Everyone recognizes the Desert Eagle, but the single-shot Lone Eagle is Magnum Research’s other pistol. If you’re old enough to remember cruising the aisles of video rental stores, you’ve probably seen a Lone Eagle or one of it’s lookalikes on the cover of a direct-to-video action movie even if you’ve never heard of it by name. And if you’re too young for that, you probably saw it briefly in the first season of 24. What is this strange gun, and where did it go? . . .
The Lone Eagle is a single-shot pistol intended for silhouette shooting and hunting. It was chambered in a variety of centerfire rifle cartridges from the .22 Hornet through the .30-06 and up to the .358 Winchester and .444 Marlin. There was a lot more interest in handgun hunting and metallic silhouette shooting back in the 1980s and 1990s than there is now, and manufacturers were busy trying to stuff the most improbable rifle cartridges into hunting pistols. The cannon-breeched Lone Eagle was among the more exotic guns of that era.
The Lone Eagle featured a rotary breechblock similar to those found in naval artillery. This design provided enormous strength for the high-intensity rifle cartridges it fired, and provided a more precise and repeatable lockup than the break-barrel design of the Thompson/Center Contender and Encore pistols. It also allowed for a much shorter action than bolt-action pistols like the Remington XP-100.
The rotary breech carried two disadvantages, however. It centers much of the pistol’s weight over the shooter’s wrist, and it contains no self-cocking mechanism. After chambering a cartridge and twisting the breech closed, the shooter had to manually cock the gun using the sidelever at the left front of the grip assembly. The Lone Eagle did have an ejector, which tossed empty cases and unfired live rounds with equal enthusiasm and often right into the shooter’s face.
The Lone Eagle has been out of production for more than ten years. The design was bought by Competitor Arms, which improved the design and added an automatic cocking mechanism. Competitor seems to be all but defunct now, and their website looks like a barely-functional relic from the age of dialup ISPs. The few parts that seem to be available are not compatible with earlier Lone Eagles nor with the SSP-86, another iteration of the same rotary-breech design.
All of these similar firearms were ridiculously overbuilt, and many handgun-hunting enthusiasts still like them for their extreme accuracy. They were never built in great numbers, but very few of them seem to have worn out and there are still some to be found on gun auction sites. Prices start around $500 and go up to over $1,000 if you really must have one.
Would-be hand cannoneers should be prepared for violent recoil, five-foot muzzle flames, and a deafening concussion that requires double hearing protection during shooting and heavy doses of Ibuprofen afterwards. Handloaders can mitigate these problems with lightweight bullets for their calibers, faster-burning powders and moderate velocities.
These kinds of hand cannons are much less popular now than they were twenty or thirty years ago. Perhaps it was a trend that we’ll see again, but I think the industry moved away from them for a reason. There are rifle cartridges that work well in SBRs like the .300 BLK, the 6.5 Grendel or the 6.8 SPC, and there are special subcaliber pistol rounds like the 5.7×28 that work well in PDWs.
But 99% of us don’t have an SBR or a PDW, and for us traditional rifle cartridges perform best in rifles.