This $1,250 Magnum Research Action Express gun costs too much for its limited usefulness, we think. Also, it hits shooters in the head with extracted cases.
Shooters interested in performance have probably read about the .50 Action Express and wondered if the cartridge fills any useful niche between the powerful .44 Magnum and the .454 Casull. Moreover, they may have asked how well handguns chambered for the .50 AE handle its power. We recently had the chance to find out answers to both questions when we tested the Desert Eagle from Magnum Research. Here’s what we liked—and didn’t like—about the $1,200 product.
Handling The Sizable
The Desert Eagle is a massive, well-made product with good fit and finish. There is no mistaking the profile of the business end of an Israeli-made Desert Eagle handgun. The distinctive dome-topped pyramid shape is unique to the handgun. Coupled with the massive 1/2-inch bore size of the .50 AE, the wrong end of this handgun has a very intimidating effect. But then, the entire styling of the Desert Eagle is meant to be intimidating as part of its marketing appeal. This massive handgun weighs 4.6 pounds and has a dark, brooding appearance that tells you at a glance that it means business.
Constructed to military specifications, the finish of the Desert Eagle is matte monochrome black. (We have noted some wearing of this finish after only moderate use.) The only visible color other than black is the red indicator on the safety. The Desert Eagle features a fixed barrel with a gas-operated, rotary-bolt locking system. This design is similar to that used in semi-auto rifles and is very strong, easily handling the pressures of the .50 AE cartridge. It has proved to be an accurate design as well. The bolt travels with the slide when firing, while the barrel remains stationary with the frame. This reduces the weight of the gun’s moving slide and helps keep perceived recoil down.
There is an external hammer with a half-cock position. This hammer has a flat, serrated top that is easy to grip with your thumb for cocking if you choose to carry the gun with the hammer in the half-cocked position, with the safety on. The 6-inch barrel has polygonal rifling with a 1-in-19 right-hand twist.
The safety can be operated from either side, but the slide release and the magazine release are operable from the left side only. While this design is usually considered right-hand only (except for the safety), left-handed shooters found it to be acceptable and perhaps even preferable. However, shooters could not operate the slide release with an unaided thumb when shooting right-handed. Also, because of the massive grip size, shooters found it difficult to operate the magazine release right-handed. It was far easier to operate the slide release and the magazine release with the shooter’s left index finger while shooting left-handed. The safety, being ambidextrous, is accessed from either side with equal effort. The reach is about at the limits of some shooters’ thumbs with either hand when the gun is gripped in a shooting position.
The safety disconnects the trigger and allows a “locked and cocked” carry. The single action-only trigger is two stage and requires the shooter to take up the slack of the first stage, which requires about 5 pounds of pull. After that, it breaks relatively cleanly at a hefty 7 pounds. However, because it required only 2 more pounds of pull after taking up the first-stage slack, the result was a controllable trigger pull.
The sights are fixed combat style, which are poorly suited for hunting or target shooting. The rear is a fixed dovetailed square notch with rounded corners in black. The front is a serrated ramp, also dovetailed in place. They also require the shooter to regulate them to a specific load and thus restrict the versatility of this handgun. Magnum Research does offer an aftermarket set of adjustable sights made for them by Millett. Also, the barrel has an integral scope mount base built into the top. It is easy to mount a scope using this and is perhaps the best solution for a hunter. It also eliminates many of the reliability problems associated with conventional screw-mounted bases on hard-kicking handguns.
You can get rings from Magnum Research of the “see through” design that allow you to continue to use the iron sights when a scope is mounted. The one problem with the scope mount is that it places the rear ring so far ahead that most scopes, when mounted as far back as possible, still have their front objectives out past the end of the barrel, subjecting them to damage from the gun’s considerable muzzle blast.
We mounted a Leupold M8-2X, one of the shortest scopes on the market, and the front objective is about flush with the end of the barrel. After several dozen shots there is no evidence of damage to the front objective, but this was unsettling nonetheless.
Shooting Speer 325-grain loads at 30 yards five shot groups averaged 1.6 inches and 1,306 fps velocity. Samson 300-grain cartridges performed about as well at 30 yards, shooting 1.7-inch groups and developing 1,357 fps velocity.
The magazine holds seven rounds, giving the gun a total capacity of eight rounds. Its relatively stiff magazine spring makes it tough to load, but most people with reasonable hand strength will be able to accomplish it without too much trouble. This is easier if you use two hands and push the previously loaded cartridge down with the index finger of one hand while pushing down and inserting the round being loaded with the thumb of the other hand. The magazine became easier to load after repeated use. There is an indicator window that will show at a glance how many rounds remain in the magazine.
The Desert Eagle is easily disassembled for cleaning without tools. Because the springs are necessarily stiff, a word of caution is in order, but overall disassembly and reassembly can be accomplished by any adult.
The grip is a black-rubber three-quarter wrap-around type that provides a good gripping surface with the front strap exposed. The grip is rather large, measuring 61/2 inches in circumference at the middle. The trigger reach is 23/4 inches. While the grip is large and hard to hold on to by average sized hands, the trigger reach is not too far for those same hands. There is an ear at the top of the grip that blocks and protects the web of the hand when firing. This adds to the control of the handgun and protects the web from injury by the hammer.
While firing this handgun, the empty brass would at times hit the shooter’s forehead above shooting glasses on the right side. Not only is this a distraction, there are safety considerations. Still, Magnum Research denies there is a problem. When we inquired about the ejection problem, a company representative told us this: “It’s not a design problem, it’s a shooting style problem. Shooters who are used to shooting big handguns are too limp wristed in their grip and that is causing the problem. The Desert Eagle requires a stiffer grip.”
We doubt many limp-wristed types will choose this handgun, and a conscious effort to maintain a stiffer armed grip didn’t show any noticeable improvement in this problem. In our view, it is surprising that steps haven’t been taken to correct what we think is a design defect.
In shooting tests this gun had only one failure when it had a feed jam that was easily cleared. There were no other failures.
Performance Shooter Recommends
For taking deer, we think the .50 AE is an exceptional choice, but for competition—even though the Desert Eagle itself is accurate enough—the round is simply too much for target applications. Also, we don’t think the Desert Eagle pistol is an appropriate home-defense choice because of its weight and mass and .50 AE’s ability to penetrate most home-building materials, and these factors also rule it out as a carry gun. Also, we had complaints about the gun’s large grip size, lack of suitable adjustable sights on the basic model, and the empty cartridge cases hitting us in the face.
These things said, this gun is a lot of fun to shoot, especially if you get satisfaction from wrestling with its power. But would we spend $1,250 for the privilege of owning a sometimes deer gun that has little other application? Probably not.