By Payton Miller, GUNS Magazine
The most commercially successful attempt at a powerhouse auto is the Magnum Research Desert Eagle. It was originally designed by Magnum Research Inc. and Israel Military Industries and has gone through several refinements since its first appearance in 1982. It’s available in .44 and .357 Magnum, but the chambering that really pays for its freight in jaw-dropping appeal is the .50 Action Express.
Developed in 1988, it features a 300-grain bullet at around 1,475 fps, although at one time Speer offered a 325-grain load for it. Is it as stout as a .500 S&W Magnum? No. But it’s about all the power your going to get in an autoloading pistol (gas-operated or no), unless it requires wheeled transport.
The version we were using was the Mark IX Stainless with an integral muzzlebrake. The pistol can be had with many finishes—among them gold, burnt bronze, brushed chrome, black, even titanium gold with tiger stripes if such a finish strikes your fancy.
It is a massive pistol, no doubt about it (heck, the slide width is 1-1/4 inches). The weight (unloaded) is 4 pounds, 7 ounces. That’s 71 ounces all told. In comparison, a 7-1/2-inch barreled .44 Magnum Ruger Super Redhawk weighs 53 ounces. The 6-inch barreled Desert Eagle has an overall length of 10.75 inches, shorter than the Ruger’s 13-inch OAL—making the auto seem even chunkier and more massive, although the grips can be easily and comfortably grasped by average-sized hands. The slide stop is easily accessible as is the “1911-ish” magazine release. The only item for which easy accessibility is problematic is the ambidextrous safety, which, for most of us, is probably best operated with the support hand. The pistol sports an integral Picatinny rail top and bottom to accommodate a choice of optics, lights, lasers, bipods and what have you.
The gas-operated, rotating bolt Desert Eagle .50AE—when topped with a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro—is still something out of the ordinary in
terms of semi-autos, even though the pistol premiered in the early 1980’s.
The A.G. Russell-designed Sting 3B knife (overleaf) is produced by CRKT (see Pat Covert’s review on page 68 in this issue).
We initially fired the Desert Eagle 50 with the “issue” iron sights at 25 yards. The fixed rear sight’s windage was nearly perfect right out of the box. Unfortunately, the front sight was seriously “too short” to the point we were getting excellent groups more than a foot above point of aim.
Our second order of business was to mount a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro reflex sight on the broad-as-a-highway top rail via Leupold’s Cross-Slot mount. We were a bit nervous at first, wondering how sight and mount were going to stand up to the .50AE’s recoil. Our fears were groundless, however. Over the course of more than 120 rounds, nothing budged or broke.
The DeltaPoint Pro is pricey and sophisticated; ours had a 2.5-MOA dot. What was also appreciated, was the fact its 1.95-ounce weight (the housing is made of aluminum) didn’t push our total gun-weight into the stratosphere. The DeltaPoint controls are minimal and unobtrusive—windage and elevation, of course, via 1-MOA clicks. Then there’s a single button/cover atop the battery housing you tap on to adjust the intensity of the red dot. Dot intensity—particularly when you’re trying to shoot groups—is a key factor. Too big and bright and it gets ragged and tough to reference in regard to your aiming point. Too tiny and dim and it’s tough to see. You’ve got to find a happy medium between subtending the bull’s-eye and not having to perform a lengthy search for a tiny crimson pinprick in the X-ring.
The extended tang guards against the possible hammer bite with the Desert Eagle—which would be a very remote possibility, even if
you have extremely large hands.
Despite the size of the Desert Eagle, the trigger was eminently “reachable” at 2-3/4 inches. The pull weight was 4 pounds. And the magazine release is right where it should be.
The iron sights are broad and easy to acquire. They are fixed, however, which limits their utility somewhat. The company offers Millet adjustables
for installation as an optional extra. The safety is ambidextrous.
This Bird’s The Word
The factory .50AE ammo we used was from Hornady, DoubleTap and Armscor. All three feature a 300-grain JHP. Average velocities ran from 1,074 to 1,299 fps—below factory claims (which, we assume, must have come from a longer barrel than the 6-inch ported tube of our Desert Eagle).
In assessing 50-yard accuracy, we elected to go with the best 4-shot cluster out of 5. The gun had a tendency to throw the first shot a bit wide. We began (too late!) to suspect this could be the case because we were chambering the first round manually by racking the slide back and releasing it. By the time we’d finished chronographing and getting a feel for the gun by shooting at distant gongs off the sturdy little under-rail-mounted KFS Versa-Pod, we were afraid of not having enough ammo left to load 6 and “waste one” off to the side of the target frame prior to each group. (Our first choice in a bi-pod didn’t arrive on time, and Brownells rushed us the far higher quality KFS in time for the shoot—something to remember if you ever need gear prior to a competition event or hunt.)
There are, of course, revolvers which actually kick harder than this .50AE, but the reciprocating action combined with the “up top” weight of the auto makes it seem heavier than it is, although the brake and gas operation help. Sheer weight may help dampen the felt recoil up to a point, but on an auto this big there’s a lot of stuff moving every time you press the trigger. But if you hold tight and lock your wrists the torque and recoil can be managed, although it can get a bit wearing if you neglect to lock up solid or inadvertently limp-wrist the gun.
The massive slide—specifically the area around the slide-stop notch—is something you want to keep your support-hand thumb well away from (I found this out the hard way). The trigger was a reasonable 4 pounds, although a bit gritty at first, just past the initial take-up—although it improved substantially as the day went on. Our little group—Thomas Mackie, Scott and John Buchan and myself—actually rang the 100-yard gong offhand a couple of times, although the Desert Eagle is a bit hefty to shoot in that mode for long. A bit of weight, of course, helps offhand shooting with anything. But there is a limit.
Essential accessories such as the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro and KFS Versa-Pod—both rail-anchored top and bottom—made the Desert
Eagle .50AE easier to hit and hold with.
Our best 25-yard accuracy results were with the Hornady 300-grain XTP. There are five shots on the target. At 50-yards, results with the
DoubleTap 300-grain JHP showed good long-range accuracy.
Both were fired using the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro. Initial results using the issue iron sights at 25 yards were impressively tight, if considerably
above point of aim. The ammo?
Armscor 300-grain JHP.
Self-Loaders On Steroids
Although we live in a semi-auto age as far as handguns go, there’s one niche still ruled by revolvers. For the upper limits in raw power—your .500 and .460 S&W, your .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh, heck, even your maxed-out .44 Magnum hardcast heavyweights—you’re obliged to go to a wheelgun. And let’s not bring up specialty single shots in rifle calibers. We’re talking repeating handguns here—not stock-less carbines.
Starting with the Mars Automatic Pistol back around the turn of the century (that being the 19th to the 20th), visionaries have been trying to boost the horsepower of autos. And compared to the case of revolvers, this has been a pretty finite undertaking. But in the hefty, long-recoil, rotating-bolt Mars, they managed to come up with a couple of eye-opening chamberings, even by today’s standards. There was a .45 Mars Long (a 220-grain FMJ at 1,250 fps) and a 9mm Mars (a 156-grain FMJ at 1,400 fps). The Mars was a commercial failure, but the concept lived on, although in considerably more graceful platforms.
The most storied attempt was perhaps Harry Sanford’s AutoMag, a short-recoil, rotary bolt behemoth in .44 AMP (a rimless facsimile of the .44 Magnum). It was produced from the early 1970’s to the early 1980’s. Then there’s the gas-operated Wildey, a 4-pound behemoth chambered in a variety of proprietary calibers (.357 Wildey to .475 Wildey). But the sheer bulk and modernistic appeal of a seriously large auto is impressive indeed. It’s worth noting that the AutoMag and the Wildey both owed much of their appeal and notoriety by appearing in Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact (1983) and Charles Bronson’s Death Wish 3 (1985) respectively.