The Dragunov: the Original Designated Marksman’s Rifle

The Firearm Blog has an article about a Russian gun company by the name of OOO Skat (rather unfortunate name in English, Triple-Aught Scat) modernizing the Soviet-era SVD sniper rifle.  OOO Skat is doing a lot more here than just giving it fancy new plastic furniture, they’re replacing everything but the receiver, trigger group, and bolt group.

The barrel looks like it’s been replaced (or at least re-finished) and so has the gas piston system.  It uses the same operation, but it’s been updated with a gas regulator.  It ditches the sights for a free-floated railed handguard and matching dust cover, and has a stock and grip block made to accept standard AR furniture.  It also has a baffled muzzle brake instead of the classic long flash hider.

To us, this is greatness, but a lot of people are scratching their heads.  Why throw all that crap onto a big old AK?  Because a Dragunov is not an AK.  It may share some cosmetic similarities, but what it has in common with the Kalashnikov is that it’s Russian and it shoots bullets.

Dragunovs are milled, not stamped, which does more than just mount the barrel precisely.  The side mount for optics is also machined into the receiver; it’s a single piece that will never, ever move.  The trigger group is the opposite; it’s a single unit that can be pulled out the bottom for cleaning and maintenance.

The dust cover doesn’t clip into place between the rear sight block and the recoil spring guide rod.  It has a rear locking block that is held in place by a locking cam (the lever above the pistol grip).  It’s not only more stable, it’s not just a dust cover.  Inside the dust cover holds together the recoil system.

The bolt group doesn’t include a gas piston like an AK.  Dragunovs are all short-stroke gas piston-operated.  The gas piston transfers energy to an independently-sprung operating rod that in turn taps the bolt carrier, which completes the cycle of operations.  The bolt carrier and bolt are in turn a whole lot smaller and lighter than an AK’s and lock up tighter.  All of that contributes to accuracy.

There is a misconception that Dragunovs are just very long Kalashnikovs.  But that’s just the Soviet aesthetic.  Internally there’s no single part that’s interchangeable, and they operate completely differently.  There’s also a misconception that they’re inaccurate.  That’s not true.  Dragunovs must shoot 1.04 MOA at 300 meters (120mm groups) with sniper ammo (1.24 MOA with tracer and armor-piercing capable barrels).  To put things into perspective, that’s on par with modern American military sniper rifles like the M110.

But it’s not just the operation that was conceived differently.  The way it implemented was well ahead of its time.  After switching over to the AK, Russia concluded that they had sacrificed their long-range capability on a squad level, which is undeniable.  The Dragunov wasn’t intended for specially-trained snipers, it was destined for infantry.  In every Russian platoon there was at least one soldier with a Dragunov—what we would call today a designated marksman.

It’s easy to put your finger on why there are misconception surround Dragunovs.  There’s maybe 125 in this country.  They’re incredibly rare, even the variants.

In 1994, just as the guns started to come to the States, the U.S. government and the Russian Federation came to an agreement to cease importation of Dragunovs.  Ironically enough, they’re considered Curio & Relic rifles, but good luck getting one from your local C&R distributor.

Of course, that’s just the U.S.  Many other countries have them in volume in both civilian and non-civilian roles.  They’re impressive and interesting, downright mesmerizing rifles, and they’re chambered in 7.62x54mmR, which is just one beast of a cartridge.  Why would someone want to modernize a Dragunov?  More to the point, why wouldn’t someone want to?

All in all, we encourage you to watch that first video in its entirety.  It is close to an hour long, and it does ramble, but it paints a picture of the Dragunov unlike anything you may have ever seen before.

Image credit: Russian Military and Outdoor FirearmsWorld Guns and the Rifle Sling Home Page.

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