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.

Nope.

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
MSRP: $1,949

 

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.

42 Responses to Gun Review: Desert Eagle .44 Magnum/.50AE Combo Caliber Package

    • I’ve shot many a big bore pistol. The .460SW out of the X frame is stout. The 50AE from the Deagle is stout. The .475 Linebaugh from a Bisley frame is downright violent. But from a revolver easily worn on the hip, there is no better long range punch press on earth.

  1. I do not understand why anyone would choose a Desert Eagle in .44Mag. Even if the gun was reliable in .44Mag, it’s waaaay too much gun for that round.

    A .50AE Deagle is fun but silly. A .44Mag Deagle is just silly.

  2. I suspect that Hollywood has near single handedly saved this firearm from extinction. Interesting review, as said I think I’d love to shoot a few rounds from one but have no inclination to own one.

    • Hollywood’s portrayal of B rated thugs is what keeps this gun alive. I’ve noticed lately that street thugs seem to all carry Deagles while bosses carry something smaller and classier.

      • If I had thugs carrying around a tank like a DE they may as well stuff a Shockwave in their pants or something. More reliable, not that fewer rounds and more fire power. Just saying. Not that I have thugs or anything.

  3. Thanks for the review.

    For that price, you could purchase two Smith and Wesson large frame revolvers … or THREE Taurus large frame revolvers!

    I would take two or three revolvers over that monstrosity every time.

    • You may be a bit over that price but I think you could get a 327 and 329 for that if you got a good deal.

  4. My father has a Deagle in .357. He bought it used and has never had a failure of any kind with it. Perhaps he got lucky, but I know a lot of guns get better with use. Perhaps the previous owner had lots of failures until the gun smoothed out.

    • I suspect that being used, the springs had softened a bit and probably became more reliable.

    • The lack of reliablity could be due to the fact that IMI no longer produces the DEAGLE and it was sold to KHAR who is of a mixed reputation when it comes to quality.

      • Since 2009 the Desert Eagle Pistol has been produced in the USA at MRI’s Pillager, MN facility. They are made under Magnum research’s supervision for what that’s worth.

  5. Trying to get a rimmed case that was never designed for an auto loading action is a fools errand. Many will try but few will succeed. There are are only a handful of actions out there that will run 22LR reliably and even then most of those need the right kind of ammo. They won’t run subsonics or shitty bulk ammo.

  6. I’m surprised anyone would be interested in that big .50 AE round anyway. We all know that it won’t even penetrate a book. Oh – maybe it can….

  7. Why would anyone go with a 44 mag version? That’s all we have (As a starting point) in People’s Republic CA. 50 AE is only available as a conversion option.

    I’ve shot the 44 Mag version before. It does have reliability issues, but if you handload stout enough rounds — and if you don’t limp wrist, you can run it 90% of the time reliably. I’ve not had any feeding issues, I’ve only had the slide not go fully into battery (probably the loads weren’t “hot enough” heh), but you just have to push the slide forward a little to fix that. Annoying yes, but no one considers this a practical self defense pistol of any sort (unless self defense against bears? dunno).

    I will say this though, I’ve found DEs quite entertaining and fun to shoot, far more than 44 mag revolvers. Hot loads in a S&W 29 were not pleasant for me. Hot loads through a deagle? Well that was manageable, and I felt like my man card was reissued. Just something about the concussive blast and fireballs from H110 that bring a smile to my face.

    • I will say the Freedom Munitions .44 rounds didn’t fully cycle the Deagle XIX a single time. PMC hollow-points were generally powerful enough.

  8. Still wish there would be a semi auto in 41mag…like an Auto Mag from “Sudden Impact”

    • iwi made the series vll in .41mag. they show up on gbroker.

      my xll is .44mag. always comes with, always satisfies. it does need an occasional tap to close. with warne steel .22 rings a scope can be mounted, because it needs to be heavier. (the old ones have 3/8″ rail…).

      big fun, relatively useless, accurate. and cheap back when i bought it, about $650 in ’90, new.

    • Auto Mags weren’t .44 magnum, they were .44 AMP. Supposedly there was a .41 JMP round, but I’ve never seen one.

  9. Im sorry, i know its hard to sue a firearm company StateSide™ but if a weapon isnt reliable whoever makes it should be made to suffer in civil courts of law for malpractice.

  10. I shot Desert Eagles my buddies had when they first came out. One in .357, then the “new” .44. Both shot well. I recall several of us taking turns at a big gravel pit in the PNW, hitting a beer keg at 100m, two-handed standing. If we had failures to feed, I don’t recall them. I wonder if a large part of the .44 issues are from being in a “.50 AE pistol”. I preferred the .357 over the .44, but both were enjoyable. The only drawback was that they were pricey range toys, but they worked and were fun to shoot – back then.

  11. I have an older Mark VII 44 Magnum made in Israel. It has run flawlessly using American Eagle AE44A ammo. It’s a fun range toy.

    • I once owned a .357 DE, and two of my buddies had .44 models (this was the late 80, early 90s). They all ran flawlessly when using Federal jacketed magnum ammo in the appropriate caliber. Mine would almost stack the brass in a small pile at 4:00, just behind my right shoulder, about 4 feet out.

      Mine would not run very lightweight bullets (110 gr), but 125 gr on up were no problem. The .44s would even run Federal’s 180 JHP with no problem, and the effect of that bullet on water-filled one-gallon jugs was…spectacular.

  12. I definitely agree on the ergos – they’re terrible. A 460 XVR fits my medium-sized hands nicely.

  13. My original DE in .44 and .41 has no issues. Maybe the issues come from designing something to handle the .50AE. Never have shot one of those, have a S&W .460 and that’s another whole level of power.

    Shot my first deer (some 30 years ago) with the DE using the 14″ barrel. Shot him dead in the chest – no angle offered, he was looking right at me – offhand at 80Y. Then discovered it was pretty tough to load a deer weighing more than I do (I’m 150) into an Explorer alone. Learned what the expression “dead weight” means. I now keep a block and tackle rig in the Expedition every day of the season, and I’m up to about version 1.6 of the rig.

    • Many years ago I shot a doe and she jumped right off a cliff. I had to go down, strap her to my back, and carry her back up it. When I got to the top, exhausted, my uncle, knowing that I was about to enter the army to become a medic, asked me if I had learned anything about carrying someone uphill during that little adventure.
      I said I had. “Gut them first.”

  14. I know this has nothing to do with the Desert Eagle(unless you buy a holster for one). But, El Paso Saddlery is having 20% off until July 9th. The Coupon Code is: “2017July4”. Just thought I would let people know.

  15. Desert Eagles have strict requirements for ammo choices in every caliber. D.E. guns are not reliable with other ammo,and D.E. has said so for many years. I don’t see any mention of the author’s cooperation with these strict instructions in the article.
    The list of approved ammo should be in the owner’s manual, and is also available on the company website.
    It’s a bit hard-to-find this ammo list there,to be fair. As a non-D.E.owner,I’ve found it’s easier to get the approved ammo list by using search engines (“Googling”)..

    • “I don’t see any mention of the author’s cooperation with these strict instructions in the article.”
      Mostly because those strict instruction do not exist. In fact, from the manual, which is posted on the Magnum Research website here: http://www.magnumresearch.com/Brochures-Manuals.asp

      On page 5 it gives us a short note to tell us only to use rounds within SAAMI spec:
      The Desert Eagle pistols
      are designed for: .357 Magnum ammunition
      (158 grains), .44 Magnum ammunition (240
      grains), and .50 Action Express ammunition
      (300/350 grains), in accordance with industry
      standards (SAAMI STD).,

      It tells us to never use hand loads, and then later gives us this warning on page 26. :

      2. Use only the highest quality factory
      ammunition. Avoid reloads, surplus and
      budget priced ammunition as well as any
      ammunition designed by its manufacturer
      for use in carbines or other shoulder-fired
      firearms. At times, a particular model of
      handgun will not reliably function with a
      specific brand or loading of ammunition.
      Selected ammunition should be test fired (100
      round minimum) to ensure reliability.
      Also, ammunition manufacturers can
      make changes to their ammunition such as
      substituting a different powder or primer.
      Consequently, ammunition which proved
      reliable in the past may suddenly begin to
      cause malfunctions. Inspect all ammunition
      for visible defects before loading it into the
      magazine.

      At no point is there an approved ammunition list or any kind of “strict instructions”.

      • Good and thoughtful reply which shows real effort. I have gotten that info in the past and archived it, so here, for the readers, it is, and I’ll paste it into a new COMMENT as well:
        I have a spreadsheet that I got off the D.E. website in June, 2016, and it recommends these rounds:

        Am Eagle AE44A
        Fed Classic C44A
        Magtech 44A & 44C
        PMC Starfire 44SFA
        ‘ ‘ 44C
        ‘ ‘ 44D (Target ammo)
        Precison Tgt TCSP
        Remington RH44MGA, RTP44MG2, RTP44MG3,
        L44MG7
        Winchester X44MHSP2

        One magazine’s test got good reliability from PMC ammo and awful results with most Hornady rounds, but good results with some Hornady ammo:
        https://tacticalgunreview.com/desert-eagle-44-mag/

  16. I always compare the grip on the Deagle to my mom’s meat loaf.

    I’ve only shot the .50AE version but I found it not worth the effort. “Decent” reliability isn’t enough for me. .44mag revolvers are more fun, and my .500 S&W satisfies the urge for abusive recoil when it arises.

  17. Your money. Your choice. But I see nothing that an unreliable, overweight Deagle can do that a decent .44 mag revolver can’t do better.

  18. Owned many many handguns over the last 40 years and the”Deagle” waz the worst of the lot. Even worse than a Keltec and 2 Tauruses. The trigger was so bad right out of the box, i never fired a shot. Bought it at an estate sale new in the box. Sold it the same week i bought it and made money. They are probably the coolest looking pistols on the planet but thats about it.

  19. AMMO RECOMMENDATIONS:
    I have a spreadsheet that I got off the D.E. website in June, 2016, and it recommends these rounds:

    Am Eagle AE44A
    Fed Classic C44A
    Magtech 44A & 44C
    PMC Starfire 44SFA
    ‘ ‘ 44C
    ‘ ‘ 44D (Target ammo)
    Precison Tgt TCSP
    Remington RH44MGA, RTP44MG2, RTP44MG3,
    L44MG7
    Winchester X44MHSP2

    One magazine’s test got good reliability from PMC ammo and awful results with most Hornady rounds, but good results with some Hornady ammo:
    https://tacticalgunreview.com/desert-eagle-44-mag/

    • Mr. Crawford, thank you for the listing. Some of those rounds were tried, specifically the PMC and American Eagle rounds. They did not work well.
      I did as you recommended, I did a series of Google searches for recommended ammunition. Although I found several varying lists, none were from IMI, Kahr, or Magnum Research. That is, none of them were found on their websites, or pointed to their websites. The websites for Desert Eagle, or Magnum Research all say the same thing, basically try out whatever you can, and some will work and some won’t. Their current manual would actually contradict any list of ammunition, as it specifically says, “Consequently, ammunition which proved reliable in the past may suddenly begin to cause malfunctions.” This is not only what the current manual says, but also what is still listed in the Q&A section of their website, which states, “We do suggest trying as many commercial, manufactured, semi-jacketed Magnum cartridges as possible and see which one works the best for you and your pistol.”
      http://www.magnumresearch.com/faq-DE.asp#q8
      Thank you for your comment and your assistance.

  20. My problem is the free floating magazine. If my hands are too low, one touches the magazine and causes a malfunction. If they’re too high, I get slide bite. It’s too little Goldielocks area for me.

  21. A DE50 is one of my favorite guns to shoot. Even over a 629. It’s like having an exotic car. Yes a Camry is a lot more cost effective, practical, ergonomic, and reliable – but theres a time and a place to just stir things up a bit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *