During WWII, the countries which used Mosin Nagants realized that they were too long, heavy, and slow to be suitable for wide use in modern combat. Although the Russians often severely outnumbered the Germans in combat, the Germans had many different fully-automatic arms, including the Mauser C96 pistol (in some configurations), the MP40 submachine gun, and their sturmgewehrs and maschinengewehrs (assault rifles and machineguns). Mosins were more suited to conventional Napoleonic warfare and were developed in the age of black powder weapons. The Russians scrambled to produce weapons more suitable for modern warfare. Before the M43 7.62x39mm round was approved, Russian weapon designers attempted to make semi-auto rifles chambered in the existing 7.62x54mmR round, but it proved a difficult task considering its great recoil and large size. The designer Fedor Tokarev did manage to overcome most of these problems and developed the SVT-40 in 1940. But the SVT-40 was difficult to produce and difficult to maintain without specific training. After the M43 cartridge was approved, the designer Sergei Simonov modified one of his existing designs (which relied heavily on the SVT-40 and Mosin Nagant) to fire the round. The design of the SKS was a great success; it fitted perfectly with Soviet doctrine that a weapon needn't be terribly accurate as long as it was cheap, durable, reliable, and simple to produce, maintain, and operate.
The SKS is clip-fed and utilizes an internal 10-round (in some variants 11) magazine. It has the simplest bayonet design I've ever seen and takes only a second or so to extend or fold; the bayonet is attached to the rifle by a sort of hinge and to extend it one merely pulls on the connector at the base of the bayonet, rotates it 180 degrees, and it clicks into place. On my SKS, a Yugoslavian version, there are flip-up tritium rear and front sights, and the tritium front sight is sighted in for 30 yards, with the day sight being sighted in for 100 yards. My Yugo also has a rifle grenade launcher attached at the end of the barrel, which probably helps reduce barrel harmonics. It also has sights for the launcher and a gas-block switch. At the butt of the rifle, there's a spring-loaded trapdoor which holds the cleaning kit. It also comes with a sling similar to the Mosin's.
SHTF/Zombie Coefficient: 4/5
Accuracy is a 3/5 because I can pretty easily keep all shots on a man-sized silhouette target at 100 yards, but I'm sure I'll get better with some more practice. I'm sure the addition of an aftermarket stock would help with this. You can see how the accuracy of various SKSs compare at http://www.surplusrifle.com/shooting/sksshootout/index.asp.
Range is a 3/5, but that's not really a bad thing; the rifle was designed for more realistic ranges than the Mosin. The rear sight is the same of that of a Mosin and can be adjusted to 1000 meters, although the rifle was only really meant for use between about 100 and 400 meters. I'm sure the cartridge is effective at further ranges, as my SKS seems about as powerful as my old man's Glenfield Model 30A (another rifle I'll write an article about), but I doubt my ability to hit a man-sized target with standard iron sights beyond about 200 or so meters.
Ergonomics (3/5) are surprisingly good for a Soviet weapon. The grip angle is comfortable and there's practically no recoil which is quite remarkable for a weapon chambered in such a powerful cartridge. The safety is a lever located to the right of the trigger, which is very easy and convenient to operate, which is a stark contrast to the Mosin. Field stripping requires no tools and can be done quite quickly. One merely puts the weapon on safe and twists and pulls a lever to the rear and right of the receiver, and the weapon easily comes apart. It weighs a bit less than my Mosin and handles much better. The grip slots on the front of the stock are comfortably offset, whereas on a Mosin they are parallel. This is really a significant tactile observation, you'd have to pick one up to see what I mean.
Value is maximum, but as the amount of SKSs has been decreasing, their prices have been steadily increasing. I bought mine over the summer at a gun show for $275, although I've seen people sell them for as high as $600. You shouldn't have to pay more than $300 though. Mine was in excellent condition and obviously well taken care of and the stock was refinished beautifully, which is why I haven't bothered to replace it.
SHTF/Zombie Coefficient is pretty high. Although the internal magazine only holds ten or eleven rounds, detachable AK-style magazines of various capacities are easy to find. I've got a couple 37-rounders, but I've seen ridiculous looking mags which hold up to 100 rounds. They're a bit of a pain to attach and remove compared to modern assault rifles which drop the mag with the push of a button, but with a little practice and persistence one can change the pretty quickly. Ammo is cheap, common, and powerful, and it fires just as fast as you can pull the trigger, and mine's got a pretty good trigger. The SKS has a number of aftermarket stocks which would make it more suitable for various kinds of combat, so it's a fairly modular weapon. Not as modular a modern assault rifle, mind you, but I'm impressed with the number of roles it could fill given aftermarket accessories and parts. For the price, it's hard to find a rifle more suitable for SHTF.
Although the SKS was first manufactured in 1945 and quickly replaced by the AK in 1947, it remains a widely used weapon and is almost impossible to beat in terms of cost effectiveness.
You can learn more about the SKS at:
You can learn more about the SKS at: