Dragunov Vs. PSL – Commie Sniper Showdown and Throwdown

As of late, there has been a good bit of talk about Dragunovs, and from this talk, I can decipher a few things. Gun drama is the worst, and a lot of people don’t seem to know the difference between the famed Dragunov and the PSL. I prefer to comment on the latter, so let’s dive into the differences between the two rifles. Without further ado, here is our Dragunov vs. PSL grudge match. 

Dragunov History 

Designed in 1963 by Yevgeny Fyodorovich Dragunov, a name I most certainly copy and pasted. Mr. Dragunov was a relatively successful arms designer, and his many designs included a gold medal-winning biathlon rifle. The SVD was submitted to military trials in 1959 and was accepted in 1963.

The Dragunov originally served as a sniper rifle with conventional forces. Since then, it’s served with the Russian military in various incarnations, including a bullpup variant. 

PSL History 

The Romanians and the Soviets weren’t getting along very well back in the day. This spurred the Russians to be shy in sharing their weapons, so Romania spun up its own production.

They wanted a Dragunov, but Russia wasn’t keen to share the details. So they built their own sniper rifle. The PSL was designed to be a designated marksman’s rifle and to extend the effective range of the squad. 

PSL VS. Dragunov – Why the Confusion.

Whenever you start talking about Soviet-era sniper rifles, Dragunov vs. PSL will inevitably come up. The main confusion comes from the fact they are both ‘sniper’ rifles, and they look similar. They could be spiteful brothers. 

On the outside, you have an identical thin barrel, wood furniture including a thumbhole stock, as well as AK-like controls. From the AK, we have the charging handle, the sights, the safety, magazine release, and side scope mount. 

Both guns have also been copied and are relatively widespread. When it comes to countries doing their own Dragunov vs. PSL battles, we see countries like China, Bolivia, and Iran choose the Dragunov. Romania, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a half dozen other middle east countries have selected the PSL. 

The Differences 

What makes the most significant difference in a Dragunov vs. PSL debate is the gas system. The PSL uses a long-stroke gas system, and the Dragunov uses a short-stroke gas system. Not to be rude to the PSL, but it’s basically a big heckin AK. A short-stroke gas piston system lives in the Dragunov and helps with accuracy. 

A long-stroke gas system means a more significant mass is moving forward and rearward with every shot, and this causes more significant recoil and forward shift. A short-stroke gas system is more refined and creates less recoil and movement throughout the gun. 

Snipers use the rim of a cartridge to adjust the Dragunov’s gas block. The two-position gas block allows the user to swap between standard and adverse modes. Adverse cycles more gas and creates more recoil but enable the weapon to work when heavily fouled or when shooting in cold weather conditions. 

The PSL models have no such design feature. In fact, when used with a suppressor or heavy ammunition, the bolts have been known to crack due to the pressure. 147-grain ammo is a good go-to but anything heavier is risky and suppressor use is not advised. 

Dragunov vs. PSL – Differences Down to the Receiver

Russia machined the Dragunov’s receiver. This method improved the strength of the receiver and provided greater accuracy. The downside is the cost and time it takes to make the receiver versus a stamped PSL. 

The PSL has no such luxury. Remember, it’s a big heckin AK. Romanian arms designers took some cues from the RPK in the form of a heavy stamped receiver and a much stronger front trunnion. 

One interesting feat of the Dragunov is the installation of a last round bolt hold-open device. This isn’t a Yugo-style device that sends the bolt forward when you remove the magazine, either. During reloads, the shooters remove the magazine, pop a new one in, and give a tug on the charging handle to send it home. 

In terms of weight and length, the differences are few. The PSL is often a little shorter and maybe a little lighter depending on optics. Romania copied Dragunov features down to an identical barrel length. 

Here is a fun fact, not a simple part interchanges between the Dragunov and PSL. This includes the magazines! 

Which is The Better Rifle? 

This is the big question in a Dragunov vs. PSL debate. I’d like to say the answer is complicated with varying factors, but it’s not. The Dragunov is better. It’s more accurate, lower recoiling, and more refined overall. There isn’t a whole lot to debate. The advantages of the PSL are its ease of production, low price, and the fact it’s somewhat easy to get a PSL in the states. Dragunov’s are a bit tougher to acquire. Either way, both guns are interesting pieces of Soviet small arms, and I hope you’ve left here knowing the difference between the two. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.