For a relatively small Eastern European country, Romania punches above its weight when it comes to military arms production, and one of the more common (and commonly misidentified) Romanian-produced military arms is the PSL rifle (Pu_c_ Semiautomat cu Lunet_, or “semi-automatic rifle with scope”) rifle.
Designed for a similar mission and sharing a similar silhouette, the PSL is more often than not misidentified as an SVD Dragunov, the famous Soviet sniper rifle developed by Yevgeniy Feodorovich Dragunov for the former II Soviet Union. While the two designs do have some similarities in both their overall appearance as well as a common caliber, they are quite different in design. The Romanian PSL is derived from the Kalashnikov-pattern rifle in both its construction and design, featuring a large and heavy long-stroke gas piston/bolt carrier assembly and stamped-steel receiver. Conversely, the SVD features a short-stroke gas piston system and a milled steel receiver.
At its core, the PSL is simply an enlarged and strengthened Kalashnikov-pattern rifle, a different design approach from the SVD. Thus the PSL is quite different from the SVD despite the fact that they are both 7.62x54R caliber semi-automatic rifles that feed from 10-round detachable box magazines.
Introducing the PSL in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the Romanians decision not to follow the design approach of the SVD-pattern rifle was likely a combination of economic concerns as well as ease-of-development considerations. Romania was already well versed in manufacturing and developing its own Kalashnikov-pattern rifles, and continuing to work with an established design was likely appealing.
Another draw was probably due to the nature of the AK design itself. Although the Kalashnikov is designed around the short 7.62×39 mm intermediate cartridge, a great deal of bolt over-travel movement is designed into the system for better controllability and lower perceived recoil. In fact, the length of bolt travel available in existing design made it much easier to develop a version that could handle the significantly longer and more powerful 7.62x54R mm cartridge.
The result is a rifle that is radically different in both concept and execution from a comparable Western precision rifle. Whereas Western precision rifles (such as a U.S. Army M24 or Marine Corps M40) tend to be bolt-action rifles that place a premium on extreme accuracy over a higher rate of fire, the Soviets placed somewhat more of a premium on rate-of-fire and portability. The PSL is representative of this mindset. With an overall weight (including scope) of 10 lbs., the 24-inch-barreled rifle is practically a lightweight next to some comparable Western rifle designs. In addition, its detachable 10-round box magazine and semi-automatic operation radically contrast with the manually operated bolt-action rifles formerly more common in the West.
Another difference from the West is in regards to the rifle’s optic—both its type and its means of attachment. Due to the impracticality of attaching a scope to the rifle’s removable top cover, the PSL features a steel scope rail attached to the left side of its receiver that accepts the rifle’s issue 4x24mm rangefinding-reticle optic. The optic features a built-in leg that holds the scope above the rifle’s top cover, albeit offset to the left somewhat. A set of notch-and-post iron sights serve as back up to this optic.
Operating The PSL
Operationally, the PSL is simple and straightforward, much like the Kalashnikov-pattern rifle upon which it is based. To load the rifle, one simply rocks a loaded magazine in from front to rear until it locks into place. To charge the rifle, the shooter must ensure that the large Kalashnikov-style safety lever/dustcover on the right side of the receiver is in the fully down/off position. The action can then be charged by retracting the bolt carrier assembly by grasping the operating rod handle on the bolt carrier body and then releasing it to chamber a cartridge. Once this is done, the rifle can either be placed back on safe by sweeping the selector up fully into the “on safe” position or the rifle can be fired.
One unique way in which the PSL differs from more common Kalashnikov-pattern rifles is that it features a last shot hold-open device actuated by the follower of an empty magazine—a desirable feature on a rifle of this sort. Disassembly for basic cleaning and maintenance is quick and easy and can be done without tools in a matter of minutes.
Although the PSL is pleasantly simple, straightforward and robust, it also is somewhat crude in regards to ergonomics when compared to similar Western rifles. The safety is large and clunky. The stock, although sturdy, is a bit short and features a cheek weld position that is too low for most shooters in regards to the position of the scope. Also, it features a long, thin barrel that is not free floated and tends to heat up very quickly. However, focusing on these particulars misses the point of the rifle.
For testing, I acquired a PSL 54C from Century International Arms. This rifle is a variant of this PSL that is legal for civilian purchase here in the United States. I also acquired a Romanian PSL magazine pouch set from Southern Ohio Gun that included four of the often difficult-to-find PSL 10-round magazines and an original four-section green magazine pouch.
Although the 7.62x54R chambering of the PSL rifle is a uniquely Russian cartridge, loadings for it are available on the U.S. market. For testing, I acquired a batch of Wolf Gold 150-grain full-metal-jacket boat-tail ammunition. In the course of testing, the rifle performed flawlessly with accuracy in the 2 to 3 M.O.A. range on average—just about what is to be expected for this type of rifle. The barrel did show a tendency to heat quickly, with shots beginning to vertically string if the barrel was not given time to cool properly.
Although one could be forgiven for being somewhat unimpressed by these results, it is important to recognize the different mindset behind this rifle as compared to a Western precision rifle. Offering a high rate of semi-automatic fire with reasonable accuracy out to several hundred yards, the Romanian PSL in trained hands can be a devastatingly lethal weapon. It is a design that deserves a healthy dose of respect and one that will likely be seen on the battlefields of today’s and many of tomorrow’s conflicts.
ROMANIAN PSL SPECIFICATIONS:
Barrel: 24 1/2 inches
OA Length: 45 1/4 inches
Stock: laminated wood
Sights: iron notch and post front, 4×24 mm scope with rangefinding reticle
Weight: 10 1/2 lbs. with scope
Operation: gas-operated semi-automatic
Finish: matte black
Capacity: detachable box magazine, 10 rounds