Desert Eagle .50 AE Review

Chances are, you’ve either seen the iconic Desert Eagle .50 AE either in one of several movies featuring the pistol, or in countless video games. You may have even heard various rumors about the pistol’s origins and intended uses, or even claims as to it’s capabilities. Let’s go ahead and get the facts straight on the gun before proceeding to the review.

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The massive Desert Eagle .50 comes with one 7 round magazine.

Starting development all the way back in 1979, the Desert Eagle .50 AE was designed to be the semi automatic handgun capable of chambering the largest center-fire handgun cartridge in the world. Magnum Research Inc was responsible for the design and refinement of the pistol, and production was initially handled by Israel Military Industries until 1995, when Saco Defense took over production for a brief period of three years, and then back to Israel Military Industries. Since 2009, Desert Eagles have been made in the USA at Magnum Research, in Pillager, MN. Herein we see the origins of one particularly common rumor about the gun, that it is used by the Israeli military. It is not, at least in any official capacity. We also see that this is a “because we can” type of firearm, though it has certainly found some viable uses, which we will discuss later on.

The Desert Eagle is massive. As the gun can come chambered in other, more common calibers, such as .44 Magnum, and .357 Magnum, I almost feel as though Magnum Research should have named the .50 AE variant the “Desert Pterodactyl” for the size of the round it takes. The rim of the .50 AE is the same size as the .44 Magnum, and is smaller than the case itself. The case then tapers slightly down to .54″ to accommodate the .50″ projectile. The Hornady XTP hollow point rounds I fired during the review leave the muzzle at a respectable 1,475 FPS, and the 300 grain projectile generates a whopping 1,449 foot pounds of energy. To put that in perspective, a standard .44 Magnum round travels roughly 1,230 FPS and generates 806 foot pounds of energy. That is a LOT of power to be fired out of a handgun.

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The author firing the Desert Eagle at dusk. Note the basketball sized ball of fire.

Let’s look at some specs on this impressive weapon:

  • Barrel length is 6″
  • Made out of carbon steel, other materials and finishes available (gun reviewed is “brushed chrome” finish)
  • Single action, trigger pull is listed as 4 pounds
  • Weight with empty magazine is 4 pounds, 5.8 ounces
  • MSRP is listed as $1,999, though typically seen for about $1,600-$1,800

 

The way the gun works is perhaps what is most intriguing to myself and other firearms enthusiasts. It uses a 4 lug bolt reminiscent of the 7 lug bolts commonly seen on AR-15’s and M-4’s, and has a port under the chamber where gas is routed when a shot is fired. The gas then travels inside a tube running underneath the barrel where it encounters a piston, which it then engages and cycles another round. It is essentially the same principle used in countless rifles, but rarely, if ever, seen in a handgun.

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Note the lug slots and the gas tube located just above the feed ramp.

Firing the Desert Eagle .50 AE is an experience unlike any other. The recoil is extremely stout and the report is thunderous. The muzzle flash is bright, even under bright daylight conditions. One of Newton’s laws  states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In considering the amount of muzzle energy we discussed earlier, you can imagine what the recoil is like. The gun has received a bad reputation for being prone to jams. I tried to replicate that today, and was able to by “limp wristing” the pistol. It doesn’t like that at all. I encountered a failure to feed three rounds into the magazine. If I maintained a proper firing grip on the pistol, I had no such issues. Speaking plainly, I cannot afford the amount of ammo it would take to run a proper reliability test on the gun, but in scouring the internet, did find several Desert Eagle owners with far more financial resources than I have who reported firing upwards of 1000 rounds with no issues, using factory loaded ammunition.

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Failure to feed caused by “limp wristing” was the only issue I had.

Accuracy with the Desert Eagle is surprisingly good, although I’m sure that others will fire the gun much more accurately than myself. After 7 operations on my right forearm and extensive metal hardware being inserted, I found myself truly not just anticipating each shot, but almost dreading it. Even considering that, the gun absolutely did its part and and the crisp, single action trigger really lends itself to lobbing the 300 grain hunks of lead where you want them. With the large section of rail atop the barrel, the gun also lends itself well to being fitted with an optic, if that’s your cup of tea. I would, however, recommend going with a quality optic, as it has been my experience most “bargain buys” will not hold up to sharp and powerful recoil, and the Desert Eagle certainly delivers that. The iron sights the gun comes with are plain, dovetailed fixtures which worked just fine against my light colored target. I’m sure there are other options out there if you wanted to change them out.

 

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Accuracy was respectable, even out to 25 yards, when aiming at the “-3” at the bottom of the target.

As far as uses for the Desert Eagle, concealed carry is simply out. The weight, size, chambering, and potential for jams when not held properly immediately disqualify it. However, there are people who deer hunt with it, carry it for bear defense, and even just enjoy shooting it. Handloaders have reported that you can really milk the cartridge for all different purposes, and that it is a good cost saving practice if you find yourself shooting the .50 AE frequently. The ammo IS pretty pricey, at $1.40 a round being the cheapest I found it from reliable brands. For bear defense, I would be reluctant to carry the Desert Eagle simply due to the size, weight, and the simplicity of a revolver vs a semi-auto in those fast paced and short distance encounters. Speaking honestly, this is just a fun gun to shoot, even with the joint cracking, bone jarring recoil. It is even more fun to shoot with a group of friends. I would advise that you make sure that anyone who shoots it is confident and fairly experienced with firearms before letting them take a turn with it. The internet is full of videos of inexperienced shooters whacking themselves in the forehead with the barrel due to lack of experience, and the power of the firearm. So, should you get one? That’s up to you! It’s fun, but expensive to buy, expensive to shoot, and in my opinion, should come with some coupons for Motrin in the packaging.

 

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Published by Nick

Nick is an avid shooter and 2nd Amendment content creator with 20 years shooting experience. You can usually find him testing guns and equipment at his range on his property, or creating video content to help others enjoy the shooting sports as much as he has over the years.

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