By: Pete Moore
Pete Moore looks at a straight pull derivative of the famous Russian Dragunov SVD sniper rifle from Russian Military (FSU Connections Ltd)
The Dragunov SVD (Snayperskaya Vintovka Dragunova) is an unusual rifle given its intended role as a sniper’s weapon. I think in some ways the words ‘designated marksman’ perhaps sum up its function better! Designed in the early 1960s by Yevgeniy Dragunov and Ivan Samoylov (looks like Yevgeniy got all the fame) the rifle came into Soviet service in 1965. Up until that time the USSR had used the Model 1891-30 Moisin Nagant Snayperskaya Vintovka with a 4 X PU and later a PM scope on top for their sniper rifle. In the 2nd WW the self-loading Tokarev was also used in that role. Both obviously chambered for the standard infantry/machine gun cartridge - the 7.62 X 54mm R (rimmed), a round not dissimilar to our own 303 and possibly the only rimmed .30” cal cartridge still in military service today…
The SVD is a self-loading mechanism and as is plain to see it based on the AK47 system in some ways, though blessedly it’s not capable of full-auto fire and uses a short stroke gas piston. Given the development of sniper rifles in general, the SVD does appear a little dated, as most nations have gone for hi-precision bolt-actions, as opposed to self-loaders. Probably the Dragunov’s nearest relative is the old US M14, as accurised guns with scopes on board were used in Vietnam and beyond by sniper teams. They are still in evidence today with some Marine Recon teams and US Special Forces. The M14 was originally designed as a service rifle and was pressed into the sniper role, which it still fulfils very well; whereas the SVD was built for that job from day one.
Technically a self-loading mechanism is considered less accurate than a manual bolt-action. So what are the advantages of a rifle like the SVD in a sniper role? Like the M14 the answer is versatility! Yes they can shoot up to 600-yards and a bit more and accurately enough to hit man-sized targets. But if pressed they are at their heart self-loading rifles with a reasonable magazine capacity, so can be used as such for self-defence too. Whereas the low capacity and slower bolt-guns, though more accurate; are not the sort of piece you would willingly bring to a gunfight? A good example of this thinking is the American Knight Armament M25. Essentially a big M16 chambered in 7.62 Nato; it makes the perfect support weapon for a sniper team. As with its 20-round capacity you can fight with it, but is accurate enough to reach out to 600-yards + for a sniper role.
SVD in the flesh
The Dragunov has always been considered a bit of an exotic in the UK and though I’ve shot them in the past, I never saw one available, even in the old self-loading days (Pre-1988). However, since the SLR ban of 1988 and the later rise of the hybrid straight-pull rifle for PR use, equipment like the generic Russian AK47 is now readily available. A few months ago I looked at the 04 Tigre; a shorter and more sporting version of the SVD and I can’t say I was that impressed. Accuracy was OK, though not helped by the scope and felt recoil was most unpleasant. So when Oleg from Russian Military rang me and asked if I would like to look at a real Dragunov I was keen but cautious.
I say ‘real’ as this SVD was fitted out as the military version, with the full length 26” barrel, cage-type flash hider and a 4 X 24 scope near identical to the military PSO-1 sniper optic. As can be seen the Dragunov is a distinctive rifle; with its skeleton butt, which shows a rotary comb/cheek piece and the long skinny barrel. Earlier models used birch furniture, but the current guns use a black synthetic.
The first thing you notice is the weight and length of the rifle, at 48” it ain’t short, but at 9.9 lbs including scope it’s not heavy either. Typically it’s short in the butt, which I have found makes for a less than natural head/scope position. This is unavoidable as the optic has an integral mounting system that fits onto the dovetail base on the left side of the receiver. In other words short of making up some butt extenders you have to live with the eye relief good or bad! Saying that I found the PSO-1-type glass was far easier to get on with than the 6 X 24 I fitted to the Tigre 04.
Iron & Glass
The SVD comes as standard with iron sights, which are of the AK 47-style. The front is a post in a ring protector on a transverse dovetail set on a low A-frame, this offers base zero in elevation and windage. The rear is a U-notch/tangent type graduated from 100-1200 metres. These can be used with the optic fitted. Like the old Nagant Snayperskaya Vintovka with its original, side-mounted PU scope it’s set quite high for that purpose. Earlier wood-stocked guns used a removable butt comb to allow you to get your head down far enough to use the irons, or up for the scope. This SVD uses a padded, rotary comb, which positions just off to the left of 12 o’clock for scope use and turns to 3 o’clock for iron sights. On what it quite a basic weapon this is a rather nice feature and adds to its shootability.
The pistol grip is short but deep and a forward filler block gives a comfortable trigger finger position with the pad automatically falling onto the blade. The forend is round and hand-filling. This rifle came with a detachable bipod that clamps to slots in the forward receiver – more of that later…
The trigger pull broke at 4 ½ lbs and was smooth and easy; a bit too easy in fact, as there’s about ½” of take up then without any real warning the break. This did take some getting used to and I did some dry-firing practice to make sure I got my finger and brain educated.
Feed is by the distinctive looking 10-round magazine. As can be seen it shows a strange looking re-curve shape to it. Research shows that this was probably the hardest part of the design to perfect, as it has to feed that big/tapered rimmed cartridge. Like the AK, the mag latch is at the rear of the well and pushes forward to release. Insertion is a bit fiddly, as you have to get the front lug just right; again practice is the order of the day.
The straight-pull action uses the existing SVD cocking handle on the bolt carrier and the large safety catch on the right side of the receiver. This flips up for SAFE and down to FIRE and as ever is awkward and stiff to operate. One improvement over the 7.62X39 AK47 is the fact that the Dragunov offers an automatic last round hold open, which is a blessing.
Bipods and Scopes
The bipod for the SVD is a blessing in some ways. The design is primitive with a C-clamp that locks it to the forward receiver. The legs are sprung but held together by a steel clip that simply pops off. They have to be squeezed to a position where they are free and can be swung up and down. They are also height-adjustable and rubber- tipped. The mount offers a degree of cant, certainty enough to account for uneven ground. When not required the pod folds up/forward under the forend and there’s plenty of space to get your weak hand in for unsupported work…The unusual positioning of the bipod is by far the most logical place to put it, as it leaves the slim barrel completely free of any pressures or external influences.
The scope is dedicated to the rifle and as I said clamps to the rail on the left of the receiver. This ‘fixed four’ has a pre-set focus and offers external dialling turrets with a moving image reticule, which can be illuminated. So adjustment is always into the error. For example if the rifle is shooting left then the reticule has to be moved to the left to bring the point of impact over to the right. It takes a bit of getting used to, certainly when compared to our Western dial-in-the-direction turrets…
The actual reticule is also unusual. What you get is three chevrons (one above the other in the centre. The top one is flanked on the left and right by 10-gaduations. So what you appear to have are three separate aim/range marks with lead marks to account for wind and/or moving targets. Below this is a range finding grid graduated from 100 to 400 metres. The Russian military PSO-1 scope is rated out to 1300 metres, which is a bit optimistic for a X4 optic. However, the three aiming chevrons can be used at any elevation drum setting to give 100m increments in range. For example with the elevation drum set to 10 the chevrons will give 1100, 1200 and 1300m aim points accordingly. So by trial and error you can work out what setting will correspond to any three distances and with the generous movement of the elevation drum you pretty much have it all covered. For the PR shooter this is certainly attractive. Also you can wind in windage correction too. Zeroing proved easy with the reticule just off of centre and slighting low in the view at 100-yards.
A word on scope mounting. The locking lever should be facing you as you slide the mount on to the receiver dovetail. It then pushes forward until it stops. In this position swing the lever forward and bear down on it so the locking lug slides under the mount’s base and engages. From the box the scope was a loose fit on the rifle, but this is easily adjusted. The locking handle is splined to the shaft and can be removed then repositioned so that more tension is applied to clamp the mount tight to the dovetail as it swings forward to engage.
For the test I used Prvi Partizan 182-grain ammo kindly supplied by Henry Krank & Co Ltd. This approximates the weight of the 7.62X54mm R Ball D round (185-grains). As opposed to the Ball L and Ball LPS at 152-grains. The old Nagant cartridge is no lightweight and with the nominal 180-grain load recoil is most noticeable. Saying this though the extra 2” of barrel, flash hider and bipod did make the SVD a lot more shoulder-friendly than the Tigre.
Filling the magazine requires the rounds to be slid in from the front under the feed lips, as they won’t clip past them as with a 7.62 Nato mag. Insertion is a bit fiddly until you become familiar with the technique and typically the mag noses in at the front then is snapped back to seat and lock.
Reaching forward grasp the cocking handle and pull it back all the way and let it go and it will feed and chamber the first round. And that’s what you do for each shot. In use I found the handle way too small and also too far forward. A drop back/dog leg design would be preferable. And if you don’t do it quickly you run the risk of an empty case bouncing back into the ejection port off your hand. This is also a common problem with the 7.62X39mm Saiga M3 series. Having said that, the SVD was smooth to cycle with no hesitation on chambering or ejection, and certainly better in use than some 308 Win, AR15-style rifles I have used that showed hard if not impossible extraction characteristics. Some of this I put down to the more chamber-friendly shape of the tapered 7.62X54mm R case.
As I said before, recoil was noticeable but not unbearable, though I wouldn’t want to shoot a full day’s PR match with the 182-grain ammo. A 150-grain load would be far more sensible if you wanted to get a lot of rounds down range. Performance was around MOA, which I thought was very good. Though the bipod was a bit slack when compared to something like a Harris. This is a rifle you have to work at to get good performance – the shorter butt makes for a less than ideal eye relief position. The trigger though not heavy needs experience to make the break the same each time.
This is essentially a dead copy of the military SVD and I would like to try one for an extended test with a modified cocking handle, extended butt and 150-grain ammo. On that point if you are going to reload for the 7.62X54mm R then be aware that the bore size is .310-.311” and not .308”. Correct size bullets are available from various outlets – Prvi Partizan being one, who also offers Boxer-primed brass.
At the end of the day the Dragunov is interesting, unusual and exotic and certainly capable of shooting up to and beyond the needs of Practical Rifle disciplines. It also comes in about £200 cheaper than the 04 Tigre and that includes the PSO-1-style scope and in my opinion is more shootable too…
|Price||£1195 inc. 4 X 24 scope|
|Spare mag||£32 (civilian) & £39 (military)|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates