Terrorists Beware: H&K Takes Aim With New PSG1

by John Satterwhite

The West German firm of Heckler & Koch has introduced a new rifle to their line of ultra-reliable weaponry. The PSG 1 Counter-Sniper Rifle is designed to fill the need for a semiautomatic precision sniping piece for use by antiterrorist units and law-enforcement special-weapons teams.

Many of today's terrorist confrontations require the long-range specialist to engage more than one target in a very tight time frame. The traditional bolt-action guns have been the mainstay of most snipers, but today's terror tactics often force the sniper to take out several opponents in rapid succession in order to save a hostage's life or up the odds for insertion teams to enter a building or penetrate an opponent's perimeter.

Peter Senich's book, The German Sniper (Paladin Press, 1982), recounts several intriguing interviews with the most successful German snipers in WWII. Their discussions of range, armament and tactics led to some interesting conclusions. Most riflemen would have preferred a semiautomatic weapon if the rifle's precision were comparable and the weapon virtually jam-proof. Body movement while operating the bolt increased the probability of detection, and greater time between shots made it difficult to address multiple targets rapidly.

With today's increased accuracy capabilities, it appears the time is right for a precise, semiautomatic sniper rifle.

The PSG 1 is, to say the least, impressive in appearance and performance. The rifle looks as though it came straight from Star Wars. Its 25.5-inch bull barrel, .875-inches in diameter at the muzzle, tapers straight back into the semiauto receiver where it meets the H&K roller-locked bolt assembly. The receiver features a forward assist not found on the 91 or 93 model firearms.

A Hensoldt Wetzlar telescopic sight is bolted to a mount welded atop the receiver. As has become typical of H&K, attention to detail, durability and foolproofness is exemplified by the easy-to-read, easy-access adjustment controls. Numbered from 100 through 600 meters in 100-meter increments, the elevation offers fast compensation for projectile trajectory once the range has been estimated.

Today's counterterrorist marksman must face targets that are often only partly visible. In such cases, in-scope range finders which depend on the total view of the target are useless. Range determination is an art in itself, and whether an external device or shooter judgment is employed, the Hensoldt Wetzlar scope offers minimal target-acquisition time.

Whatever method used, the shooter not wishing to employ hold-over at extreme range needs only to click the elevation to the appropriate distance, hold dead on, and drop the hammer. The elevation adjustment is also marked in a separate set of yellow marks for close-range shooting in the event the sniper is faced with the exception rather than the rule. Ten through 75 yards are marked, making the .308's trajectory a matter of dialing in the numbers.

The scope is equipped with a light, collapsible rubber block to be used in solid contact with the shooter's eyebrow, and the forward lens carries a rubber cap for protection against the elements. Exposing the left side of the telescopic sight will reveal a rubber-coated activator button which illuminates the crosshairs for low-light shooting. Tuning this unit will increase or decrease cross-hair intensity. Once the button is depressed, the crosshairs stay illuminated for approximately two minutes; then the unit turns itself off. The battery pack powering it is located beside the control, and access may be gained easily with a coin or screwdriver. The impressive clarity, design and precision manufacture of the scope is typical of German craftsmanship.

I took the PSG 1 out to the range for testing. At first I felt that the gun should have been capable of far greater accuracy during rapid-fire sequences - but I found that the shooter must learn how to hold the rifle. Pressure placed on wrong parts of the stock, or inconsistent pressure, will cause group variation. Obviously, handloads would have performed better, but even with Federal Match ammo, the out-of-the-box PSG 1 consistently shot less than one minute of angle.

But I was not satisfied with this method of evaluation - this rifle is built for action. Since I couldn't get to Grenada or Lebanon for some serious combat testing, I figured that the next best thing would be to take it in the field hunting. A call to Omega Hunts, Ltd., (P.O. Box 1647, Boulder, CO 80306), put me 10,000 feet up in Colorado's Sangre De Cristo Mountains pursuing Odocoileinus Hemonius - the magnificent mule deer.

Even though it was intended to be used as a position weapon, the 18-pound PSG 1 does, fortunately, come with a sling. And boy, did I use it! Many of us remember the BAR man who carried some 20-odd pounds of gun across many a mile of hard-earned real estate. No one, however, can truly appreciate this man's task until he's actually walked a few days with that much gun.

Camp was already pitched at the 10,000-foot level with wall tents, great food and all the comforts of home. In addition to helpful, friendly guides and cook, all the necessities a hunter needs to support his dawn-'til-dusk search for game was provided. Glassing canyons, thickly wooded hillsides and small openings in trees (the Colorado folk call them parks) becomes an almost comfortable experience when one has a rifle capable of hitting nearly anything visible. Although quick response in close cover becomes laborious, it is more than offset by the gun's accuracy. This "anti-stalk" (or "ridge gun," as my friends began to call it) seemed especially suited to open-terrain areas.

After hunting the first two days and glassing only does, I spotted a buck carefully picking his way down a ravine. The first shot followed the crosshairs to its mark behind the shoulder and staggered him. But he regained his footing, wheeled and started away. The instantaneous follow-up shot brought him down. The two shots struck within inches of each other. I might have missed had I taken the time to work the action on a bolt gun.

Muzzle blast and rearward movement of the gun are major contributors to close misses, but anticipation of recoil is always a factor. The PSG 1 is a chore to carry; it becomes a dream to shoot once in position. Recoil is negligible, and the weapon really stays on target.

Assault rifles and hunting rifles have traditionally been used with little, if any, attention to personalized gun fit. The average grunt cannot have his rifle fitted to him. H&K has incorporated an ingenious adjustable stock into the PSG 1. This stock features a spring-loaded adjustable cheek rest to regulate comb height of the rifle and a variable-length stock which will allow the gun to be fitted to virtually any physique. An adjustable pistol grip on the fire-control handle allows the shooter to fit the ergonomic wooden handle to the size of his hand, enhancing precise control.

A collapsible tripod is included in the case. This well-made unit allows the shooter to crank up elevation, swivel laterally, and cant right and left for comfort and stability. Also included are a cleaning rod, brush for optical sights, screwdriver for adjustments, stock adjustment tool, carry strap and magazines.

If there has been one point all H&K lovers agree on, it's the need to eliminate some of the inherent trigger resistance. Those of us who own and shoot H&K rifles already will be pleasantly surprised with the great progress made on the PSG 1's trigger. The beautiful 3.5-pound-pull trigger will not allow full auto, yet presents the shooter with a real rifleman's trigger. Perhaps the best news of all is the rumor that these trigger units drop right into the 91 and that H&K will bring them in if the demand is there.


by John Metzger

A bunch of the boys were wooping it up in room 313 at the Sahara Hotel. SOF's Fourth Annual Convention was just starting to brew downstairs in the Casino. John Satterwhite was pulling something out of a gun case on the coffee table.

"Like to see the new HK sniper rifle?" he asked. Sure we did. Everyone in the room liked guns. All eyes turned to the large black case on the table. Satterwhite pulled it out. A hush fell across the room. Even the drunkest among us caught himself in mid-stutter and shut up. The convention staff-types, range officers and match shooters filling the room slowly staggered toward this amazing-looking weapon, now propped up on its tripod on the glass table. Everyone picked it up, held it, dry fired it, stared at it and inevitably asked, "how much?"

Satterwhite answered, "Five thousand dollars."

He wasn't kidding. Everyone looked sort of disappointed.

When Satterwhite sent in this story, Brown left a cryptic note scribbled in the margin: "Why does this gun cost so fucking much?" Indeed. Why five thousand dollars? The question ate at me. But about four months later at the S.H.O.T. Show in Dallas I finally got a straight answer right from the H&K people themselves.

"Hey, guys. Why the high price?" I asked the reps at the booth.

"Because it's an HK."

"Ha, ha. No, really?"

Well, they really didn't have an answer.

"It will shoot under one minute of angle out of the box," the reps continued. "The scope alone is worth between $1,200 and $1,500. We gurarantee that the gun will at least equal all manufacturers' accuracy claims." (It is typical of European ammunition manufacturers to market ammo with specific accuracy claims.) Do those answers justify the price?

Five-thousand dollars is a lot of money. But the PSG 1 is a lot of gun. My conclusion? If you are not interested in owning one of the most accurate semiauto .308 sniper rifles in the world, don't buy it.

First published in the May 1984 edition of Soldier of Fortune Magazine