There are not many bargains in firearms. While you may not always get what you pay for, it's a sure thing that you will never get what you don't pay for. My experiences with low cost firearms have convinced me that the only way to save money on a gun purchase is to buy the gun I really want instead of a low priced substitute.
Since there is an exception to every rule, I keep trying and I think I have found the exception to this one. The Chinese SKS carbine is a true bargain right now. This gun and its cartridge will serve as a deer hunting, pest and predator control, and self-defense rifle. So many of these rifles have been imported at such low prices that they are selling new at gun shows for $120 to $150. That is less than the price of many popular .22 rimfire rifles.
Useful & reliable
The SKS is a useful, reliable, rugged weapon within its limits, and within the limits of the cartridge. Jams are almost unheard of, and the bore is chrome plated to protect it from the effects of corrosive ammunition.
The SKS carbine is a Russian design from 1945. They gave the machinery to produce it to Red China in 1956. This simple, rugged design suited the Chinese so well they made more machinery and still produce the carbine. It is a gas operated semi-automatic. This means that when a shot is fired, some gas pressure from the barrel is used to open the bolt, eject the empty case, re-cock and re-load. The trigger must be released before the weapon will fire again.
The short stock is a very comfortable length for many women, and the low recoil and easy hit capability makes this a good choice as a home protection gun for those who are not proficient with handguns and dislike the recoil of shotguns. Many of these are purchased as defensive weapons, for which they serve well.
The carbine measures 40.5" in length and weighs 8 pounds. Some will say the SKS is a bit overbuilt for the 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge, but the weight reduces the recoil to negligible levels.
You probably won't need the folding shisk-ke-bab bayonet unless you plan to finish off the wounded with it or toast marshmallows over the burning rubble of your enemies' villages. The skewer is easily removed, simply remove the pivot screw. There goes about a half pound of excess weight.
The 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge
The Soviet 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge propels a 123 grain bullet at 2400 feet per second from a 20.5" barrel. The Remington soft point loading for this cartridge works very well for deer under about 150 pounds at woods ranges, where almost all shots are taken at under 100 yards, and most shots are less than 50 yards.
This cartridge is slightly less powerful at the muzzle than the old standby .30-30, but the 7.62 x 39 is loaded with pointed bullets so the .30-30 loses its advantage fast. If you are careful with your shot placement, and don't take that shot you aren't sure of, the SKS will do fine for whitetail.
Bargain ammunition too
Practice ammunition is inexpensive and widely available. This is the same cartridge used in the AK-47, which was adopted by almost every country in the world outside of North America and Western Europe. Currently, East German manufactured ammunition is available for about .07 per round by mail order in case lots. Chinese surplus ammunition is also easily available for less than .10 per round. If you shop around at the gun shows or get a copy of Shotgun News you will be able to find plenty of low priced ammunition. The surplus market changes from month to month. In the last two years I have bought cheap surplus ammunition for the SKS made in Yugoslavia, China, Iraq, Portugal, and Czechoslovakia.
This low priced ammunition will all be full jacketed military ball, often steel cored or steel jacketed. This makes it unsuitable for hunting anything but small game, and eliminating pests and predators. As practice ammunition it's cheaper than making your own.
All Eastern European and Chinese surplus ammunition I have tried is corrosive. After firing you must clean the bore and the gas port, piston and gas tube thoroughly with hot soapy water or black powder solvent. All parts must be dried completely after cleaning. The bore and the end of the gas piston are chrome plated to protect them from the effects of the chemicals left behind by corrosive primers but I have seen some gas pistons which were badly pitted and corroded right through the plating.
If you are scrupulous about cleaning your gun immediately after use there is no reason not to use corrosive ammunition. If you are likely to get lazy and not clean until you get around to it, or you are sometimes out in the field for days before you get to somewhere that has hot water, you better stick to non-corrosive.
All the major U.S. ammunition manufacturers have begun producing this cartridge. The Remington soft point seems to perform well on game. The others may, I haven't seen them used yet. Non-corrosive military type ammunition is available, made in Portugal and South Korea. This is less expensive than the U.S. commercial ammo and is good enough for training, practice, and pest and predator control.
Easy to operate
This is not a target rifle. The trigger is stiff and does not break clean, and the intrinsic accuracy is no better than 3" at 100 yards with any that I have tried. In terms of practical accuracy, it is easy to shoot and comfortable for most beginners. I have seen several novices get hits on 100 yard targets with their first shots from these carbines. Since the effective range of this cartridge on predators and small deer is no more than 100 yards, this level of accuracy is acceptable.
Ammunition is loaded from the top of the receiver into a ten round integral magazine. Loose cartridges can be inserted individually, or ten rounds can be stripped into the magazine at once from chargers (stripper clips). Some of the Chinese surplus ammunition comes packed on these, and they are available from most of the surplus ammunition dealers.
Once the bolt is closed there is no practical way to "top off" the magazine with extra rounds while firing. The magazine follower holds the bolt open for loading only when the magazine is empty. No manual hold open device is provided. If you want to fully load the magazine, or change the type of ammunition, you must either fire the magazine empty or dump the magazine, then close it and retract the bolt.
Some states hunting laws will require that the magazine be blocked to prevent loading more than five rounds during hunting season. This ten round capacity and the fact that this is not a detachable magazine has prevented the SKS from being banned by any of the "Assault Weapons" laws, so far.
If you need a simple, rugged, reliable rifle for deer hunting at close range, pest and predator control, self-defense, or just something a little more interesting than a .22 to plink with, the SKS carbine may be right for you. The price is certainly right.