Whether you’ve encountered the Dragunov in the field, a documentary, or even in the Call of Duty videogame franchise, it’s no secret that the semi-automatic Soviet-era rifle is one of the best firearms ever to be designed and produced by the Russians. From its natural appeal and aesthetic in its wooden stock to its reliable long-range accuracy, today, we’re going to discuss a bit of the historical context that went into designing this rifle!

Standard SVD Dragunov. HokosCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Who Designed The Rifle And Why?

In response to the rising usage of submachine guns on the battlefield, the Red Army thought they were losing important high ground leverage in engaging enemies long-range. While these submachine guns (SMGs) were definitely effective in close-range, trench combat, SMGs do not offer the same long-range cover fire infantry soldiers needed to push forward with gaining objectives.

Some of these SMGs included the infamous World War II PPsh-41 using the 7.62x25mm known as the “papasha” (daddy) gun, which uses the same rounds as the Tokarev pistol. Machine guns like the DP-28 and DS-39 were also standard, high rate firearms that could lay sufficient covering fire, however sacrificing accuracy for the rapid-fire rate.

The armies of the West had rifles that could shoot at ranges exceeding Soviet weapons, which meant Russian troops would have to advance over several hundred yards under accurate fire before their own weapons could be employed.  In a close-in fight, like an urban environment, the AK had a distinct advantage in house-to-house fighting, but in closing in on that town or city, they faced getting shot to pieces by longer-ranged Western small arms.

So then, the Soviets faced a dilemma. How do they equip their infantry troops with both battle rifles and sufficient long-range cover fire to cover the advance of their troops across open ground? This is where the development of the Dragunov comes in.

From 1957 to 1963, a competition was held to develop a rifle that designated marksmen in the Soviet Army could use, that was cost-effective (meaning it was cheap enough to mass-produce), and could engage enemy targets faster than enemy riflers.

The answer to this problem was the first Dragunov rifle model 1963, designed by Yevgeny Dragunov, a man whose family line comprises gunsmiths. Mainly a sporting rifle designer, he was not a stranger to military service as he had served in the military in 1939. He defeated Sergey Simonov, the designer of the SKS carbine, and Aleksandr Konstantinov for the rifle competition. Mark the irony of a Communist country like the USSR holding a “competition” like free-market Capitalists.

Familiar But Different Rifle Design

The Dragunov rifle has a striking similarity to the AK47 cosmetically in its furniture placement and the pistol grip housing the trigger group, but, the AK-47 is a rugged, cheap to produce and operate assault rifle not meant to be a marksman’s rifle, while the Dragunov was made for precision(As the Soviets viewed it) marksmanship. You see, the average Russian soldier was not really trained as a marksman, he was expected to shower the enemy with rounds from his AK47 while pushing in as close to the enemy as possible.  In contrast, the U.S. Army and especially the Marine Corps trained on and prized marksmanship at range. So in a sense, the Dragonuv was intended to give a Soviet soldier a rifle as capable as the M-1 Garand or M-14 was in the hands of  Marine or Army GI trained to hit targets at distances of 600-800 yards