The Desert Eagle .44 Magnum: Practical Or Overkill?

It’s big. No, big is not sufficient; it is massive! Gargantuan, even! It’s the IMI Desert Eagle in .44 Magnum.

Honestly, though, what is this handgun good for? Aside from its ridiculous size, it’s also heavy and ungainly. No one in their right mind would ever carry it concealed, except maybe for Arnold Schwarzenegger. For those curious to see just what this hand cannon is good for, read on and we’ll shed some light on its possible uses.

Man, It’s Big!

That’s what she said! But yeah, it’s a giant pistol. How big? The overall length is 10.75 inches, with a six-inch barrel length (that gives a sight radius of 8.5 inches). Ten-inch barrels are available as options should the shooter desire even more length. The width of the pistol is 1.25 inches, and the height is 6.25 inches. Weight is about 72 ounces.

So yeah, this is not a lightweight. When you hold it, you darn well know you have a serious pistol in your paws.

Operation

The Desert Eagle .44 Magnum is a gas-operated pistol that is fed from an 8-round magazine. The .50 AE version is fed from a 7-round magazine.

The particular pistol that I evaluated is an earlier version, made by Israel Military Industries (as marked on the left side of the receiver). The receiver’s right side is marked, “Magnum Research, Inc. Minneapolis, Minn. Made In Israel.” As I understand it, all Desert Eagles made by Magnum Research are currently made in the USA.

Grip

I have medium hands at best, so I typically prefer pistols with slim grips. Company literature states that the Desert Eagle trigger reach is 2.75 inches. I didn’t measure it, but I’ll take their word for it.

Oddly, though, I didn’t have a difficult time holding this pistol and reaching the trigger. To be honest, I was astonished that it fit my hand at all, given its hulking appearance.

IMI's Desert Eagle in hand.
Even with medium-sized hands, I didn’t have difficulty reaching the slide stop and magazine release. I found the grip to be very comfortable.

While the grip is very thick, it wasn’t anything that I could not manage. Obviously, a ton of thinking and design went into this grip. The shooter doesn’t have to be Lou Ferrigno to actually grip up the piece.

Since I’m talking about the grip, the grip panels were some of the best I’ve ever touched. ?They aren’t hard, but rather a soft, grippy material that lends itself perfectly to obtain a solid, non-slip grip, just as it should be for any firearm. Other manufacturers would do well to check these grips out and copy them!

A large beavertail is included, although I can’t imagine someone with a hand gigantic enough to ride up so high on the grip that they’d experience slide bite. Still, it’s there in the event it’s needed. If nothing else, it adds to the aesthetics of the pistol.

Sights

The sights are adequate, being all-black target sights. And when I say “adequate,” I mean if you intend to shoot white targets with them. For most other targets, especially those in low light, the sights disappear, as do any sights that are all-black. If you plan on shooting black silhouette targets, have fun—the sights simply disappear against the dark background.

I constantly rave about this when handgun makers put plain, black sights on any handgun. Just out of morbid curiosity, it makes me wonder what goes through their mind when they do this.

Controls

Surprisingly, as with the trigger, all controls are relatively easy to reach. The magazine release is right where we’d expect it, located just behind the trigger. Magazines eject positively. As an aside, the magazines are single stack—they pretty much have to be, with such a large round.

Controls for the Desert Eagle.
The controls are well placed, although the safety lever is a bit far up on the receiver.

Slide stop/release is in the standard spot and easy to operate. I’ll mention that dropping the slide on this pistol is an amusing event, as it is a large chunk of metal.

The safety is very high up on the receiver. To take the pistol off safe, the lever is flipped up. My thumb had to do some acrobatics to reach it and activate the safety lever. A nice touch is that they made the safety lever ambidextrous, although no other controls are.

Hunting

Sure, it weighs a lot for a pistol. On the other hand, it’s a lot lighter than carrying a rifle! There’s little doubt as to the effectiveness of the .44 Magnum cartridge in taking medium-sized game such as deer and black bear.

.357 Desert Eagle.
It’s still lighter than carrying a rifle, despite its weight.

These days, a number of states allow semi-automatic firearms to be used for hunting. I happen to live in one of the very few antiquated states (Pennsylvania) that still does not permit centerfire semi-automatic firearms to be used in hunting. Despite the facts proving otherwise, the powers-that-be here believe that hunters will empty the magazine as fast as they can pull the trigger at game animals.

However, hunters in many other states could take advantage of a semi-auto for hunting. It has long been proven that the .44 Magnum is very effective on deer, wild hogs, and other animals. And if I had to defend myself against a hostile bear, a magazine full of eight Magnum loads would certainly be a comfort

.44 Magnum Ballistics

Since we’re talking about Magnum performance, I’ll throw out a few general ballistics here to whet your appetite as to how the .44 performs. Mind you, these are very general, but give an idea of what ballpark the round is in.

  • A 240-grain bullet moves out around 1,250 feet per second. Some loads are hotter, and so will enjoy more velocity. These are from pistol-length barrels. When using longer barrels, velocities generally rise.
  • A 180-grain projectile could reach around 1,500 feet per second, give or take.
  • Some 300-grain rounds could go from 1,150 to 1,300 feet per second, depending on the manufacturer.

Obviously, these are some substantially heavy bullets traveling at considerable speed, at least for handgun rounds. Hand loaders sometimes squeeze even more performance out of these rounds. That’s mostly for revolvers, though, and I’m not sure it would be wise to try to push a gas-operated pistol that hard. Personally, I’d stick with tamer pressures.

Home Defense

Although the Desert Eagle might not be the first firearm many of us would reach for to defend our home, there’s no doubt that it would be effective. That .44 Magnum round packs plenty of power to put home invaders down like a ton of bricks.

Before you laugh at that notion, consider this. While we won’t likely be carrying this pistol around concealed, it’s an easy matter if it’s a nightstand gun, or setting around somewhere in the house in a place of readiness.

Desert Eagle with 8-shot magazine.
The 8+1 capacity is higher than revolvers and the recoil is fairly tame, given its large size.

Especially for people living in rural areas where they don’t have to worry about overpenetration, it might make some sense. I have a family member who lives in bear country, with bears routinely walking right past the back door. Imagine letting the dogs out one night and coming face to face with a black bear weighing 400 pounds (or more).

In such an encounter, I’d prefer to have a rifle to deal with any aggression on the bear’s part. However, the Desert Eagle could be kept next to the door on a counter or table, making it the fastest, handiest thing to grab in an emergency where power is needed.

As far as dealing with two-legged predators, there’s no doubt that it would be effective. This brings me to my next relevant point: Recoil.

Recoil

Such a huge pistol in .44 Magnum would have to have tons of recoil, right?

Nope. It has far, far less than I initially expected. It’s more of a pussycat to shoot than most people are going to expect! I’d honestly compare the recoil to that of some 9mm pistols that I’ve fired.

Jim Davis with the Desert Eagle on the range.
I was pleasantly surprised that the recoil wasn’t at all punishing with the .44 Magnum.

The recoil system, coupled with the heavy weight of the pistol, simply soaks up the recoil/muzzle flip. Follow-up shots are shockingly fast. And you have eight rounds plus one, so the capacity is far higher than revolvers of this caliber.

Those points alone make this a viable home defense pistol in certain circumstances. No, you probably don’t want to use it if you live in an apartment complex. But if your situation is more rural, have at it.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve discussed, there’s more to the Desert Eagle than meets the eye. It’s fun, and can be used for hunting, target shooting, and home defense. It’s easily controllable and manageable. Aside from that, the cool/fun factor is pretty high too.

If you’re in the mood for something a little different and over-the-top, maybe you should check out the Desert Eagle.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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