Letter Re: Advice on AK, SKS, and Mosin Rifles

Mr Rawles,  
I’ve read through your section on firearms and have a question about the rifles.   As I’m very much on a budget, I am looking to add one or two self defense rifles for the TEOTWAWKI type scenario.  I’ve been looking into the AR rifles and find that they are ungodly expensive.  I’ve found some Bushmasters that seem to be in good shape for around $800, but these were chambered in .223, which seems like a fine personal defense caliber, but is not versatile enough to use to kill game, should you have the opportunity.  The .308 chambered rifles seem like much more versatile, but are quite expensive.

This leads me back to the “Russian” chambering.  I’ve looked into the AKs and have learned that they are reputed to be tough, reliable guns, but they are not known for high accuracy.  While investigating those, I’ve become rather attracted to the SKS rifles for some time for several reasons.  First, they are reputed to be reliable like the AKs, shoot the same 7.62×39 round, and are more accurate (especially the Yugos).  The rounds have about the same ballistics as a .30-30, indisputably enough power for two-legged varmints and enough for deer as well.  

I could purchase at least two—possibly three—SKS  rifles for the price of one .308 AR-10.  I’m thinking I’d like to make sure my wife and I both have identical rifles (as you say: “if you have two, you have one, if you have one, you have none”) to defend the family with.   What really is causing some kinks in my plans is ammunition.  I’ve found that .308 and .223 rounds are more expensive than 7.62×39 rounds.  As you said, having a gun is really useless if you can’t shoot them often and really get good with them.  I can buy nearly 500 hundred rounds of 7.62×39 for about the price of 100 rounds of .308 Winchester.  So I could afford to stockpile a few thousand 7.62 rounds, while I couldn’t do the same with the .308 or .223 rounds.  

So what is your honest opinion of the Russian rifles?  Would they make an acceptable “low-budget” rifle?  Or are there problems I’m unaware of that would make it a poor choice?   And while we’re talking Russian rifles, I’ve become a pretty big fan of the Mosin-Nagants.  I’ve got an M44 that I love, and I’d like to buy another 91-30 with a full length barrel.  They are very powerful. (More powerful than a .30-06) but again, 440 rounds of ball can be purchased for under $90, and hollow points can be bought [more expensively] for hunting.  I rather like these as general purpose hunting/defense/sniper rifles, except of course that they only carry 5 rounds.  What do you think of Mosins being kept as a hunting/defense combination rifle?   Thank you,   – Curtis R.

JWR Replies: I’m definitely a proponent of 7.62×39 SKS rifles for anyone that is on a modest budget, and 7.62x54r Mosin-Nagant rifles for anyone on a truly tight budget. They would also be my top choice for anyone–regardless of budget–who resides in Finland or for anyone else living in or on the periphery of the former Soviet Union.

As far as Mosins go, I prefer the Finnish Model 39. They have excellent sights, and their 27″ barrels are a good compromise length between that of the M44 carbine (20.5″ — too short!) and the M91 long rifle (31.5″ — too long!) One other advantage of the M39 is that there are still decent quantities of these rifle available that were arsenal rebuilds using early (pre-1899) hexagonal receivers. These have the advantages that I outline in my Pre-1899 Antique Guns FAQ. Note that the dates marked on the barrel are not the receiver build dates. (The receiver dates are stamped on the tangs, and unfortunately you have to disassemble the guns to see those markings.)