Soviet Built SKS rifle
The SKS (Samozaryadniy Karabin Simonova – Simonov Self-loading Carbine) is arguably one of the most popular rifles currently available on the Canadian market. Every plinker, hunter and survivalist has at least one stashed away someplace. They are cheap, easy to operate and built like tanks. There are many different versions of the SKS and the avid collector is always on the lookout for one of these rifles be it Soviet, Chinese or Yugoslavian made one.
Recently, not only have the prices of the rifles increased somewhat but some of the always and readily available ammunition became in short supply. The ammo that is still available is also going up in price. Gun enthusiasts have become somewhat cranky at the prospect of having to shell out more cash and possibly having to say good bye to plenty of cheap ammo. This article will attempt to explain what is going on and what it means for the preparedness community.
Most of these rifles were built in the 1940’s and 1950’s in the former Soviet Union, however production continued in China and other countries for many decades after that. The mid 20th century became a time of growing tensions between the USSR and USA. The Eastern European countries, usually under the leadership of the Soviets, began building large war stocks in preparation for the coming war with the West. These war stocks contained everything from tanks, trucks, spare parts, uniforms, rifles and millions and millions of rounds of ammunition. The standard rifle caliber of the Warsaw Pact was the 7.62x39mm (Pictured on the left). This the round that the SKS, AK-47, Vz 58 and other rifles were all chambered in. The round is also called M-43 or 7.62 – M43, which is the military designation for that caliber.
In 1989 the Cold War came to an end. The Berlin Wall came down, Soviet Union ceased to exists and Warsaw Pact, as a military alliance, dissolved. This left the former member countries in possession of seemingly endless supply of war materiel, most of it sealed in underground bunkers. In the 1990’s many of the governments of the day decided to make plans for joining NATO which means replacing their 7.62x39mm weapons and ammunition for the 5.56x45mm NATO round.
Most of the SKS rifles and ammunition which made its way to the Canadian civilian market has been taken out of sealed war stocks and sold on the open market. Lots of it has been stolen by opportunist arms dealers and former military officers who pocketed the money. Much of it has found its way to conflict zones around the world such as Syria, former Yugoslavia, Chechnya and many African Nations. Throughout the nineties, one could buy an armored personnel carrier such as the Czech OT-64 for a few thousand dollars and T-72 main battle tank for not much more.
Today however, the war stocks are empty. They are nothing more than damp underground caverns that are slowly collapsing. Most of the military compounds are abandoned throughout Europe and are being reclaimed by nature. For the true hard core enthusiast, many places especially in Ukraine still have tanks parked in rows, as if ready for battle but weather and time are taking their toll.
What this means for the average Canadian shooter, is that the era of cheap rifles and ammunition is coming to an end. Soon, the famous wooden crates with sealed metal inserts holding hundreds of rounds of ammunintion will not be available. The manufacturing base for the 7.62×39 ammunition has been significantly reduced in Europe, leaving only small production for the export military market and civilian applications.
The 7.62x39mm round, if kept sealed in its original metal “spam can”, will last forever. Contrary to popular belief, the armies of the Warsaw Pact were very diligent in the way they stored their ammunition. All ammunition was periodically checked for moisture build up and all storage space had strict temperature controls. Anyone in possession of unoppened metal containers of this round can rest assured that the ammunition will never go bad. If the can is opened the ammo itself will still last indefinitely provided that it is stored away from sunlight, dark dry place and at about room temperature. Once your stash is gone however, you will most likely have to settle for Chinese rounds which are not as popular with shooters due to apparent inconsistency and smoky powder.
The days of purchasing 1500 rounds of 7.62×39 for under $200 are most likely over. This also means that anyone expecting an ammo resupply during a “grid down” scenario will probably be out of luck since the 5.56 (223) is more predominant in North America. As such, anyone deciding to add a battle style rifle in to their survival gear should very carefully consider which caliber to choose. If you are a re loader or are planning to start, you can build a decent stock pile of ammunition and continuous loading will set you up fairly soon with not only thousands of rounds for a rainy day but also enough for the occasional training day at the range.
Hornady makes high quality 7.62x39mm ammunition with the popular SST hunting bullets. Approximate cost in Canada is little over $1.00 per round.
The AK round is a round with very much unexplored potential as a hunting and general purpose, short range round. Maybe the good that will come out of the shortage of surplus ammo, will be new loads and experiments in its potential. May then, if the round’s popularity rises even more, we might see increases in supply. But until then we will have to settle for paying at least $1.00 per round unless the Chinese rounds work well for you.