Brass Tacks: The Magnum Research Desert Eagle 50

When you think of “big” handguns, it’s hard not to mention the Magnum Research Desert Eagle 50 AE. I’ve been tinkering with one, and here’s the downlow. 

Deagle .50
While available in other calibers, the .50 AE cartridge allows the Magnum Research Desert Eagle 50 AE to really hit its stride.

Desert Eagle 50 AE: What?

The Desert Eagle 50 AE is a semi-automatic pistol that operates more like a rifle. The barrel is fixed – it doesn’t move during recoil. This allows the “Deagle” to have a top rail over the barrel. There is a slide that contains a rotating bolt system sort of like those on AR series rifles. Also, like those, the system is gas-operated. All of this manages the power of the 50 AE round and creates a workable semi-automatic design.

50 Auto Express cartridges compared to 9mm cases.
A couple of 50 Auto Express cartridges next to 9mm cases for scale.

The Hornady Custom 50AE cartridges are enormous, almost 1.6 inches tall. It would leave a mark if someone threw one at you. Due to cartridge size, the single-stack magazine only holds seven rounds. The ambidextrous safeties allow you to safely carry one in the chamber for a total capacity of eight.

So it’s .50 AE: So What? Why Not?

This pistol falls squarely into the category of… why not? Some people like sports cars, others trucks, others still those ones that ride low and bounce. It’s the same with handguns I suppose.

A version of Jack Reacher's Desert Eagle
The Desert Eagle 50 AE uses a seven-round, single-stack magazine. I used the red dot for accuracy testing.

The Desert Eagle is all about big. I have size large hands and it’s hard for me to get a proper grip. I can reach the trigger with ease, but let’s just say there’s lots of exposed grip on the support side. Flipping the frame-mounted safety up to fire is doable with the firing hand, but it’s a stretch. When you do reach the safeties, they feel heavy and industrial, consistent with the overall “big” everything theme.

Deagle Desert Eagle .50 AE
Look familiar? The Desert Eagle is gas operated and used a rotating bolt like modern sporting rifles.

As for power, it’s not the most powerful handgun when compared to calibers like 500 S&W and 460 S&W Magnum. It’s in the same ballpark as 475 Linebaugh with just shy of 1,500 foot-pounds. That’s more than a standard 5.56mm round but less than the 2,800 of a .30-06 rifle.

50AE Auto Express Desert Eagle Round
This Desert Eagle round might not be the most powerful handgun cartridge available, but it’s certainly no varmint round.
.50AE Desert Eagle Round
Deagle bullets in .50 AE next to 9mm casings for comparison.

How does it feel to shoot? The picture here tells a thousand words, but let’s just say it’ll wake you up in the morning! It didn’t inflict real pain with every shot, but after shooting some groups my hands were somewhat red from the repeated recoil. If you hold on tight, it’s still gonna muzzle flip, but not uncontrollably so. As for dual-wielding with one in each hand like the movies?

Umm, no.

Deagle .50 caliber pistol
Yes, that’s real. Magnum Research Desert Eagle + Hornady Custom XTP 50 AE. This sort of display is one of the reasons the Deagle is so popular in movies and games.

Deagle .50 magazine

This article originally ran in May of 2018. 

Tom McHale is a committed learning junkie always seeking a new subject victim. As a lifelong student of whatever grabs his attention on any particular day, he thrives on beating rabbit trails into submission. In between his time as a high-tech marketing executive, restaurant owner, and hamster cosmetology practitioner, he's published seven books and nearly 1,500 articles about guns, shooting, and the American way.

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