As a shooter, retailer, collector and sometimes gun writer, I am always fascinated by historically interesting rifles. The SVD Dragunov from the former Soviet Union is one example, as is the NDM-86 from China. Both are lithe, slender and quite beautiful to me with their utilitarian mix of work-about simplicity and elegance of line.
They are also pricey and getting more so by the day. When first available, they were relatively inexpensive, and even abundant in the case of the Chinese rifles. The Soviet SVDs were more expensive and only a few made it stateside, but their short-barreled commercial counterpart, the TIGR, was downright cheap compared to the price it demands today. Many SVDs and their commercial counterparts were modified, changed and adapted from their original condition. As a collector, it's horribly frustrating to see an auction listing for a 7.62x54R Chinese NDM-86 for instance, where the owner has lost or sold off the original matching scope and scope carrying case – having replaced it with a Russian PSOP. To a collector, that just killed any premium one might have paid for the rifle. I understand the economics that tempts a shooter to sell off a portion of his rifle so he can "improve" it to his immediate use, but sadly most of these folks do not understand the damage they've done to the collectability of the rifle. After all it was abundant when they bought it. Same goes for the aftermarket poly stocks. I don't mind if they are on the rifle, but if the seller doesn't have the original wood too, I pass if I am looking for a specific piece to round out the collection. I am a shooter... but a collector too and want the original parts, particularly if numbered to the rifle.
We are seeing a similar phenomenon today. The Romanian PSL sniper rifle, with scope and accessories, is currently very affordable, just as the Chinese SVD was back in the day. Wholesale/Dealer pricing is under $600 as of late 2005. Not far from the TIGR or NDM-86 pricing of the 1980s or early 1990s. Even with inflation factored in, the PSL is dirt cheap for this kind of rifle. As are many former Com-bloc weapons. While not a direct correlation, think of the Russian and Chinese SKS. Dirt cheap until they dried up. Now a pristine SKS without arsenal refurb stamps goes for $400 or more. Even the Chinese pre-ban era SKS is netting twice its original price. Supply. Demand. While the PSL will never see the same level of pricing as the SVDs, in part, due to its non-original receiver, it still represents the only legally importable version of this combat arm. Ever. Original receiver or not, if you want the same rifle our troops are facing overseas for your collection, the current batch of PSL snipers is it. It's highly unlikely the government will ever allow an unaltered PSL into the country. They've lost their sense of humor over the years and in the post Clinton era, getting old laws rescinded is not easy or likely. Even if they did, the original military PSL receiver would, more than likely, be considered a class III item, so fugeddaboutit.
Trends repeat. Buyers of the PSL who are primarily shooters, often opt for a model without scope, planning on upgrading to a higher magnification Russian PSOP for target shooting. Collectors on the other hand, almost always buy the complete PSL kit, wanting all the gadgets used in service, as part of their collection. They too often buy a PSOP for target work, but like knowing that they have a correct Romanian LPS scope with the rifle, as well as all the accessories. It's a collector thing. Like Jeep owners say, It's a Jeep thing, you wouldn't understand.
So. To the point. As a retailer, shooter and collector, I've been lucky enough to see a lot of PSLs in the last month. As a collector, I want to see exactly how these rifles came equipped when issued and how they changed during their lifecycle. Almost all the rifles coming through the shop have been matching rigs with all the small parts that bear a stamped serial number having numbers matching the receiver. Only a few have been noted with mismatched parts and those parts have uniformly been the recoil spring guide. My guess is that on occasion, the importer gets this part mixed up when re-assembling the rifle. Keep in mind that the receiver proper is a new replacement, made in Romania. The original military receiver is illegal to import and is separated from the rifle before export from Romania. However, the receiver block on which the rifle is re-assembled, is original as far as I can tell and has had the serial number applied via an engraving method that uses uniform block letters. Upon close examination the method leaves dots within the structure of the engraving but the outer edges of the numbers are uniform, not dots. In other words, its well done and not dot matrix in appearance. Often, one can find one or two arsenal stamps on this block as well as a two-digit number on the top flat of the black on the left side.
On those rifles that have come in all-matching, which has been the majority, the following parts are stamped -- not electro-penciled -- with matching serial numbers.
The Magazines are always block letter electro-penciled and I have yet to see a magazine match the rifle. I have seen some very close. Which is frustrating as a collector. I am guessing if a movement were to take off to swap magazines, PSL owners who enter their magazine numbers into a database would not have a problem locating their original magazines if more than a few hundred people participated.
The rifle itself has very little in the way of notable construction variation excepting three items. The Flash Hider, the Trigger, and the Front Sight Post. Of the PSLs examined, nothing else stood out as different from rifle to rifle.
The Flash Hider comes in two types.
The first, we will call the Type 1. As you may notice in the images, the Type 1 has small indentations around its circumference, which are used to lock the flash hider in place using the plunger lock located on the front of the Front Sight Post. All of the rifles examined that are coming in with the Type 1 flash hider have the plunger in place. As the flash hiders are all spot welded before importation this plunger becomes redundant, but as a collector, I am glad to see they are in place.
The Type 2 flash hider has a hump on top through which a pin is driven to lock the flash hider in place. I've gotten in the habit of calling it a High Hump type, but Type 2 will serve just as well. I believe this second type is a late variation. Like the Type 1, it is spot welded in place before importation. The Type 2 has been noted on rifles having both a plunger equipped Front Sight Post and on rifles where the front sight post has no provision for the plunger lock.
Of the two, thus far ONLY the Type 1 Flash Hider has been seen with a stamped serial number matching the rifle. One can assume the Type 2, being pinned in place, was not as prone to being lost or installed on the wrong rifle and the practice of serial numbering the part was discontinued. As a pinned unit one can surmise its removal was not considered a troop level maintenance procedure.
The Front Sight Base itself has been noted in two types. The first type having a provision for the above mentioned plunger lock for the flash hider, exhibited by a small hole in the base just above the barrel, facing the muzzle. The second type has no drilling at all for this plunger and has thus far only been noted in conjunction with High Hump or Type 2 flash hiders.
The Trigger is the only other item of interest in terms of variation in the metal construction. We've seen both thin triggers, and very fat triggers, as viewed from the side. Beyond this distinction, the rest of the trigger appears identical. Both have small arsenal markings on them but the markings are too small for my eyes to define, beyond one being a triangle with something inside.
Wood variation is all over the map. Some rifles have come in with wood obviously original to the rifle. In most cases, the laminated stock will have a tone similar to the hardwood hand guards, but not an exact match, since the stock is laminated and the hand guard's hardwood. On occasion, some obviously light hand guards have come through. But most of the rifles seem to bear the typical dark yellow tone found on Com-bloc issue weapons. Finish varies from as issued with dull reflectivity (and obviously stored) to obviously new with high shellac finish. On rare occasion unit markings have been noted on the inside of the buttstock, underneath the cheek rest. These typically have been Rack numbers.
Magazine/Scope Pouch. One of the accessories for a proper PSL kit is the magazine pouch that houses four 10 round Magazines and the dismounted PSO type rifle scope, as well as other accessories. The pouch design is similar to the Russian SVD pouch. Made of an OD Green cotton weave, the front has four individual pockets for the magazines, the bottom two having their own flaps, which are closed by the traditional leather strap with steel button. The top flat, while having individual closures, shares one single flap and also doubles as the cover for the rear scope/accessory compartment. Piping on the edges is a brown or reddish synthetic leather material on two of the three types of pouch. The Third type has web piping or edging and is much more modern in appearance. All three pouch types share a finer weaver interior compartment lining for the scope and accessories. This large compartment has five internal pockets for accessory items like the cleaning rod, cleaning kit components, lens filter and other small accessory items.
Three kinds of Magazine/Scope pouches have been noted so far. Only one had a readable date stamp on it, so it's a guess as to the chronological order of their construction. Looking at them however, I would have to guess that what we are calling the Type 1 Magazine Pouch is the earliest design with the Type 2 either being made at the same time or at a slightly later date. The Type 3 has to be relatively recent construction and looks like current issue.
The Type 1 Magazine Pouch has dark olive green cotton canvas twill construction with brown synthetic leather edging. The Color is very reminiscent of US Web gear of the immediate post WWII era through the 1960s. A dark olive drab. Real leather closure straps button down to steel studs, which are held in place by a leather pad. The closures are stitched in place as is the leather pads for the studs. The leather is a dark brown color with a bit of shine on the finished side. The interior is of a much tighter weave lining material, which should give the interior some water resistance. The piping is dark brown synthetic leather and is present on most of exposed edges, including the flaps for the bottom magazine pouches. No piping is used to edge the magazine pockets themselves.
The Type 2 Magazine Pouch is of nearly identical construction as the Type 1. However the cloth exterior is a medium Olive Green, much more in step with European green colors typical of Com-bloc bags and pouches. The piping has a distinct reddish/brown hue to it. The leather straps are riveted in place instead of stitched. The leather on the few examples we've seen is generally lighter than the Type 1. Almost an unfinished hide color, as are the pads for the closure studs. There is no piping on the flaps for the two lower magazine pockets. The flaps are folded and stitched. The last example we've seen of this type was dated with a square containing 76, on the inside of the main compartment flap. Which we can only assume is 1976.
The Type 3 Magazine Pouch is identical in color to the Type 2. Medium Olive Green. However, all of the closures and leather pads are stitched. No rivets at all. The piping is of a modern Olive Drab web material and the piping only is used on the major edges of the pouch. The lower pocket closures are NOT edged in piping. They are simply folded and stitched. The leather closures are dark brown and polished on the finished side, like the Type 1.
In a few examples, the magazine pouches have had a rifle serial number hand written over the right upper pouch stud. Very few examples have had date stamps on the underside of the main closure. One can assume the older the pouch, the more likely the stamp has faded and washed away.
So far we've only seen two kinds of scope cover for the Romanian LPS scope. Neither type has any internal pockets like one would find in the WWII PU scope cover. Both use leather closures with buckles.
The first is made entirely of very heavy-duty cotton canvas twill and is a medium field drab color. Sort of a dusty Green/Tan color. The end caps are made of the same material, sewn onto the main body. Closures are leather, approximately one half inch wide and riveted to the cloth. Inside, leather pads serve as backing material for the rivets. The leather is dark drown and finished to a shine on the finished side. The metal buckle is large and D shaped and made of steel. It is also chromed. Piping on the edges is of cotton webbing. One example had a rifle serial number stenciled onto the cover, at the ocular end.
The second scope cover type is made of a modern and very tight nylon type weave. Obviously this later design is far more water resistant than the cotton model above. The cover is olive drab. The piping or edging material is of a lighter olive cotton twill. The end caps are made of very thick, medium tone leather. Doubled and stitched in place to provide protection of the objective and ocular lens. Many examples have been seen with the rifle and scope number written in ink on the large ocular cap. The closures are much narrower. About 3/8th of an inch wide. The buckle is square in shape and small. It is not chromed, but left in a gray dusty metal finish. No other markings have been found, other than hand written scope and rifle numbers.
I really cannot tell you much about the scope. Your typical PSO design. Most wholesalers call it a PSO which may or may not be accurate. The Romanian scopes are marked LPS... which could be their words for the same phrase the Soviets used for the PSO. Since is Romanian and not Russian, I believe calling it an LPS may be more accurate. The scope has proven to be very adjustable and fairly repeatable. Very good glass. Bright and clear and 4 power. The reticle has been seen with two distinct thicknesses. On average most are the slightly thicker type, which is better in low light. These may have been illuminated with Tritium at one time, but its long since reached its end life. All have come in with the typical grayish crinkle painted surface found on all PSO designs, however it is a darker finish than the Russian PSOP scopes. The data plate on the rear upright reads LPS 4x60 TIP2 over a boxed serial number. example; Sn. 12148-75. Dates have run from 1974 to 1979. I've not seen anything newer or older than that. These are issue type scopes. No English. All turrets are marked in Romanian. Elevation is marked SUS and SOL... windage is marked DREAPTA and STINGA. Most of the scope bodies have been pristine in condition. But a few have come in with unit applied markings painted on the scope in white or red paint. In every case the rifle number the scope was assigned to, and on occasion, the rack number. Typically the numbers have been split, 50/50 in location. Half on the left facing side of front upright, half painted on the left side of the tube, below the elevation turret. Predominantly, the scopes come with no numbers at all painted on them and many appear un-issued in condition. Some however, have come in with small hang tags showing scope number and rifle number. Of those few with hang tags or painted serials, none matched the rifle they are shipped with.
Most of the rifles have shipped with magazine, cleaning rod and sling. Slings are a split between used leather, new leather, and new web sling. All of are of the SVD design, with a metal loop clasp and D ring at one end and a square buckle at the other. Cleaning rods have all been three-piece units. No markings that I've found to date. Magazines are all serial numbered to a weapon, but not a single one was serial numbered to the weapon it shipped with. Not really a surprise but a frustration to a collectors. Shooters could care less so long as it functions.
Some rifles have come in with cleaning kits included. The kit is contained in a brown synthetic leather pouch with one flap and snap closure. The pouch has two compartments separated by a sewn-in flap down the middle. The kit typically, but not always, includes the following: a standard fluid bottle similar to the single-spout Mosin bottles shipped with Mosin 91/30 rifles. They have been uniformly in excellent condition. The bottles are devoid of markings. Also included in many kits are: a Broken Shell extractor, a Gas Port Reamer, a capsule, which doubles as a cleaning rod handle and take down tool, containing a pin drift, front sight adjustment tool and cleaning jag for the cleaning rod. Sometimes a cleaning brush is present. Sometimes spare parts like a front sight or hammer pin. These parts are almost never the same from pouch to pouch. Typically it's the pouch, jag OR brush, never both, sight tool, pin drift and broken shell extractor along with a pin which is approximately .75 inches long and an 1/8 wide. I've not figured out what the pin is for yet. You are lucky if you find a spare front sight or another part. One pouch actually had the little base plate that rivets between the trigger guard and the receiver, which also functions as the stop for the safety lever! Finally, all the pouches have come with a lens cleaning cloth wrapped in a Romanian newspaper, which is entertaining in and of itself.
If I've missed anything let me know. The main reason I am writing this is that in years to come, these rifles will have their own collector following similar to the SVD and NDM-86. Considering the PSL is still being used around the globe by more than a few quarrelsome people, I believe these rifles present a rare opportunity to own a combat arm that is wide-spread through-out the middle east, for instance. We may never see a vet bring back one due to current law, but at least as collectors and shooters we can grab one while we can and once they disappear from the primary market, data will be of interest to collectors.