By: Duncan Long
Although an American idea, the “Desert Eagle” was developed in Israel by the IMI (Israel Military Industries) in the early 1980s. The first Desert Eagles were manufactured in Israel and started appearing on gun dealers’ shelves in the US around 1985.
Given the fact that the IMI is best known for the Uzi series of submachine guns and the Galil rifles, it isn’t surprising that the Desert Eagle departs radically from many other semiauto pistol designs, though the exterior belays this. The basic layout is like that of most other modern semiauto pistols (with the magazine release on the side of the grip, slide release on the left side of the frame, and a thumb-activated slide safety).
Internally things are different. The pistol is gas-operated with a system that is more like a rifle than the delayed blow-back systems used with most other semiauto hand guns. The gas system employs a fixed, shrouded barrel which stays in position on the frame during firing, with gas coming up a port just ahead of the chamber to operate a three-lug rotating bolt that rides in the slide assembly. The fixed barrel gives the gun a lot of potential accuracy, a potential realized with most of these pistols when fired with quality ammunition.
In addition to .357 Magnum, .41 AE, .41 Magnum, and .44 Magnum chamberings, the Desert Eagle is also available chambered for the .50 AE (Action Express).
The .50 AE uses a rebated cartridge head of 0.514 inch – the same dimension as the .44 Magnum rim. This made it practical to create a cartridge with a .50-caliber bullet without necessitating the production of a new slide assemble or bolt. The same slide assembly created for the .44 Magnum fits with the .50 AE. All that’s changed is the barrel and a few other odds and ends of parts.
The .50 AE (also known as the .50 Magnum) is currently available from CCI and IMI with the latter ammunition being imported into the US by Magnum Research under the “Samson Ultra” trademark. The bullets with this cartridge are generally around 300 grains and have a muzzle velocity of around 1,380 feet per second (with a 6-inch barrel). This gives the bullet 1,260-plus foot pounds of energy, placing the cartridge well above the .44 Magnum in terms of power.
While the hammering of the shooter by a cartridge like the .50 Magnum can be awesome, the weight and gas operation of the Desert Eagle does a good job of reducing this kick, making it considerably less than might be experienced with a revolver chambered for the .44 Magnum. Muzzle blast and flash from the .50 Magnum is also extreme; for this reason it is best employed with a longer barrel whenever this is an option.
Unlike most other Desert Eagle pistols, the .50 Magnum models have a contoured barrel with an integral scope mount grooved into its top. There are currently three barrel lengths in all chamberings available for the Desert Eagle: 6, 10, and 14 inches long; earlier models also were available with an 8-inch barrel, but this length has since been discontinued. At the time of this writing, barrels with Mag-na-porting compensation vents are also available to cut recoil to even more manageable amounts.
When the various grips, barrel lengths, finishes, and chamberings available for the Desert Eagle are taken into consideration, there are about 5,000 possible configurations of this pistol right from the factory, without any modifications by a gunsmith or owner other than exchanging a barrel assembly, sights, or grip panels. While this makes these guns a collector’s nightmare, they are ideal for those wanting a “custom” pistol without the high price tag such one-of-a-kind guns normally carry.