These days one hears of the 7.62 x 39, also known as the .30 Russian Short or the Soviet M43, as commonly as one used to hear of the .30-30 a few decades ago. Even in out-of-the-way locales, the short Russian thirty pops up, and plays a major role in survival batteries and in hunting camps. Gun shops regularly stock ammunition for it, often at near-give-away prices. There are several good rifles made in the U.S. today for this cartridge, but the very inexpensive surplus semiauto rifles imported from China in stupendous quantities have started to dry up. A few years ago, they commonly sold for under $100. Today they bring about twice that. When they first appeared, they were new, fairly good guns, and there were so many of them that a significant aftermarket of stocks, scope mounts, high-capacity magazines, and other add-on parts appeared on the gunny scene, and many if not most of those parts are still available, if not everywhere still legal. Occasionally seen were the somewhat higher- quality Russian versions, complete with bayonet.
Along with the SKS types, the AK-47 clones in semiauto version also appeared, carrying names like MAC-90 and PolyTech Legend. There were, and still are in some areas, many rifles available for the Russian short thirty for not a lot of money. The proliferation of the cartridge and guns to shoot it made this generation of U.S. shooters very much aware of the cartridge, its potential and limitations. Many still wonder, however, about the 7.62 x 39. How good are the best pre-ban clones of the AK? Is the SKS, in any of its many variants, a good rifle? Are they reliable? How well do they shoot? And what about modern semiautomatic rifles chambered for this cartridge?
We thought it would be interesting to test some of the finest military-type versions of this cartridge alongside one of today's modern U.S. offerings, to give the reader some idea of where the cartridge came from and just how good the rifles are.
Ruger's Magnum takes the cake as a dangerous-game gun, and we also like Sako's 75 Hunter. Pass on the Winchester Model 70 Safari Express.