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.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • 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.

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