The .44 Magnum Desert Eagle is a formidable pistol by anyone’s standards, but is it a practical weapon for self defense or hunting?
If you aren’t familiar with these guns, click the pictures for a larger image. This is the left facing profile.
The big Desert Eagle has been immortalized in a lot of movies and this could why it has permeated popular culture so deeply. This scene from Charlie’s Angles, Full Throttle, is one of my favorites. Demi Moore sports two gold Desert Eagles.
Hornady Critical Defense 240gr. hollowpoint clocked at 1430 fps. with the big .44 Magnum. This is about the same speed as the .50AE version of the gun with a 300gr. bullet, but the .50AE is even more gun to tame, much more expensive to shoot, and of little practical additional value.
This was my first outing with my new Ransom Rest. Apart you can see the premise of how it works. The grips are removed and the inserts lock into the rest.
I shot video of the gun in the rest when I shot this group of about 2 inches at 25 yards, and later when I slowed the video down I noticed that though it looked 100% stable at the time, the plywood mounting of the Ransom Rest was not secure enough and flopped with the recoil. We will return with an update on how good this gun can actually shoot with all of the human factors removed.
The trigger on the Desert Eagle is adjustable and from the factory it broke at a reliable and crisp six and a half pounds, perfect for a single action.
The safety on the Desert Eagle will take some getting used to for 1911 shooters. You push it instead of dropping it.
This is how the gun field strips. You don’t need to have the slide locked back or the magazine out. It works on a quick release and the barrel slides out by lining up that lug on the bottom with spaces in the slide rails.
The quick release is on the trigger gaurd. You push the back side and slide it, then the barrel lifts right out.
Getting the gun back together is easy once you understand that this pin on the end of the dual recoil spring holds in the gas piston. Then you just drop the barrel back in and lock the quick release.
The Desert Eagle is suprisingly reliable with .44 Magnum shells. They have an extended case rim so they can be held in revolver cylinders, and a lot of attempts at rimmed cartridges in autos have failed over the years. With the right hold and physical strength, the Desert Eagle works great. This is the 8 round magazine that comes standard.
Do you want a shock? If you have an Android phone, go into the Marketplace and search for the word “guns.” Hundreds of apps will appear relating to every angle on guns and shooting you can imagine. What I found interesting was that by far the most common picture of a gun chosen for the thumbnail is none other than the Desert Eagle. As guns go, the Desert Eagle is not that common, but maybe due to video games, or movies, or just plain old coolness, it is one of the most notorious guns of all time.
Most people think of the Desert Eagle in the most famous .50AE (Action Express) caliber, but when it comes to actually buying a gun to shoot, I would suggest the far more affordable .44 Magnum. Brass is plentiful, and you can buy the ammo on the shelf at Wal-Mart or Bass Pro Shops. Ballistically, the .50AE is overkill in a pistol and rocks your world far too much to be an effective weapon anyway. It is more of a novelty cartridge that a functional participant in shooting sports, unlike the .44 Magnum that is used extensively and successfully in self defense, handgun hunting and as a backup for dangerous game. Note that you can hot swap a .50AE barrel and magazine with the .44 Magnum ones on the gun. The .50AE utilizes the same rim as the .44 Magnum so it is the same extractor. The extra magazine and barrel can be purchased directly from Magnum Research.
To understand the difference in ballistics of the two cartridges, the standard 300gr. bullet in a .50AE travels at roughly the same 1400fps. that a 240gr. bullet travels in a .44 mag. In muzzle energy this equates to a 50% advantage for the .50AE, 1449ft./lbs vs. 971ft./lbs. for the 44 mag. With a similar weight 300gr. bullet, the .44 mag comes in at even less, at 881ft./lbs. But when it comes to hand cannons, how much is too much? Even against a Grizzly, the ability to aim a follow up shot quickly should you miss is more important that eeking out every foot-pound of energy from a gun when you are limited to carrying a pistol.
This is why I ordered a test gun in .44 Magnum. As romantic as the “Big 50” may be, I wanted to see what it was like to shoot this famous and enormous gun with a practical cartridge. My perspective is, most .44 Magnum shooters shoot revolvers, Smith & Wesson Model 29s, Ruger Super Redhawks, etc. With a .44 Magnum Desert Eagle, you have 8+1 rounds, not just six, and you can slap a mag if this isn’t enough to get the job done, or if you need to be ready for the next threat. Compared to a revolver the Desert Eagle is far more firepower, and let’s face it, the gun is among the coolest on the planet. It looks like a Battlestar Gallactica blaster for heaven’s sake!
Weighing in at nearly four and half pounds (70.5 oz.), the Desert Eagle .44 Magnum still has a good deal of recoil and muzzle flip. It may not be the biggest boy on the block anymore, but the .44 Magnum is still a beast of a cartridge. I would not call it punishing though. I have fired lightweight alloy J-frame revolvers with .357 Magnum loads that were a lot more unpleasant to shoot than this.
Using the gun successfully takes some practice though, and Magnum Research provides a picture guide to help you save frustration. The Desert Eagle is not a gun you can just take out of the box and shoot properly. Many of the good habits you may have developed from shooting large revolvers don’t apply to the Desert Eagle, and you have to consciously change them or the Desert Eagle doesn’t work so good.
With a big, .44 Magnum revolver, like a Ruger Super Redhawk, (for a right handed shooter), you hold your left hand under the grip to apply two handed counter pressure to shoot the gun. When you shoot it, you allow the revolver to roll backwards with the recoil. If you do this with the Desert Eagle, the next round won’t lock up correctly and it will behave like a standard failure to feed correctly. Two things about this you have to consciously change.
First, you don’t put your left hand under the grip, or butt, of the gun. The Desert Eagle magazine is “floating” and needs to self position. It actually hangs out of the gun an 1/8″ or so on my test gun. If you hold your left hand under the magazine, pushing up, it exerts pressure on the bottom of the barrel and the slows down the action, absorbing some of the force needed to strip the next round and lock it up reliably. Put your left hand on the left side of the gun and around your right hand fingers on the front of the grip, the way you would grip a 1911.
You also don’t let the gun roll backwards with the recoil. Just the opposite in fact. The Desert Eagle prefers that you muscle the recoil down as much as possible. Any limp wristing or failure to absorb the recoil will, again, make the gun fail to correctly lock up. It isn’t that the gun is unreliable. It is just quirky and requires a lot of physical strength and size to work good. . A firm stance, a firm grip, muscling the recoil ,and the Desert Eagle works flawlessly.
The first generation of Desert Eagles that came into the country were known for failures, so it is important to get one of the second generation guns that are currently being made. They have the rail on the top for a handgun scope. This is a gas operated gun, not purely recoil operated, so you have to keep it clean. The back of the manual has several warnings to clean the gas piston and inside the chamber, and to keep it lubricated. Unlike a revolver, all of that force in the .44 Magnum cartridge moves stuff around in the Desert Eagle, and the violence makes for a high maintenance gun, as modern guns go.
One of the nice things about the Desert Eagle is its quick detach barrel system. You just push the button, flip the lever, and the barrel lifts up and out. You don’t need to have the slide locked back or the trigger pulled, or even the magazine out. So to clean the gun is simple, and once you understand how it works (took me a bit), getting it back together is just as easy.
As you can see from the pictures, I was able to test the Desert Eagle with my new Ransom Rest. If you don’t know this great tool, it is a machine rest for handguns. The vice mechanism is meant to replicate the way a gun works in the human hand. It works quite well, but I was not able to utilize it to its full potential. The groups you see in the pictures, just about 2 inches at 25 yards, are much better than I could do offhand, but when examining the video of the shots, I noticed that when I slowed it down the board that the rest is mounted to was not as stable as I had thought.
Fortunately Kahr, who owns Magnum Research and the Desert Eagle, has allowed us to hold on to this gun for a while so we will return with better results in the future. Even with these results it is clear that if you can handle the big Desert Eagle .44 Magnum, and if you are able to fire it accurately, it is in fact a precision firearm and won’t let you down in the accuracy department.
The Desert Eagle isn’t for everyone. It is a huge gun, not terribly concealable, and requires a large physique (or a small physique with freakishly large hands) and a good deal of brute strength to operate properly. The .50AE version is the most famous, but from a gun guy standpoint, I consider this more an ego gun or novelty more than anything else. The .44 Magnum version, however, is a viable alternative for handgun hunting, dangerous game, and personal or home defense for the person who can handle one. It is an elegant gun in many ways and there is no other gun like it. If you have a chance, see if you can find a rental Desert Eagle and give it a try. You may find that the gun everyone finds so fascinating is your new favorite gun toy. It is mine.