When discussing sniper rifles from around the world, there are a few rifles that are held in reverence and discussed with awe and held on a pedestal. These rifles are the classics, the ones that perform to mythical abilities. Some of them would include the Walther WA2000 or perhaps the No4Mk1(T) and how it supposedly became more accurate the further out the target was. Another one of these legendary rifles is the H&K PSG-1, which when it was developed in the 1980s was promoted as the most accurate semi-auto rifle in the world. The question that many people ask, or at least think, is whether the actual rifle lives up to the hype and mythical status, and that brings us to the write-up here. We recently had the opportunity to actually spend some time examining, and even firing a first generation H&K PSG-1 to see if the mythical reputation had any basis in actual capability and fact.
The PSG-1 we had the opportunity to use was a full kit that included everything like the original Hensoldt scope, spare magazines, harris-bipod, all the way to the very unique tripod. Everything came from H&K in a metal case with hard foam that was cut out to hold all of the parts and accessories as you can see in the photo above. The rifle itself is not light and when combined with the accessories and the metal case, the entire package weighed a lot. The case with its formed foam kept the rifle is securely held in place and in terms of transporting or storing the rifle, it was a nice setup.
The Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics spurred the development of new tactics for counter-terrorism teams, including the development of the German GSG9, and one of the short falls of their capabilities was the inability to rapidly engage multiple targets by their snipers. This lead to the demand for a rifle that was semi-automatic yet extremely precise. H&K took up the task of trying to answer their needs with the development of the PSG-1. The rifle is based on the tried and true G3 battle rifle, but in order to obtain the accuracy and capability desired, a significant amount of modifications had to be done. The end result is one of the most timeless and classic sniper rifle designs out there, and it certainly has become one of the most iconic.
When converting a G3 battle rifle to a high precision sniper rifle, H&K could not just leave the standard G3/HK91 buttstock on the rifle. The polymer buttstock that was used on the PSG-1 is of a unique design that has since been copied in some degree by many manufacturers and similar stocks are available for AR platforms. If you look closely, you will notice the traditional G3 drop in the butt stock is there, but now there is an adjustable cheekpiece that raises and lowers to align the shooters eye with the scope. There is a knurled handled tool that stores in a holding location below and to the rear of the cheekpiece. This tool is inserted and used to loosen and tighten the cheekpiece to move it to the desired height. This allows for adjusting the rifle to fit the shooter precisely. There is a good recoil pad on the butt stock as well for recoil absorption. The cheekpiece is quiet comfortable though perhaps a bit slippery when the shooters face is wet or sweaty. There is also a loop attachment point on the left hand side of the buttstock for the sling to be attached. Having the the sling attach points on the side allows for the rifle to lay flat against the operators back when the rifle is slung over the shoulder.
The action started life as a standard G3 battle rifle, but one of the things that H&K determined they needed to do was to strengthen the action walls itself, considering that the action was pretty much just stamped steel sheets. To stiffen the sides H&K added some stiffeners which bulk up the action and of course add weight, but it was needed to help with accuracy. Additionally H&K added what it called the silent bolt closing device. Today this is more commonly known as a forward bolt assist. The intent of the silent bolt closing device on the PSG-1 was to allow the operator to slowly and silently ride the bolt forward with the cocking handle and then to use the bolt closing device to tap it shut to insure the bolt was forward and ready to fire.
Below the action is the pistol grip which in and of itself has become another iconic part of the rifle. The pistol grip is ergonomically excellent and extremely comfortable. There are small grooves to allow finger placement and the trigger finger is perfectly placed for excellent trigger control. On the bottom of the pistol grip is a palm shelf that allows support of the firing hand to prevent additional effort and strain from being exerted holding the firing hand on the pistol grip. We cannot say definitively if the PSG-1 is the first rifle to use a palm shelf, but if it was not, it was certainly one of the earliest. Again, this design has been copied by several grip manufacturers for AR and other rifles, and for good reason, it works very well. The shelf itself is adjustable to some degree and can be removed as well.
The fire selector switch is located in the same location on the left hand side of the action as a typical G3 and it is large and easily operator by the thumb of the firing hand. Beyond the selector switch only having safe and fire, and no full automatic, the controls and functions on the PSG-1 are the same as those on the G3.
By necessity, the trigger group had to be something completely different and new than what was used on the G3. The G3 is a fine battle rifle, but it was made for infantry use and is robust and durable…precision wasn’t a number one priority and the triggers reflect this. H&K developed an entire new trigger group for the PSG-1 that is very impressive. It is adjustable for weight of pull and the PSG-1 reviewed here had the trigger set precisely at 3 lbs. It broke cleanly and was very repeatable right at that 3 lbs every time. The trigger shoe is nearly a flat shoe with not a lot of curve to it and there is a slip on shoe that fits over the top to give it a bit wider feel. Yes, there are better triggers out there today, but for a 30 year old rifle that is based on a battle rifle, its remarkable.
The foreward handguard on the PSG-1 is long and has a triangle shape to it. The charging handle is up front on the left hand side and it folds forward to keep out of the way when not in use. That triangle profile of the handguard gives it a flat bottom to give a flat surface for shooting from sandbags, on other obstacles, or even for offhand positional shooting, though the weight of the rifle is quite high to try that. The original PSG-1 package did not come with a Harris Bipod, but this one had one included, likely added later by one of the owners. But the original complete PSG-1 package provided a tripod that is an impressive engineering gem. No, the tripod certainly is not as practical as a lightweight bipod attached to the rifle, but it is adjustable in many different ways and is finely crafted.
The barrel on the PSG-1 is nearly 26″ and as you might guess, it is nothing like the G3. It has a heavy profile with polygonal rifling and is free floated to maximize accuracy. There are no external sights on the barrel and as was the norm back in the 80’s, there is no recessed crown, rather it is a flat cut with the crown finely tapered. The finish on the barrel is a semi-flat black bluing that is very smooth and even throughout the entire rifle.
The function and operation of the PSG-1 is exactly like that of the G3. It uses the same magazines, of which a couple of 5 and 20 round magazines are provided. The magazine release is in the same location as are the previously mentioned charging handle and fire control lever. The operation of the rifle is straight forward and intuitive for anyone who has some experience with military style battle rifles.
The scope and scope mounting need to mentioned as on the first generation PSG-1’s like this one, it was all an integrated arrangement. The scope of choice by H&K was the Hensoldt 6x42mm, which should not surprise anyone as it is another excellent German made product. For those of you unfamiliar, Hensoldt is the military arm of Zeiss and they make wonderful scopes for sniping. The choice of the Hensoldt was made by H&K and there was no other option on the original PSG-1s, literally, there was no other option as the scope mount and scope itself were intended to be a permanent and integral unit together. There is a special mounting apparatus that is a part of the scope and then there are two hex screws that attach that scope mounting unit to the rifle’s welded on scope bases as can be seen in the picture below. We assume that the thinking was to allow for an extremely durable unification of scope and rifle to prevent any possible unwanted movement from happening. We can understand the logic and back then it was probably sound. By today’s standards it would be unheard of to make it all a permanent selection with only one option. If there were any problems with the scope itself, the provided wrench was used to remove the scope and send it in for maintenance.
The Hensoldt scope is calibrated in centimeters, which of course means it would be considered a MIL scope today! Inadvertently they were ahead of the game. By today’s standards the scope has some limitations, as it had plain crosshairs with no ranging reticle or reference marks for use with holdovers. It was a fixed 6x scope, which in reality probably was not a bad choice for the intended mission of the rifle, but can offer some challenges for medium range distance shooting. There is a BDC cam on the elevation knob that is calibrated for the 308 and is marked for 100 – 600 meter shooting. The quality of the scope was very high for its time and today we would still consider it very good to excellent quality.
As the 1990’s came around and continued progress was made with sniper rifles, H&K made some upgrades and changes to the PSG-1 and as you might have guessed, one of the first things they changed was to put a rail on the rifle to allow the use of different scopes on the PSG-1. But there is a bit of nostalgia shooting one of the originals as it was originally designed.
When you have an opportunity to shoot a classic and very high value rifle like a PSG-1, it becomes a mixed bag of emotions. As a sniper we wanted to evaluate the full potential of the rifle and put it through its paces and see if the rifle lives up to the reputation. But as a historian and collector, we didn’t want to abuse the extremely collectible and valuable rifle. We did our best to treat the rifle with respect while at the same time we put the rifle through a series of tests that we thought would give us a good understanding of what it really could do. Because this was not a normal evaluation, we did not shoot as many groups as we typically do in a test but we did want to try three different loads to get an idea of the overall capability of the rifle. Of course, one of the loads was the standard Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr, a load that was actually around when the PSG-1 first came out and is our typical load we fire in every review to establish a baseline. The other two loads were from HSM, one of them their standard 168gr HPBT match load and the other was actually a 7.62x51mm NATO load using military brass and the 168gr Hornady AMAX bullet. We wanted to use some 7.62x51mm ammo as it could have been something a PSG-1 would have been fed back in the 80’s and 90’s. All of the 100 yard groups were fired with a sand back up front and a sandsock to the rear. The results are listed below.
|Load||Average Group||Best Group|
|Federal GMM 168gr||.485″ (.46 MOA)||.306″ (.29 MOA)|
|HSM 168gr HPBT Match||.906″ (.87 MOA)||.741″ (.71 MOA)|
|HSM 7.62 NATO 168gr AMAX||.695″ (.66 MOA)||.589″ (.56 MOA)|
As is evident from the test results, the rifle loved the Federal Gold Medal Match ammo. At 100 yards the average group size with the 168gr GMM was only .485″ and the best group was a very tight .306″ and is pictured below. The rifle was sub .5 MOA with GMM and sub 1 MOA with the other two loads. The 168gr AMAX 7.62 ammo performed well also with average group sizes not far from .5 MOA. Again, these groups were fired with only 6x magnification which offered a challenge, so we consider the groups quiet impressive. The rifle is heavy and would require some getting used to in order to effectively use it in the field. But that heft does provide stability and absorbs the recoil for easy followup shots.
What is it like to shoot the PSG-1? The experience was a lot more profound than I thought it would be going into it. I figured the rifle would shoot like a normal semi-automatic precision sniper rifle, and it did, but it was so much more than that. The performance was excellent, with accuracy under .5 MOA at 100 yards, and that was shooting with a fixed 6x scope. Firing groups for ultimate accuracy with only 6x of magnification does make it more of a challenge and we are certain there is more accuracy capability with the rifle than we were able to do here. The trigger was excellent and the recoil, due to the heavy weight and semi-auto roller delayed blow-back system, was very manageable and light for a .308. The ejection was very positive to the extent that there was mangled brass ejected 30+ feet from the rifle. That is not a trait a pure military sniper wants to see, but the PSG-1 was intended for counter-terrorist Law Enforcement style of engagements and leaving target identifiers is not as much of a concern. Since the rifle was designed for the counter-terrorist role, we felt it was appropriate to set up a scenario that would approximate a potential engagement. 3 head shots on 3 separate targets at 300 yards. With the BDC dial set to 3 we held point of aim, point of impact and engaged the targets in 3 rapid fire shots. All thee targets were hit in a tad over four seconds. The followup shots were easy to execute due to the recoil management of the rifle and of course the semi-auto capability.
How was the experience as a whole? I like to equate it to driving a classic Ferrari or other collectible sports car. Yes, there are cars that are faster and flashier, but the experience is more than just the raw numbers. That is how shooting the PSG-1 was. Today there are rifles that do everything as good or better and for less money, but that is short changing what H&K accomplished with this rifle. It was an absolute delight to shoot and the performance could more than hold its own today, and was far ahead of the pack 30 years ago. Every once in a while, a legend will live up to its name and it has left a very profound impression on this sniper that I doubt I will ever forget.