Range Report: SKS v. US Rifle .30 cal M1 Posted by: Dale Franks
on Friday, February 02, 2007
In the past three weeks, I've been to the range twice, and shot 200+ rounds through both the SKS and M1 Garand. The Lovely Christine has shot 16 rounds through the M1 and about 150 rounds through the SKS. The M1's recoil scares her, so she's not interested in shooting it any more. She loves the SKS though, and is perfectly comfortable with loading and shooting it.
Cleaning it, on the other hand...well...the less said about that the better. Suffice it to say that cleaning weapons is completely my responsibility.
US RIFLE M1, .30 Cal.
The look of the M1 is classically elegant. That goes without saying. What isn't as evident is the way the M1 feels when you pull it into shooting position. It...fits! Say what you want about the inconvenience of the en bloc clip, or the weight, or what have you, but when you pull the M1 into your shoulder, if fits almost obscenely well. It nestles into the natural point of aim instantly. Despite the nearly 10-pound weight of the loaded M1, the ergonomics of the rifle almost make you forget the weight.
But not the recoil. The .30 caliber round of 1906 (.30-06) has a kick like a mule. My first day out, I fired a complete combat load + through the M1. The next day, my entire shoulder was sore. For someone like me, who cut his teeth on the M16, the recoil is amazing.
But, the accuracy of the M1 is also amazing. Even granting the fact that the .30-06 round travels in an almost parabolic arc, the fully adjustable rear sight of the M1 allows you to place the rounds exactly where you want them. By simply moving the elevation the appropriate number of clicks, you can pretty much hit anything you want. For a rifle picked up on the fly, it's just unbeatable.
One of the days we were at the range, one of the other guys put a bowling pin about 85m downrange and invited all of us to shoot at it. I dropped the bowling pin with one shot from the standing, unsupported position. Indeed, with everyone at the range watching, with an empty magazine, I pulled back the charging handle, dropped one round into the chamber, let the bolt snap forward, and popped the bowling pin. You don't do that unless you are supremely confident in your rifle's accuracy, and the M1 justifies that confidence.
This is more surprising when you consider what a hodgepodge of parts my M1 is. Before I shot it, I took it to a local gunsmith. And not just any gunsmith, either. One of my co-workers, who is a former commander of the 5th Marine Regiment, hooked me up with a retired Master Gunny who cut his teeth on the M1, and now owns his own gun shop. I figured a guy who used to rebuild M1s 20,000 rifles at a time knew his way around the rifle. And he did.
He told me that my M1 is practically unique. The receiver was manufactured in May, 1945. The stock is Korean War vintage. The barrel was forged in Richmond, VA, sometime in the late 1950's. The gas cylinder has been rebored and the gas piston at the end of the operating rod has been widened to fit. This means that both parts differ significantly from the standard. So, if I ever have to replace the gas cylinder or operating rod, I'll have to replace both of the parts.
But, even with that, it still shoots 2" groups at 100m with open sights. Even with my 42 year-old eyes.
The one embarrassing experience was shooting side-by side with a Marine Gunny and his M14. While I was shooting 2" groups at 100m, he was shooting sub-1" groups with iron sights, preparing for his 4th tour in Iraq. He said that he used to have a Garand, but he lost it in a divorce. He was planning to buy another one when he returned from his next tour.
I felt like a total loser next to him. Especially since, if my generation had been allowed to finish the job in 1991 when he was still a Lance Corporal, he wouldn't have to be going back for a 4th time now. But that's another post, entirely.
In any event, the M1 is an absolute joy to shoot, even if it does beat up on your shoulder like Mike Tyson. With the M1, if you can see it, you can kill it.
Cleaning the M1 is fairly straightforward, too. It breaks down into nine parts (stock, receiver and barrel, trigger group, bolt and bolt carrier group, operating rod, op rod spring, op rod spring guide, gas cylinder, and cylinder lug), making cleaning a breeze.
Samozaryadnyi Karabin sistemi Simonova (SKS)
The SKS is an absolute joy to shoot, too, but in a different way. If the M1 is a Cadillac, the SKS is a pickup truck: Reliable, dependable, but without bells and whistles.
The Barska Reflex sight I installed, and was so proud of was absolutely useless. It simply couldn't hold a decent lock on the target. The problem was the sight adjustment of the sight itself. The sight adjustment elevated the sight on a spring-loaded pin. If I added enough elevation to hit the target, the sight itself was mounted on little more than an unprotected spring, which meant that the shots went in every direction. With each shot, the sight wobbled and returned to a less-than-true position. In essence, the Barska sight was a total waste of $60.
Once I pulled the Barska sight, and went back to the stock leaf sights, the SKS shot...close. With the stock sights, the SKS pulled to the right about 6cm at 50m. By using "Kentucky windage", i.e. aiming a bit to the left, you could compensate, but the failure of the Barska sight was disappointing.
This is not to say that shooting the SKS wasn't enjoyable. It is. There is very little felt recoil, and even Chris, who has no experience with anything other than .22 rifles, could shoot 4" groups at 50m with the iron sights. My groups were...better, but at 100m, the SKS is a bit...off. I suspect that much of the problem is that we were using 7.62x39 hollowpoint, which is a bit less accurate than FMJ, but which I picked up from Cheaper Than Dirt for a song for a 1,000-round case. With FMJ ammo, you should be able to efforetlessly hit a man-sized target at any range less than 300m with the SKS. Not that you would ever need to do that, obviously.
The big drawback to the SKS is the number of parts is has to be stripped to to clean it. The major parts of the SKS are the stock, trigger group,bolt carrier spring, bolt carrier spring guide, bolt carrier spring guide lock, receiver cover, bolt carrier, bolt, gas cylinder, gas piston, operating rod, operating rod spring, and magazine. That's thirteen separate parts. And removing and installing the trigger group is a huge pain in the...fundament. Once you master the removal and installation of the trigger group, however, the rest is easy. But the trigger group is a bitch.
Stripping and cleaning notwithstanding, though, the SKS is really fun—and cheap—to shoot. It doesn't come anywhere near to the M1 for accuracy, or, presumably, terminal effects, but it's still an outstandingly fun rifle to shoot. And it shoots good enough for "government work".
If you understand your particular rifle, and how it shoots, the SKS is unbeatable for the sub-$200 price you'll pay to get one. This is especially true if you get hold of one of the Yugoslavian models, like mine, with the Tritium night sights. It's a rugged, dependable combat rifle, not a sniper rifle, but despite being somewhat of a pain to strip and clean, it's a good rifle. And it'll drop pretty much anyone you need to drop at less than 300m.
Although, of course, you won't ever need to shoot anyone with it. I mean, we're talking about fun at the shooting range, not shooting anyone in the real world.
Keep in mind the prices on 7.62x39mm have been going up a lot lately.
I still prefer my AR-15 though. It is probably as or more accurate than the M1, it has good sights, and it doesn’t beat up your shoulder. And you can put one together for anywhere from $650 to $infinity. That’s way more expensive than the SKS, but a lot cheaper than a non-CMP M1. But I’m in Delaware where I can own such things, not California. If you feed it a good round (not M855/S109!) 5.56 can still be quite a good stopper.
Sorry the Barska sight sucked. But if it makes you feel any better, you saved me $50. I was thinking of mounting one of them on my ARs flat-top. I guess I’ll stick with my irons for now.
Love the M1. The recoil of it never really bothered me, seemed more of a good ’push’ than a whack. Whereas a 1903 Springfield, firing the same cartridge, beats the crap out of me after twenty rounds or so.
From what I’ve seen of the Yugo SKSs out there, it’s not uncommon for the front sight to be off on windage, and since that’s also where you ’fine tune’ elevation one of the adjusting tools is your friend. Most of them have been far more accurate than I expected first time I fired one; mine will break clay pigeons at 100 yards every time if I do my part. Though this can vary- as usual- from one to another.
Cleaning, I almost never take the trigger group/magazine off for cleaning. Pull the receiver cover, recoil spring, bolt group, and- if the ammo was corrosive primed or it’s been a while- the gas tube and piston, and that’s it. The trigger group is indeed a pain in the ass to get out and back in when everything fits tight as it should, so I just pull it when actually needs cleaning.
I’m rapidly approaching 50, and I’ve been having some eyesight problems lately (can you say "posterior irido-lenticular synechiae as sequelae to anterior uveitis"? I wouldn’t know what it was, 6 months ago.) Anyway, I’m having to put scopes on all of my rifles.
I’ve got a battered old M1 Garand that I’ve just put a scope mounting rail on. Don’t be too quick to castigate me, I didn’t have to permanently alter the rifle. It’s a hodge-podge rifle anyway. I bought the mount from Fulton Armory, and it replaces the rear sight. I haven’t shot it yet, so I don’t know if it’ll hold zero, but it’s on there rock-solid. I’ve added a lace-on cheek-pad, to get the line-of-sight to the scope with a good cheek weld. I plan to try it with my cheap (left-over from re-scoping my .30-06 bolt rifle) scope, and then put on a good one if it turns out to hold a zero.
I also mounted a scope to my ChiCom SKS using Choate Machine & Tool’s mount, which required drilling and tapping the side of the receiver. I figured, why not put a $60 mount on an $80 rifle (that being what I paid for them back when). Any mount on the SKS that depends on the reciever cover is simply not going to re-zero when the cover is removed for cleaning. This mount still allows use of the iron sights as back-up, and doesn’t need to be removed for cleaning.
From a bench-rest, I could shoot 4" groups at 100 yards until the barrel started to heat up (to where I couldn’t touch it). That was using the inexpensive Wolf hollow-points, or the Wolf FMJ. I didn’t really notice any difference between them, either in group sizes or point of impact.
I have to agree with Firehand that shooting the ’06 from a bolt-action is a lot harder than shooting from the M1. The gas action seems to soak up a lot of the recoil. But I think the sheer weight of it helps a lot, too. My bolt-action is a stainless/synthetic, and is relatively light-weight (7 pounds) compared to the 9-1/2 or 10 pounds of an M1. I can put 80 rounds downrange with the M1 and not really be affected by it, but zeroing the scope on my bolt gun starts to hurt after just 10 rounds or so.
Oh yeah, weight and action type counts. Friend of mine had a new lightweight ’.06 bolt rifle to sight in for deer season. Other than Brit .303 rifles, not much centerfire rifle experience, so he didn’t quite figure out the problem of ’lightweight’ connected to ’.30-06’; just say it was an unpleasant surprise to him.
One thing I’ve wondered about is the Fulton mount that replaces the handguard and mounts a long-eye-relief scope. That would put the scope low and centered while not interfering with loading/ejecting, looks like a nice rig. I may try it out when I have enough money.
Related note, I took a handguard for an M1 Carbine and mounted a scope base on it, and mounted a red dot sight. That’s a very workable setup, and I think the same with scope or dot(scope by preference) on a Garand would be very nice.
I find the SKS a treat to shoot. I always take mine to the range, regardless of what else I take along. After shooting .30s and .303s for an afternoon, shooting the SKS is a nice climb down. Everybody in the party can comfortably shoot it, and shoot it cheaply. Reloading allows for better bullet choices as well. I had a similar situation at a range, with a tennis ball instead of a bowling pin. Plinked it clean at 25m with the SKS, no thought, just a snap shot, probably couldn’t do it again to save my life.