.  This was a little before the internet was really mainstream, so rather than canvass the countryside for someone who might be able to help, I shelved that rifle, and only shot it maybe twice over the next ten years.

It wasn't until college, when I made friends with a guy who was really into AK-47s, that I finally discovered this rifle's true beauty.  He and I began talking about guns one day and decided to plan a trip to the range, so I told him I had this old, crappy SKS out at my dad's house and I wanted him to tell me how it worked.  He was very positive about the SKS in general, calling it the Grand Daddy of the AK, and knew all about it.  He told me he'd be glad to show me everything about it and show me what a great gun it was.

Range Trip Day finally came and I pulled out my old rifle to show him, kind of wincing as it came out of the case.  His jaw dropped and his mouth just hung open for a long moment as he gawked.  When he regained use of speech again, all he could manage was, "Man, is there an SKS in there?" 

(Part II and pics to come shortly)

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