As with most of the articles in this section, this was written before the 2012/2013 price and availability insanity, and also before a few other options came to market. As such, it is dated, but not outdated.
Just a few musings on the two offerings from two different countries that for the American civilian shooter, can fill the same role.
First, try to put off the American heritage that is the M1 Garand. The M1 has a following and always will, but just for fun, lets put that aside. Secondly, we are looking at the Romanian PSL not the Dragunov or SVD. They are basically the same gun, but really not. The reason we are focusing on the PSL is because that is that is most readily available to the American public.
In my research and using, neither are precision “sniper” rifles, they are more appropriately Designated Marksman rifles. Yes the M1 was standard infantry issue and not specifically passed out to DMs as the Dragunov was, but for todays intents and purposes, they are in the same category. We will go more into why that is in a moment.
As for history, the time frame they were issued is a bit off with the M1 being the World War II superstar seeing it’s debut in 1936 and the Dragunov making its debut in about 1966. The M1 was actually replaced by the M14 before the Dragunov ever came out, but again, they are comparable for our needs.
Both are semi automatic, gas and piston operated designs. The M1 weighs in at 9 and a half to ten pounds and is about 43 and a half inches long with the vagueness being from how much wood there is on the stock. The PSL weighs 9 and a half pounds and is 48 inches long. The M1 utilizes an 8 round clip loaded through the top port and does lock back on the last shot. The PSL utilizes a 10 round box magazine and unlike any good AK, does lock back on the last round. Clips vs mags is a probably never ending debate and I’m not going to get into it here. I like the weight of clips, but mag changes are handy. Neither one makes or breaks it for me.
So while they weigh in about the same, the Garand is a bit shorter which usually equals handier, and while not to get ahead of ourselves, the extra length of the PSL does not equal greater distance or accuracy. More on that later though.
As far as ammo is concerned, 30-06 is ballistically close enough to 7.62×54 that the differences are marginal. The real thing that brings the two calibers together is their differences from other calibers. They are both considered heavy calibers when compared to the other common infantry calibers from their respective countries of origin (5.56, 5.45 and 7.62×39). Reloading aside, The M1 prefers military and not hunting loads and the PSL likes and is most commonly fed a surplus light ball (147 gn) corrosive loads.
Range and accuracy of the two are measured by your common average off the shelf gun. Not a reworked or match grade Garand, but a service or even rack grade if we are using the CMP standards, which is where most of the M1s are coming from these days. As it sits, your standard M1 is an iron sight 600 yard shooter holding somewhere between 3-5 MOA. Longer range and tighter groups can be done, but for now let’s use these numbers.
Sights, now here is where it gets interesting. The PSL is basically an AK, and as such, its iron sights suck. Sight adjust-ability is where the Garand really starts to out pace the competition. While the PSL has similar sights to the AK series, they are much better due to their longer sight radius, which of course is a good thing. But the lack quick adjustments is still an issue, especially with the amount that the POI changes from cold to hot barrels on the PSL, which I’ll get into in a minute. BUT, the PSL was issued with the very cool Russian side mount illuminated 4x or 8x scope. This scope has a neat little built in range finding scale that once you figure out how to use it, it is pretty handy. The scope is designed to slide on and off the side rail mount commonly found on AKs (and hence the PSL) without loosing its zero. When the PSL shoots out to 600 yards it is nearing its max accurate range. A common to good off the shelf PSL will pull somewhere from 4-6 MOA. Again, better can be had, but these numbers still put it in the “good enough” hits category, although you probably aren’t looking at consistent body shots at 600 yards.
The part where the PSL needs a scope to do this is a point that the M1 has over this counterpart, although a person might call it even considering how easy it is to scope the PSL and how much of a pain it is to scope the M1. I myself prefer iron sights and can use an AKs irons pretty well at range, but if this is a DM weapon, then a scope is an added benefit. Hmmm.
Speaking of that, if this is a Designated Marksman’s gun, then that means it has supporting guns with it. Now what long gun that is VERY popular also shoots 7.62×54? Yeah the very common Mosin Nagant. I am NOT a standard caliber guy, but there is an argument for it. And if you are of that thought line, then yes, there are some very good bolt guns that support the M1 with 30-06.
A fun side note on what the PSL was used for by the Army’s that fielded it: It was deemed a squad support weapon which when you read that you think of the American M60 heavy machine gun and not a 10 round scoped rifle.
Trigger quality, again the M1 wins out. The worst M1 Garand triggers that I have ever seen are still very serviceable. Stock triggers on PSL’s range from bad to horrible. You can polish the stock one up, or put in a cheap and surprisingly good trigger from Tapco and polish that too, or you can pay way too much for an adjustable one that still wont make up for the rest of the PSL’s deficiencies.
Ergonomically speaking, the PSL is horrible. It is heavy and not terribly well balanced, but worse so is the stock design itself. The PSL has a pistol grip/thumb hole type butt stock, and for some this is an aid to accurately firing the rifle… from a bench. I’m not a bench shooter. The short butt stock makes shooting in proper sitting or prone positions very difficult. Off hand isn’t effected as much, especially in thick winter gear. The totally cool detachable scope of the PSL is neat, but it’s position prevents a proper cheek weld using the “turkey neck” method. While that is ok for off hand shots, it does not lend well to long distance shot to shot consistency.
I’ve tried about three different check risers for my personal PSL and you really just have to decide whether you want to be comfortable on the irons and not see the scope, comfortable on the scope with virtually no way to see the irons, or uncomfortable and usable on both. Even worse than the cheek/sights issue is just how bad it sucks to carry. I took mine into the woods for a two day foray and carrying it at a low ready, you find out quickly that the pistol grip portion of the stock is at an angle that is best described as ‘weird’. A person has to leave their wrist cocked at a weird angle to have a positive grip and it’s even worse when trying to extend your index finger to reach the safety if you were to need to bring it up in a hurry. The soviets worked around this by carrying their guns with the action and trigger guard cradled in the right hand, with thumb on the safety to flick the safety off and then get their firing grip… and then shoulder the gun. Seeing as how it’s not a snap shot battle weapon I guess that does work.
Now let’s look at the price and availability of these two offerings. They are pretty much always available through the wonder that is the internet. CMP Garands can be had for $500 and usually need a tweak here or there but are solid and pretty sweet. The PSLs are available from all your common importers and as such, like every imported gun, it’s hit or miss. From what I’ve seen, it’s usually hit, but some less good examples are definitely out there. This usually means a less tightly fitting stock which can be remedied and for what ever reasons, accuracy can be degraded to 8 MOA, which try as they might, shooters cannot really make it shoot any better. So in all, the PSL itself is probably overpriced although the scope is a quality piece that goes for about $250 these days.
Ammo availability is of consideration. The surplus 7.62×54 is cheap… for now. It’s been half the price it is now maybe 3 or 4 years ago, so it is not always going to be cheap. Surplus can dry up. Also the offerings that are not strictly Russian or Soviet surplus are pretty pricy. In the same vein though Military 30-06 surplus is available and if the M1 can handle it, which most all the aficionados say it cant, common 30-06 hunting loads are available at practically every corner store in the United States. The main thing to look at is that surplus can dry up and prices can raise so with either, stack it deep now.
Major problems with either are fairly rare and isolated to two common issues. On the M1 its weak link is the op rod. This is a bit pricy to fix or replace and is usually hurt by running non military loads. The PSL being an AK design is pretty robust, but it does have a weak point at the bolt face which seems to allow firing out of battery and besides making you need a change of shorts, it can blow some pretty good chunks of metal out of your gun. Rare indeed, but this is the most common account of problems when they do happen. Either one will take your M1 or PSL, and hopefully not you, out of commission for a while.
So we have a common weight; the M1 wins on length; the PSL takes mags with two more rounds and is easily scoped; price and availability lean toward the Garand.
No we haven’t had any ground breaking realizations and the Garand is probably the winner although it’s not exactly a run away slam dunk. As always, how you use it and how it feels in your hands is what should be the determining factor. Really though the PSL as is, is just a non starter for me. The problem I keep returning to is with finding the roll of the PSL because of the nature of the gun itself. It seems with the slow rate of fire required to keep it accurate, a bolt gun would be better off than the semi auto, low capacity PSL, until you get into the closer distances where semi auto can help… and then you are battling a four foot long gun.
If you have one, (ie bought one when they were cheap) then it is a good tinker-ers gun. Take the barrel down to 18 inches, thread it for a proper muzzle device, replace the stock, dremel the sharp edges away, and polish the trigger. After that it becomes at least a useful gun. Its sure is cheaper to shoot than the Garand or any other 308 caliber semi auto gun, that’s for sure.