By Mark White
This summer we received a very interesting semiautomatic sniper rifle from Brolin Industries, 2755 Thompson Creek Rd. Pamona, CA 91767, Phone 909-392-2350, Fax 2354. We were told that this rifle was made in China, to American specifications. Quality looked every bit as good as the Russian model of the Dragunov.. Regardless of the source, whoever was responsible for making this series of rifles did a superb job. This is the most accurate semiautomatic rifle we have ever test fired.
The weapon comes in a padded hard case of American manufacture. Included in the case are three—10 round magazines, a 4 power scope (of apparent Chinese manufacture) in a separate, fitted steel case, an attached scope mount, spare batteries for the scope’s internally illuminated reticle, a brief manual for the scope, and one for the rifle.
The rifle itself is very different from those which we are used to seeing in these United States. The stock is composed of three pieces of laminated hardwood, heavily varnished. The butt stock is skeletonized, and fitted with a butt plate of blackened steel. A bakelite or Micarta-like, grip cap is held in place with a single screw. When this screw and cap are removed one then has access to a larger machine screw which holds the butt stock into the metal socket on the rifle’s action. One might think that this arrangement would be too flexible to allow accurate shooting, but it is in fact exceptionally rigid and very stable. Those with large hands might want to fabricate a slightly larger grip cap, with a shelf below to help stabilize the strong hand. This may be easily accomplished by anyone with modest woodworking skills. Those with a large frame may find the stock a bit short. Neither I nor George Lainhart, our resident sniper, found the stock uncomfortable. A soft rubber butt pad could be fitted without a great deal of effort.
The forend is in fact two pieces of laminated wood, vertically split into two halves. It surrounds both the barrel and upper gas tube, allowing plenty of breathing room inside. A number of elongated holes allow air movement around the barrel and gas tube, and these promote cooling as the area of the barrel just ahead of the chamber heats up during firing. The forend does not appear to be a structural element of the rifle; it is simply a way of insulating one’s weak hand from the potentially hot barrel. The fact that rifles of this design do not appear to vary from point of impact as their barrels heat up speaks very well of the way they are machined and assembled. The exterior finish is a bit rough, as befits a military weapon, but there is little doubt that the parts that matter are properly heat treated and finely fitted. Any weapon which will be used in police or military action should be rough on the outside. A finely polished weapon will reflect light too easily, and the user may be reluctant to properly deploy it in the field. Usually, one does not expect a sniper rifle to be fired more than once in a given period of time. However, there are instances when a second followup shot is required. This is especially so in law-enforcement scenarios. There are also rare instances when quite a number of shots are needed, and it is comforting to know that the Dragunov will deliver all of them with precision.
The action is almost pure Kalashnikov. One notable exception is that the bolt carries three locking lugs instead of two. It field strips without the benefit of tools, in a manner similar to the typical AK47. The action on our test rifle worked flawlessly from the first round. It did not require a break-in period. It should be mentioned that this action was originally designed to be used with the 7.62x54mm R (rimmed) Russian Nagant cartridge of 1891, which is fairly similar in power to our 30-06. This action will have no problem handling the .308. The Dragunov is a battle-proven action which gave a good account of itself when used by the opposing side in various conflicts.
The barrel, heart of any accurate rifle, is about 24 inches long and unusually thin. It has a twist rate of one turn in 9.7 inches, which is in part responsible for its high level of accuracy. Some British and American.308 rifle barrels carry a twist rate as slow as 1 in 12, or even 1 in 14 inches. The reason is ostensibly to encourage instability, and tumbling upon contact, and the slow twist does this very well. However, bullet instability is not the sort of thing one encourages on a sniper rifle which must be dependably, reliably and repeatably accurate. The barrel is topped with a long flash hider of a design very similar to that used on our M14. While we did not fire at night, we have little doubt that the flash hider is effective. For those wanting to “improve” the weapon by removing the flash hider – Don’t! The barrel is carefully tuned to deliver optimal accuracy with that flash hider. Removing it will screw up the barrel’s harmonics, seriously affecting accuracy. Some machine marks remain on the exterior of the barrel, which is finished with a tough, bake-on black polymer. The machined surfaces help to key the finish in place. The surface treatment is very durable, and very resistant to rust and wear. The bore is chrome plated and finely polished. Despite the fact that the butt stock is quite short, the long action combine with barrel and flash hider to make a rifle that is every bit of 48 inches long. The rifle weighs an even 10 pounds, complete with scope, mount, cheekpiece, and empty magazine. While a bit long, the piece is not unhandy. Most of the weight is centered around the action. For a sniper rifle, this is a very light weapon. It has the capacity for as many as nine rapid followup shots.
The metallic sights are standard issue, with a front post adjustable for windage, and a rear notch adjustable for elevation. Both open sights and the scope can be used at the same time, although the cheekpiece should be removed when the iron sights are being used. The cheekpiece appears to be some sort of soft, light, leather-covered rubber. It is held to the stock with a snap clip. Simple, but functional. The sights are a bit rough, but will serve as a dependable backup in an emergency.
Few sniper rifles come with metallic sights, and this in my view is a mistake. If one is deployed in the field and something happens to the scope the rifle is all but useless. I will choose to use a scope in most situations, but if something happens to that fragile optic it is nice to have a set of metallic sights to use as a backup.
The scope is only 4 power, but it is very well made, with quite a number of features. Instead of the usual crosshair reticle, there is a rangefinder and a series of chevrons for different ranges. These are etched into the glass, and may be illuminated internally during low light situations. The rangefinder consists of a horizontal line on the left side of the reticle, with a curved line above it. It is regulated by the height of a standing or walking man. Fit the height of the man between the upper and lower line, and then look to the immediate right to pick the chevron or inverted V closest to the point. Since the .308 is effective out to 600 yards, the aiming points are also effective to about the same distance. The limited power of the scope, however, restricts the effective range to about 400 yards. The rifle would be better served with a more powerful scope beyond that distance.
A small battery powers the illuminating function of the reticle. While these are of Chinese manufacture, replacements are usually available at Wal-Marts. Just take care to ensure that the size, shape and voltage are about the same. A small toggle switch under the body of the scope turns the power off and on. The switch is covered with a fine rubber membrane to protect against moisture. The power source provides fixed illumination. There is no rheostat to regulate the level. It is either on or off. Those who have looked through the scope at dusk feel that the power level is just about right. If you can see your target well in fading light, the reticle will be properly lit. The light source is not overwhelming in any but very dark conditions. If a small reduction is called for, it is possible to insert a slightly used battery.
There is also an infrared filter on the scope, and this may be activated by turning a knob on the left side of the housing, to flip it in or out of the field of view. I am told that another facet of this filter exists, and that allows one to see, body heat vehicles, etc. as blobs of color in the scope in total darkness, since they emit infrared light rays. In order for this to happen, a light source inside the scope must be removed and exposed to light during the day. This activates it, and allows use at night. During the day it may happen that sunlight falls directly on the objective lens of the scope. A small sunshade is fitted over the forward objective. It may be rotated and locked in either the extended or retracted position. The shade is quite thin and appears fragile, yet will do the job if it is needed.
TO THE RANGE
We took the rifle to our private range in central Alabama for the initial testing. We did not know if the weapon had been sighted in, so set up a target at 50 yards and clipped the scope mount onto the side of the action. The scope does not lie directly over the center of the bore. The mount and scope are made in a single forging. The optical system was designed to be removed for transport, and installed when the sniper was ready to set up. This is in contrast to American systems, which are typically mounted permanently, and are ready for use at all times. The actual mount is a variation of an early German system. It is fast, rugged, and highly repeatable. A light coating of oil in the bore required a few shots to clear. When it was determined that the bullets would stay on the paper we set up another series of targets at 100 yards. The trigger is two-stage, with a long light take up, and a fairly crisp 2-1/4 pound second stage. For a semiautomatic, this rifle has an excellent trigger. A trigger as crisp as might be found on a bolt gun would be unsafe in a semiauto. The trigger guard is exceptionally large, and will accommodate any gloved hand. Once the bore was cleared we determined that the scope had been adjusted and zeroed before it left the factory. George’s first three shots at 100 yards went into a cluster less than 5/16 of an inch, center-to-center, with Black Hills, molycoated, 168 grain .308 Match ammunition, right in the middle of the target. This is remarkable considering the nature of the 4 power scope and a 10 to 12 mph gusting wind. George then shot another group on another target face using Federal 168 grain BTHP Gold Medal Premium Match .308 ammunition, with virtually identical results. Later shooting sessions revealed that this .308 Dragunov is unusually accurate in other conditions, and that it does not tend to drift as its barrel heats up. This kind of accuracy can only be achieved with a barrel which is truly straight and concentric inside and out. Comments from others who have purchased these rifles indicate that they are all about as good. It is unusual to come across a semiautomatic rifle that is as accurate as a bolt gun. We were quite surprised with the accuracy we got from this one. Suggested retail is $2,200, with quantity discounts available.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N1 (October 1997)|