December 06, 2021
By David M. Fortier, Senior Field Editor
The Soviet Union made greater and more effective use of snipers during World War II than all other nations combined. They fielded well-equipped and trained sniper teams on a staggering scale never seen before or since. Soviet snipers went on to play an important role in the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. In the years after the war the Soviet Army carefully refined the lessons learned during the fighting and began a modernization program. Beginning in 1958 Soviet weapon design bureaus began development of a new sniper weapon system. Rather than simply modifying an existing model, they developed the first rifle designed from the ground up expressly for sniping.
The rifle though was just part of the program. The Soviets actually designed an entire system based on practical combat experience. This included a specialized semi-automatic precision rifle (SVD-63), the world’s most advanced daytime optical sighting system (PSO-1) and a dedicated high accuracy/lethality cartridge (7N1). When this system was fielded in 1963 there was nothing else like it anywhere in the world. In comparison, at this time the United States Army and USMC did not even run a sniper school and what sniper rifles they had were obsolete left-overs from World War II.
Soviet/Russian sniper cartridges were a pet project of mine decades ago when I first started writing. At the time there were no hard facts available and most of the information bandied about was incorrect. So I spent a good bit of time researching information on the Soviet 7.62x54mmR 152-grain 7N1 sniper load. Matthew Renz helped me to acquire my first samples and I conducted accuracy and velocity testing with this load using Mosin M1891/30 PE and PU snipers, Romanian PSLs, Russian Tigrs, SVD and SVDS and even an Iraqi Al Kadesiah. I interviewed men who used it in combat and even the man who ran the factory where it was produced. In doing so I learned a lot about this interesting steel case sniper load.
There were two pieces of the puzzle though I never got my hands on. The first was an honest to God Ballistic Coefficient that I knew without a doubt to be accurate. I wanted something beyond a mere mathematical calculation. The second was proper terminal performance testing by an accredited and highly respected ballistics laboratory using 10% Ordnance gelatin.
Eventually a number of years ago I decided to make it happen. Rather than traveling back to Novosibirsk though, I enlisted the aid of two of the top ammunition manufacturers in the world, Black Hills Ammunition and Hornady. I explained what I wanted to do to Jeff Hoffman and Jason Hornady and they opened their Ballistic Laboratories to me. My desire was simple, to check the 7.62x54mmR 7N1’s exterior ballistics with Doppler radar and its terminal performance in properly calibrated 10% ordnance gel. I also thought since we were going to test one load, why not include a few more of interest. So, in addition to the 7N1 sniper load we also tested LVE/Wolf Performance Ammunition’s 7.62x54mmR 200-grain EXTRA Match load. This has been fielded by Russian snipers with the SV-98 sniper rifle. I also picked Prvi Partizan’s 7.92x57mm 198-grain M75 Sniper load. This was fielded with the M76 semi-automatic sniper rifle.
7.62x54mmR 152-grain 7N1
For years it was considered “common knowledge” that the Soviets issued nothing more than standard ball ammunition to their snipers. Unfortunately, this was not true. For sniping, ball ammunition is simply not up to the accuracy requirements. The Soviets were well aware of this. While the SVD is capable of firing the standard 148-grain LPS (Light Steel Core) ball rounds, as well as Tracers, AP, API, and APIT, it has the distinction of being one of the few weapons to have specialized loads developed expressly for it. A design team headed by Victor Sabelnikov developed a special steel core sniper cartridge specifically to decrease the dispersion of the SVD, and increase its terminal performance. The result of their work was type classified as 7N1. It consists of a copper washed, annealed steel cartridge case, corrosive primer, extruded powder and a 152-grain steel jacketed FMJ-BT projectile.
Externally the 7N1 load looks identical to standard 148-grain LPS ball ammunition. There is no color coding on the tip or primer annulus, and no specialized head stamp to differentiate it. The head stamp simply consists of Factory and year of manufacture. All Russian produced 7.62x54mmR Sniper ammunition is produced at Factory 188 which is Novosibirsk Low Voltage Equipment Plant or LVE. The only way to identify this load is by its packaging. It's packed in standard Russian practice with a wooden shipping crate containing 880 rounds. Breaking a crate open reveals two hermetically sealed metal spam cans, each containing 440 rounds. Opening one of the tins using the enclosed can opener reveals 22 bundles of paper-wrapped ammunition. Each packet contains 20 rounds. The wooden shipping crates, metal spam cans and individual paper packets are all distinctly marked "SNIPER" in Cyrillic.
The 152-grain FMJ-BT projectile has a copper-washed steel jacket and a fairly long boat-tail. Sectioning a 7N1 projectile discloses an air pocket in the nose, similar to the 5.45x39mm 7N6 projectile. Below the air pocket is a 37.5 grain cone shaped mild steel core penetrator. This measures .269 inch in diameter and .520 inch length. The penetrator sits on top of a 72.6 grain lead knocker. Overall projectile length is 1.275 inches and diameter is .311 inch. Muzzle velocity of this load is approximately 2,723 fps and average group size runs between 1 and 1.5 MOA depending upon the individual lot of ammunition and the condition of the rifle. Our colleague Chris Pappas put five rounds of 7N1 into 1.9 inches at 200 yards with his SVD.
7.62x54mmR 200-grain EXTRA Match
The second load tested is a Russian commercial-grade competition load manufactured by Factory 188 LVE in Novosibirsk, Russia. Developed for national and international competition in bolt-action target rifles it features a brass cartridge case, non-corrosive Berdan primer, extruded powder charge and a 200-grain copper jacketed FMJ-BT projectile. The projectile is a classic Full Metal Jacket design with a lead core. It features a boat tail to aid exterior ballistics. While match projectiles today are typically HPBTs or polymer tipped designs, FMJ-BT match projectiles used to be common such as Lapua’s famous D166.
Packaging is in 20-round commercial boxes. This target load has been around for decades and packaging can vary from colorful USSR vintage boxes with a target shooting theme to the current black Wolf Performance Ammunition boxes. Make no mistake, this is a true match grade load, and while old, has performed well in competition. For example, using this load in conjunction with Record-CISM rifles the national select of the Armed Forces of Russia won the International Military Games in 1995 and the World Championship in 1996.
This load has been available here in the US, imported and distributed by Wolf Performance Ammunition. It is one of a handful of match loads available commercially in this caliber. The bullet design is indeed a bit dated, especially compared to modern designs. It is of interest to us here in that it has seen use by Russian military and LE snipers in both the SV-98 bolt-action sniper rifle and the SVD. It is often preferred by Russian snipers over the 7N1 due to its long range accuracy, especially out of a SV-98. This load is well-capable of sub-MOA performance in a modern target rifle and averaged 1.2 inches at 2,571 fps out of my old M1891/30 PE Sniper.
7.9mm 198-grain Sniper Cartridge M75
The third load tested is a 7.92x57mm sniper load produced for the Serbian Army’s M76 sniper rifle. Designated ‘7.9mm Sniper Cartridge M75’ it was produced by Prvi Partizan (PPU) of Serbia. I had the opportunity to learn about this load during a visit to the factory in 2005. The M75 is based upon the German 7.9mm Patrone sS (Schweres Spitz-Geschoss or Heavy Pointed Bullet Cartridge) load. The Patrone sS was originally developed to extend the range of machine gun fire. The new sS load worked so well though it was eventually adopted across the board for use in both machine guns and rifles. Weighing 198-grains and featuring a very streamlined shape with a boat tail, it replaced the lighter flat base S-patrone load in German service prior to World War II.
After the war the Yugoslav National Army used Germany's Patrone sS load as the basis for what became their M49 ball load. Years later, when a dedicated sniper load was needed the Yugoslav's simply followed the same approach as the Germans did during World War II. They produced a very high quality brass cased sS load specifically for sniper use. Although design wise the same as a standard ball round, this load uses components made specifically for sniper ammunition. These are held to tolerances 50% tighter than normal. In addition, the components are produced off of only one machine, known to be of proven accuracy, rather than on multiple machines. A dedicated crew of known ability runs this machine. The accuracy requirement for M75 is a 10-shot 100 meter group with an R50 no larger than 1.5 cm. So, it was not blisteringly accurate, but sufficient for their requirements.
To ensure the ammunition meets this specification lots are tested to verify their accuracy at the end of each shift. On average 70% passes and 30% is rejected. Rejected ammunition is shipped as regular ball ammo. The only way to visibly identify sniper ammunition is by the color of the primer annulus sealant. Normal ball ammunition is painted with a red sealant while sniper ammunition is coated with a violet sealant. It's packed 15 rounds to a cardboard box and plainly labeled 'SNIPER' in Cyrillic (or English) on the boxes, PVC battlepacks and wooden crates. Testing of this load out of a M76 Sporter averaged 2,345 fps and grouped into 2.2 inches at 100 yards.
The first portion of testing consisted of firing the three loads on Hornady’s ballistic test range. This took place in Nebraska under the supervision of Dave Emary. Doppler radar allows the projectile’s flight and velocity to be tracked along its entire flight. Doing so allows an engineer to see exactly what the bullet is doing in flight and to accurately calculate a Ballistic Coefficient for it. Emary calculated the BCs for the 7.62x54mmR loads and 7.92x57mm over a 1,000 yard baseline. He was kind enough to calculate both G1 and G7 numbers. The results can be seen in the attached chart.
The 152-grain 7N1 proved to be a good solid performer for its bullet weight with a .402 G1 BC. For an apples-to-apples comparison it holds its own well when compared to Hornady’s .308-inch 150-grain FMJ-BT with a G1 BC of .398. It also compares very well with Hornady’s .308-inch 155-grain BTHP with a G1 BC of .405. Comparing it with a more modern Hornady 155-grain ELD Match gives the advantage to the American design which has a G1 BC of .461. Overall the 7N1 is not spectacular, but keeping in mind the Russian projectile dates from the late 1950s, it has good performance even today. Also, keep in mind .402 is a “real” G1 BC from Doppler and not an inflated number to aid sales.
The 200-grain EXTRA’s G1 is quite respectable at .491. This is even higher than that of Lapua’s famous D166 200-grain FMJ-BT which comes in at .448 G1. To be fair, the D166 is a very old Finish military design. The EXTRA’s additional weight and different design give it a definite ballistic advantage over the lighter 7N1 projectile. The Russian design compares favorably to Hornady’s 180-grain SST with a .480 G1 BC. But, it is dramatically inferior to a modern design like Hornady’s 200-grain ELD-X with a .597 G1 BC.
While the 200-grain EXTRA load performed better than expected the PPU 198-grain FMJ-BT was lower than expected. The Doppler radar revealed this projectile to have a G1 BC of just .451. Going into testing I expected it to be in the .490 range, but that is why I was doing this after all, to find out the truth. The .451 BC of the PPU 198-grain projectile is similar to Hornady’s .323-inch 170-grain SST which has a .445 G1 BC.
All three of these Combloc loads should really be compared to the old US GI 173-grain FMJ-BT projectile loaded into .30-’06 M72 Match ammunition and 7.62mm M118 Match and M118 Special Ball. This has a G1 BC of .496. At initial glance the 7.62mm M118 load, with its higher BC, appears to have a noticeable advantage over the 7N1. In reality due to the 7N1’s higher muzzle velocity the Soviet load is flatter out to 600 yards and very similar out to 1000 yards in drop. The M118 load though has an advantage in wind deflection. In reality, the two Soviet loads and the US 7.62mm M118 load are relatively similar in drop and wind deflection from a shooter’s perspective. The 198-grain PPU has a bit more drop and wind deflection.
10% Ordnance Gel
After testing over Doppler radar by the Hornady Exterior Ballistics Laboratory in Nebraska, testing was conducted in properly calibrated 10% Ordnance gelatin. This phase of testing was conducted by Black Hills Ammunition’s Ballistics Laboratory in South Dakota. As all three of these loads are conventional-looking FMJs, it almost seemed like a waste of Black Hills’ Ballistic Laboratory’s time. Common sense says they would penetrate deeply before yawing. But I had a hunch about Victor Sabelnikov’s 7N1 and it turns out I was right. Examining the gel photos of the 200-grain EXTRA and 198-grain M75 you notice the deep penetration with a very long neck before the projectiles yaw and break in half. It is basically exactly what you would expect from this type of projectile.
The 7N1 Sniper load though is different. The impact velocity duplicates a 75-yard shot. The projectile’s Initial Yaw (IY) begins at 2.5 inches. It has a very short neck and creates a Temporary Cavity (TC) 11.5 inches by 7+ inches (it spit the bottom of the block). The projectile violently fragmented and reached a Maximum Penetration Depth (MPD) of an ideal 16 inches. It actually even meets FBI requirements. So terminal performance of the 7N1 is quite good, especially if you keep in mind this is a late 1950s Full Metal Jacket military projectile. The projectile was designed to enhance terminal performance by depositing its energy within its target rather than beyond, and it performs as designed. It would be ideal for unobstructed shots on targets not wearing body armor.
The 200-grain EXTRA’s Initial Yaw (IY) didn’t begin until it had penetrated 8 inches. It has a very long neck and then created a Temporary Cavity (TC) 12 inches by 7 inches. The base of the projectile broke off along with a couple of small fragments. Maximum Penetration Depth (MPD) was 21.5 inches. It had a retained weight of 178.9 grains. So this competition load penetrates deeply, which can be desirable in certain scenarios.
The PPU 198-grain M75’s Initial Yaw (IY) begins at 6 inches. It has a very short neck and creates a Temporary Cavity (TC) 14.5 inches by 6+ inches (it spit the bottom of the block). The projectile broke at the cannelure and reached a Maximum Penetration Depth (MPD) of 21.5 inches. So the Serb copy of the old German Schweres Spitz-Geschoss performed a bit better than but similar to the Russian EXTRA.
In 1999 the Russian Army introduced a new Sniper cartridge, the 7N14 to replace the 7N1. It is similar in weight but features a hardened steel AP penetrator. I hope to bring you details on this interesting 7.62x54mmR Sniper load in the future.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Jason Hornady, Dave Emary and the entire Hornady Ballistics Laboratory for providing the testing with Doppler radar. Thanks to Jeff Hoffman and the entire Black Hills Ballistics Laboratory for providing the gel testing. This article would not have been possible without their help and support. It is greatly appreciated.
Doppler Radar Testing G1
- Russian 7.62x54mmR 7N1 152 grain: 0.402
- Russian 7.62x54mmR Extra Match 200 grain: 0.491
- Serbian 7.92x57mm M75 198 FMJ-BT: 0.451
Doppler Radar Testing G7
- Russian 7.62x54mmR 7N1 152 grain: 0.216
- Russian 7.62x54mmR Extra Match 200 grain: 0.259
- Serbian 7.92x57mm M75 198 FMJ-BT: 0.255
- Ballistic Coefficients for the 7.62x5mmR and 7.92x57mm were calculated over a 1,000-yard baseline.
7N1 Cartridge Specifications
- Case Material: Copper Washed, Annealed Steel
- Primer: Berdan, Corrosive
- Powder: Extruded type
- Projectile Type: FMJ-BT
- Projectile Weight: 152 grains
- Projectile OAL: 1.275 inches
- Projectile Diameter: 0.311 inch
- Jacket Material: Copper Washed Steel
- Core Design: Air pocket, Mild Steel Core, Lead Knocker
- Steel Core Specs: 0.269 inch Diameter, .520 inch OAL, 37.5 grains
- Purpose: Dedicated sniper load for the SVD-63 to increase accuracy and lethality
- Manufacturer: Russian Factory 188 Novosibirsk LVE
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com
About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. 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.