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Meet the PSL, a designated marksman rifle.

byPeter Suciu

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed its legendary SVD-40 “Dragunov”—a semi-automatic marksman rifle that was designed as a sporting rifle by Olympic shooting gold medalist Yevgeny Dragunov. It utilized a short-stroke pistol to minimize moving mass and featured a last-round bolt hold for faster reloading.

The weapon was produced under license by China, Egypt and even Iraq—where in the latter case Saddam Hussein even produced a gold plated version for one his sons. Soviet-produced versions of the SVD-40 were also used throughout the Warsaw Pact, but one of the Soviet's partners developed its own semi-automatic weapon.

That was Romania, and the gun was the PSL or PuşcăSemiautomată cu Lunetă model 1974, “scoped semi-automatic rifle.” Much like the SVD-40, which was not developed as a semi-automatic sniper rifle, the PSL was developed as squad-designated marksman rifle from its inception. Despite this fact both have been called “sniper rifles” and it would be far more accurate to describe the weapons as designated marksman rifles.

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The PSL looks very much like the SVD-40, and both are chambered for the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, which was developed for Imperial Russia's Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifles. Both have a similar “skeletonized,” thumb-through buttstock, long heavy barrels and use 10-round box-type magazines. Both the SVD and PSL utilize PSO-designated optics. For those reasons, the PSL is often called the “Romanian Dragunov,” but that is a misnomer. Though the two may in fact be similar in appearance the guns are mechanically completely different and no parts are interchangeable not even the magazine.

The PSL was actually modeled after the Soviet's RPK light machine gun, which was developed by noted Soviet arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47. Thus the PSL has more in common with the AK-47 than the SVD-40. The nonadjustable long-stroke system on the PSL is virtually identical to that of the AK platform whereas the SVD gas system is a short-piston, stroke-adjustable design.

Likewise, while there are notable similarities in the overall layout of the two weapons, numerous authors have addressed the noteworthy differences—key among the fact that the SVD is milled with an integrated scope rail while the PSL sports an RPK-type stamped receiver with a riveted scope mounting rail. The SVD has also been described as being more refined—unique among Soviet weapons—whereas the PSL is akin to an AK-style workhorse.

One final notable difference is that the SVD did serve as the basis for several hunting rifles, but those weapons were quite distinct visually from the military versions. By contrast, the PSL was—and the only differences were the removal of a bayonet lug as well as the replacement of the military receiver.

For many shooting enthusiasts the PSL—which are not currently available for import but still do come up as private sales—are likely the only affordable option to acquire a “Dragunov” but purists will tell you it's really not the same.

Now that Romania is part of NATO it is conceivable—but hopefully avoidable—that there could be a future SVD vs. PSL showdown between designated marksmen.

-- This Story First Appeared inThe National Interest --

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear includingA Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on