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The Quick Guide To The Magnum Research Desert Eagle

One of the most iconic handguns of the last 30 years is the Desert Eagle, the absolutely ginormous magnum semi-auto that's been featured in dozens of movies and video games.

Shooting or owning a Desert Eagle has become a big deal to a lot of gun owners, though not without some controversy. Some say it's a gun you buy just so you can say you own one rather than for any practical purpose. Other people actually put theirs to work as a woods gun or hunting handgun, which it can be used for.

Is the gun really up to the hype? Let's talk about that…


The Desert Eagle Was One Of The Few Commercially Successful Semi-Auto Magnums

The Desert Eagle was one of the few instances of a semi-auto magnum pistol that was commercially successful. Not that there haven't been any commercially available; just that few have been commercially viable.

The first of the magnum autoloaders emerged in the 1970s, with pistols like the AMT AutoMag, but only a few managed to stay in constant production of any sort, and almost all of them were ridiculously expensive and chambered proprietary cartridges.

The Desert Eagle could hardly be called economical; MSRP starts north of $1600. However, one of the few things that the "Deagle" had going for it was that the initial models were chambered in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, so ammunition was readily available. The magazine design allows use of rimmed cartridges, which most semi-auto magazines are just not compatible with. In other words, while it was never "affordable," those who could afford one could actually get ammunition for it.

Granted, a few more have come along in the fullness of time, such as the Coonan .357 Magnum pistols and others, but the Desert Eagle was the first to actually make a buck.

Reports Of Desert Eagle Recoil Are Exaggerated...But Not Wrong

Look, any magnum pistol is going to have some kick, but the Desert Eagle is far from uncontrollable in any chambering.

Is it that .50 AE is actually a soft-shooting pussycat? No, and neither is .44 Magnum.

However, it's also the case that it's a 5-lb pistol in its lightest iterations. An extra pound or so of steel tames the kick quite a bit. Think about it like this: shooting full-power .357 Magnum is not a big deal with a Ruger GP100, which is a hoss of a gun. However, shooting a snubby revolver chambered in .357 Magnum is ridiculously unpleasant.

The Desert Eagle Works Like An Upside-Down Rifle

The operating system of the Desert Eagle is basically like an upside-down AK-47.


Okay, so to explain that, the Desert Eagle has a drastically different slide than almost any other firearm, and - as you may have noticed - a non-tilting barrel, which locks into the frame. The slide reciprocates under the barrel. So how does that work?

A gas port at the chamber directs gas through a channel into a gas port below the muzzle. The slide has a piston that fits into the forward gas port. When the pistol is discharged, the gas pressure blows the piston back, compressing the recoil spring and rotating the bolt. The recoil spring returns the slide to battery.

It's almost the exact same way an AK-47 works. When you fire the rifle, the gas block directs exhaust gases into the gas tube. The pressure propels the gas piston and bolt carrier group backward, compressing the recoil spring until it returns the bolt carrier group into battery.

It's a bit different than an AR-15 (the gas tube directly propels the bolt carrier group at the gas key) or a FAL (the gas piston propels the bolt carrier group backward, but isn't part of the BCG) but the Desert Eagle essentially has an upside-down, handheld version of the AK-47 operating system.

While it resembles the Baby Eagle cosmetically, that's where the similarities end.

The Desert Eagle Doesn't Have The Bolt From An AR-15

It is the case that the Desert Eagle has a rotating bolt that looks a heck of a lot like that of an AR-15, but it isn't the bolt from an AR-15. However, it's clearly similar to one as the extractor is almost identical, and has very similar locking lugs although half the number of them.

Granted, they weren't the first to think of it; the AMT AutoMag has/had a similar bolt design. It's for a good reason, though. The AR-15's locking lug design allows for tight lockup without taking up too much space in the receiver.

The Desert Eagle Combo Models Arguably Are The Best Buys

desert eagle

Consider the Desert Eagle combo models if you're going to buy one. The reason is so that you can use multiple calibers. Since you've probably gathered that .50 AE is not always easy or quick to come by, .44 Magnum on the other hand is.

Swap the barrel, and shoot ammo you can actually get. Kind of a slam dunk, right?

However, you can also just buy additional barrels from Magnum Research in any caliber they offer the gun in. Add a .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum barrel to your .50 AE pistol, or any combination thereof. You'll have to get some magazines for it, of course, but it gives you capabilities that other pistols just don't have due to the Desert Eagle's unique design.

Desert Eagle Is Great For Showing Off But Makes A Great Hunting Handgun

Look, the truth is a lot of people get a Desert Eagle because they appreciate it, rather than for a practical purpose of...pretty much any kind...but that doesn't mean it has no practical application. In fact, it makes an incredible platform for handgun hunting.

Besides the available cartridges, there are some other great features for this intended application.

First, many models include a Picatinny or Weaver rail on the top of the pistol. This is ideal for mounting a scope or a red dot. The finish is stainless instead of parkerized or blued, which means it can better stand up to the elements in the field.

Lastly, since the Desert Eagle is a single-action pistol, there's fewer worries of messing up the DA trigger pull, unlike double-action revolvers.

About The Author

Writer sam hoober