Two titans of arms design the AK series of rifles and the SKS are two Russian designs that are designed to be infantry rifles. Both rifles are post World War two, and designed to fire the same intermediate cartridge. The 7.62 x 39mm round is an efficient and effective man stopper and the round works exceptionally well in both rifles. Outside of the round and the date of the rifle’s design, these two weapons have hardly anything in common. An active comparison reveals the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms, and can easily help you make a consumer’s decision.
For the sake of this article when I discuss the AK series of rifles I will be discussing the civilian, semi auto only equivalents. When I discuss the SKS I will be discussing it in its original factory configuration.
Both weapons are semi automatic and recoil operated. In general both weapons have proven to be reliable in nearly any situation. The Russians design their weapons to work in their country, which both Napoleon and Hitler learned was a cruel mistress. These weapons can work well in adverse environments and are designed to just keep shooting. The AK series wins by just a hair by being an incredibly open and loose design. You can fill an AK 47 full of sand, mud, jello, whatever else you can imagine and it will just keep ticking. The SKS is still very reliable, but doesn’t feature the same loose tolerances the AK 47 is famed for.
Neither rifle has any inherent issues with extraction, ejection, or feeding, and typically both will run for decades. The SKS does runs perfectly with its original magazine, and may have hit or miss reliability with extended, aftermarket magazines. Also, the SKS has a milled receiver, which is often stronger than the traditional stamped receivers found on the vast majority of AKs. A milled receiver is less likely to become damaged, and this may be something to keep in mind.
In terms of mechanical accuracy both weapon are similar. Accuracy between the two rifles will largely only differ between shooters, and their skill levels. However, there is one factor that I’m using to make this into a real competition. Which firearm is easier to accurately shoot? For this I’m going to have to say the SKS. Why? Well let me explain it.
First off both rifles feature the same set of open sights, and they aren’t the greatest. However, the SKS does have a longer sight radius than the AK 47, which makes it easier to score accurate hits on a target. This is due to the SKS’ barrel, which is 20 inches long, versus the AK’s 16 inches. The 20 inch barrel extends that front sight out there for an additional four inches. Not only that but the SKS’ 10 round magazine is nice and short, and allows the shooter to get into a low prone, which makes shooting accurately easier. It’s also easier to use a sandbag or other improvised rest with an SKS than an AK.
Both rifles are dated designs when compared to modern rifles, and they certainly lack refinement. The Russians have never been one to worry about refining a firearm. They focused more on a rifle’s reliability than how it looked and handled. Both rifles have their strengths, and weaknesses, and this category is a toss up when it comes to choosing a victor.
First off the safety on the AK 47 is pretty terrible. It’s a piece of steel that slides up and down, and is absolutely massive. The design was inspired, stolen, and coincidentally looks identical to an older Remington auto loading rifle. The safety cannot be accessed without moving the body. You have to break a defensive patrol posture to turn the safety off, or turn it on. The only real advantage is that it can be done while wearing gloves.
The SKS safety is much, much better and is located inside the trigger guard. Trigger guard safeties were common in this era and were found on numerous American rifles like the M1 Garand. The SKS safety is easy to switch on and off, and can be done without moving out of a firing position.
The AK does have a much easier and faster, and more efficient method of reloading the firearm. An AK can be reloaded quickly, with little manipulation due to its removable magazines. The SKS does have a last round bolt hold open though, which is always handy and missing from the AK series.
The AK of course uses a pistol grip and separate stock combo, whereas the SKS uses a traditional inline rifle stock. The advantage here is the fact the SKS allows a better cheek weld, but only a little better.
Ease of Use
Both weapons are designed with the idea of a largely conscripted, low skilled army. The Russian Army at the time was not the greatest professional army, but had an instant and massive amount of soldiers ready to serve mother Russia. Both weapons are simple to use, and difficult to break.
This is probably subjective but in my opinion the AK is a bit easier to disassemble and clean. Remove the dust cover and you are basically done, pull out the guts and apply some CLP on a rag and you’re ready to go.
The SKS is a little different, but not much. It’s still simple to disassemble and easy to clean. There are a few more steps involved through.
In terms of firing the weapon and preparing it to fire, it’s easier and more efficient to insert a magazine that it is to load round one by one, or even with a stripper clip into the SKS. Both weapons operate with the same right handed charging handle, and after the weapon is loaded, the charging handle charged, you are ready to fire. Neither weapon is lefty friendly, but left handers will probably have less trouble with the AK’s safety.
So both guns are awash in potential aftermarket parts, some great, others not so much. For example if your SKS stock isn’t doing it for you, you can purchase any number of wood, or polymer aftermarket stocks for them. You can purchase stocks that simply act as traditional stocks, or tactical models that offer pistol grips and collapsing stocks. You can convert your SKS to removable magazines, but I advise against it. The SKS is much more reliable in its original configuration.
The AK series of rifles are ultimately going to have more accessories available for them. This is due to the fact companies are still producing new AKs, and armies are still using them around the world. With the AK series to can get a fixed stock, a folding stock, an under folding stock, a collapsing and folding stock, and everything in between. You can replace the top cover, the hand guards, and muzzle accessories with any one of dozens of different options.
The AK series also makes mounting a scope a bit easier with its optic’s side mount on the receiver. You’ll also have the ability to use a wide variety of different magazines reliably, from 5 round hunting magazines to 75 round drums.
Mags or Stripper clips?
The biggest point of contention between the two rifles is the way they are loaded. The AK is like all modern rifles, and takes a removable, 30 round magazine. The SKS uses older stripper clips to reload the magazine that is fixed in the rifle.
The advantages of a removable magazine are plenty. First off, 30 rounds of ammo is way better than 10 rounds, it can be objectively measured as three times better. Removable magazines make it possible for shooters firing rapidly to keep shooting, for longer periods of time. Magazines can break, bend and wear out, but are easily replaced in most situations. The downside is that AK mags are heavy, and carrying a few can get heavy fast.
Stripper clips can be quite fast to reload the SKS, but this will take extra time and training to master. Stripper clips will only allow you to load ten rounds at a time in the SKS’ fixed ten round magazine. Stripper clips are also lighter, and much cheaper than AK magazines. They aren’t as durable and can break easily. It’s best to treat stripper clips like their disposable and keep dozens of them around.
I would go with magazines if I was choosing a fighting rifle. Magazines have proven themselves to be a faster, more efficient method of reloading a rifle. Those armed with an SKS and a dozen stripper clips are far from under gunned though.
A Russian History and Pricing
Both rifles are Russian in design, but there are wide swaths of AKs and SKS rifles produced around the world, some from Russia, some from China, others from Yugoslavia and Romania. All of these weapons work well, due to their inherent design, and are all widely considered to share the same moniker of the Russian design. This has lead mostly to numerous different prices for said weapons, and a cost analysis would typically make the AK more expensive.
With that being said, some Russian SKS rifles in excellent condition with matching numbers can easily sell for more than a cheaper Romanian AK. Price is too widely varied to declare a winner or loser in this category.
Now is there a loser and winner is this competition? It’s simply subjective. Personally if I was going to war tomorrow I would take an AK 47, it’s smaller, more modern and has detachable magazines. With that being said I’ve bought and sold several AK style rifles, but my Russian SKS has never left my possession. The SKS’ wood lines, easy shooting demeanor and old world style make it a rifle I can’t be without. They aren’t making any more of them, so get them while you can.