I was in college the first time I shot a Magnum Research Desert Eagle in .50AE. The slide going into battery sounded like a car door slamming shut. Over the next 20 years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to shoot the Deagle in .50AE, and I’ve taken them all. But don’t think I enjoy shooting the Deagle. I don’t.
The gun’s famous recoil is certainly a handful. But that’s not what keeps me from enjoying the pistol. For one thing, the jumbo-sized gun is difficult to hold comfortably for extended strings of fire. For another, I lose patience with the Deagle’s reliability, or lack thereof. A magazine or two (when possible) and I’m pretty much done.
So when the Israeli-made Desert Eagle .44 Magnum Combo Caliber Package arrived at TTAG HQ, the handgun had a big hill to climb. And lots of hardware with which to do it: .44 Magnum and .50 AE barrels and slides.
There have been years I’ve hunted exclusively with a Ruger Bisley Hunter in .44 Magnum. My Smith & Wesson Model 29-4 is a pig killing machine. I wanted to see what the big-boned Desert Eagle would do with the powerful pistol cartridge. I was especially interested to know if running .44 Mag in the Deagle would make it more enjoyable to shoot.
Again, recoil wasn’t the issue. Even with the stoutest of loads, the .44 Magnum Desert Eagle is perfectly manageable. With softer commercial loads like the American Eagle 240gr JHPs, the Eagle’s muzzle rise is downright minimal. Sure, there’s plenty of felt recoil, but it’s not painful or particularly distracting.
The experience of shooting the Desert Eagle in .44 Magnum is ruined by the hand cannon’s lousy ergonomics.
The Desert Eagle’s grip is designed to accommodate the single stack .50AE magazine. Even a large-handed shooter like me can barely get a decent grip on the thing. And no matter how I held the Deagle, I kept hitting the slide release. Thumbs up, down, floating, crossed . . . whatever. No lock-back for you son!
The giant, stiff, slide-mounted safety is horrible. Taken as a whole, even with the extra muzzle rise, my S&W Model 29 — a full pound and a half lighter — is more pleasant to shoot than the Desert Eagle in the same caliber.
On the positive side, the Deagle’s trigger is more-than-merely adequate. It’s got quite a bit of take-up. There’s a little bit of grit and a small amount of creep before the break. It feels a lot like a mil-spec AR trigger. Once you get used to it, you’ll be rewarded with some excellent accuracy.
Using hand loads that were well past the safe specs for my Model 29, but just within safe for the Thompson Center, I printed 1 1/4-inch five-round groups off a bag at 25 yards. Using commercial Federal Hydrashock 240gr JHPs, I shot 1.8-inch groups at the same distance. That’s excellent, better than most of my revolvers.
That impressive accuracy doesn’t make up for an almost complete lack of reliability. While the .50AE Deagle was never perfect, it was never like this. Using six different commercial loads and one hand load, I rarely made it though a magazine without a failure to feed.
The gun ships with one magazine for .44 Magnum, so that may have been the culprit. I’ve also heard the .44 Magnum version requires stout loads to cycle; many commercial loads won’t git ‘er done. The stoutest rounds I could find often wouldn’t return the gun to battery.
Just to be sure, I made up some hand loads that went past what’s safe for most revolvers and into the section of the Hornady reloading manual reserved for the Thompson Center single shot pistols.
Twenty-five grains of H110 is a good amount of pressure. Even that failed to reliably cycle the Deagle. After 150 rounds of testing, struggling with a constantly malfunctioning gun, I figured I had a reasonable idea of the gun’s reliability. Such as it isn’t.
Swapping slides from .44 to .50AE couldn’t be easier. It’s a simple task that takes less than a minute. While the change doesn’t get rid of the Desert Eagle’s inherent ergonomic challenges, it changed the pistol’s reliability entirely.
Yes, the .50AE requires a very firm grip. Any limp-wristing will induce a failure to feed. But as long as you hold the Deagle in a death grip and keep your wrists locked, the .50 cal version of the pistol will run reasonably well.
I had a couple of failures to feed on the first magazine. After a liberal dose of Rouge American Apparel’s Gun Oil one hundred rounds of Federal’s 325gr RNFP Big Grains ammo ran flawlessly. I had two failures to feed out of 40 rounds of Hornady 300gr XTP.
I spread my shooting out over a week; the effort required to shoot the Deagle in .50AE got old at roughly 60 rounds. Although not perfect, I’m calling the reliability decent — and a vast improvement over the same gun in .44 Magnum.
Despite upping the energy, the big bore Desert Eagle retained the same level of accuracy as the .44 Magnum. The Hornady round printed 1.5-inch five-round groups at 25 yards. The Federal rounds were all just barely under the 2-inch mark as well.
In .50AE, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle pistol is a fascinating firearm. (Click here for Ralph’s article on the gun’s engineering.) In .44 Magnum, it’s simply not worth putting up with the Deagle’s dreadful ergonomics. The utter lack of reliability when shooting Dirty Harry’s favorite caliber turn a worthy gun into a firearm-shaped boat anchor.
SPECIFICATIONS: Desert Eagle Mark XIX .44 Magnum/.50 AE
Action: Gas-operated, rotating bolt semiautomatic
Caliber: .44 MAGNUM/.50AE
Barrel Length: 6 inches
Barrel Length: 7.2 inches
Overall Length: 10.75” / 27.3 cm 10.75” / 27.3 cm 10.75” / 27.3 cm
Height: 6.25 inches
Slide Width: 1.25 inches
Finish: Black oxide
Trigger: Single action, approx. 4 lb. pull Single action
Trigger Reach: 2.75 inches
Sight Radius: 8.5 inches
Sights: Combat type
Weight: 4 lbs. 12 oz. empty
Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Appearance: * * * *
Iconic. The Desert Eagle is known throughout the world and is as recognizable as any pistol made. But it’s a pure show off gun, with zero uses that aren’t outclassed by other guns. As such, they should all be gold plated, Kryptek cammo’d or, well, you get the picture.
Reliability: Zero/* * *
In .44 Magnum, it’s not. In .50AE, not bad at all.
Accuracy: * * * *
Commercial rounds in either of the two included calibers delivers good bench rest accuracy. With .44 Magnum hand loads at the extreme end, it gets even better.
Overall: * /* * *
Although the accuracy is great, the .44 Magnum lack of reliability kills any joy you might get from this range toy. The relatively minor reliability issues in this niche gun are acceptable in .50AE, but not worth tolerating in .44 Magnum.