There are a lot of handguns that can be called “iconic”, but that word seldom applies more accurately than when used to refer to the Desert Eagle by Magnum Research. First patented in the mid-1980s by IMI (Israel Military Industries) based on an American design, the pistol skyrocketed to almost instant fame and recognition when Hollywood nearly jumped out of its shoes to feature it in one action movie after another. It quickly became the “must have” hand cannon if you wanted the word ‘badass’ associated with your movie. And while it may not be featured as frequently as it once was (after all, Hollywood is nothing if not fickle), its instantly recognized profile continues to awe and inspire the newest generation, who see it prominently displayed in video games.
Yes, the Desert Eagle is one that sits at the head table of handgun badassery. And yet, somehow yours truly has managed to tiptoe carefully through life without ever having fired one. Oh, it’s been consistently on the list – bucket or otherwise – I’ve just never made it happen. But when Magnum Research (now a part of the Kahr Firearms Group) announced a brand-new caliber developed exclusively for the Desert Eagle – to take full advantage of its strength and ability to handle insane pressures – I leaned in for a closer look.
The new caliber is called .429 DE Magnum. The DE is, of course, the initials of the Desert Eagle. For those unfamiliar with ballistic specs, .429 (or four hundred twenty-nine thousandths of an inch) is the actual diameter of the .44 Magnum bullet. Okay, I’m a big fan of .44 Mag, but so what… you can already get Desert Eagles chambered for that cartridge… what’s the big deal? The big deal (thanks for asking), is that this .429” diameter bullet is sitting on top of the Saturn 5 of handgun cartridges… the .50 AE!
Magnum Research builds a monster of a gun and a beast of a caliber – the .50 Action Express – but those laurels have been sat upon for so long, they may be wearing thin. The folks at M.R. wanted to figure out a way to take that cartridge and squeeze more out of it – or if not more, at least something new and different. So, by creating a necked-down cartridge that starts as a .50 caliber and winds up as a .44 caliber (.429”), you can push that 240-grain projectile faster because you have more space for higher powder charges. Also, because of the new configuration the .429 DE headspaces on the 30-degree shoulder, not the case mouth.
Magnum Research talks about the .429 DE Magnum as being faster than the .44 Magnum and delivering more energy at the target. This piqued my curiosity to do a side-by-side test to not only witness for myself if this is true, but also as a way to evaluate the degree of punch that this new cartridge possesses. So, after getting word from Kahr that the .429 DE handgun was on its way, I made separate arrangements for a .44 Magnum barrel and a couple of magazines.
In for a penny – in for a pound. Now, don’t get me wrong – no one needs to justify to me the need or practical use for a new caliber, especially if it sets off nearby car alarms when fired. “Because we could”, is a perfectly acceptable rationale. But I wanted to see the velocities, feel the recoil, and witness the accuracy for myself – knowing that some might be skeptical.
Here’s the caveat: ballistics is a science. I am not a scientist. For instance, the .44 Mag barrel I have is solid, not ported or braked. The .429 barrel has an integral brake. The overall length is the same – ergo, the .44 Mag has propellant driving it a bit longer than does the .429 DE. Those details make my testing less than a direct comparison – but still very close.
THE MARK XIX DESERT EAGLE
If no one is looking, and you want to admit that you’re in my category of never having shot a Desert Eagle, then it’s likely that you don’t inherently know much about it beyond its iconic profile and that it makes large projectiles go fast. So, here are the general features of the Desert Eagle, now in the Mark XIX version. The gun is operated by a gas system that uses a piston to trap the expanding hot gas from the cartridge and divert a portion of it to drive the slide rearward. It also has a rotating bolt that contains the firing pin and extractor, rather than a fixed breech face as conventional semi-autos have. The bolt is very much like those found in AR-15s and is one of the best ways to work with large caliber – extreme pressure ammunition. The gun has ambidextrous safeties, which are slide mounted. This is one case where I think that is the best place for them – up high and out of the way.
The safety disengages the trigger, rather than making a physical barrier to trigger or hammer. This means you can perform every normal function of the handgun while the safety is on – racking the slide, manually cocking the hammer, loading the pistol, etc. What the safety does not do is drop the hammer. The trigger is better than I expected, and while it’s large like every other part of the gun, it is well placed and has a crisp break. The reset is a bit squishy – but if you’re interested in doing double and triple taps with a Desert Eagle, you’re a better man than I. I just hope you have a very high berm. The stock sights are decent – giving a black on black sight picture with a combat presentation. The magazine release looks like the head of a pin on the side of the pistol, but it is really about the size of a 1911 button. It functions very smoothly, and the high-quality mags drop free nicely.
The slide stop/release lever is large and very good, though I cannot operate it one-handed – my hands are just too small to wrap that far around the 2×4 sized grip. That grip wears a synthetic (rubberized) cover and bears a smooth front strap. The takedown is easy for cleaning or swapping barrels, though because it is a gas operated pistol, expect it to be filthy. Picatinny rail adorns the top of the barrel and the underside of the frame on the .429DE’s brushed stainless steel surface.
All-in-all, the Desert Eagle is just a masterpiece of modern design and workmanship. The fit and finish are first rate and every part of the gun feels “tough” and a bit over-engineered.
SHOOTING THE .429 DE
As I mentioned, I’m a fan of the .44 magnum and have fired it in many different sized guns. All revolvers of various configurations and barrel lengths. I also know my way around other big-bore hand cannons, so I was curious how this new wildcat would feel. For starters, the gun weighs as much as a ’69 VW Beetle, so that will help. I dry fired the pistol a few times to get a sense for the trigger break, then loaded five in the 7-round magazine. The first shot made an impression. It wasn’t so much the recoil – which is significant but well mitigated by the weight of the gun and tough springs. What got my attention was the concussion and the noise of the blast. You feel the shock wave hit you like you’re in an invisible pillow fight. And if your ear protection is not up to snuff, you’ll find out fast.
Magnum Research recommends a very firm grip and an isosceles-type stance with the strong hand pushing out with a locked elbow and forward shoulder, and the support hand tightly pulling back toward the body in the opposing force method. Limp-wristing is a common malfunction inducing problem with the Desert Eagle pistol. I’ll confess – none too proudly – that I experienced this issue first hand more than once while shooting this behemoth – even while on rest. This could also be an indication that some break-in is required, but I did experience several feeding malfunctions with the .429 DE rounds. So, with the jury out on the reasons for that, I will presume that I am at least half the cause if not all of it. When I focused my grip and locked my elbows, it ran quite well. It’s easier said than done, to keep a locked isometric grip on the gun after the first shot – because the flinch instinct can be strong, and the desire to bend the elbows to cushion the blow equally strong. But bleeding off just a little bit of that energy by doing so can interfere with the cycling of the action and cause the next round to short-feed.
The .429 DE cartridge is not SAAMI certified as yet, so to my knowledge, there is only one supplier of the ammunition, Glacier Ridge by Magnum Research. It is available in two bullet weights, a 240-gr. soft nose, and a 210-gr. JHP. The latter claims a higher velocity. I didn’t have a supply of comparable .44 magnum for the lighter bullet, but since I did chronograph both weights, we’ll take a look at those results.
Magnum Research’s boast of significantly increased velocity and energy versus the .44 magnum seems well founded. My simple testing revealed the same weight (240 gr.) bullet travels about 19% faster and packs a whopping 41% more energy. Its numbers put it between the 7.62×39 (AK-47 round) and the .243 Winchester rifle rounds. Hand cannon – indeed! The 210-gr. hollow point version moves considerably faster yet and despite its lesser mass, delivers very nearly the same energy.
In addition to the cartridge being new, uncertified, and exclusive – it is also expensive. Obviously, the cost of the components is significant – particularly the bottle-neck brass case. If you shop around a bit online you might find a box of 20 for as little as $32, or about $1.60 per shot. But then, I doubt anyone is considering any Desert Eagle model because it makes good sense for their budget, and especially so with a new boutique cartridge. Over time that will come down a bit, but not much. There is still a lot of raw material there.
To test the accuracy of the Desert Eagle, I rested it at 20 yards from a target and compared 5 shots of .44 Magnum to 5 shots of .429DE, both with 240-grain bullets. Since the behemoth I was testing is over the top, I thought I’d go over the top too, and mounted an Aimpoint PRO – intended for rifle use – on the gun. After a quick sight-in with the .44 barrel, I shot 5 rounds of SIG Sauer Elite Performance ammo, then swapped barrels to the .429DE and shot 5 more rounds. Seems the configuration of the barrels is different enough that it sent the .429 rounds about six inches high – but luckily still on paper and well separated from the .44 group. The group with the .44 mag barrel was extremely impressive – with three of the five shots touching. The .429 printed a larger group, partly due to flinching on the part of yours truly. I also found that even rested, one must concentrate on the grip or feed problems can result.
JUST MY OPINION
This is the part of the review where I often try to define the practical use for the firearm. Is it best suited for home defense, concealed carry, competition or perhaps hunting and sporting use, etc. But the Desert Eagle fits in all boxes and no box all at the same time. It is unique among handguns, and its justification for being is simply that it exists. And we’re glad it does. Once thought of as a novelty gun, the Desert Eagle has matured into one considered synonymous with high quality and high power. Everybody secretly wants one. It is perhaps the ultimate barbeque gun – especially if you got the bling package with gold plating and tiger stripes! But that doesn’t mean it has no practical application. I would hate to be a wild hog on the property of a Desert Eagle owner. Indeed, even more traditional game could be taken with it. Defend the home? You bet it would. One shot would do it – you’ve either eliminated the threat, or the threat is eliminating all over itself as it runs away. But the real reason for the Desert Eagle is the best reason of all. The “just because” reason. And it is in that spirit that I think the folks at Magnum Research said “what if…” and developed the .429 DE Magnum. It lives up to the hype in terms of ballistic performance.
One of the best aspects of the Desert Eagle is its ability to be quickly changed from one caliber to another by a simple barrel swap – and maybe a different magazine. So, you can take it to the range with the .44 magnum or .357 magnum barrel, and bring it to the barbeque with the new – and conversation starting .429 barrel. The Desert Eagle is an expensive gun, and not likely the most practical. But, check just about any gun guy’s wish list and you’ll find it – probably near the top. The .429 DE is likely to rejuvenate interest, and it is worthy of the name. I think Magnum Research has a new winner here.