The mission description for the PSL is closer to what we would label a designated marksman’s weapon versus a true sniper rifle.
The PSL rifle has always been a surprising performer considering its “bastard” heritage compared to the more famous Soviet/Russian SVD Dragunov.
The current offering of the PSL rifle in the U.S. market has to be considered a great purchase for someone desiring a working example of a Cold War Communist Bloc weapon. The added bonus is you get a magazine-fed semiautomatic rifle chambered in a potent cartridge with enough accuracy to allow hits on man-sized targets out to 600 yards.
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“SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE WITH SCOPE”
The PSL utilizes the basic AK operation with piston operating rod and bolt carrier connected. The PSL’s receiver is reinforced front and rear due to its being “stretched” to accommodate the longer and beefier 7.62x54R cartridge compared to the 7.62x39mm. Critics point to the maxed-out receiver combined with much longer operating rod as imposing stress on the action and impacting accuracy. The long and relatively thin 24.4-inch barrel with two-inch brake on the end only accentuates this tendency. Slow-motion video capturing a PSL while firing supports this notion.
The PSL defies this logic by often performing better than expected, but still below what the U.S. market would consider a precision rifle. However, attention to details such as ammunition supply, mounting a better optic than the normally supplied 4X scope, and action fine tuning being pioneered by noted AK-system gunsmith Jim Fuller’s Rifle Dynamics will bring out the full potential of the PSL.
The PSL under evaluation was imported by Century International Arms and labeled PSL-54C. The PSL acronym stands for “semi-automatic rifle with scope” in Romanian. While the PSL slightly resembles an SVD Dragunov externally, it is totally dissimilar in operation under the hood. SVD Dragunovs are rare and expensive in the U.S. market, and the PSL is more than glad to fill in for it. Several fundamental differences exist between the PSL and the SVD.
PSL VERSUS SVD
The PSL operates via the Kalashnikov long-stroke gas-piston bolt-carrier system inside a stamped receiver more similar to the reinforced RPK light machine gun than a standard AK. The SVD, on the other hand, is a short-stroke operating system utilizing a milled receiver. Trigger group designs are different between the PSL and SVD as well. The PSL and SVD both operate with ten-round detachable box magazines. These magazines are not interchangeable between weapon systems.
On the whole, quality control for the Russian SVD is of a higher standard than that of the Romanian PSL. This helps the SVD be more consistently accurate than the PSL. However, range experience and research lead to the belief that the accuracy potential of the PSL is often underrated. The Romanian decision to utilize simpler manufacturing techniques with the PSL versus the more complex Russian SVD seems justified. The PSL starts with one basic advantage due to its AK operating system—reliability.
The rifle I acquired came with two tenround magazines, a Romanian LPS-1 optic manufactured by IOR, magazine pouch, cleaning kit, and sling.
Basic PSL dimensions are 10.25 pounds with a 24.4-inch barrel and about a two-inch muzzle brake, giving it an overall length with the stock of 46 inches. The LPS-1 optic is mounted on a side rail on the left of the PSL’s receiver. The Russian-style PSO reticle in the LPS- 1 features range-finding markings and hold-over chevrons. The optic’s reticle was originally illuminated via tritium, but the tritium has since expired, eliminating this feature. The PSL’s buttstock is shorter than what U.S. shooters are used to, and the stock’s short comb height generates complaints from some users.
I originally purchased the PSL a few years ago. I first wanted an SVD, but pricing and availability dissuaded me. Once I got to handle the PSL, I did not feel so unfortunate.
Surplus ammunition intended more for PKM belt-fed machine guns delivered four-inch groups with the 4X scope. Zeroing in the LPS-1 scope proved more of a challenge than anything else. The windage and elevation turrets operate with a different mechanism than what I was used to, not to mention how the scope sits to the left side of the receiver. The stock’s length, combined with the short eye relief of the LPS-1 scope, proved something that had to be adjusted to as well.
Handling of the PSL was above average considering its size and weight. The PSL’s “wispy” barrel keeps weight centered around the receiver compared to the front-heavy feel found on most tactical bolt-actions. Recoil was minimal and in no way a deterrent. The Tapco G2 trigger group was gritty with creep, but manageable. I continued to shoot the PSL for a few months before it ended up in the back of the safe. It was a reliable rifle with consistent performance considering the ammunition and scope.
GUERRILLA SNIPER RIFLE
My interest in the PSL was revived after running across several posts on an Internet forum highlighting the “Guerrilla Sniper Rifle” (GSR) concept. The GSR is a rifle, preferably a semiautomatic, with accuracy standards of head shots at 200 yards and solid body hits out to 600 under field conditions.
The idea, or need, for maintaining sub-MOA accuracy at 800+ yards is unfounded for most. This type of accuracy is very expensive and frankly, most users are not capable of taking advantage of this accuracy level. The PSL’s intended role of augmenting AK-47/74 effectiveness with its superior long-range capability makes it a natural candidate for a GSR, especially with readily achievable improvements in ammunition, optics, and the rifle itself. While not as accurate as a bolt-action rifle, the PSL offers much more “firepower” than a bolt-action rifle.
All this led me to Jim Fuller’s Rifle Dynamics as the best way to improve the PSL beyond its out-of-the-box potential. Fuller is currently working on an AK signature line that will encompass many upgrades and modifications over factory standard AKs. These improvements are based on Jim’s experience and feedback from customers. The package I had Fuller put together included these modifications:
- Shorten barrel to 19 inches
- Cut 11-degree target crown on barrel
- Rethread barrel for muzzle device
- Uncant sights and gas block
- Modify rear sight
- Correct breach face
- Correct bolt face
- True and fit bolt carrier and locking lugs
- Re-headspace and pin barrel to proper spec
- Adjust trigger group
- Fit and smooth safety
- Properly fit magazine catch
- Deburr PSL, including trigger guard, charging handle, and mag catch
- Sandblast and parkerize all metal parts
- 25-yard zero iron sight verification
The BP-02 mount attaches to the side rail similar to the LPS optics, but features a Picatinny-style base that is centered over the rifle’s action and lowered closer to the bore line. The Picatinny-style rail also better enables the scope to be adjusted in terms of eye relief for the shooter, which makes the PSL’s stock much more manageable.
The BP-02 mount prohibits removing the PSL’s dust cover for cleaning. However, the scope mount can be removed for cleaning and reattached without affecting zero. This was verified over several range sessions.
Even without firing a live round, I could detect the Rifle Dynamics modifications in the smoothness of the action, trigger pull, quality of refinish, and overall weapon feel.
The shortened barrel positively impacts not only weapon handling due to decreased length and weight, but also accuracy by minimizing the barrel whip or vibration caused when a round is fired and the action operates. The reduction in barrel length from 24.5 to 19 inches in effect stiffens the barrel and provides better barrel harmonics, allowing for more consistent accuracy. A Yankee Hill Machine Phantom Flash Hider was installed on the PSL upon its return.
I accessed several 7.62x54R ammunition choices besides surplus “Spam” can Bulgarian 149-grain FMJ variants. These loads consisted of Lapua 185-grain SP, Wolf 148-grain FMJ, and Barnaul 185-grain FMJ ammunition.
A quick word about the 7.62x54R ammunition used in the PSL is due here. Use of what is commonly termed “heavy ball”—185-grain-plus surplus ammunition intended for use in PKM machine guns—is to be avoided in the PSL’s already maxed-out action.
Rifle Dynamics’ improvements were quickly borne out, with the same surplus ammunition that performed in the 4 MOA range before modification turning in consistent 3 MOA performance. As expected, the other loads did better, with Wolf Ammunition 147-grain FMJ giving just over 2 MOA, Lapua 2.5 MOA, and Barnaul 185-grain FMJ a pleasant surprise at just over 1 MOA. The Lapua ammunition, with its round-nose SP profile and shorter overall length, had difficulty feeding reliably from the PSL’s magazine.
Jim Fuller advised that PSLs are known for preferring certain types of ammunition over others with no discernible reason why. Fortunately my particular rifle shoots tested brands closely in performance, with points of aim that are relatively stable.
In layman’s terms, the 7.62x54R can be considered the Russian version of a rimmed .30-06 in terms of ballistics (180 grain at 2,700 feet per second) and thus by degree a relative of the 7.62x51mm/.308 Winchester, especially with the 19-inch barrel. The Leupold’s M3 adjustable turret calibrated for 7.62x51mm proved close in adjustment settings out to 500 yards. Like any calibrated scope, adjustments need to be field verified for any load used.
The Rifle Dynamics improvements to the basic PSL, combined with mounting the Leupold Mk 4 scope and using better ammunition, have turned the PSL into a credible long-range performer. Its semiautomatic capabilities combined with ten-round detachable magazines are added bonuses.
The Rifle Dynamics PSL outperforms most shooters’ abilities with its accuracy, especially under field conditions as compared to shooting off a bench. This is not bad for a mass-produced stamped-receiver rifle that is on the market for well under $1,000.
Just over 400 rounds were put through the PSL upon its return from Rifle Dynamics. As expected from an AK-based action, there were no issues with reliability. Turning to the Rifle Dynamics gunsmith to maximize the PSL’s performance was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The Rifle Dynamics rejuvenated PSL proved great to carry afield for many missions and is a potent hunting rifle in its own right. A rugged and reliable semiautomatic rifle featuring a ten-round detachable magazine of hard-hitting 7.62x54R can have many uses. I will leave it at that.