The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Soviet Precision

Photos by Dave Merrill

Russia. The word can stir emotions in every American. Russians are the guys who are on the other side of the line. For us Cold War kids, images of The Day After and Red Dawn instantly come to mind. When I “shot down” a helicopter at the Joint Readiness Training Center, it felt like Robert the Wolverine taking on Russian Hinds. As culture and history moved forward, the unofficial movie of the Afghan National Army, Rambo III, had Green Beret John Rambo and the Mujahedeen fighting Russians. Moving farther forward, the Russians morphed into masters of espionage or ruthless lords of the underworld. James Bond and John Wick movies cement these notions.

We all know reality is far different than what Hollywood and college faculties present. Ignoring the current sycophantic Russian hyperventilation, there’s a lot we need to actually learn. My exposure to Russians revealed a very robust and ultra-pragmatic people, balanced by an almost nihilistic disregard for danger. Remember the video of Russian troops shooting each other in body armor with live rounds? Like that.

Yet, Russians are people whose feet are on the ground with a real sense of what the bottom line really is. Take, for example, Putin’s masterful manipulation of President Obama regarding Syria and the Crimea. The culture of these people is best represented by what products they actually make.

We’ve all heard the myth: Early in the space race, NASA developed a rather expensive zero-gravity pen for use inside an orbiting vehicle. The Russians? The Russians used a pencil. While this is just a fun anecdote (the reality is the Fisher Pen Company sold their pens to both nations), the broad strokes ring true.

Nowhere is the sense of Russian rugged practicality better typified than the ubiquitous AK-47. As a design, it’s so robust and practical that it has inspired many other weapon systems. The Israeli Galil, RPK, VZ-58, and many more all owe their existence to the venerable AK-47. (All at once a million Stg 44 fans just groaned.)

The shortened barrel and folding stock make for a package that’s far easier to stow and transport.

The shortened barreland folding stock make for a package that’s far easier to stow and transport.

One AK-47 based weapon that has presented a problem is the SVD sniper rifle. It uses the far-reaching and hard-hitting 7.62x54R cartridge. The SVD and its variants have long been a lethal concern for our warriors. There have been a small but very vocal group of us within USSOCOM who have long pushed for overmatch to 7.62x54R. With the adoption of 6.5 Creedmoor, we finally have an answer to the SVD.

As the global situation continues to degrade, looking long and hard at how Russians fight or might fight is back in fashion. USSOCOM had a recent solicitation for “non-standard” weapons. To prepare a proof of concept for such a rifle, Handl Defense considered two courses of action:

> Finish and submit the 7.62x54R conversion kit for the FN SCAR or …
> Modernize an SVD variant

This rifle represents the latter option. It started its life as a PSL. Yes, there are some large differences in design between the PSL and SVD, but for the most part they serve the same roles. When I started on this project, I was focused on two things: coarse modernization and the theater of operations — get optimized for urban snap shots, area denial from concealment, and capability for house-to-house fighting.


To transition the platform from a Semi-Automatic Sniper System into an accurized battle rifle, it was important to only require simple tools and easy-to-source parts. It had to be possible with tools that are in every auto repair shop in the Middle East.

One of the first limitations of the current SVD/PSL design is the magazine. Five- and 10-round magazines are available for PSLs.  Fitting within the battle rifle con­figuration, a new 20-round magazine was formed.

Bear in mind these magazines are in their first generation, and there’s no bolt hold open feature. While Alan Handl developed a solution that might be incorporated in future designs,
for now, the selector switch has a cutout for manually locking the bolt to the rear.

The locking and feed lip portion of a PSL magazine was welded onto the lower portion of a Lahti LS-26 magazine. The follower itself was robbed from a PSL magazine, and reinforcing plates were added to the side because it needs to be strong.

And, of course, some grinding and polishing ensures reliability.

Precision gun, fighting gun — this one does both.

Precision gun, fighting gun — this one does both.

For the rest of this article, subscribe here: RECOIL Issue 38

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