A .357 Magnum Research Desert Eagle — History, Movies & Action

“The fact that you’ve got ‘Replica’ written down the sides of your guns…and the fact that I’ve got ‘Desert Eagle point five O’ written down the side of mine… should precipitate a shrinking of your presence.”

Thus uttered Bullet-Tooth Tony in the Guy Ritchie movie Snatch, generating some of the coolest gun-related dialogue ever put to celluloid. If you haven’t yet seen the movie then stop what you’re doing and surf on over to Amazon.com. They will rent it to you for $3.99.  It will change your life.

Thanks to its broad cinematic exposure in movies, TV, and video games, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle is one of the most recognizable firearms in the world.

Origin Story

The Desert Eagle is a unique and iconic firearm. Though the Deagle, as most die-hard fans refer to the gun, has long been associated with the nation of Israel, naturally a gun this manly was originally born in America. The U.S. patent application for this gas-operated pistol was approved in January of 1983 under the auspices of Magnum Research Inc. The gun earned a second patent in December of 1985. After Israel Military Industries refined the design the gun went into volume production.

IMI built the gun until 1995 when MRI shifted production to Saco Defense in Saco, Maine. In 1998 MRI returned manufacturing back to IMI, now reorganized as Israel Weapon Industries. Since 2009, MRI has produced the Desert Eagle in the United States at its facility in Pillager, Minnesota. If ever there was a better town in which to produce guns than Pillager, Minnesota, I have yet to hear of it. Pillager just looks cool stamped on the side of the piece. Kahr Arms purchased Magnum Research in 2010 and they produce the Desert Eagle to this day.

I am pretty old, and I recall when the Desert Eagle first hit the streets. The first commercial chambering was .357 Magnum followed soon thereafter by .44 Magnum. Interestingly, the gun was actually marketed for military use back in the day. The angle was that this was an incredibly robust gas-operated handgun that offered unprecedented firepower in a handheld package. Nowadays we realize that there really isn’t much practical military application for packing a 4-pound semiautomatic .44 Magnum pistol, but these were the heady days of Dirty Harry so nobody was really thinking clearly.

SPECS

  •  Type: Hammer-fired semiautomatic pistol
  • Action: Gas-operated rotating bolt
  • Cartridge: .357 Magnum
  • Capacity: 9+1 rds.
  • Weight: 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Trigger: Single action
  • Barrel Length: 6 in.
  • Overall Length: 10.6 in.
  • Finish: Black oxide with custom finishes
  • Sights: Combat type, fixed
  • MSRP: $1,572
  • Manufacturer: Kahr Arms

Morphology

Like everything else about the Desert Eagle, the controls are massively oversized. Up is fire. Down is safe.

The Desert Eagle was indeed a unique design. Incorporating the rotating bolt from an M16 along with a proprietary piston-driven action, the Desert Eagle did a fine job of taming the magnum cartridges of the day. The mechanics of the gun are simply brilliant.

Gas taps off from the barrel and then feeds into a hole that serves as a cylinder. Into this cylinder slides a piston that is rigidly affixed to the slide. The slide then serves the same purpose as does a bolt carrier in a gas-operated rifle, pushing the slide back to unlock the rotating bolt via a cam mechanism. This rotating bolt has four locking lugs and an extractor on its right aspect. This component strongly resembles the 7-lug bolt from the M16 rifle. The fixed gas cylinder and its captive piston are very similar to those of the Ruger Mini-14 rifle.

The upside to all this complexity is that the Desert Eagle is most at home running heavy magnum cartridges. Over the years the Deagle has been offered in .357, .41, .44, .440 Corbon and .50 Action Express. Swapping between cartridges requires only that you swap out the bolt, barrel and magazine. As the .44 Magnum and .50 AE share a common rim diameter changes between these two calibers require only a new barrel and magazine. The .440 Corbon is a .50AE case necked down to accept a .44-caliber bullet, and it therefore only requires a new barrel on an otherwise-stock .50AE Deagle.

The left-sided magazine release is a simple button in the expected spot. Magazines drop away freely.

The nature of the Desert Eagle’s gas system is such that it should only be used with jacketed bullets. Raw lead bullets can foul the gas port over time. The Desert Eagle barrel sports polygonal rifling that extends barrel wear and offers a modest increase in velocity over more conventionally rifled barrels. Magazine capacity ranges from nine rounds in .357 to eight in .41 and .44 and seven in .50AE and .440 Corbon. The .44 and .50AE guns are the most popular with the .357 pulling up third. .41 and .440 Corbon chamberings are currently out of production and tough to find as a result.

The single column magazine in the .357 Magnum Desert Eagle holds nine rounds.

The single action trigger on the Desert Eagle is creepier than that of your favorite 1911 but still serviceable.

The Desert Eagle sports a fairly crisp single action trigger and a massive slide-mounted manual safety. The trigger is not the equal of that of your favorite tuned 1911, but it gets the job done. The safety and comparably large scaled slide release are designed for shooters with huge monkey thumbs, but they remain serviceable enough. Magazines drop free quickly should you ever find yourself needing to run a Deagle fast.

The Desert Eagle design has evolved over the years offering variegated finishes and optics mounting options. However, throughout it, all the classic trapezoidal cross-section remains unchanged. Regardless of its practical capabilities, no other handgun has attained the level of cinematic popularity as has the Desert Eagle.

Film Credits

There were more than five hundred film and TV credits thus far that I could find. The Desert Eagle has been wielded by some of our favorite stars on both the big and small screens. The gun is also a staple in most first person shooter video games. The combination of the gun’s muscle-bound geometry and its pure unfiltered mass make the Deagle a favorite in the sorts of make-believe spaces where the gun’s bulk and four-pound weight don’t matter so much as might appearance and muzzle flash.

The Agents in the Matrix movies all packed Desert Eagles in shoulder rigs. Arnold Schwarzenegger wielded one in Last Action Hero, an underappreciated action gem that I like to describe as the Thinking Man’s Schwarzenegger movie. Eraser, Rambo III, Red Heat, Assassins, Double Impact, The Last Boy Scout, and Austin Powers featured the Desert Eagle as well along with many more.

Practical Tactical

While the Desert Eagle is indeed everything described above, actual trigger time on the range is fettered by the immutable dicta of Physics. Throwing a 300-grain half-inch bullet at 1,475 feet per second (fps) is going to produce some spunky recoil no matter what sorts of whiz-bang engineering you wrap around it. Pull my man-card if you must, but I have found that running a .50-caliber Desert Eagle loses its allure in fairly short order. Combine this with ammo that wholesales at a buck and a half a pop and you have the perfect recipe for a splendid wall hanger.

The .44 Magnum version is more fun. Ammo is cheaper and the recoil, while still impressive, is more pleasant than punishing. However, for pure unfiltered Desert Eagle shooting enjoyment, nothing beats the .357 Magnum.

The .357 Magnum Research Desert Eagle nicely tames recoil and produces some decent 15-meter groups from a simple rest.

I owned a .357 Magnum Desert Eagle back in the day. In a heady moment of impulsive stupidity, I traded mine to a guy at a gun show for a Beretta 92. The Beretta 92 was the Army’s new handgun at the time and I falsely assumed owning one would make me as cool as Mel Gibson in the original Lethal Weapon film. This is, incidentally, the same sort of irresponsible impulse that drives young American males to get tattoos and see if they can turn a lawn chair and a couple dozen weather balloons into a viable flying machine. Testosterone is the most potent poison known to man. When I tripped across a low mileage .357 Magnum Desert Eagle at a price I could stomach I jumped at it.

The Desert Eagle in .357 Magnum is actually fun to shoot. Recoil is more a pleasant shove than a punch, and with 9+1 rounds onboard the gun actually flirts with becoming a serviceable defensive weapon. When fired at dusk the gun produces a delightful bi-lobed muzzle flash that is visible from the International Space Station. The first piece jets out the muzzle while the second blasts downward from the gas port at the muzzle. Being in its very presence will reliably raise serum testosterone values.

Ruminations

Nobody needs a Desert Eagle handgun. There are countless more efficient home defense platforms, and it is the rare event indeed wherein a typical American might need to drop a charging hippo at bad breath range. Practicality is not what drives one to purchase such a massive pistol.

However, if you do decide you want a Deagle of your own and you can stomach having “.357 Magnum” rather than “.50AE” stamped on the side you will have lots more fun on the range. The bantam-weight Deagle is fun to run and won’t put you in the poor house buying ammo. The .357 Magnum is the Thinking Man’s Deagle.

For more information about the Magnum Research Desert Eagle, click here.

For more information about Winchester ammunition, click here.

For more information about SIG Sauer ammunition, click here.

To purchase a Magnum Research Desert Eagle on GunsAmerica, click here.

About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Warren Wilson January 3, 2018, 6:22 pm

    EVERY time I see some egomaniac firing a DE in .50AE at the range and I compliment them before pulling out my S&W.500…… well, they just WITHER. I’ll buy a propellant-diffusing 50AE handgun when they’re chambered in Beowulf .50, which is basically a S&W 500 with a rebated rim for feeding. Of course, this pistol won’t fit every hand, but I’d make the effort. Until then, you go right ahead and spend an hour cleaning your Eagle for every five minutes of shooting it. I’ll take the wildly greater power, accuracy, and shockwave that rips the hair out of your arms that comes with a Smith and Wesson 50 Caliber wheelgun.

    • Rob January 5, 2018, 10:34 am

      The S&W 500 withers before the 50 Alaskan and the testosterone-fueled diatribe continues…

  • Rob January 3, 2018, 4:56 pm

    I bought my .50 Desert Eagle in March, 1992 at a gun show in Reno, Nevada and still have it. It feeds and functions perfectly with everything I feed it and always has. It surprises me to read all the complaints about malfunctions. I’ve used all types of jacketed bullets from 275 to 400 grains in both 6 and 10 inch barrels without a hint of trouble. I reload and have no aversion to recoil, so I’ve played with loads that would probably make some faint. Using a chronograph and 10 round averages, I’ve clocked 325 grain jacketed hollow points at 1701 fps out of the 6 inch barrel and 1806 fps out of the 10 inch barrel. 350 grain hollow points at 1678 fps out of the 10 inch barrel and 400 grain flat points at 1574 fps. The only complaint I can offer is on a rare occasion it will bounce a spent case off my forehead.

    • Warren Wilson January 3, 2018, 6:30 pm

      See?
      This is what happens when someone who know what he’s doing experiments with something.
      I wonder how he likes cleaning a gas-powered pistol.
      Maybe he can fit 45 grains of powder in that little AE shell???

  • Andrew January 3, 2018, 9:42 am

    Forgot about Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man for “Deagle” use, he did, but it isn’t a recent film.
    They’re like a Cadillac. Pretty much all but one time I’ve observed folk at the range with Desert Eagles they are broken down into pieces after a mag or two and the owner is glaring at it.

    But as I was told by my best friend who worked “returns” at a large FunStore for several years, it’s the ammo typically. They don’t like cheap weak stuff, and those who try to feed it crap typically get them gummed up fairly fast. They need quality jacketed ammo, and to be lubricated properly…

    I watched a guy get almost through two magazines using Blazer aluminum cased, then he was fiddling with a handful of parts.

    But to be fair, the last time I saw a fellow who had the 357 model. He was blazing away with it, and it ran like a top. Not sure what ammo he had but the only time he quit was to, I assume, let it cool down and to reload his magazines, plus he had a couple other guns along.

    When they run like crap, I tend to blame the operator buying craptacular ammo. That semi jacketed cartridge bought at the “reload table” last FunShow was worth every penny, right? Or they clean the thing once every four or five range trips whether it needs it or not (hint…it does need it) and best yet, leaves the gun as lubricated as a popcorn fart.

  • Mike January 3, 2018, 8:56 am

    I’ve test fired several desert eagles in .50 AE after repair work, and the recoil or ergonomics never bothered me- the only thing that would keep one of these from entering my collection was that every fourth or fifth round ejected managed to land in the collar of my shirt somehow. That brass is HOT let me tell you.
    The muzzle blast and accompanying fireball never got old, and even after getting burned skin several times after each outing it never failed to leave a stupid grin on my face.

  • Billy M January 1, 2018, 8:37 pm

    I purchased an IMI .50 from someone in CA. for $650. It was in pretty bad shape exterior wise. But the first time I took it to the range, the range personnel were coming out of the office to see what was making all that noise. Had a buddy who was a trainer where I worked. He got a kick out of shooting the .50. Several women have shot it but it did recoil, with one pointing at the sky (fortunately I only loaded 1 round). I reload which helps with the cost and I purchased an American .44 barrel for it. Replaced the plastic grips with a set of Hogue and the gun feels good in my hands. Will shoot the .44 all day but 2 mags of .50 is my limit…until the next time. Absolutely love this gun! Fun to shoot, accurate, and goes with me in the field in case a large critter decides to be unfriendly

  • Brian January 1, 2018, 3:52 pm

    Barf 357 for pussies. 44 is the shit.

  • JohnS January 1, 2018, 3:34 pm

    I can’t stand by and let the DE .50AE get a bad rap for the way it behaves, so here’s my two bits: I’ve owned the IMI DE .50AE since 1998, and had a lot of fun at the range with it over the years. Everybody wants to shoot it, but it’s certainly not for everyone, as most hand it back to me after a shot or two. I purchased mine new from a local gun shop that ordered it for me. For me, it was love at first sight. Personally, I find it much more pleasant at the range than either of my S&W 29 4″ barrel, or 629 6 3/8″, both are .44 magnums. I loose interest in the .44mag revolvers after about 18 rounds, where as the DE .50AE, I have always felt I could shoot all day. (just can’t afford it!) My wife (5’8″, 130lbs) agrees with all but the ‘all day’ part, but she has no problem emptying a full 7 round clip, and asking for another.
    The only time mine has jammed is when trying to shoot it one handed. I’m 6’0″ 190lbs, but I just don’t have enough mass in one hand and forearm to allow it to fully cycle. Both hands with full 300g loads, no problems. We’ve always been amazed at how accurate we can be with the big bore pistols, they are amazing. I have the MRI shoulder holster, but I’ve never ventured out with it in public concealed carry, yet. I don’t see it, or even the .44mag as a practical CC weapon. I have worn it in the field for a “snake gun” but it’s a load after a while, and big time overkill for that as well. Hope this helps!

  • Roy January 1, 2018, 10:05 am

    As long as Hollywierd makes movies where the Deagle is the star, there are going to be those that buy them who simply cannot handle them, which keeps the used market healthy and more importantly, makes enough of them sell that Kahr/MRI/IWI/IMI can stay in business. Unfortunately, people that buy a gun because it was in a movie are not always educated consumers and I am willing to bet, not educated gun owners either. Everyone who shoots the Deagle either loves or hates the gun and those that love it will attest: this is a gun that does not tolerate poor form, cheap ammo, or inattentive cleanings. If the recoil has you nervous, this gun will bully you into hating it. Use a good grip and firm stance, be prepared for this gun to push your arms back, wrist straight to let your arms take some of the recoil and keep the muzzle rise down. If you do this you will be pleasantly surprised to find the gun will absorb most of the recoil for you and you will be picking an Avatar in the Deagle forum later that day. Don’t do it and you can find me or one of the other members at the gun show next week.

  • PeterC January 1, 2018, 9:30 am

    I fired the .50AE Desert Eagle at Gunsite recently. This particular specimen was color casehardened and didn’t look like it was owned by a cartel drug lord. Accuracy was quite acceptable…I hit the metal target with all five shots. The gun, however, was trying its best to go into orbit, aided by a grip that had all the ergonomic features of a brick. If one is eager to shoot cartridges best suited to a crew-served weapon, I would recommend a revolver.

  • Oliver W Robertson January 1, 2018, 8:42 am

    About 5 years ago my grand-daughter came to me needing money. She said she had a pistol she had acquired in a divorce settlement, and would sell it. It was a .44 mag. Desert Eagle, it appeared nearly new. She said her ex-husband had only fired it once at a range. I looked up the going price online and saw it varied from $500-1000. I offered her $500 and she accepted. The first time I took it out and fired it. The damned thing jammed on the 1st shot. I shot it four more times and got four more first shot jams. I brought it home and scrubbed it down good with a carburetor cleaner, then Hopps # 9, I oiled it with Remm Oil, and worked the slide about 6 times. It felt smooth. I took it out the next day and shot it 6 times, getting a first shot jam each time. I advertised locally, and traded it for a Ruger Blackhawk .44 mag. I was very happy with the Ruger, knowing the 1st shot is the one that really counts…and I’ve got 5 more reliable ones behind, if needed.
    Every time I think about that Desert Eagle…it makes me feel that the Palestinians are safer due to it.

    • Roy January 1, 2018, 9:45 am

      Sounds like weak rounds. I have one of the rare Deagles (.41 cal stainless finish) and I reload. First trip out, unsure what would happen I took a few “light loads” and the Deagle did the same thing. I had my Red Hawk with me and it ate them fine, but I also had a box of rounds with more powder in them for the Red Hawk that day. The Deagle cycled much better, no groupings, but she ran. I hit the reloading bench and worked up a hot recipe with #9 powder and 210 XTP bullets. Now she runs like a gazelle and I have returned to being the weak link in the grouping equation. Feeding a Deagle is not cheap but it is worth it.

    • HEATH January 1, 2018, 10:46 am

      Weak springs….. my 44 DE was purchased used, I could not get the gun to cycle. Tried several different types of ammo, then researched that the DE’s need springs frequently, bought a spring kit, problem solved.

    • Dave Brown January 2, 2018, 10:21 pm

      Well your run of bad luck with a wonderful firearm might be related to you not paying your own granddaughter a fair price. I have been around long enough to remember when the DE first came out, and I own and shoot a .357 as it has always been one of my favorite Put A Smile On My Face rounds. The DE can be a little picky, but go big and all is fine and good. My only complaint is it tames the 357 so much it takes a bunch of the fun out of it. However, keep a light weight wheel in 357 handy as a few rounds in it will bring that smile to your face. Now Go Pay her another $250.00 Grandpa as you Low Balled your own Blood. Where I come from we call that Cheap!

  • OWR January 1, 2018, 8:38 am

    About 5 years ago my grand-daughter came to me needing money. She said she had a pistol she had acquired in a divorce settlement, and would sell it. It was a .44 mag. Desert Eagle, it appeared nearly new. She said her husband had only fired it once at a range. I looked up the going price online and saw it varied from $500-1000. I offered her $500 and she accepted. The first time I took it out and fired it. The damned thing jammed on the 1st shot. I shot it four more times and got four more first shot jams. I brought it home and scrubbed it down good with a carburetor cleaner, then Hopps # 9, I oiled it with Remm Oil, and worked the slide about 6 times. It felt smooth. I took it out the next day and shot it 6 times, getting a first shot jam each time. I advertised locally, and traded it for a Ruger Blackhawk .44 mag. I was very happy with the Ruger, knowing the 1st shot is the one that really counts…and I’ve got 5 more reliable ones behind, if needed.
    Every time I think about that Desert Eagle…it makes me feel that the Palestinians are safer due to it.

  • Ed Oswald January 1, 2018, 8:25 am

    Dag, first commenter has to be a hater? Why is that? Deep seated insecurities of ones own manhood maybe? I purchased a .357 Deagle when they first came out. Serial number in the low 4000 range. I agree with the author. I can shoot mine all day and not break the bank. Also, I’ll admit, it’s kind of fun to see the look on others faces when they first see the flames belching out of the muzzle or hear that uber-loud .357 crack for the first time. Finally, real professionals know that what really matters anyway is shot placement and penetration. Go back to your cave troll as real aficionados enjoy the hell out of a piece of history.

  • Ricky B October 27, 2017, 9:54 am

    Or you could do like I did and purchase your deagle in 50AE and then buy a spare barrel in 44 mag. I switch to the 44 mag barrel on days when I don’t feel like spending north of a full $1 every time I squeeze the trigger but I guess you could also make the switch down for those days when you feel the need to tuck your junk in between your legs and walk around clucking like a chicken.

    The .357 magnum certainly will make your vagina feel more comfortable when you are firing your deagle, but conversion from the man sized barrels down to the .357 mag isn’t just a quick flip of a switch followed by sliding the new barrel into place… You must also switch out the bolt if your vagina is too scared of manly toys.

    • Mike January 1, 2018, 4:52 am

      Well, as I was reading the article, I was musing over what interesting comments were going to follow. Ricky, I didn’t expect yours. By the way I have 3 daughters who would take issue at your references that big guns are for people with balls and vice versa. All of my girls are rifle and pistol experts. (Black belts too). One is a Navy SAMI, so back off Jackson and your sexist comments.

    • Kevin Cote January 1, 2018, 7:21 am

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ….we had the same english teacher…a Marine Corps Drill Sargeant.

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