Let’s embark upon a little thought experiment. You’re perusing through your local gun store with several hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket, when you come upon two fine examples of Soviet engineering: an SKS and an AK clone. Both fire the same inexpensive .30-caliber cartridge and are renowned for their durability and reliability—so how do you choose one to purchase?

The deciding factors are largely subjective and personal, but once a shooter identifies their needs it can be greatly simplified.When I consider buying a gun, I normally evaluate it in terms of six key aspects: reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, price, aftermarket support, and cost of ownership.


This aspect is nearly a wash between the two rifles. AK-pattern rifles are known for their ability to tolerate the most abhorrent conditions imaginable. From the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan, the AK just works. It’s the reason first-run models dating from the late 40s and early 50s still pop up in conflict zones to this day. They have an unsurpassed ability to just keep running.

The SKS shoots the same 7.62x39 round as the AK-47/AKM family of firearms, but is perhaps less widespread.
The SKS shoots the same 7.62×39 round as the AK-47/AKM family of firearms, but is perhaps less widespread.

Not to say that the SKS rifle isn’t a reliable option, but it hasn’t earned the same reputation for reliability as its detachable magazine-fed comrade. That said, examples built both for and by China that later found their way into the hands of Vietnamese soldiers did an incredible job of tolerating the jungle humidity and abundance of thick mud of that Southeast Asian nation. A slight edge goes to the AK for reliability.


Most AK-lovers will tell you that rifles with milled receivers are more accurate than ones with stamped receivers. While on paper this is absolutely correct, in practice the difference between the two major types of AK carbine is minimal. What about the all-milled SKS rifle? It is more accurate than your average AK due to its more rigid construction, less violent action, longer barrel, and subsequently longer sight radius, but again it’s more academic than practical.

That said, the best group I’ve ever seen fired from an SKS assault rifle was around two inches at 100 yards, which is basically on par with AK-pattern guns. However, since we’re splitting hairs to come up with a superior rifle, the SKS is slightly more accurate than most AK rifles. Certainly, Molot-made Vepr carbines are able to squeeze more accuracy from the platform, but for the vast majority of shooters the SKS will be slightly more accurate. This SKS gun gains a point for its superior accuracy.


Ergonomics are a tricky thing with firearms. Rather than being simply subjective or objective, often they’re a combination of both and reflect a shooter’s past experiences. For example, I learned to shoot on a Glock 17. Even though it’s too large for my hands, I’m so accustomed to the pistol that guns with arguably better ergos can feel awkward to me.

At least in part, ergonomics are a personal issue. The concept also touches upon how easily a shooter can shoot a firearm in awkward positions, reload it, and clear malfunctions.

For this portion of the comparison, I wanted to be as practical as possible. So I looked at the challenges each gun presented when manipulated and fired from various positions. Here is where the AK’s lineage and close association with “tank desant” comes in to play. The AK’s steep stock angle, relatively short barrel, and capacious magazine capacity make perfect sense when shooter realizes it was designed to protect armored vehicles from infantry with handheld anti-tank weaponry. By this I mean it wasn’t designed for long-range combat, but more mobile suppressive fire against targets within 200 meters. The SKS is more like an intermediate Russian version of the Garand, offering more firepower to individual shooters at ranges up to 400 meters.

The SKS' safety is a bit easier to operate than the AK's, but it's produces less positive feedback.
The SKS’ safety is a bit easier to operate than the AK’s, but it’s produces less positive feedback.

Why mention this? Because it explains why the AK is so awkward to fire from the prone position—it wasn’t designed for it. Which is where the SKS really shines.

The ergonomics on the SKS rifles are better for bench-shooting and prone fire, where its traditional stock and stubby fixed magazines don’t interfere with soldiers trying to keep their heads down. The safety is easier to reach on the SKS than the AK, but is far less positive and more difficult to actuate with gloved or panic-stricken hands.

The biggest difference between the two rifles is the ease of reloading. The SKS feeds from a fixed 10-round magazine that can be refreshed with stripper clips. While aftermarket removable magazines exist, they aren’t as reliable or as easy to replace as AK mags. With all this in mind, the two are nearly equal, but the faster-reloading nature of the AK gives it enough of an edge over the SKS to take the lead. Advantage: Kalashnikov.


A decade ago, the SKS had a huge price advantage over the average AK rifle. In the early 2000s, it wasn’t uncommon to snag a Yugoslavian SKS for under $100. Now, if shooters can even find them, they’re closer to $350 in rough condition.

That’s not to say that the price of AKs has remained static, either. Since the 2012 panic, the average price of an AK rifle has increased to around $575 for entry-level carbines.

Conclusion? The SKS is still less expensive, but the cost of both guns has increased enough that the difference is less significant than in the past. If this article was being written at the turn of the century, I would have recommended shooter buy both and a case of 7.62x39mm for under $1,000, then invest in some shop towels to clean all the cosmoline off. Today, if money is the only motivating factor, shooters should stick to the Simonov carbine. Advantage: SKS rifle.

Aftermarket support

Here’s where we separate the rookies from the rockstars. The SKS once had what was considered a robust accessory market. However, with the increasing popularity of firearms and the AK in the United States, the AK accessory business has eclipsed that of the SKS.

The AK's aftermarket offers owners many customization options.
The AK aftermarket offers owners many customization options, from KeyMod handguards to AR-style stocks.

With no fewer than seven different railed handguard markers, and dozens of furniture builders available, the only limit when customizing an AK rifle is a shooter’s budget—especially with parts like AR-stock adapters that greatly expand the available stock options for the AK. It’s also much easier to mount modern optics to AKs with side rails using mounts like those made by RS Regulate. Gross advantage: Kalashnikov.

It's also much easier to mount optics on AKs using mounts like the RS Regulate AK-300 system.
It’s also much easier to mount optics on AKs using mounts like the RS Regulate AK-300 system.

Cost of ownership

Ask any McLaren F1 owner what parts cost for their car, and they’ll laugh. They haven’t the faintest idea, because money doesn’t matter to them. Few gun owners have this luxury, so most of us have to figure out what it costs to maintain and keep our rifles fed.

Since both guns use the same ammunition, that portion of this comparison is void. Also, since both rifles enjoy great longevity of parts, most shooters won’t need to replace anything on either for the life of the gun. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume for whatever reason this prospective buyer assembles guns with a mallet and a grudge.

The cost of AK parts is pretty cheap, assuming the shooter buys a standard AKM-type rifle. If they opt for a milled gun, certain parts are more expensive and rare, like furniture, but the basic components are the same. Spare parts for the SKS used to be very cheap, but with its growing scarcity, the cost of replacement parts like springs and the gas tube has astronomically increased. While magazines are fairly inexpensive for both platforms, spare AK mags are infinitely more plentiful, and steel ones can often be found for around $12. Advantage: Kalashnikov.


With a markedly cheaper cost of ownership, better aftermarket support, and marginally better ergonomics, shooters looking for an inexpensive, dependable carbine should lean towards the famed AK. While either gun is equally as proficient at throwing inexpensive bullets down range, the AK is more versatile and can more easily be customized for just a few hundreds dollars more. That said, I wouldn’t feel under-armed with either of these rifles in a bugout or SHTF situation. If I had a choice, though, it’d always be an AK.

Images by Jim Grant

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24 thoughts on “AK vs SKS: Which Should You Buy, and Why?

  1. The AK is a much more manageable carbine. Made even more so by the use of a folding stock or AR collapsible stock. Quick to get on target with decent back on target ergonomics plus hard hitting .30 and .223.. Have owned Russian laminated stocked SKS and Chinese Norinco’s also. Prefer and own Pre-banned Norinco’s and Poly’s in their original state. No 922 post ban regs to fiddle with. Great article, thanks.

  2. Excellent article. I have several SKSs that I bought for next to nothing and got them to teach my children how to shoot a centerfire rifle. Still have them but greatly customized one into a bullpup and enjoy it. The Magazine is the weak point of this weapon and you can feed an AK vastly easier. Today at two recent gunshows there were dogs of SKSs bringing $495.00. For that money spend a tiny bit more and get a solid but not expensive AK. Well written and overly fair article. Still an SKS is a good training rifle, fun to shoot and I also prefer the Norinco version. I brought back an unfired one in about 1969 that is still a good looking gun.

    1. Have to agree with the SKS being a great training rifle. Get used to the 7.62×39 without the intimidation some get from an AK.

  3. Great article and hard to argue with. I own an SKS and have fired the AK. I like both. My main factor in choosing the SKS was the cost. Got it for $200 less than I could get an AK for.

  4. If you actually want to hit something beyond 200-meters, SKS is the way to go. The AK, is little more that just a Artillery Pistol that Looks Good…

    1. Must hv nvr shot a good quality AK..I get 1 1/2 to 2 inch groups consistently at 100 yards using cheap ammo! The cartridge on both is part of problem..it was designed for the knockdown of a full size .30 cal but with limited range.. mainly for street fighting..up close and personal! That’s why it’s called an intermediate cartridge.

  5. I own a Zastava AK, and a SKS Paratrooper carbine. As a woods gun, that get’s strapped to my three wheeler, with a 200rd chest rig, I find the SKS to be perfect for everything you may run into. The AK is more of a SHTF gun for me, but I find it’s more than accurate enough to get the job done. A friend, who served in Vietnam, told me a story of how a SKS saved him when his gun was knocked out of commission. He said when he grabbed it, it looked like a long stick covered in mud, but when he pulled the trigger, it went bang every time, and until reinforcements showed up, he just kept loading, and shooting, and claimed it never jammed. So if it can work in that scenario, it can work in anything we may need it for!

  6. Very good and fair article. Here are a few points people never hear get mentioned. The Ak replaced the SkS because it could be made more cheaply with stamped parts, it had full auto capabilitiy, and a 30 round clip. It should be noted that most cannot get a fully automatic AK. Also, if you took both guns empty, no stripper or banana clips loaded, the SKS can put 100 rounds down range faster. Here is the feed expedient method [FE] method, load ten in the sks from the bottom by dropping them in and closing the mag door, charge the bolt, shoot nine, turn the gun over and open the mag door, drop in 9 more rounds close the mag door and you do not even have to charge the bolt, it is ready to shoot, keep repeating with 9 rounds. Also the SKS is longer and heavier so it is better for hand to hand and battering down a door. Should you be in a SHTF situation and lose or damage the AK banana clip, the AK is crippled, but the SKS can be loaded from the bottom, hand loaded from top, stripper clip loaded, or single shot. The SKS stays open when last shot is fired, not so the AK, The SKS bayonet can fold or unfold in literally less than two seconds without losing it, or having to carry it seperately. All that said, the AK is the best selling, most used war weapon in history, but I did want to mention a few of the SKSs advantages in a SHTF condition. To be fair, the AK can be field stripped easier, but the SKS is fairly easy without tools also. The AK is not as heavy and better to carry on long hikes as opposed to the SKS, except through thick brush where the banana clip tends to hang up, here the the SKS is slicker, and nobody thinks the SKS looks cooler than the AK. Both guns are still being made today after 70-and 68 years respectively. Can you imagine swinging an SKS at a B.G. and having him block it with his AR 15?

  7. I prefer the SKS. I live out in the hills and woods, don’t really have a need for 30 round magazines. I also don’t like carrying around multiple 30 round magazines. I find it easier to throw some loaded stripper clips in my pockets and be off on my way.

  8. My father passed when I was young and I still remember him breaking out the old norinco and blowing bark off trees. It is one hell of a gun. Both have there downfalls though. Decided to get it out this week and learn it in case SHTF any time soon. Come to find I have the Norinco SKS M. So I can pop in a five round clip or throw in the good ole 30 rd ak banana clip. Pretty badass gun too and very accurate 100 yards out. Parts are dirt cheap and the gun seems to be fairly tough. Took it up to a nam vet who had claimed he had never seen one and he said it was a hell of a gun… Except for the fact the bolt doesn’t hold open which would suck if you dry fired in combat. Now I’ll be able to tell the old lad that a gun from the same batch was probably spitting out the dang things whistiling past his ears. Hahaha Not as scary looking as the ak but past the looks there isn’t much of a difference. Both great examples of communist engineering.

  9. Well done story/article.
    I used the the M16A1/A2 while in the Army. Once back in Civilian life I looked at buying an AR, AK or SKS.
    After reviewing them, I opted for the Russian SKS. Modified my SKS with TAPCO Rail System and love it.
    I even added a Reflex Sight and enjoy shooting it.

  10. Plus the SKS has a Fatal flaw (literally..ppl hv been accidentally killed because of it) the firing pin issue. They can slam fire if extremely dirty and firing pin gets stuck in the outside of bolt face. And sometimes they stay stuck and will empty a mag in a few seconds. I had this happen to me once..luckily no one hurt or killed in my case. All I was doin was chambering a round. There is a fix tho..a small spring to put w the pin.

    1. I read online somewhere that only 1 fatality has been reported due to a slam fire situation. During the investigation the court documents revealed that the owner did not properly clean the rifle prior to use and the firing pin was protruding due to dried cosmoline. As I recall It also stated the shooter was using domestic brass rounds with soft primers rather than than steel cased hard primer import ammo. Anyway, my wife & I own 2 matching # Norinco SKS’s but I bubba’d mine with a Tapco stock, gas piston assy., 20 round mags (that work flawlessly), UTG quadrail and a Bushnel red dot. It can easliy be switched back to the stock furniture in minutes.Both utilize Murray’s spring loaded firing pins for domestic brass use should the need arise.

      Our next purchase will definitely be an AK just for the fun of it. Thanks, RP.

    2. Hmmmm, I have a 56′ Russian/Romanian S.K.S., with a 30 and 40 round clip system. I have (never) had a “fatal firing pin issue”, not once and I use indoor ranges, with a pro double Purple Heart Army friend inspecting it.

    3. Slam fire has only occured (the times that I’ve witnessed it) when the owner failed to clean out all of the cosmoline from the inside of the bolt, and the firing pin could not move freely and was stuck in the protruding position. I have two and they have never slam fired and I shoot in an SKS club and we have never seen it with the exception of the two occasions that I have previously mentioned. To avoid slam fires clean out the bolt and make it thoroughly free of cosmoline. And when you shake the bolt it should rattle. If it isn’t rattling clean it up thoroughly.

      1. Ahhh?/! Cosmoline (Mil-Std. MIL-C-11796C, Class C) is a “Rust Inhibitor”, NOT a Lubrication. It was used in WW2 to keep Critical Parts, Equipment and Vehicles made of Steel. For Rust Prevention on Long Voyages by Sea. It starts to Melt at ~120F and Catch Fire at ~370F…

  11. Hello,,,if I may,,this contest has been going on forever,ak vs sks,the reason the russians started production of ak47 after only 2 yrs of sks was economics, ,ak was much cheaper to produce,,china continued for decades because they had so many more people and many sks factories in place ,,the ak was designed to be a tankers weapon for close range and getting out of the tank (with a weapon) in hand,,ak was designed by kalishnicov, ,a tanker.he took designs from sks,,m1 garand and others ,,heres the deal the sks is superior to at least all american made ak47s.all american made are not combat proven and they all have catastrophic faults ,,now showing up all the time ,even the high priced ones.but here is a comparison, ,we all love Harley Davidson ,they sound great and look cool ,but to go cross country you need a truck and a toolbox to follow you,,a honda ,,no ,I can get on a honda and go cross country and nevef even check the oil,,people today buy ak47 for the same reason,,,image,,sks has it all hammer forged chrome lined barrel milled reciever, battle proven,,the 30 rnd mag holds no water. .if ya cant kill em in 10 your in the wrong place anyway ,,only my 2 cents,, john 1/509airborne

  12. One more thing ,niether weapon was designed to have scopes, and other added paraphernalia, ,just adds weight, ,,thanks for puttin up with me

  13. Ya ,the slam fire thing,,clean all the cosmoline out ,,down to the firing pin ,,forget the after market spring,,they get brittle and break jamming the firing pin forward ,,and slam fire ,,the Chinese put some in early production but then quit and went back to (original ) design

  14. Eye half a russan sks and it was 110 dollars and had a roman ak and sold ak mis it much and like ak better then sks but vary depndable rifle

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