A Rare Russian
September 23, 2010
A unique folding stock sniper rifle gets a 600-yard workout.
The SVDS is an updated SVD Dragunov sniper rifle with side-folding stock with cheekpiece and separate pistol grip. The author found it lively to handle and accurate to 600 yards and beyond.
I recently had a unique opportunity to handle and fire an extremely rare Russian sniper rifle, the SVDS. While the standard 1960s-vintage 7.62x54R SVD (Snayperskaya Vintovka Dragunova-Dragunov sniper rifle) is fairly well-known here in the U.S., the folding stock variant is not. Developed for airborne units and placed into service in the 1990s, the SVDS features a shorter barrel and side-folding stock--demonstrating the continuing evolution and refinement of this 1960s Russian design.
The SVDS began life as a Tiger sporting rifle that designer Mark Vorobiev, who served in the Soviet Spetsnaz in the 1980s and is a veteran of their war in Afghanistan, bought specifically to convert.
He then acquired all the necessary parts and sent it to Richard Parker for the conversion, which included cutting off the rear of the rifle's receiver and then carefully jigging it up to weld on the rear portion from an actual SVDS.
While the receiver work was daunting, Parker said the hardest part was setting up the gas system using the SVDS parts. It seems that although the gas system looks identical to an SVD's, there are some minute changes.
The rifle itself is based upon Evgeniy Fedorovich Dragunov's standard SVD. It's built on a forged steel receiver with a three-lug rotating carrier controlled bolt. Operation is gas via a short-stroke piston. Barrel length is shortened from 24.4 inches of the standard SVD to 22.3 inches but 1mm heavier in diameter.
In place of the SVD's long birdcage flash suppressor, the SVDS has a shorter conical flash suppressor. The SVD's distinctive thumbhole stock has also been replaced by a separate pistol grip and a robust side-folding stock.
With the stock fixed in place overall length is 44.6 inches. Folded to the right side of the receiver, overall length drops to just 34.4 inches. The stock also incorporates a rotating cheek rest for use with a riflescope or other optic. This can be easily rotated out of the way for use with iron sights. The back-up iron sights consist of a simple protected post front sight and a tangent rear with U notch.
The rifle is chambered for the standard Russian 7.62x54R round, which has been in service since 1891. Barrel twist is 1:9.4, allowing standard ball, AP and tracer loads to be fired in addition to the issue dedicated 7N1 Sniper and 7N14 Sniper AP loads. Feed is from robust 10-round steel magazines.
With the standard 4x24mm PSO-1 riflescope and empty magazine, the SVDS tips the scales at 10.2 pounds and feels fairly lively due to its relatively light weight. The stock is fairly comfortable and provides a good cheek weld.
The SVDS was adopted by the Federal Russian Army in the early 1990s. Its redesigned stock and shorter barrel were intended to make it more suitable for airborne troops.
The trigger pull is rolling but very light and crisp. Standard pull weight is three pounds. The safety lever is similar to a Kalashnikov's--a bit of reach--and slightly changed from the standard SVD. Stripping the rifle is a simple matter and easily performed for routine maintenance.
Average group size was 1.2 inches from the bench with Russian 152-grain Sniper ammunition. I later fired it prone off a pack with some Wolf Performance 200-grain Match ammo to see what the SVDS could do at distance. Recoil was on the heavy side with this load, and ejection was energetic.
I easily dropped a reduced-size LaRue sniper target at 200 yards, then moved out to 500. The Kansas wind beat me on my first shot, but I dropped it on my next. I went back and forth smacking steel at 500 and 600 yards.
Due to its relatively light weight, the SVDS is quite a bit harder to shoot at distance than a heavier precision rifle. It's also possible to make shooter errors with the pistol grip. However, once I got a feel for it the rifle proved very consistent.
I had the chance to shoot with a couple U.S. Army snipers armed with custom bolt guns, and there was a friendly competition to knock down the resetting targets. At these distances, the semiauto SVDS provided a real challenge to the bolt guns. Several times I heard the snipers curse when I beat them in knocking down a target.
I think the SVDS is a well thought-out piece well-suited for its intended task. While it will never shoot at the level of a well-tuned bolt gun, that's not what it was designed for.
As a designated marksman's rifle, it excels. Simple and robust, the basic SVD action has proven eminently reliable in more than 40 years of use. Plus, although it's more than 100 years old, the 7.62x54R cartridge still does its job quite well.
The main drawback to is the optic. It's just a very old design. However, a man who knows his rifle and has access to good quality ammunition can shoot accurately at 600 yards and a real threat at 800+ yards with an SVDS. Unfortunately, you can't expect to see this rifle available in the U.S. anytime soon.