The Desert Eagle .50AE

by Dick Williams

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" efficiency.

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 might try.

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 loads.

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 Africa.

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 collection.

First published in the May 2001 edition of Guns magazine

Pistol unloaded 66.5 oz
Magazine, empty 4.5 oz
Overall legth 10.6 in
Overall height 5.90 in
Overall width 1.26 in
Trigger reach 2.76 in
Mechanical Features
Method of operation Gas-operated rotating bolt
Method of feeding Box magazine (7 rd. capacity)
Length 6.34 in
Rifling R.H. 6-rib polygonal, 1 turn in 19 in
Caliber .50 Action Express
Type Soft point and hollow point
Type Combat, front and rear driftable for windage
Sight Radius 8.50 in