If You’re in the Market for a Battle Rifle (And You Should Be), You Cannot Beat the SKS As a Marriage of Dependability, Utility, and Affordability
I've never been a huge advocate of amassing a monstrous arsenal of firearms, but I want the ones I do have to be sufficiently versatile to keep me alive if the need arises. You can't always rely on being able to hide.
I see so much of this philosophy in Prepper and Survivalism circles – the idea that you can slink-off into the woods and never be found ever, but that's a myth. Unless you are willing to live truly like a nomad, essentially out of a backpack for the rest of your existence, someone is eventually going to stumble across even the most remote wilderness cabin.
If anyone is planning for a SHTF scenario and thinking they will be able to get away without fighting, they are living in a Pollyanna pipe dream.
Granted, if you're out in the sticks somewhere, you won't have to become like some kind of Mad Max mercenary who sees combat daily, but even a remote cabin is likely to eventually fall prey to some guy stumbling across you while he's out hunting for squirrels and returning later with a bunch of his buddies to try to take your place from you.
Unless you're planning on having sniper positions around your little hidey-hole that are manned 24/7 by people who are sufficiently proficient with headshot accuracy and the willingness to kill anyone who has seen your cabin or retreat with no questions asked (which would put you pretty close to having lost all your humanity), then you need to be preparing for the fact that you will one day find yourself in a firefight if TSHTF and a rifle chambered in .22lr isn't going to be your best choice for a primary weapon. Period.
You can't quickly pack up a cabin and all the gear and stored food inside it every time somebody sees you like you can a backpack and sleeping bag. You need reliable weapons, yes, but they also need to be ones that were engineered specifically for combat.
You don't need a huge arsenal. I would be perfectly happy with a situation where every adult or older teenager in my group had a dependable battle rifle or shotgun (mostly rifles with a few shotguns mixed-in), ones that can also double as being useful for hunting, and a pistol chambered in at least .380 caliber.
Preferably, a higher caliber handgun would be nice for each individual, because even if you don't care about the extra stopping power you get from a .40 or .45 caliber round, the fact remains that it being fired with a greater velocity means you probably have better range with the pistol. In a firefight, pistols are only really useful in either close quarters or as a means of keeping up your ratio of fire while someone reloads your rifle, or if you lose the rifle and need to fight your way back to it.
Some people simply aren't very good shooting higher calibers, however, so a .380 or 9mm should be considered a manageable but minimally-accepted round. No matter what people tell you, either of those will stop a grown man – they just might not punch through a wall or whatever that man might be using as cover during a gun battle the way a .45 would.
The fact remains that a good semi-automatic battle rifle is something you really need, and so does anybody else in your family or survival group that is capable of shooting one, and they don't have to be hugely expensive. The SKS is unbelievably affordable and very versatile.
Beyond that, I would have a couple of smaller caliber rifles like the Ruger 10-22 for hunting small game and birds and maybe to arm a preteen that really isn't capable of firing a larger weapon (though I wouldn't put them in a firefight – they'd only be armed as they hid in a basement, just to give them the capability of defending themselves if the rest of us fighting failed to keep the place from being overrun and were killed in the process).
Two to three decent weapons per person able to shoot them and a couple of small game rifles to be shared around is far from an arsenal that would qualify one as acting like some kind of Mall Ninja fringe survivalist-type. It is simply a small battery of weapons that would help to guarantee survival, which is why all of us are in this in the first place.
Granted, what I'm advocating here is a weapon to be used to defend yourself, your family and friends, and your property in a SHTF societal collapse scenario. If you're just looking to live off the land, you don't really need anything as extensive as what I've described, but if you are prepping for SHTF those are the guidelines I would go by.
In addition, the SKS carbine makes a pretty good tool for hunting, being often referred to as a "Poor Man's Deer Rifle." The 7.62x39mm round in which it is chambered is comparable to the Winchester .30-30 round, more than enough to put some venison in your freezer, while also acting as a battle weapon.
Personally, I wouldn't spend $1000 on an AR, then another $500 kitting it out, when you can get an SKS for in the neighborhood of $200-$300. I've seen them for as low as $160. Add a pistol grip, maybe an adjustable stock, and some good quality optics. Then buy *GOBS* of extra stripper clips and ammo. Maybe even modify it to hold a 30 round magazine if that is legal in your state. You'll have yourself a fully-kitted semi-auto combat rifle that you can also use to hunt and all that ammo for way under $1000. Even if you are working with a smaller budget, the rifle itself is very affordable, and you can add the rest piece-by-piece later.