Magnum Research's Desert Eagle has returned home.
The big bird was briefly made at Saco Defense in Maine
when Magnum Research was looking at other manufacturers
besides the original maker, Israeli Military Industries.
But when Saco was sold and the company subsequently
committed to defense products, the Eagle retumed to
the Israeli factory. The new gun features a few
improvements while keeping the best of the original.
When examining the Desert Eagle, it is most appropriate
to consider the flagship of the line, the 50 AE. A muzzle
view of an Eagle in any caliber demands attention and
respect just from the massive metal trapezoid presented,
but when you see a 1/2" diameter hole staring out of
all that steel, it is truly hypnotic, even when you can't
see the large hollowpoint contained in the 325 gr. bullet.
A Gun With Style
Depending on customer specifications, the overall color
and finish of an Eagle can vary greatly. The standard
factory offering is entirely matte black. If you plan to
shoot the gun a lot, then the dull black factory finish
may be the best choice, since any wear, bumps or dings
simply add to its overall impression of "work horse"
If you want a bit more showmanship, or if you live in
a maritime environment with attendant humidity, one
of the hard chrome finishes - either polished or satin
nickel - might be best. Magnum Research's Custom
Shop also offers options in titanium and 24 karat gold.
The gun is also available in a polished deep blue.
The current Eagle is the Mark XIX. One of its best
features is the interchangeability of barrels on the
same frame - not just barrels of different lengths,
but also barrels of different calibers. Calibers .50
AE, .44 Mag. and .440 Cor-Bon all use cartridge cases
with the same size rim, so they can all use the same
bolt. Pop off one barrel, pop on the other, and you're
ready to fire.
You can also install a .357 Mag. barrel, but this requires
a bolt change to accomodate the smaller rim. Not
a big deal, but not quite the five-second caliber change
you can achieve with the others. [A magazine change
is also necessary as you swap calibers, except in the
case of a conversion between .50 AE and .440 Cor-Bon,
both of which use the same magazine.] A word of
caution, however - the Mark XIX frame must only be
used with new, Mark XIX barrels. Do not install barrels
from an older Desert Eagle.
The secret that allows using the same frame for different
caliber barrels is the size of the gas port in the barrel,
which regulates propellant gases used to cycle the gun.
The gas genrerated when the cartridge is fired flows
through the port and along a channel beneath the barrel.
At the end of the channel, it pushes against a small piston
attached to the slide and drives the slide rearward. As
the slide starts to move (this doesn't occur until the bullet
has cleared the muzzle), the bolt rotates, unlocks and
moves rearward, ejecting the empty shell.
When the slide starts moving forward, the bolt picks up
a new round from the magazine and pushes it forward
into the chamber. At the end of its forward motion, the
bolt rotates and locks behind the chambered round.
Presto, ready to fire again!
Ports, Flutes & Other Good Features
You can't see the difference in size of the gas portholes
in the barrel, but the differences in external configuration
of various caliber barrels are instantly visible. The barrel
flutes vary in size for different calibers and barrel lengths,
and perform a couple of functions. Primarily (and most
obviously), they affect the weight balance and dynamics
of the overall gun. Additionally, barrel flutes facilitate
cooling, and when the Eagle is shot repeatedly in the
course of an afternoon, it really heats up.
For the most part, the Eagle's good features have not
changed. All guns still have the mirror-smooth polygonal
rifling that produces such fine accuracy with jacketed
bullets. Cast bullets should not be fired in the Desert
Eagles due to the possibility of clogging the gas port
with a lead particle - a problem that requires factory
attention to cure.
The trigger pull is adjustable, and the factory sights
are the same large, black, rugged, dovetailed,
non-adjustable, highly visible square rear sight notch
and ramped front blade that have been around for
awhile. If you can't zero your favorite load, Millet
makes adjustable sights specifically for the Eagle.
The adjustable trigger dates back to the Mark VII,
and the fixed sights have been on the guns even longer.
Grips are hard, lightly pebbled plastic and are extremely
tough while being relative thin. The extemal edges
of the gun are smooth and "user friendly." Unless you
have small hands, the gun's ergonomics are good.
Considering the size of the cartridges chambered for
the Desert Eagle, there's not much shrinking that can
be done on the grip; it has to house a magazine filled
with.44 Mag. and .50 AE ammo.
A Case In Your Face
Given the Eagle's heavy-recoiling calibers and its
gas-operated rotary bolt system, the big bore semiautos
do generate a lot of torque when the gun is fired
and tries to move both vertically and rotationally
in the horizontal plane. Sometimes the .50 AE and
.440 Cor-Bon rotate enough to eject empty cases
into the shooter's face rather than high and off to
the side like the .44 and .357 Magnums. If you have
this problem, there are some different things you
First, and least expensive in terms of hardware
modification, is to install Hogue finger-groove rubber
grips. The grooves may allow you to control the
torque sufficiently so that the gun doesn't rotate
and send the empties to smack you in the face.
Another suggestion that vastly enhances the joy of
shooting any heavy-recoiling gun is to have the gun
ported by Mag-na-port International. The redirected
gas flow reduces muzzle movement and felt recoil.
If you're a handloader, you can simply reduce your
loads to about 1,200 fps, perhaps even lower if you
prefer. You'll still be getting thunderous performance
and stimulating therapy, while exerting much greater
control over the gun's movement during recoil.
A change in technique that works for us when shooting
off-hand is to modify the two-handed grip used for
the heavier loads from the usual relaxed overlap,
deliberately wrapping the weak-hand index finger
around the squared front of the trigger guard. This
minimizes rotation, allowing empty brass to eject high
and right of the shooter's face. Since this is not our
natural preferred style, however, we tend to get
slightly larger groups.
The Eagle Flies
The heaviest-recoiling factory load tested was
Magnum Research's 300 gr. JHP at 1,422 fps; The
gentlest load was Magnum Research's 350 gr. bullet
at 1,209 fps.
We were not struck by ejecting brass when testing
any of the factory loads off sandbags with the scoped
Eagle. The gun was equipped with Leupold 2x pistol
scope and see-through Weaver rings that clamped
directly onto the integral rib located on top of the
barrel. The quick, easy on-off capability of the
Weaver rings is handy when changing from glass
to iron sights.
Certainly, the added weight of scope and rings helped,
as did the act of pushing the front of the trigger guard
into the sandbags to steady the gun and help resist
rotation. By not having to support the weight of the
gun, the shooter was able to increase grip pressure
of the left hand to minimize post-firing movement,
while allowing the right hand to remain relaxed and
exert a steady trigger pull. Try different things if
you're having problems until you find something that
works for you.
There is a fair sample of .50 AE factory ammo currently
available. Under the Magnum Research logo, there is
a hot 300 gr. JHP and a 350 gr. JSP. From Samson,
there are two loads featuring a 300 gr. bullet, one a
JHP and the other a JSR We used only the 300 gr. JSP
Speer offers just one load, the "in between" 325 gr.
Gold Dot HP. The only factory round we've hunted
with is the Speer 325 gr. Gold Dot, but it did a marvelous
job on game ranging from Impala to Eland in South
For the .50 AE handloader, alas, only the Speer 325 gr.
Gold Dot JHP bullet is available, which is not too bad
considering how well it worked in the field. The good
news is that all the classic slow-burning powders
such as Hodgdon 110, Winchester 296, Accurate #9,
and Alliant 2400 work quite well in the .50 AE.
If you can find one of the bullet casters who makes
an inexpensive copper-plated .50 caliber bullet, give
it a try, but we haven't located such a source.
Barrel twist rate on the new .50 AE Mark XIX is 1:19".
Since this is the same as previous model Eagles, any
handloads developed on an earlier .50 AE should work
well in one of the newer models as long as you remain
below the suggested maximums in the manuals.
Shooting a .50 AE Desert Eagle is an enjoyable
experience not soon forgotten. We highly recommend
this pistol as a worthy addition to any modern gun
First published in the May 2001 edition of