by Ben Small
Dragunov. Great name. Conjures up images of stormy, moonlit nights, clouds shredded by thrusty peaks, rocky blades slicing, swirling the soup. A dark castle high on a ledge. Shadows dance and dart before you. You feel dizzy. A wolf howls; there's a scream, the tail of one, maybe...
This theme's got Romania stamped on it.
But calling a Dragunov Romanian is wrong, maybe fraudulent.
A Dragunov SVD, new and unfired, is one of the Holy Grails of sniper rifles. But the Dragunov is Russian, not Romanian. And like E. F. Hutton, who could have afforded one, the Dragunov earned it's legendary status the old-fashioned way: They earned it.
Romania's never made a Dragunov. But if you Google or Search "Romanian Dragunov" on Gunbroker.com, a high volume online firearms auction service, you'll get listings aplenty.
Why? Because Romanians make this rifle:
They pretty much look alike, don't they?
Far from it. A true Dragunov will set you back $10,000 or more. It may centerpiece your gunroom showcase, should you -- or a character in your novel -- be so inclined.
My Romanian knock-off set me back $700. The gun's officially named the PSL, but the Romanians and many gun sellers -- Federal Firearms Licensed ("FFL") dealers -- don't mind the confusion.
They wanna make the sale. Gunbroker Ad Example
Or maybe some dealers just don't know any better. You'd be surprised what you hear in gun stores.
But take a closer look at some Dragunovs, including more modern versions.
Now take a look at the Dragunov's major components.
Notice the quality of workmanship, the artful design. Efficient, sleek, smooth -- sexxy. In the hands of a skilled shooter, you might feel safe eight hundred meters downrange with a walnut on your head.
Well ... maybe that's a stretch.
So what about the PSL, the so-called Romanian Dragunov?
Well, it's an AK-47, actually. A completely different animal from the Dragunov. A rifle not really built for the powerful 7.62mm X 54Rmm round. The AK-47 was built around the 7.62mm X 39mm bullet, the big Russian's little brother. Plus, AK-47s are renowned, not for accuracy, but for reliability. So, if the PSL is an AK, not really built for the round, and not known for its accuracy anyway, do you begin to understand the difference?
Firing a Dragunov at the range, five hundred meters maybe, and a skilled shooter might expect to shoot MOA or better. That's shooter-speak for accurate-as-hell. Shoot an AK at that distance, the same guy would be lucky to hit paper.
But some AKs are better than others. Trust me, Romanian AKs ain't high on the draft list. Only insurgents seem to like them.
I brought my PSL home from the store, oiled it up, ran the action, pulled the god-awful, creepy, sticky trigger, and the gun clicked true. Empty of course. So I grabbed a fabric bandoleer mag-pouch chock full of loaded mags, and headed to the range.
And that's where I noticed the problems. First of all, the PSL has a cheap, stamped receiver. The metal's rough. Only one of my six magazines would even fit into the magwell. Seems there were burrs. And then I cycled a round and cut my finger on another burr. The gun fired, and the bolt locked forward -- stuck. I couldn't fire another round. Couldn't get the bolt open. Took a hammer-blow over a wood block to break it loose.
You wouldn't take a hammer to a Dragunov.
A amateur gunsmith friend volunteered to look at my lemon. An hour with his dremel tool, and he got everything fitted and working. He also saved my fingers, smoothing out the rough steel on the receiver.
Back to the range. Did better than just smacking paper. Even scored some points. No, no Dragunov, but the accuracy of my PSL surprised me. Others, I understand, have not been as fortunate as me. They've suffered any number of failures, have discovered canted sights, cheap scopes or poor mounting.
And there's another problem: ammo. Neither the PSL nor the Dragunov was intended to shoot most of the commercial 7.62mm X 54R ammo around. It's too heavy and too powerful for an action designed for the old 147 grain Russian military stuff. Commercial loads are often in the 180-203 grain range, intended for maximum power and impact. The PSL will wear out very quickly shooting these loads, and may suffer a catastrophic failure, perhaps a KABOOM that injures or kills the shooter or a bystander. While the Dragunov too was not designed for this round, frankly, if you were smart enough to buy a Dragunov, you already know this and have been hoarding old Russian military rounds for some time. The Dragunov is simply better-made. I'd trust some of Russia's finest engineering sooner than a cheap Romanian look-similar.
My point for all this: There are some excellent plot point and story opportunities for the mystery/thriller writer in the confusion which so often surrounds the Dragunov and the PSL. Fraud, money, mistaken identity, jamming, catastrophic failure, all sorts of story fodder.
No, I don't own a Dragunov. I wish I did. If so, I might be tempted to plant my PSL, use it for an ocotillo-fencing brace and call my place "Dragunovia." Put out some spooky lights, some covert speakers playing moans and screams, and maybe I'll scare away those pesky kids on Halloween. Then I can eat the candy.
In the meantime, I'll just show off my Dragunov at the range. Tell everybody it was specially made ... for me, given to me by a Russian aerospace exec I met on a business venture.
And, oh yeah, I'll take that Beamer in trade...