Brass Tacks: The Magnum Research Desert Eagle

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Yes, that's real. Magnum Research Desert Eagle + Hornady Custom XTP 50 AE.

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

While available in other calibers, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle really hits its stride with the .50.

While available in other calibers, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle really hits its stride with the .50.

What?

The Desert Eagle 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 Modern Sporting 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.

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

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 What?

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.

The Desert Eagle 50 uses a seven-round, single-stack magazine. I used the red dot for accuracy testing.

The Desert Eagle 50 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.

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.

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

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

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.

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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