The SKS rifle has been a workhorse of former Soviet Bloc nations, and those they have sent military aid to for decades. It still remains in ceremonial use in several countries, and others still hold it for reserve or militia issue. SKS rifles can still be found in regular use in conflict zones around the world, and a great many have been imported into the US since the 1980’s. Ranging from valuable collectible military surplus guns, to those made for the commercial market, they are incredibly popular with shooters and collectors alike, which begs the question of what is the best SKS scope?
With one or two notable commercial exceptions that shipped from the factory with built in scope mounts, scoping the SKS has been somewhat difficult, and choosing the proper scope has been equally problematic, as at times, the mount somewhat determines the scope. With that in mind, we carefully selected scopes that are both suitable for the intermediate power of the 7.62×39, not overly expensive, (I mean hey, other than collectibles, the sort of SKS you’ll scope is probably a $2-400 beater) but not so cheap as to be junk. In that sweet spot of affordable SKS scopes, there are a lot of great choices, but these four, in no particular order, are the ones that really stood out to us.
Early commercial efforts at scoping imported SKS rifles usually included some sort of compact 4x scope, either as a copy of Soviet style sniper scopes, or as inexpensive sporting optics. Keeping in that spirit, and because a 4x scope of this configuration is one of the best SKS scopes out there, this affordable offering from NCStar is worth taking a look at. Because most people scope their SKS’ with some sort of dust cover mount, or side mount, space is at a premium. Too long of a scope can prevent the use of stripper clips, and be struck by ejecting brass. By using a sensible, compact scope these problems are avoided.
Now let’s be real. This is a sub $20 Chinese scope. You aren’t going to take it to war, and you probably aren’t going to be using it in extreme conditions. But for the common knockabout role many SKS rifles fill, this is an acceptable scope. The fixed power design makes it possible to build a cheaper optic, and as long as you don’t want high end glass or optical coatings, this will let you plink cans, shoot a deer, or take out that coyote in the hen house.
- Compact design ideal for use with the SKS
- Suitable for use with the 7.62×39 cartridge
- Entry level scope will not stand up to abuse
- Fixed power not ideal for some uses
- May not provide as clear a sight picture as more expensive scopes
Can you tell that I’m a fan of compact SKS scopes? Because I am, but this will be the last one we look at. Notable again for the low cost, this three power scope could even be described as an optical sight. Either way, when you are dealing with a 3-4 MOA rifle like the SKS, and shooting a round that most shooters use within 300 yards, you’ll find this is a perfectly acceptable scope. What I really like about it, is the illuminated reticle, which gives you an edge shooting in low light conditions or poor weather. If you are using your SKS as a ranch rifle or truck gun, you never know when you’ll have to use it, so having that illuminated reticle is a really nice touch. Otherwise, what we’ve got here is a pretty classic compact optic. It’s well made, backed with a one year warranty, doesn’t weigh a lot (less than one pound), and even has a built in mounting base, so you don’t have to fiddle with rings. Basically if you want an under $100 compact, illuminated reticle optical sight, this should do the job quite nicely.
- Illuminated reticle
- Easy to install and operate
- Low magnification
- Single color illuminated reticle
- Can only attach to a Picatinny rail
Most SKS scopes have a 1” tube, but skilled shooters know a larger, 30mm tube allows more light transmission, which means a clearer sight picture. And because most SKS scopes are compact, there is usually a trade off between a larger objective lens, and actually being able to use stripper clips. By combining a 32mm objective lens with a 30mm scope tube, UTG has built a dandy little compact scope that is perfect for the SKS, and packs more than enough magnification for whatever shooting task you might have for your rifle. Now pretty much any scope these days has a sealed,nitrogen purged tube, and some sort of coated optics, and this is no exception. What is a real standout feature though is the two color red and green illuminated reticle, which allows you to choose between low light and daytime friendly illumination on your reticle. This makes it possible to better acquire targets in all lighting conditions, a real bonus when you consider most game animals or targets are dark colored. All in all, this is a pretty solid, all purpose scope, and with the 4-16 magnification, you can readily make use of the maximum potential of your favorite SKS.
- 4-16x magnification lets you engage at any practical distance with your SKS
- Red/green illuminated reticle
- 30mm tube for superior light transmission
- Entry level brand
- 32mm objective may not suit some shooters
- May encounter a fuzzy sight picture at long distances
While not really a scope, in the sense that it doesn’t magnify your sight picture, Vortex Optics does make what is arguably one of the best optical sights for the SKS rifle. Despite the largely traditional look and feel of the SKS, it is still an intermediate powered carbine, commonly used at 100-500 meters. With that in mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a red dot sight, and a lot of good reasons to. Keep in mind, when putting optics on your SKS, compact is the name of the game, and a quality red dot is pretty darn compact. Vortex is famous for high grade optics, and this red dot is suitable for hunting, tactical use, or general knockabout work. It comes with a lifetime warranty and is built as tough as your SKS. As a bonus, you can always pair the flip aside magnifier of your choice with it, and get all the benefits of a red dot and a scope. Priced at just under $200 and built with state of the art optical coatings for a superior sight picture, it is even an affordable choice for your SKS! No matter how you look at it, if you want something better than clunky Soviet iron sights, Vortex makes one heck of an upgrade for your rifle.
- Lifetime warranty
- Compact, easy to use design
- No magnification
- Requires batteries to operate
- Should be used with a see through mount or riser in order to retain iron sights as backup
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Scoping the SKS Rifle
The SKS rifle was born in the fierce house to house fighting of Second World War Russia. While the PPS and PPSh submachine guns offered terrifying amounts of short range firepower, the Soviets lacked effective intermediate range self loading rifles. Inspired by the the German 8mm Kurz used in the StG 43 rifle, Soviet engineers created the 7.62x39mm cartridge, and in 1945 fielded a limited number of prototype SKS rifles. The light, handy semi auto carbines proved a hit with troops who had previously been issued shoulder bruising Mosin Nagant rifles and carbines, and in 1949 the SKS was officially adopted as the new rifle of the Soviet Union.
However, from the beginning, this was an infantry rifle, and fitted with iron sights. No SKS using nation adopted and issued a standard scoped version, although some limited effort was made to scope some during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. It took Norinco to mass produce scoped SKS rifles, and these were strictly for the US commercial market. Ultimately, scoping the SKS has come down to side mounts attached to the rear of the gun with screws, various dust cover mounts ranging from barely capable of holding zero, to requiring multiple set screws, or various clamp on schemes or rear sight replacement scout mounts.
Suffice it to say, getting a solid, stable scope mount on your SKS is either an act of gunsmithing, or a bit of voodoo. However, once done, then we are left with the age old question of what is the best SKS scope?
Choosing Your Scope
Due to the historical low cost of military surplus and commercially produced SKS rifles, these guns are commonly seen as utilitarian rifles, and it is only in the last few years with importable supplies all but wiped out, that this view is changing. However, there are untold numbers of non collectible SKS’ in the US, and they see regular use as truck guns, ranch rifles, hunting guns, or stashed with emergency gear. Because the 7.62x39mm cartridge is comparable in power to some 30-30 rounds, the SKS is commonly seen as a replacement for lever action deer rifles in some parts of the country, where the cheaper price at time of import was a powerful selling feature.
With that in mind, and combined with practical issues like loading with stripper clips, and spent brass possibly hitting the scope, we feel the best scope for your SKS is a compact optic, either fixed power or of modest magnification (or a red dot) and mounted on a stable, secure mount. The SKS was never built to be accurate enough for precision sniping, and while it is accurate enough for most hunting, there is precious little reason to put tactical gear on it.
There is also little reason to spend a lot of money on a scope for it, before you start reaching a point of diminishing returns on modifying your rifle. The primary value of an SKS is in it’s handy, traditional carbine form, and one can quickly spend a lot of money trying to make a tactical rifle out of one that never was built in that sort of configuration. Practical optics, and reasonable prices are the name of the game.
If I had to choose a scope for myself, I’d stick with something fixed power. 4x scopes are proven in decades of actual combat and hunting, and are more than sufficient for the usual ranges an SKS is use at. Additionally, fixed power scopes are cheaper and easier to make, and easier to make rugged and robust. This all translates into money in your pocket.
Otherwise, I’d run with a nice, quality red dot, or something with modest magnification. There is little need to go beyond 3-9x or 4-16x with this rifle. An illuminated reticle is also a nice bonus, because the utilitarian uses many SKS’ are put to may require using them in low light or nighttime conditions. The edge an illuminated reticle offer can be invaluable when shooting at predator animals or trying to harvest a deer in twilight.
Ultimately, you need to keep the modern day utilitarian use of the SKS in mind. If you must go with a tactical rebuild, I’d stick with a red dot in order to maximize the ability to quickly aim and fire- the inherent accuracy of the SKS just doesn’t render it suitable for a designated marksman or sniper style configuration. For hunting, sport shooting, or as a general purpose truck gun/ranch rifle/home defense carbine, again, the red dot has a lot to be said, but any of the scopes we looked at here are just as suitable. If you don’t have a preference on features, perhaps size, weight, or price will be guiding factors in your decision.
Regardless of the choice you make, remember, you are scoping a gun never designed to be used with optics, and engineered to deliver basic combat accuracy. You may get lucky and have a more accurate than normal rifle, or may have done custom work to improve yours. Choose your optics according to the accuracy of your rifle. While it is possible to have too little scope, there is such a thing as too much scope, particularly with old Soviet designed military surplus. The SKS is a fine rifle for the role it was intended, and still turns up in conflict zones around the world, and legitimate self defense in the US. Every scope we looked at today was chosen to fit the basic functionality and operational parameters the SKS is capable of, and best suited for, and we believe that you will be quite happy putting any of them on your favorite SKS.