Should You Be Deer Hunting With an SKS?

The SKS has gained popularity as a large game rifle due to its wide availability, low cost, and easy maintenance. It is a great rifle for medium-range deer hunting, firing the 7.62×39 Russian cartridge. For longer-range shots, it isn’t a good platform and you should consider other caliber rifles.

What is the History of the SKS?

The SKS appeared in the final days of World War II as an intermediate combat infantry weapon between sniper rifles and full-automatic assault weapons for use in the Soviet Army.

The semi-automatic fires a standard 7.62×39 cartridge with more than enough power for deer hunting.

SKS (Samozaryadny Karabin sistemy Simonova in Russian) translated as self-loading carbine of the Simonov system is often confused with the AK47.

The SKS was designed by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov in 1945, it fires an identical round as the AK47 which was introduced by legendary Soviet designer Mikhail T. Kalashnikov two years later. That’s where the similarities come to and.

The AK47 is the most widely used and manufactured fully automatic assault rifle on earth. The SKS is a semi-automatic rifle, with a longer barrel and a standard magazine capacity of 10-rounds, compared to 30 rounds for the AK47.

Is the SKS a Good Hunting Rifle for Deer?

This is a two-fold question, yes, the SKS is a good rifle for deer in the 7.62×39 cartridge, but only to about 150-yards. The second answer is that anything beyond the 150-yard range makes it a poor choice for deer hunting.

Used in eastern settings where shots on whitetails are almost always within 100-yards because of the heavy foliage, the SKS is fine. Hunting out west with the vast distances in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana, you might want to consider a longer range rifle, firing a more powerful cartridge.

The limits of the SKS as a deer rifle are in the ballistics of the 7.62×39 round. The rifle was designed for combat, firing full metal jacketed bullets.

There are many commercial styles of ammunition for the SKS in soft lead, legal hunting configurations. Federal, Winchester, and Hornady all offer 120 to 123-grain bullets, with varying levels of power.

The SKS in these three popular manufacturers versions of the 7.62×39 feature muzzle velocities of 1508 to 1547 feet per second. That’s not a fast cartridge by any means.

It is a universal understanding that it takes 1000 foot-pounds of energy, at the target to humanly kill a deer. At 100-yards the 7.62×39 is a good choice, delivering around 1150 foot-pounds of energy depending on the cartridge you’re using.

At 200-yards every cartridge, even specially loaded ones, falls well under the 1000 foot-pound threshold. That means somewhere around 150-yard the bullet from an SKS loses the power to ethically kill an animal.

It is a frustrating cartridge to take to the field since it has a flat trajectory with many styles of ammunition at 200-yards, it just doesn’t possess the knock-down killing power.

Are There any Special Issues When Hunting With an SKS?

Scope mounting issues

Deer Hunting With SKS

There are a couple of challenges with an SKS, the first being how to mount a scope on one. The design of the rifle was for combat use by Soviet troops. It is reliable, easy to clean, and was a great innovation in its day.

It represented an improvement on the venerable bolt-action Mosin Nagant used by millions of Soviet troops in World War II, but it was quickly eclipsed by the introduction of fully automatic the AK47.

Designed as a combat rifle, rather than a long-range weapon, the action of SKS doesn’t lend itself well to mounting a scope. There are add-on rails you can purchase from third-party vendors that will create a solid platform for mounting a short-range scope.

All you’ll need is something that can target your rifle clearly to 300-yards since the bullet will be dropping rapidly and almost spent at ranges beyond that.

A floating receiver cover prevents using a standard scope on the SKS. The recoil is substantial enough to require a heavy-duty scope mount to keep it locked on target. That’s where the third-party adapters come into play.

Magazine capacity issues

The SKS was never designed as a hunting rifle. Its intended role as a combat weapon was met and exceeded in the opinion of the Soviet troops that used it in the final days of the Great War against the Nazis.

It has a 10-round standard magazine. That’s not legal in many states for deer hunting. Magazine limits for large game rifles vary from state to state, so it’s best if you look closely at the regulations for your state.

It is definitely something you’ll need to know before you go to the field. Game wardens are sticklers on magazine capacity if you happen to encounter one while hunting.

The good news is that after-market magazines are available in a wide range of capacities. You can purchase a five-round magazine that is perfect for hunting, or you can go to an extreme with a 75-round drum-style magazine (no, it’s not legal for hunting.)

The only issue with magazines is that the rifle is designed to hold 10 cartridges, so the balance of the rifle is built around the weight of those 10 shells. A few less won’t affect the balance noticeably, but one of those monster 75-round magazines will tip the weight substantially.

Unless you’re just blowing through cartridges for fun out on the range, there isn’t much need for that large a magazine.

Slam fire

Slam fire is the accidental discharge of a cartridge as the bolt slides forward. Some weapons are designed to slam fire, the SKS is not.

There is a small chance that your SKS may slam fire when using commercial ammunition. The primers of commercial-grade ammunition are often softer than military-grade primers.

The floating firing pin in an SKS hits the primer to set off the cartridge. If the firing pin is impeded by grease or oil, it can sometimes be fouled and as the bolt slides forward, the firing pin does as well, setting off the round prematurely.

If you’re hunting in sub-zero conditions, excessive moisture, frozen inside the bolt can cause slam fire as well.

The solution is to find hunting ammunition that uses military-style primers. If you load your own cartridges, this is easy to do, just select military-grade primers and you’re slam fire issue will disappear as long as you keep the firing pin free of dirt, oil, grease, and moisture.


With all the issues associated with an SKS, the question is why would you use it as a hunting rifle for deer?

While it has many issues that must be resolved when using it as a sporting weapon, the SKS remains a useful hunting rifle for many reasons.

First, the allure of the history of the rifle attracts many. The solid wood stock, classic Soviet-style design and universally available 7.62×39 target ammunition are all selling points.

If you keep it clean, and devoid of moisture, it is as reliable a rifle as you’d find anywhere. The rapid rate of fire is a plus as well.

When deer hunting, accuracy, not rate of fire is the main component, but sometimes it is just fun to set up targets and fire away as fast as your finger can pull the trigger.

If you get a scope adapter, sight in the rifle correctly, and practice on the range. You’ll have an accurate deer rifle for closer range hunting.

The 7.62×39 cartridge is the most widely manufactured round on earth in the military, full metal jacket configuration. Finding hunting ammunition in soft lead can be a challenge.

Detractors claim the 7.62×39 doesn’t have the punch to be an effective hunting cartridge, but a close look at the very popular .30-30 cartridge reveals almost identical ballistics.

In the end, it is a choice. The SKS performs well for deer hunting if you take the time to prepare your rifle for the field.

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