The Magnum Research Desert Eagle is one of the most famous firearms of all time.
While most firearms are built with a practical purpose in mind, there are some firearms that were built simply because they were fun. Most shooters will agree the Magnum Research Desert Eagle in .50 Action Express falls into that latter category. This is the largest semi-automatic pistol in the world, and it does not really have a practical purpose other than delivering raw, untamed power.
This firearm became a pop culture phenomenon, thanks mostly to countless appearances in movies, video games, and television shows. We lost count of how many movies Arnold Schwarzenegger used this beast to bring down the bad guys.
Today we will take an in-depth look at the Desert Eagle and some of the (few) other offerings for a .50 caliber handgun on the market today. We will also examine why despite having few practical applications for a magnum caliber semi-auto, that weighs more than three Glock pistols combined, you may still really need one!
Development of the Desert Eagle
Aside from the pricing, and ridiculous overall size, and unique ammo chambering, the Desert Eagle is also unique in that it features a gas-operated, rotating bolt design instead of the far more common blowback or short recoil systems. This is one of the reasons the gun's developers joke the firearm is not a pistol at all.
"I define it as a small rifle, because by design, it really is," Magnum Research's Director of Design, Research and Development Jim Tertin says in the video above. "We only have a four-pound rifle, it's not a four-pound big handgun."
The video goes into a little more detail on the development. All you really need to know is that the Desert Eagle's history goes back to 1979. Magnum Research's early developers decided they wanted to develop a semi-auto platform for .357 Magnum. The round was already being used in law enforcement service guns all over the country. The only difference was, until Desert Eagle came around, no one really thought about putting that round into a semi-auto platform. The reason for this is obvious, .357 Magnum is a hard-hitting caliber capable of delivering muzzle velocities over 1,400 feet per second while delivering more than 500-foot pounds of energy to the target. The round has a decent amount of recoil and is not one that many people wanted to rapid fire.
The engineers could not find anyone willing to take the design from paper to practical firearm. After failing to find someone willing to build it in the U.S., they took the project overseas to Israel where Israel Military Industries (IMI) built the first Mark I Desert Eagles, which came to market chambered in .357 Magnum in 1983. The two companies upscaled things in 1986 when they offered a new variant in .44 Magnum.
In 1988, the .50 Action Express round was designed and a few years after that the first Desert Eagle pistol chambered for the huge round was developed and the world of large caliber handguns would never be the same again.
Magnum Research Desert Eagle 50 AE
While the company still makes this handgun chambered for .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, most people are looking to buy the .50 Action Express when shopping for one of these guns. The latest model being put out by Magnum Research is the Desert Eagle Mark XIX.
Just reading the specs on this gun is enough to make any shooting enthusiasts eyes widen with surprise and wonder. All the caliber offerings for this gun have a six-inch barrel with polygonal rifling. The .50 AE's rate of twist is 1:19. The overall length of this gun is something to behold at 10.75 inches. It is also 6.25 inches high. The weight is a whopping 72 ounces unloaded. This thing was never meant for concealed carry or other forms of self-defense. That is one of the reasons seeing it in war movies is so laughable. No army out there wants to issue a nearly four-pound handgun to their troops.
If you need further proof this thing was meant simply to be flashy at the shooting range, look no further than the finishes the Mark XIX pistol is available in. There is a standard black and burnt bronze that may pass for tactical. However, it's clear from the brushed chrome, titanium gold, polished chrome and black and titanium gold tiger stripe finishes that this is not your everyday carry gun. We can guarantee most of the range will stop what they are doing to watch you shoot if you pull one of these babies out. A Desert Eagle is an excellent way to make new friends at the range!
While some may consider the Desert Eagle to be a bit gaudy, these handguns are still fitted with premium features that you would expect on any serious semi-auto pistol. The slide is made of stainless steel and features weaver style accessory rails as well as a picatinny rail. To help tame the recoil of these magnum chamberings, there is an integral muzzle brake. The magazine capacity of the Desert Eagle varies by caliber. The .357 Magnum version holds up to nine rounds, the .44 Magnum holds eight and the .50 AE version holds up to seven rounds.
The gun also sports ambidextrous safeties and fixed combat sights. Oh, and that single action trigger has a manageable four-pound pull. Combine all these features, and you have a handgun that operates extremely well, even if practical applications are limited. The only real downside to the Desert Eagle is in the price. You are looking at a minimum of $1,500, all the way up to nearly $2,200 for a brand-new one. The cost depends mostly on the caliber choice and finish. Still, the list of powerful handguns that can deliver a large round like this at speeds up to 1,500 fps while also delivering up to 1,600 pounds of muzzle energy to the target, is short.
Other 50 caliber handguns.
Not many companies have taken the dive into the .50 caliber market. Mostly because it takes a very specific person to want a handgun with that much stopping power. Many big game hunters or people looking for defense against Alaskan bears and other dangerous game animals usually go with a revolver like the Ruger Super Redhawk instead. There have been a few other attempts at a semi-auto .50 AE, but these models, like the AMT AutoMag V and the LAR Grizzly Win Mag had shorter production runs and have since been discontinued.
Magnum Research does make a more traditional offering in .50 AE in the form of a short cylinder revolver, the BFR, which stands for "Biggest Finest Revolvers." This gun has a short, five-inch barrel, a brushed stainless finish, black rubber grips, and adjustable sights. It comes in at a whopping 64 ounces. Kahr and Magnum Research were not messing around when they designed that one. They also build a long cylinder version chambered in .500 Smith & Wesson for serious big game hunters out there. This revolver comes in a few different barrel lengths, but you are looking at a handgun that is more than 17 inches in overall length, which is just wild to think about. The .500 S&W Magnum version also has a brushed stainless steel finish and a five-round capacity. If you were looking for one of the biggest revolvers on the market, this 75.2-ounce monster should fit the bill.
Since we already mentioned .500 S&W, we should also mention the legendary Smith & Wesson Model 500 revolver. This gun has a bad reputation for being unpleasant to shoot. However, some recoil is expected when we are talking about round capable of over 2,000 fps speeds and energies exceeding 2,800-foot pounds being delivered to the target. The .500 is not exactly a casual target shooting gun, but rather a serious hunting tool best reserved for the most dangerous animals on the planet.
Finally, there is such a thing as a .50 caliber Glock, although this is not a product you'll find on the Glock website. Instead, the Glock 50Gi is a conversion kit from Guncrafter Industries that allows users to turn a Gen 1-4 Glock 20, 21, 40, and 41 models into a .50 GI beast. The kit itself costs about $700. Considering the price, it almost makes more sense to just buy a complete pistol kit from them for about $1,100.