OK, lets start with education on centerfire and rimfire. A .22lr is a rimfire cartridge. If you look at the base of the catridge, you will notice just flat brass. The primer material lines the inside of the base of the cartridge.
Compare that to your 7.62X54R catridge that your Mosin shoots and on the base of the cartridge, you will notice the round primer. This is centerfire.
Rimfire firing pins strike the base of the catridge nearthe rim. A centerfire firing pin hits the primer in the middle of the catridge base. Makes sense? My terminology is not correct here, but I am trying to give you a lesson in the basics without giving you the full 200-level course on cartridge anatomy.
You lamented that there should be an intermediate weapon in between your Mosin and the SKS price wise. You need to study the market more to understand the offerings out there and how your Mosin and other rifles fit into the strata.
Your Mosin is a fine gun for what it is: a WWII, communist built battle rifle firing a full power cartridge. They are cheap because there are so many of them on the market and they are not the prettiest girl at the dance. Other bolt action rifles now fetching big $s used to be cheap as well: Springfield 1903s, 1917s, Pattern 14s, etc. It would not surprise me if one day good examples of Mosins will fetch more than they do now.
Jumping into a semi-auto format jumps the price a lot compared to your Mosin. Had you looked for an SKS 10 years ago, you could have had one cheap, well within your price range. But as stocks dried up and demand increased, the prices began to rise. Hence that $100 SKS a decade ago could be sold now for 3X that.
If you are looking for a surplus (read, prior military) semiauto, the cheap end is marked by the SKS and the upper end by the high dollar ARs, rare M-1 Garands (think sniper), M-21s, SR-25s, etc.
Even on the civilian side, an older Winchester model 100 semiauto is still going to set you back ~$5-600 with Browning BARs, Mini-14s, and others running from there on up.
So, with this dose of reality, you need to sit down and really think about what you want. If you want a hunting firearm on a college budget, there are bolt actions and maybe a lever gun out there that will do the job. If you want a semiauto for hunting, you are going to need to save your pennies and wait.
If you just want a semiauto for plinking or target shooting, I still maintain a .22lr is your best bang for the buck on a college budget and there are a few semiautos to be had from $200 and down.
Last edited by globemaster3; January 1, 2013 at 12:04 PM.