Now, I have to admit that I never was much of a fan of the Desert Eagle. And most of you regular readers of Shooting Times know that I have always had a penchant for traditional handguns (1911s, DA and SA revolvers, and such), so a gold, tiger-striped, mammoth hand cannon is just about the last thing I wanted to shoot. But that’s the newest version of the Desert Eagle, and I have to be honest here, after unpacking the new pistol, the more I handled this big, flashy boomer, the more excited I got about taking it out and shooting the heck out of it. So, even if this isn’t your usual interest in handguns, give this report a read. You just might find yourself giving the big Desert Eagle its due.
The current Desert Eagle is called the Mark XIX. Prior models included the Mark I and the Mark VII. All versions are gas operated, and unlike the barrels of recoil-operated semiautos, Desert Eagle barrels are fixed. Here’s a simplified explanation of how the pistol operates:
Upon firing, once the bullet has passed a gas port located near the breech, gases travel through a tube under the barrel and pass to a piston that’s fixed at the front of the slide. The gases force the piston to push the slide assembly toward the rear, unlocking the pistol’s rotating bolt. At this point the extractor removes the fired case, and a spring-loaded ejector throws it out to the right.
The slide assembly is returned to battery via a dual captive recoil spring assembly, stripping a new round from the magazine and chambering it. The bolt then interlocks with the barrel for firing. As you can see in the accompanying photo, the bolt looks like one from a tactical rifle, and you can see how its lugs mate with the corresponding mortises in the chamber end of the barrel.
The trigger mechanism is single action, and it is a two-stage trigger.
Some of the Desert Eagle’s other features include an ambidextrous thumb safety that blocks the firing pin and disconnects the trigger, chrome-plated chamber, combat-style trigger guard to facilitate two-handed shooting, combat-style fixed sights, and an integral optics-ready Picatinny rail. The review sample came with a 6-inch barrel, but you can also get a 10-inch barrel if you prefer. The 6-inch-barreled version weighs 70 ounces and is 10.75 inches long overall. Magazine capacity is seven rounds of .50 AE ammo.
Some of the optional finishes available are black, brushed chrome, matte chrome, polished chrome, bright nickel, satin nickel, 24K gold, titanium gold, and titanium gold with tiger stripes in .50. You can get some of the models with a muzzle brake. Other caliber options are .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum.
The .50 Action Express has a rebated rim that is the same dimensions as the case head of the .44 Mag. (.460 inches in diameter), but its body is big enough to hold .500-inch bullets. The .50 AE was designed to fit specifically in the Desert Eagle auto pistol back in the late 1980s, and it was “domesticated” by CCI-Speer and offered as a commercial round in 1991. Today, Hornady also produces factory ammo.
The cartridge’s originator was Evan Whilden, and it was created to drop metallic silhouette targets and big game in its tracks. Original ammo was loaded with .510-inch bullets, but production pistols now require .500-inch bullets. Industry maximum pressure is 35,000 psi, and velocities of factory ammunition generally run around 1,475 for 300-grain loadings and 1,400 fps for 350-grain offerings. At those speeds, the big .50 AE auto pistol cartridge has as much downrange energy at 100 yards as a typical .44 Mag. load does at the muzzle.
25 Yards, 1.5 Inches
The Shooting Results
The heart of every Shooting Times gun review is the shooting session. When we, the in-house editors, decided to do this article, the first question we asked was, “Who’s going to do the article?” I have to believe it was a veiled attempt to actually figure out who wasn’t going to do the shooting, and it kind of lingered unanswered for several days. During those days, I had the big .50 pistol out on my desk, and I handled it and considered it from every point of view that I could think of. Initially, I was somewhat reluctant to do the shooting, but I slowly came around to actually wanting to shoot it. And so that’s how I decided to do the article myself.
I have to say I actually enjoyed shooting the brute.
At slightly more than 4 pounds in weight, the big machine really isn’t awful in terms of recoil. Calculated recoil of the factory loads I fired was about 24 ft-lbs. That’s just about 2 ft-lbs more than the .44 Mag. loaded with 300-grain bullets at a muzzle velocity of 1,150 fps. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on making the .50 AE Desert Eagle my plinking pistol, and I sure won’t be spending hours shooting lots of handloads with it either. I’m just saying that it isn’t as punishing as some of you might think it is. MRI does provide some good guidelines for how to shoot the .50-caliber pistol, and I suggest you follow them.
While the gun is oversized for my medium-sized hands, I found it to be kind of fun to shoot. Though I only went through a couple of boxes each of the two factory loads I was able to get my hands on for this report (about 80 rounds total), I think I could have easily fired a couple more if I’d had them.
Accuracy-wise, the two factory loads (300-grain XTP and 350-grain JSP) were pretty good at 25 yards. Both averaged less than 3.50 inches, which beats the standard for off-the-shelf handguns by a good margin. My single best five-shot group measured an easy 1.5 inches, and it came with the 300-grain loading. The smooth trigger pull (7 pounds, as tested) obviously contributed to those good results. This is a two-stage trigger, so there is a fair amount of “take-up,” but on the sample gun it was consistent. By the way, for the accuracy shooting, I mounted a Bushnell 2-6X Elite handgun scope, but I also shot a few five-round groups with the factory sights, and I did pretty well. That was more of a test of my old eyes than the pistol.
And just for the record, I didn’t have a single misfeed or failure to eject during the entire shooting session.
Were I to buy a Desert Eagle, I do believe I’d pick the .50 AE chambering, but as distinctive—and well done—as the gold tiger-striped finish is on this new version, I think I’d go for the black finish. I’m not a flashy kind of guy, and so I prefer the low-key black finish—as if any version of the Desert Eagle could be considered low key.
Low key it is not, but extremely well designed and well built it is. The Desert Eagle is a unique firearm in some ways (size, styling, and potency), and in other ways—the ways that really matter to Shooting Times readers (well built, reliable and accurate)—it’s what serious gun guys demand.