Dragunov Style Rifles – The Straight Facts
Michigan –-(Ammoland.com)- During the Cold War it was the sniper weapon of choice throughout the Warsaw Pact, and was later licensed by China and Iran. Similar variants are used throughout the world, and while not quite as iconic as the AK-47, the Dragunov rifle has become quite popular with collectors today.
The long gun fires the versatile 7.62x54mmR, which was used for the Mosin-Nagent bolt action rifle developed at the end of the 19th century, and later with the SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle that was developed during World War II.
The rifle, which is also known as an SVD (Russian for Dragunov’s Sniper Rifle), was one of three competing designs being considered for use by the Soviet Red Army at the height of the Cold War during the 1960s. Yevgeny Dragunov’s concept, which included a semi-automatic gas-operated operating mechanism with a short-stroke gas-piston system, won out blasting away the competition. The innovative design remained part of the Soviet small arms arsenal for more than 20 years, and the weapon is still used by the Russian army.
The SVD does bare a resemblance to the AK-47, notably with the large dust cover, iron sights, and lever safety selector – but these are actually just cosmetic similarities as the actual operation is vastly different. It features a 10-round curved box magazine, slotted flash suppressor and a barrel bore that is chrome-lined. While standard 7.62x54mmR ammunition can be used, for precision shooting, specifically designed sniper cartridges would be used.
Commercial variations have been developed and the rifle’s cosmetic design was also been widely copied, most notably the Romanian PSL. Today the PSL is the most commonly encountered version that collectors will encounter for sale, and the gun is sometimes marketed as the FPK Dragunov to make it seem like it has more in common with the original Dragunov design. However, not one part is actually interchangeable between the rifle – although both use the same 7.62x54mmR cartridge.
Chris Berg: Dragunov enthusiast and Webmaster for Dragunov.net, offered some facts on owning and collecting the Dragunov “style” rifles.
FirearmsTruth: The Dragunov style rifles have become really popular with collectors and sport shooters. Why do you think these have gotten so popular in the last couple of years?
Chris Berg: I would say 95 percent of the rifle’s popularity is due to their appearance. The SVD looks like the Devil’s own rifle, and not many other rifle designs will attract as much attention at your local shooting range. Collectibility-wise, it’s hard to beat a Dragunov, even the Russian Tiger, as they were imported in very low numbers and are currently banned from ever being imported again. I’ve seen the value on every genuine Dragunov rifle at least double in the last 5 years.
FirearmsTruth: All things Communist Bloc seem to be popular, including the AK-47 and SKS. Is this in your opinion just because of price and availability?
Chris Berg: Dragunov rifles weren’t initially very popular due to their price and unfounded reputation for poor accuracy. Plus the “post-ban” Tiger suffered from a lack of flash hider/muzzle brake, which gave it unpleasant recoil from such a lightweight rifle. PSLs have always been a popular second choice, especially after people see the current price tag of a Tiger, SVD, or NDM-86.
With regard to the SKS I’d say its price is a huge reason for its popularity. When these rifles were first imported from Russia, China, Romania, and Yugoslavia, their prices were around $100 to $200, which made them within reach of most American shooters. In the SKS what you get is an extremely reliable rifle that is accurate enough for most people’s needs, and it shoots one of the cheapest calibers this side of rimfire. These days, with SKS imports slowing to a trickle, collectors have taken notice of these neat carbines. There are now a small but very loyal number of SKS enthusiasts who have identified which model or marking is rarer and prices have risen accordingly.
As for the AK, I would say it’s a mixed bag as far as their popularity. Three generations of American soldiers have faced the Kalashnikov in battle. So some people buy them for a certain kind of nostalgic reflection, whether it is memories of the battlefield or of Patrick Swayze yelling “Wolverines!” President G.H.W. Bush’s ban on imported weapons in 1989 did the most for increasing the popularity of the AK. Once people were told the supply was being cut off sales rose dramatically, as did their prices, and distributors couldn’t keep up with demand.
Having their Combloc AK appetite whetted with cheap Romanian and Egyptian AKs in the 1990s, people started demanding more from the design. They wanted the reliability and badass looks of a Kalashnikov, but the modularity and accuracy of Eugene Stoner’s AR-15. European manufacturers from Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia, and even the U.S. have stepped up and now offer high quality AKs built on modern CNC machinery in a variety of calibers.
Ultimately, as long as AKs and Dragunovs continue to get featured in video games, movies, and magazines, people will be drawn to these legendary Combloc rifles.
FirearmsTruth: There is a lot of confusion about the SVD and PSL. It almost seems as if “Dragunov” has become a generic term for all rifles of this particular style. What really sets apart an SVD from a PSL for example?
Chris Berg: You’ve touched on the main reason I created dragunov.net. So much confusion and mis-information about these rifles existed that people often didn’t know what they were buying. More than a few people paid quite a bit of money for a rifle their dealer claimed was a genuine Russian SVD, only to later learn they actually owned a Tiger hunting rifle, or worse, a Romanian PSL. And you can understand why since they all look very similar at first glance.
On the most basic level, the SVD is built around a solid machined steel receiver with parts carefully fit and assembled for precision. It was designed by an Olympic shooter to be an extremely reliable rifle capable of very good accuracy at ranges far exceeding the AK-47 and AK-74. The design lends itself to portability and reliability, with accuracy not far behind. The fact is that Mr. Dragunov designed a great rifle that was just a little too complex and expensive for some smaller countries to effectively manufacture. China was the only other country with the budget and infrastructure to make a true Dragunov rifle initially, though Poland and Iran now make very close copies of the SVD too.
The compromise was the stamped sheet metal design of the PSL from Romania. These rifles are far simpler and cheaper to make, plus some of its parts will interchange with the AK-47. However the PSL design is (or can be made to be) as accurate as the Russian Dragunov.
The sad fact is most American owners of these rifles will never realize the true accuracy potential, since match-grade 7.62x54R ammunition is scarce and very expensive. Shooting half a century old military surplus ammo through a PSL or SVD is an exercise in futility, if accurate shooting is important to you.
FirearmsTruth.com: While the standard SVD and PSL rifles, as well as other models, are 7.62x54mmR, we’re seeing other calibers. Why are these coming about now?
Chris Berg: For the reasons previously mentioned about quality ammunition. There is a .308 version of the PSL and SVD and both rifles are considerably more accurate in that caliber. Some people use these rifles to hunt and .308 has a broader range of hunting bullets that can be tailored to a specific animal.
For the people lucky enough to live in a country where they can still buy new Dragunov rifles from Izhmash, Tigers are offered in .30-06, 9.3×64 (9mm Brenneke), and even 6.5×55 Swedish. This is testament to the Dragunov’s popularity as a medium-large game rifle capable of reliable performance in very harsh environments.
Thanks to Chris Berg for the straight shooting on the Dragunov.
Peter Suciu is executive editor of FirearmsTruth.com, a website that tracks and monitors media bias against guns and our Second Amendment rights. Visit: FirearmsTruth.com