There are guns we’ll recommend and there are guns we don’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t like the guns we don’t recommend!
It’s just that some guns are such niche/specialized devices that for the prospective buyer to attain satisfaction, they really need to know what they’re getting into.
“Satisfaction,” at least, means “not being disappointed.” Being thrilled beyond all reason is ideal, of course. It’s not just guns.
There are also trucks, motorcycles and more, where some takes on the “ultimate” expression simply aren’t for everyone.
Desert Eagle pistols are that way.
Desert Eagle History
The Desert Eagle has been around a while now. Along with the ill-fated Automag, the DE was the first reasonably available magnum semi-automatic handgun.
Magnum Research has been at the heart of it all along, but the pistols have been produced in conjunction with a few others along the way, including Sarco and IWI.
The Desert Eagle, including this one here, has been produced by Magnum Research in the USA for the past 10 years.
The one reviewed for this article is a Mark XIX chambered in .50 AE.
Delivering the Power
The .50 AE (Action Express) is far stouter than any other semi-auto handgun round.
The Hornady 300-grain Custom XTP load we used produces a published 1,475 fps velocity and calculates to 1,449 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.
The comparison can’t end there. One reason is because the DE also competes against other pistol powerhouses.
That’s well beyond significant.
Folks, this is a chunk of a gun. Everything about it is big. Using our proven postal scale, weight with a loaded magazine is 84.8 ounces (or 5.3 lbs). Dang.
Holding on target gets to be a chore after a few carefully aimed rounds. Recoil is substantial, but not painful. The gas operation system softens this big round a large amount.
That massive reciprocating mass has a lot to do with it. There’s a lot of weight to move and some energy gets soaked up in the process.
And! Speaking of energy getting soaked up, this next information is very important for a prospective Desert Eagle operator. You best lean in on this one!
I handed the DE (let’s call it that from here on out) over to my son for the first firing go-round.
He has long had a fascination with these guns, and this was his first chance to fire one.
After four tries, Chuck didn’t get more than one consecutive shot away— failures to feed after each retry.
I suggested that he get a stronger hold on it. No difference. I suggested that he really lean in more, get on the balls of his feet, for the next try. Problem solved!
A substantial young man, he doesn’t have to lean in as far as I do to manage recoil and maintain shooting position. But, this wasn’t about managing recoil.
It was about providing a strong enough backing to cycle the slide. In other words, you have to give this gun something to recoil against to ensure cyclic function.
We’ve seen this in other firearms, but not to this extent.
To be clear: it’s not hand pressure (how hard you’re squeezing the pistol grip), it’s making a more unyielding platform out of your body, one that’s better at resisting getting pushed back.
(I recently did an article on The Shooter’s Log about managing big handgun recoil, and everything in that piece applies double to firing a DE.)
Once we got that figured out, the DE was fully functional.
The DE pistol grip is substantial in all directions. That’s not all bad, but that’s not all good. It depends on hand size.
It also helps dissipate some recoil, again, if you can get your hands around it. If not, it’s liable to lever against your fingers.
Trigger function was really spongy, with a good deal of movement in the pivot, but not heavy. The overall effort was just past four pounds.
Best results came by working the trigger as if it were a really short pull double-action and not trying to feel a clean stop prior to the final break.
Mind you, this is technically a single-action trigger. The trigger guard has the popularly squared-off front edge that we don’t like on anything.
It interferes (painfully) with the routine shooting hold, and, of course, that’s us and not you.
The takedown is straightforward, after doing it a couple of times, but it’s more complex than most. There’s a “combo tool” supplied to get enough parts separated to give it a thorough cleaning.
Again, not difficult, just more steps.
Sights are simple. Good, but simple. The front is a sharp, square black post and the rear is a well-proportioned notch on a wide base. No inserts or outlines.
The rear is wind drift-adjustable. Fortunately, our test gun hit right on top of the front sight right out of its plastic carry case.
The safety switch is just wrong and wrong-headed. Neither of us were able to work it without using the support hand.
It’s too high up and flips the wrong direction— “up” is fire, down is “safe.” The magazine release is a small rounded button that neither of us could trip using the shooting hand.
It’s doubtful anyone would consider this gun for USPSA competition, but, on the other hand, it sure goes slowly if you’re ever in a circumstance that requires speed.
There’s about four inches worth of rail on the top of the slide, but nowhere else.
The barrel doesn’t move during action operation. Propellant gases go through a port in the barrel located near the breach.
These move forward through a tube under the barrel to a cylinder near the front of the barrel. The slide acts as the bolt carrier and there’s a small gas piston on the front that fits into this cylinder.
When the gases reach this cylinder, they move the piston rearward. The slide rides on two rails, each with a braided, coil spring around it on either side of the barrel.
There’s a pin inside the camming surface in the rear of the bolt that causes the bolt to rotate and unlock.
A cylindrical “bolt stabilizer assembly” limits bolt rotation coming back and re-establishes correct alignment with the barrel as the slide comes back forward.
All this mostly means that a DE can handle a whopping lot more cartridge pressure than a conventionally engineered semi-auto pistol. Keep it clean!
It gets doggone dirty inside, just like an AR15. The combo tool incorporates a scraper to clean the piston area. Also, keep this thing well-lubricated!
I have never seen a handgun with as much metal-to-metal contact on the slide/frame rails.
Accuracy testing became a chore and therefore didn’t get done for the record. Offhand, from 15-25 yards we had no trouble staying comfortably inside the 3-inch diameter circles we used.
However, we could not get it to function fired off sandbags— it would not feed or slide lock. That’s back to backing it up, and from the usual rest setup we use it just wouldn’t.
Based on experience offhand, though, accuracy seems about as good as any of the big revolvers we use. We don’t question its capacity for perforation.
Seeking for practical applications is a big part of determining the worth of a gun, and that word— practical— is decidedly subjective. Obstacles to that determination?
It’s awfully big to carry around in a holster so we don’t see it as a defensive firearm, and say the same about big revolvers.
It’s not as potent as a big revolver, so we don’t see it as a top choice against an insurgent bear or as the better choice for hunting. Plus, unlike the big revolver, there’s no “little brother” round to fire for casual range-day fun.
Semi-autos all have what’s essentially an ammo power (pressure) range in which they operate, so loading it down makes it unreliable (unless there are spring swaps).
Keep in mind that “big revolver” means the Smith & Wesson X-frame class.
Back to where this started. The DE is a niche pistol. It’s for those who want it for what it is: an extremely powerful semi-auto handgun.
When someone says “I want a powerful handgun…” either of us would steer them toward a big-frame revolver.
We just can’t put the DE in the group of “recommended options” simply because you really have to want one to like one, and the big revolver isn’t really like that.
If you need a very powerful handgun, for whatever reason you deem, a big revolver puts a smaller burden on you.
To put it in a clearer sense: you might not really love the big revolver, but it does what you think it will, which is blast honking holes in whatever you direct it toward, and getting that is as simple as buying the gun.
The narrow operating margin, complexity and cost shoo us away from the DE. But! It was a total blast to shoot! It’s just something that neither of us would want to live with as a go-to.
A Desert Eagle is decidedly not like any other handgun on the planet. Everything about this gun is big and different.
It’s not for everyone, but, for some, there will be no substitute. Hummers are like that too.
[NOTE: I wrote this article with a great deal of help and input from my son, Chuck. He’s won eight straight district and regional championships with precision and sporter-class pistols, and is a firearms enthusiast through and through. Look for more with him soon. — Glen Zediker]
Are you a big gun guy/gal? Let us know why or why not in the comments below.