April 19, 2021
Originally misidentified during the Cold War as the FPK, the Romanian PSL (Puska Semiautomata Luneta or Scoped Semi-automatic Rifle) is a simple and rugged design based upon Mikhail T. Kalashnikov's RPK squad automatic. It was originally designed to fill the same DMR/Sniper role as the Soviet SVD sniper rifle. The PSL though is less complex and easier to manufacture than the Soviet design. While not as sexy as a Russian SVD, PSLs are available for substantially less money here in the US.
The PSL was originally developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to replace the aging World War II vintage BRNO built VZ-24 sniper rifles fielded by the Romanian Army. While somewhat resembling the Soviet SVD in profile, the PSL is no relation. Rather the Romanians designed the PSL around an easy to mass produce RPK (Ruchnoi Pulumet Kalashnikov-Kalashnikov Light Machinegun) receiver. This stamped receiver was simple to manufacture, very light weight, and, best of all, inexpensive. Riveted and spot welded to the left side of the receiver was a 5.75-inch long optics rail. The rail was designed to allow both day and night optics to be easily mounted onto the rifle. Inside, the PSL was straight Kalashnikov with an AK type trigger mechanism, bolt, carrier and recoil spring assembly.
Mated to the front of the receiver is a chrome-lined barrel approximately 24.3 inches long with right hand one turn in ten inches rifling. The relatively light barrel is .887 inch in front of the receiver and tapers to .58 inch at the muzzle. To reduce recoil a 2.75-inch long muzzle brake is mounted which has a total of 12 vents. To the rear of this is a protected front sight adjustable for windage and elevation. The front sight mates to a simple sliding tangent rear sight with a square notch. Identical in design to an AK sight, it is graduated in 100 meter increments from 100 to 1,200 meters. A 300-meter battle sight setting is also incorporated, distinguished by the letter "P". To allow a standard AK bayonet to be mounted a lug is fitted behind the front sight assembly. A simple wooden forend is mounted in standard AK fashion. Above this is a shorter wooden upper handguard mounted to the gas tube.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this weapon is its laminated wood thumbhole buttstock. One nice aspect of the stock design is the pistol grip positions the shooter's index finger the proper distance from the trigger. To provide a more comfortable cheek weld (for a right handed shooter) a slight hump was added to the top of the stock. Length of pull is a very short 12.5 inches. This allows it to be used with heavy winter clothing/body armor.
Operating the PSL is identical to a standard AK. The bolt handle and receiver mounted safety/dust cover are both placed on the right side of the weapon. The rifle's magazine release is a simple ambidextrous paddle type. Feed is from robust 10-round detachable box magazines. These are fabricated from stamped sheet metal and have heavily reinforced feed lips. Unlike an AK however, they actuate a bolt hold-open device on the last round. While PSL magazines are similar in appearance, they will not interchange with SVD, Al Kadesih or Yugoslavian M-91 magazines.
The PSL is normally topped with a simple yet Romanian 4x tactical scope. Designated LPS or "Luneta Puska Semiautomata (Semi-automatic Rifle Scope) 4x 6 degree Type 2", it was manufactured by IOR (Industry Optic Romania). A relatively small and lightweight optic, it is basically a knock-off of the Soviet PSO-1 (Pritsel Snaipersky Optichesky-Sniper Optic Sight). In keeping with the Soviet design, the LPS sports a 24mm objective lens, 4x magnification and a fairly wide 6 degree field of view. It features an integral mount and is marked "LPS 4x 6 degree TIP2" with the scope's serial number and date of manufacture. To the left of this is IOR's doublet logo.
In basic design and function, the LPS mimics the PSO-1. It attaches to the rifle via a simple adjustable side-lever. Unfortunately, it sits slightly off-center to the left of the rifle's bore. To increase the marksman's survivability on the battlefield, it features a permanently attached extendible sunshade. This reduces the chance of sunlight reflecting off the objective lens and disclosing the marksman's position. Ballistic adjustments are made via uncapped target turrets. The elevation knob features a bullet drop compensator with settings from 100-1,000 meters. Adjustments from 100-300 meters are made in 100-meter increments with adjustments in 50-meter increments thereafter. Windage adjustments are very coarse, and in .5 Mil clicks. The reticle is non-centered and thus moves in the field of view as adjustments are made.
The reticle is identical in layout to that of the PSO-1 and is designed to allow rapid engagement of man-sized targets in bright and lowlight conditions. It consists of a center chevron aiming point flanked by 10 Mil marks on either side. The Mil marks are intended to be used for range finding, lead corrections on a moving target and for windage corrections. Directly below the center chevron are three more chevrons arranged vertically for use as holdover aiming points for 1,100, 1,200 and 1,300 meters. In the lower left of the field of view is a "choke" style rangefinder. It consists of a bottom flat line and an upper curved line which is delineated in 100 meter increments from 200-1,000 meters. It's designed to bracket a 1.7 meter tall standing figure by placing their feet on the bottom line. Where their head hits the upper curved line is the range they are at. The reticle is illuminated via Tritium for use in low light conditions. This precludes the need for batteries, which the PSO-1 relies upon. However, unlike the PSO-1 the LPS lacks the ability to detect and engage active infrared light sources.
Optically the 4x 6 degree Type 2 sports fairly good resolution. The lenses are coated and the image is fairly bright thanks to a large 6mm Exit Pupil. Field of View is also quite generous at 6 degrees. Color rendition on the 1980 dated example I tested was off slightly though, with a yellowish tint. For use out to 400 yards the 4x magnification works well. It's adequate for engaging man sized targets out to perhaps 600 yards, but I find it lacking past this distance. This is especially true concerning target identification.
The rifles were issued along Soviet lines to the best shots in each company, one per platoon. These men would then receive additional marksmanship training. Each platoon would then have an optically sighted rifle in the hands of selected marksman. So equipped, these marksmen would then be tasked with engaging high value targets of opportunity as well as providing fire support.
The PSL is a very simple rifle to operate as it functions and strips like a standard AKM. To load the rifle, press the magazine release forward and roll the magazine out of the weapon. Unlike on an SVD, the feed lips on a PSL magazine are notched allowing rounds to be pressed down directly into the magazine. However, due to this, when loading the magazine it is imperative that you verify the rim of each cartridge is in front of the round which preceded it. If the cartridge rims are incorrectly stacked a jam will result.
With ten rounds loaded into the magazine, place the front of the magazine into the front of the magazine well. Then roll the rear of the magazine up until it locks into place. Slide the safety/dust cover, located on the right of the receiver, all the way down to the Fire position. Pull the bolt handle all the way to the rear and release it. The rifle is now loaded and ready to fire. To place the rifle on Safe raise the safety/dust cover to its upper position. After firing the last round the bolt will remain open. The rifle strips the same as an AK.
The PSL is chambered for the standard Russian 7.62x54mmR cartridge which is available around the world. While a fine cartridge, most of the military ammunition available in this caliber is of machine gun quality. Due to this, accuracy, especially at distance, will generally be mediocre when firing generic 7.62x54R ball ammunition. If possible, select Match or Sniper grade cartridges. If none are available try different lots of European (preferably Russian, Yugoslav or Czech) or Chinese manufactured ball ammunition to find a lot which shoots consistently well. It is not recommended to shoot factory loads heavier than 148 grains in a PSL as it can cause damage over the long term.
While a whopping 45.3 inch long, the PSL is fairly light and handles well. Your average-sized American though will likely find the stock too short. The comb is also too low for a proper cheek weld with the offset scope. I suggest building the cheek rest up to remedy this second issue. On the plus, side PSLs usually have acceptable triggers. A two-stage design, they normally break cleanly at four pounds but may exhibit some over-travel. When firing from support, try to place the rest as close to the front of the receiver as possible to reduce pressure on the barrel. If you attempt to use a tight sling, NRA High Power style, you can expect to see your POI change. Instead, shoot it off a ruck, buttpack or make a short tripod out of three poles lashed together.
Accuracy? With decent ball ammunition a PSL in good condition can be expected to shoot into 1.75 to 3 MOA. A rifle with an excellent bore and crown can be expected to cut this down to 1.25 to 1.5 MOA with Match ammunition. While these groups sound huge compared to a tuned bolt gun, they will provide consistent body shots at 600+ yards. What the PSL gives up in accuracy it makes up with a much higher rate of fire and a faster reload compared to a bolt gun. The PSL was never intended to provide the precision fire a bolt gun is capable of. If that’s what you need, the PSL is the wrong stick.
Today the PSL is an interesting collectible here in the US. They are fun to shoot, if you recognize they are what they are.
PSL Accuracy and Velocity Chart – 7.62x54R
Load: Wolf 148 grain FMJ
Velocity: 2,829 fps
100 yards: 2.5 inches
Load: Wolf 200 grain EXTRA Match
Velocity: 2,539 fps
100 yards: 1.25 inches
Note: Groups are an average of four five shot groups fired from a rest at 100 yards. Velocity readings recorded 12 feet from the muzzle at an ambient temperature of 80 degrees F with an Oehler 35P chronograph.
Operation: Gas via long stroke piston with rotating bolt
Barrel: 24.3 inches with 1-10" RH Twist
OAL: 45.3 inches
Length of Pull: 12.5 inches
Weight: 9.5 pounds with optic
Iron sights: front post adjustable for windage and elevation, sliding rear tangent adjustable from 100 to 1,200 meters.
Feed: 10 round detachable box magazine
Day optic: LPS 4x24mm 6 degree Type 2
About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics for 23 years. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.