The Last of the Dragunovs

By Vladimir Onokoy

Venerable Russian SVDM Sniper Rifle Nearing End of Service with Russian Forces

The semi-automatic Dragunov sniper rifle, originally called “SVD” (sniper rifle designed by Dragunov), is very well known all around the world. To this day, SVD remains the main DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle) in the Russian Army and in a number of ex-Soviet states.

Unfortunately, complete absence of imports to the U.S. and other Western countries created a certain information vacuum regarding new modifications of this venerable rifle, namely the SVDS and the latter Dragunov SVDM.

This article will try to showcase some of the features of the latest Dragunov variant, since, back in the day, this author was involved in some of the technical and military trials for this rifle.

The Original SVD Dragunov

The original SVD Dragunov is still in production in its original form; the only difference one can see right away is that the original wood stock and handguard are now made of black polymer.

The civilian version of SVD Dragunov is called “Tigr,” which means—you guessed it—”Tiger.” This rifle is in high demand and is very popular with Russian hunters and gun enthusiasts who want to own this piece of Soviet small arms history.

The main difference between the SVD and the Tigr is the barrel twist rate. The original twist rate of the SVD barrel is 1:12, which proved to be very effective with 7.62x54R sniper ammo but did not work well with tracers or armor-piercing rounds.

Around 1975, the Soviet military demanded that Dragunov rifles should be able to be effectively used with all types of ammo, and after some additional testing, the twist rate was changed to 1:9. It made overall accuracy slightly worse (some claim 25% worse), but hooray, now you can accurately shoot tracers out of your sniper rifle. Isn’t that what a sniper needs the most?
It should probably come as no surprise that some veteran Russian snipers prefer Dragunovs made before 1975. The good news is that civilian “Tigers” remained at the original 1:12 twist and can often be more accurate than military SVDs.


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This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N2 (February 2019)
and was posted online on December 14, 2018


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