Nikonov graduated from technical school in 1968. He started work at Izhmash in the Department of the Chief Arms Designer. His first position was as a technician.
In technical school, Nikonov became obsessed with underwater rifles. He won his first professional recognition by designing a trigger mechanism for an underwater rifle.
At Izhmash, he took evening classes. In 1975 he graduated from the Izhevsk Mechanical Institute certified as a gun engineer.
It is said that his high quality and quantity of work helped him advance to higher positions at work.
He designed various rifles, including air guns and sporting firearms. One of the most praised was the stylish, accurate "Izjubr" (Buck Deer) carbine - a limited edition luxury weapon.
Nikonov was appointed as a senior project engineer to design single-shot bolt action rifles and fully automatic weapons. In this assignment he patented a number of mechanisms and components. One of the most significant was the "straight-pull bolt," first used in a winter biathlon target rifle.