Black Rifles & Tactical Guns

A Kinder, Gentler Brutal Beast

By John Connor, GUNS Magazine

About a year ago I ran across an international marketing survey listing the most-recognized products, corporate logos and other trade symbols including everything from soft drinks and cars to perfume bottles and snack foods. I flipped through most of it, but a small section on firearms got my attention. It was no surprise the silhouette of an AK was the most recognized rifle, edging out the outline of an M16 by a few points. And the world’s most recognized and identified handgun? The Desert Eagle. Given their relatively small numbers, that kinda stumped me for a minute.

Then I realized, where do billions of people get their most indelible “image impressions?” Movies and TV! And Hollywood loves the Desert Eagle! You can hardly find an action movie, especially one with a sci-fi or futurist element, where you won’t find good guys, bad guys or both whippin’ out mammoth Desert Eagles and blowing away trucks and tanks, alien invaders and outhouses. It is a genuine pop-culture icon. I’d bet you right now the movie prop houses in the Hollywood area have the world’s greatest concentration of Desert Eagle pistols.

You can’t blame ’em. The Desert Eagle is big, sleek, has a uniquely distinctive appearance, and even if they don’t know calibers from cabbages, everybody from shirttail kids in Slovakia to housewives in Hindustan know it shoots a big, ferocious bullet-thingie. And it does.

The .50 Action Express, typically loaded with a 300-grain hollowpoint slug, delivers as much energy at 100 yards as a .44 Magnum round at 10 feet. And that, my friends, comes at a price, and the price has been an ear-splitting boom, cannon-like muzzle blast and punishing recoil. Sure, you can get a Desert Eagle in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum too, but hardcore Desert Eagle shooters—who call their pistols “Deagles”—think that’s kinda like ordering a Ferrari with a 4-cylinder Festiva engine. “Go big or go home,” they snicker.

My previous experience shooting a Desert Eagle .50AE consisted of two rounds at a gunwriter demo-day, just because I was curious. My curiosity was satisfied. It was interesting but unpleasant. Still, a strange appeal lingered. If you’ve felt that fuzzy, inexplicable fascination, that weird waffling attraction to this handsome howitzer of handguns, but were unwilling to possibly embarrass yourself by laying out the bucks—and then laying down the gun after a magazine of painful poundings—I’ve got some good news for you!


Cousin MacKenzie demonstrates the proper grip and
stance for reliable performance with the Desert Eagle


You can personalize your Desert Eagle with parts like safeties, slide
locks and mag base plates with contrasting materials and finishes like
polished stainless or titanium gold. These wicked-lookin’ grips are
by—who else?—Wicked Grips!

The latest Deagle, and one I think is a game-changer for the design, is the DE50MB. The “MB” is for Muzzle Braked—and it works! Since many so-called muzzlebrakes seem to be more hype than help, I didn’t know what to expect from the gun we christened the “Bignose Deagle.” But the first shot—and then about 400 more—convinced me the engineers at Magnum Research nailed it. If you’ve ever lit off the .50AE in a “standard” Deagle, let me say “the toughest part of shooting the Bignose Deagle 1-handed is just holding it up!”

Oh, you still get recoil—a hefty handful—but if you’ve shot .357 Magnums from a lightweight revolver, you’ve handled worse. True, the Bignose is a little over an inch longer and 6 ounces heavier than its brothers, but that doesn’t really account for its improved manners.

Shooting technique is critical in making the Deagle run right. It must be held firmly in an extended “push-pull” position with your arms—or arm—straight out from your shoulders. With a big-bore revolver, you can “break” recoil effect by bending your elbows and allowing the muzzle to whip upward, but doing that with the Deagle will induce malfunctions.

Let’s talk about the mechanics: This foot-long, nearly 5-pound hand-cannon is gas operated rather than blowback or recoil-operated, with gas bleeding from a port on the underside of the barrel. This drives a short piston, which rockets the heavy slide rearward, compressing two stout, captive springs straddling the barrel. They in turn drive that huge slide forward again. That’s a lot of heavy metal in violent motion, and to keep all that mass and energy controlled, the Deagle, like an ordnance-loaded jet fighter, needs a straight and level deck to launch from. The technique is well covered in the printed material with the gun, and you must read it if you want the Deagle to run right. It’s not that restricting—just a matter of technique.

The Deagle’s big bolt is a rotating, 3-lug design, and the barrel is stationary, which lends itself to excellent accuracy. The ambidextrous safety system blocks the hammer and disconnects the trigger, assuring it won’t fire unless the bolt is fully engaged and the trigger is pulled past the break. The chamber is chrome-plated and the bore has polygonal “rifling,” 6 ribs with a twist of 1:19 inches. Since the Deagle is polygon-rifled and gas-operated, only feed it full-power jacketed ammo with encapsulated bases for best accuracy and to avoid fouling the gas port.

The iron sights are a well-proportioned, U-notch rear and serrated ramp front, both drift-adjustable, and the 12 o’clock rail has plenty of room for red-dots and even larger variable scopes.

The Deagle trigger was a nice surprise too. There is miniscule take-up and the break is very clean, consistently measuring 4.5 pounds on my Lyman electronic pull gauge. The reset is short, but I don’t recommend “speed-working” it, especially when shooting single-handed. The weapon has enough mass and heft that you might lose trigger-finger control during recoil. Just consciously hold the trigger to the rear until you’ve settled back on target. I don’t think you’re gonna need to shoot any rapid double-taps anyway—at least, not on anything smaller than a rabid polar bear.


This “Guides Choice” high-quality chest rig by Diamond D Custom
Leather of Alaska carries the biggest handguns comfortably and securely.

It’s undeniably a big handgun, but we found the ergonomics of the grip do not require huge hands to present the gun properly and securely. The “trigger reach” is only 2.75 inches, and that helps too. The magazine release is positive and also easily reached. I recommend when shooting 2-handed, try punching it with your support hand thumb while retaining master hand control.

Here’s an important note: When you insert the 7-round magazine, don’t ram it in, especially with the slide closed, just push it in until you hear and feel it lock in place. There will be about 1/8-inch of “play.” That’s part of the design, and assures proper feeding. Don’t “teacup” the butt, and don’t ever rest the weapon on the magazine. This could create friction drag during cycling and may damage the magazine’s feed lips.

Fieldstripping the Deagle is different but simple and straightforward, breaking the piece down into five easily cleaned components, plus your magazine. Instructions are included, both in print and on a DVD, along with a handy 5-function tool. You might presume such a big handgun may be kinda crude and brutish, but the machining, fit and finish is very high quality in every detail. True, those two hefty recoil springs require some strength to cycle the slide, but as you do so you’ll easily feel how smooth it functions. The whole package is an absolutely first-class job.

Our first shooting session with the Bignose Deagle was supposed to be “familiarization only” with iron sights, but the Bignose played so nice it quickly degenerated into fun and foolin’ around. And, we learned a few things. If you’re going to shoot groups just to determine inherent accuracy with given loads, don’t try to simply hold the beast up in firing position and settle into your breathing-and-releasing rhythm for all five shots, holding until you have a perfect sight picture. The gun is just too heavy for that. Instead, present, fire a shot, lower the piece and rest, then re-present. Big Paul shot a 1-handed group of five at 15 yards featuring one 4-shot hole and one a 1/2-inch out. My best 2-handed group at 25 measured 2.75 inches, and groups at that distance averaged 3.4 inches.

The “Magnum Magic” kicked in when we mounted an Aimpoint M2 for session No. 2! The optic really tightened groups and accelerated speed. Just present the gun and the instant the red dot kisses your aiming point, squeeze and smile! As with a red dot mounted on a carbine, it’s very forgiving and it doesn’t matter where the dot appears through the optic, that’s where the bullet’s gonna go.

We fed the Deagle three kinds of premium chow: Federal’s new Fusion hunting load featuring a 300-grain JHP skived and pre-programmed for consistent expansion; Magnum Research’s own 300-grain JHP’s with nickeled cases and Hornady’s 300-grain load with their proven and respected XTP (Extreme Terminal Performance) JHP’s. In both velocity and accuracy, they all shot almost identically—terrific! At 25 yards, all three all shot a best 3-shot group of only 1.5 inches center to center. Tight enough for you?

Start gathering scrap blocks of 4×4’s and 6×6’s to be converted to kindling. Fill empty plastic gallon jugs with water. Get ready for a little fun…
By John Connor

Mark XIX Desert Eagle
Maker: Magnum Research
12602 33rd Avenue SW
Pillager, MN 56473
(508) 635-4273

Action type: Gas operated, rotating bolt, semi-auto
Caliber: .50AE (tested), .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum
Capacity: 7+1
Barrel length: 7.2 inches (with brake
Overall length: 11.95 inches
Weight: 4 pounds, 12 ounces
Finish: Black oxide
Sights: Fixed, combat style, full-length Weaver-style rail
Grips: Synthetic
Price: $1,803


.50AE Factory Ammo Performance


Load (brand, bullet weight, type) Velocity (fps) Group Size (inches)
Federal Fusion 300 JHP 1,567 1.6
Magnum Research 300 JHP 1,583 2.0
Hornady 300 XTP 1,581 1.75


Notes: Group size is the product of the best three of five, 3-shot groups,
25 yards, 1-hand hold. Pro Chrono Digital at 15 feet from muzzle.

Aimpoint Inc. 
14103 Mariah Court, Chantilly, VA 20151
(703) 263-9795

Diamond D Custom Leather
540 West Hjellen Drive, Wasilla, AK 99654
(907) 631-4212

Wicked Grips
(810) 412-4037