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Hungarian Dragunov: As Close As You Can Get To The Real Thing

It was December 1996. I was a 12-year-old kid with a bowl cut living in Appalachia who loved reading about war and guns. My personal Library of Alexandria and window to the world of firearms was an ancient gas station down the street run by a Vietnam vet who sold nudie magazines and cigarettes without carding and, more importantly, gun rags.

Bundled in my brother’s old Starter jacket, I saw an issue of Soldier of Fortune with the French Foreign Legion in full parade regalia on the cover. It also had a small blurb about something called an SVDS.

Intrigued, I quickly flipped through the pages, trying not to earn the ire of the salty vet behind the counter for loitering (which would earn me a parade-polished Mickey Mouse boot to the ass and a call to my parents — the latter being far more terrifying). Crouched between the aisles of overpriced, expired junk food, I ogled the black-and-white photos of the Russian beast inside and found my Soviet angel in the centerfold. I was hooked.

I had to have a legit Dragunov — not a PSL with some imitation furniture or a WASR-1 with a thumbhole stock, a real-deal Dragunov. At least until I saw the price tags on auction sites and realized I would have to sell a kidney to afford one. 

Sixty years ago, rifles still had wooden stocks and handguards. Maybe we’re missing something today …

But that all changed a few years back when the guys at Brügger & Thomet decided to import some Hungarian HD-18s.

THE DRAGUNOV: STACKING BODIES SINCE 1963

For the uninitiated, the Dragnov, or SVD (Snaiperskaya Vintovka Dragunova), is a short-stroke, semi-automatic designated marksman’s rifle chambered in glorious 7.62x54r. It features wooden furniture, a milled receiver, and feeds from 10-round stagger-column magazines. The original gun entered service around 1963 and, as a complete sniper system, was like nothing the world had seen.

Indeed, the SVD was a game-changer that redefined a sniper’s combat role. This was especially true with Soviet combat doctrine that placed snipers on more of a squad-level support role as opposed to U.S. doctrine that had snipers working in independent small teams. (In fact, each motorized infantry platoon had its own SVD-equipped sniper.) The efficacy of the Dragunov in this role was staggering, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the jungles of Vietnam.

Although the Dragunov only saw combat toward the end of the conflict in the hands of the NVA (and presumably some lucky Viet Cong), it profoundly affected U.S. and ARVN soldiers alike.

Former Spetsnaz sniper and combat veteran Marco Vorobiev put it best:

“(In Vietnam) American sniper rifles were accurate but delicate things — they wouldn’t survive hard use in combat. Many soldiers had their families send over their personal hunting rifles to Vietnam because they had no faith in the Springfield or the Winchester bolt-action rifles they were issued.

“Sure, the M40 and the M21 were better, but the Dragunov was leagues ahead with its ballistic scope and overall ruggedness.”

He’s not wrong. The M21 — an accurized M14 equipped with an optic — is notorious for shifting zero if the upper handguard is moved. On the other hand, the Dragunov wasn’t finicky about how it was handled. Plus, despite not being nearly as accurate as modern sniper platforms, was precise enough for headshots at 400 meters and body shots at 800.

But it’s not 1963 anymore, and the American military has not only embraced the concept of a DMR but arguably eclipsed the SVD with its semi-auto precision weapons like the M110E and FN SCAR SSR MK.20. Is the Dragunov really as dangerous now, and what does any of this have to do with the Hungarian HD-18?

In short, yes. The Dragunov is just as much a force to reckon with on the battlefield today as it was in Vietnam. With the vast majority of America’s adversaries armed with AKMs today, the SVD offers both conventional and guerrilla forces the extra power and precision necessary to execute lethal ambushes on allied troops.

AS FOR THE HD-18 …

The HD-18 is a (Hungarian) Dragunov. And not in the sense that a Serbian M76 or Romanian PSL is effectively a Dragunov. The HD-18 is literally a Dragunov; it shares total parts commonality with the SVD. Despite this, the two rifles have some critical differences, so I’ll start at the muzzle and work my way back to cover every delicious inch of the gun.

Speaking of the muzzle, the first difference shooters will notice between the two guns is the muzzle — or, more accurately, the muzzle device. The original SVD features a front sight tower with an integral five-prong flash-hider and bayonet lug. The HD-18, on the other hand, has a bolt-on front sight tower with what could charitably called a linear comp installed. Truthfully, it’s a muzzle nut, and the entire thing is held onto the rifle’s 1:12 twist 24-inch barrel with a set of standard steel pins driven through the edges of the barrel.

Replacing the muzzle device the HD-18 ships with requires a little surgery, but the result is worth it.

While at first glance, it’s very easy to say this is a pure downgrade over the original (and aesthetically, I totally agree.), it’s actually a brilliant addition. Because not only can it be replaced with an original component, but unlike the original Dragunov, the barrel is threaded to 5/8×24. Meaning, yes, you can suppress this beast. 

But first, the rifle will need a little bit of work, because the HD-18, similar to an AKM, features an anti-rotation device on its front sight tower. (The HD-18 anti-rotation device looks like an AKM plunger but is actually just a piece of steel held in by a large screw that runs the length of the front sight assembly.) As the name suggests, this keeps the muzzle device from rotating when the gun is firing. 

That’s a good thing — except in this case, where the plug is stuck in the forward position by an aluminum pop rivet. This was presumably done to comply with either American import or Hungarian export laws. The good news is that this rivet can be removed with a 5/32 drill bit and some patience. 

But if you’re worried about doing the work yourself on a nearly $8,000 collectible rifle, just get it in the hands of a competent gunsmith (not your cousin or the guy in a single-wide who puts guns together and does trigger jobs with a Dremel).

Just behind this front sight, the HD-18 features a correct military-style two-position adjustable gas system. These are standard on military SVDs (and all their variants), but Tigr and NDM rifles lacked these when they arrived a few decades ago in the United States. The first is for normal operation, while the second is for adverse conditions or when the gun is extremely dirty.

Behind the gas block, the HD-18 features high-gloss ventilated hardwood furniture that’s infinitely nicer than anything produced in the Soviet Union. 

Shooters interested in a period-correct look can replace these with either surplus wood or polymer handguards but be warned. If you thought the price of Heckler & Koch parts were expensive, you’ll have a stroke when you see how much Dragunov accessories cost.

AWESOME ACCOUTREMENTS 

Speaking of accessories, the FEG HD-18 ships with a bunch of great stuff in its included hard case. Inside the box, the Hungarian SVD includes two 10-round magazines, a cleaning kit (with an extra-long cleaning rod), a five-prong flash hider, and a PSzO-1M2 four-power scope. But more on that in a moment. 

Behind the handguards, the HD-18 features a leaf-style rear sight notch adjustable for elevation from 50 out to an optimistic 1,200 meters. 

Just under this sight is a small lightning cut in the receiver that doubles as the mounting point for the iconic Russian S-1 bipod. I was unable to find a real one but procured a Chinese clone from RussianSurplus.net that they were kind enough to give me for the review.

Mags are rare and stratospherically expensive, so grab them whenever you can.

The Chinese clone is so accurate that it even has the Izhevsk arrow-in-triangle logo engraved on the side. Plus, in testing, the knock-off S-1 bipod held up perfectly and really helped stabilize shots from the prone position. 

One downside of the S-1 (both the clone and the legit version) is that it uses a pair of screws to secure the bipod to the receiver. These can easily scratch the receiver, so I suggest shimming in something like a piece of Teflon or even a small sliver of wood to prevent direct contact between the surfaces. 

Further back, the left side of the receiver features a dovetail scope mount specific to the SVD, though if you own a Yugo-pattern AK, the interface is the same. Also, Belomo, a Belarusian optics company, makes universal mounts that fit both AK and SVDs, and many of their POSP scopes actually use a two-piece mount, allowing shooters to buy an SVD adapter and run an AK scope on the gun if they want.

But if you’re going for the true Dragunov experience, shooters can simply run the included four-power PSzO-1M2 scope. For those unfamiliar with Russian optics, this is a modernized take on the original PSO-1 scope fielded with the first-generation SVDs.

Unfortunately, these new optics lack what’s arguably the most remarkable feature of the originals — an infrared light detection window. The original scopes weren’t NVG-compatible, but they could “detect” IR light signatures, allowing Soviet snipers to fire on targets in total darkness who were using IR illuminators. Think of it as a low-tech counter to fighting an enemy running NVGs.

That said, the new PSzO-1M2 does retain the excellent range-finding reticle and bullet drop compensator subtension chevrons iconic to the SVD rifles. To use this, a shooter places a standing enemy soldier inside the segmented curve to the left of the main reticle.

Wherever the soldier in question fits inside this curve is their approximate range. Once that’s determined, the shooter uses the graduated BDC in the center to determine the holdover and then engages. It sounds a little complex, but it’s actually very intuitive and quick. Plus, for those of you out there who have dealt with Elcan’s SpectreDR optics, it uses an almost identical range-finding reticle to those optics. 

Lastly, the reticle itself is illuminated in red and powered by a single AA battery. There’s no automatic off or shake-awake feature, so carry extra batteries and try to remember to shut the unit off when not in use — the battery life is terrible.

On the opposite side of the receiver, the HD-18 has a safety selector lever that’s functionally identical to those found on AK rifles. Speaking of AK rifles, the manual of arms for reloading the Dragunov is identical to that of Kalashnikov’s magnum opus. Simply rock the mags from front to back to insert and depress the paddle release to release them from the magazine well. 

The mags themselves are limited to 10 rounds, unreasonably expensive, and only getting pricier by the day. So, if you already shelled out the dough to buy this Soviet beast, do yourself a solid and purchase two or three extra mags. 

Finally, at the rear of the receiver, the HD-18 uses a high-gloss wooden thumbhole stock that’s nearly identical in shape to the original SVDs. And now that we know everything about every inch of the gun, how did it perform, and can it genuinely warrant its sky-high price tag?

HD-18 PERFORMANCE AND ACCURACY

I’ve had the HD-18 in my possession for a few months, and in that time, I’ve fired roughly 850 rounds of ammo through the gun. 

In all that time, I’ve never had a single malfunction of any type — and I only clean the gun every 400 rounds. Because I’m terribly lazy about cleaning guns, the rare nature of the gun, and its high price, I mostly limited myself to noncorrosive ammunition — meaning I only fired a box or two of surplus ammo through the gun before deep cleaning the internals. 

As for accuracy testing, I shot five five-round groups with five different types of 7.62x54r with a 5-minute cool down between strings and took the average of the best four groups. This helps somewhat account for human (my) error.

I found Wolf’s Military Classic Copper-Washed 148-grain FMJ ammo to perform consistently and best. I even tested a few rounds of the now discontinued Hornady SST rounds through the gun, and the groups were uninspiring. 

At best, the HD-18’s chrome-lined, 24-inch Lothar Walther Cold hammer-forged barrel was capable of 1.7-inch groups at 100 yards with factory ammo. With proper hand-loads or even Russian sniper (152-grain 7N1) ammo, I’m confident I could shrink that group to around 1.5 MOA. This might not sound terribly impressive compared to modern precision weapons, but it means that the HD-18 can easily engage enemies out to 800 meters. 

My practical experience with the rifle was limited to 650 yards thus far. At that distance, provided I accounted for wind, hitting man-sized steel targets was relatively easy. It’s not as easy as with my SCAR MK20 in 6.5 Creedmoor, but it’s as easy as hitting the same target with a decent bolt-gun chambered in .308.

IS THE FEG HD-18 WORTH THE MONEY?

Yes and no. If a shooter wants a precision rifle in a hard-hitting caliber, there are vastly more accurate rifles for a fraction of the money practically littering gun stores. But it’s hard to top a legit Dragunov if a shooter wants a solid investment piece, a collector’s dream gun, or simply the ultimate cherry on top of their Combloc gun collection.

Special thanks to Atlantic Firearms for providing the rifle for this review. 

SPECS

Fegyver- és Gépgyártó Részvénytársaság (FEG) Hungary – Imported by B&T 

  • Name: HD-18
  • Caliber: 7.62x54r
  • Capacity: 10+1 rounds
  • Barrel Length: 24.41 inches
  • OAL: 48.6 inches
  • Weight: 8.95 pounds
  • MSRP: $7,500
  • URL: feg-defense.com/products/hd-18/

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