In 2009 I was a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant deployed to Tal Afar, Iraq.  Being a Weapons Sergeant of course, I liked all the toys.  We got to play with all manner of pistols, sub-machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortar systems, and more.  Being overseas with 24/7 access to connex containers filled with ammo and our own range was any gun nut’s dream.

We also had an arms room filled with captured foreign weapons.  This included a handful of Russian SVD Dragonov sniper rifles.  As someone who served as a sniper and attended the Army Sniper course at Ft. Benning, I had a particular interest in this rifle and in learning how it (along with the baffling PSO-1 scope) worked.

The SVD fires the 7.62×54 Rimmed cartridge, the same as the Russian PKM machine gun.  However, precision rifles require precision ammunition.  The bullet is just as important as the rifle, both designed to create consistent results when fired.  The US Army’s M24 and SR-25 can be fired with normal 7.62 ammunition that the M240B machine gun fires, but that would only be in an emergency.  An American sniper needs 7.62×51 LR rounds to maintain accuracy at long range.

According to the library of gun books that I lugged around with me, the SVD also fired specialized ammunition, a light ball round which you can tell apart from normal 7.62x54R ammo by its silver tip.  I managed to scrounge up some of these rounds buried somewhere in the arms room, grabbed an SVD, and headed out to the range to figure this thing out.


Once I radioed up that the range was hot, I set up a target and attempted to bore sight the rifle. Finally, I loaded up a magazine of 7.62x54R light ball ammunition and settled into a stable firing position.  At the bottom of my breath, I let the trigger break.  The hammer fell but nothing happened.  Looking away from the scope I suddenly noticed gray smoke curling out from the ejection port.  Attempting to clear the rifle, I found the bolt solidly locked into place.  At that point, I notified my buddy out on the range that something was wrong and that my rifle might cook off a round.

After stepping away for a few minutes, I came back and again attempted to clear the rifle and make it safe, but to no avail.  This was the point at which my friend and I started joking about the big rubber mallet that Weapons Sergeants carry around, and laughing about how I was to fix the damn thing.  Frustrated, I returned to the arms room, grabbed another SVD and headed back to the range.  I loaded it up, pulled the trigger, and was met with the exact same result!  Smoke coming out of the chamber and the bolt now completely locked in the forward position.  What the hell?

Taking both guns back to the arms room, I worked them over and over with various cleaning solvents and some 18B brute strength to try to get them back into operation.  I managed to free the bolt on one of the two guns but was unable to extract the bullet, even after filling the barrel with gun oil, leaving it overnight, and then trying to tap it out with a cleaning rod and the aforementioned mallet.