The Desert Eagle

Desert_Eagle_beside_a_box_of_Speer_325_Grain_HP

The Desert Eagle XIX handgun is one of the more peculiar handguns of the late twentieth century for a variety of reasons. Most handguns introduced in the civilian and military markets are earmarked for a specific purpose, whether that be a polymer reliable Glock or a safer revolver such as the Ruger transfer bar. They’re intend to fill a void, be better than the competition, or meet a certain performance expectation. Then we have the Desert Eagle’s introduction. The large-bore handgun is advertised as a quasi-everything, depending on the market it’s going for. At once, it is a big-bore hunting handgun and novelty item; there are rumors about Special Operations use, it doubles as a target or silhouette shooting piece, it’s an experiment, and later on it gains a healthy following in movies and video games. But from a truly practical shooting perspective, it’s quite hard to justify using it in the first place. It’s too heavy, more expensive than traditional big -bore hunting revolvers, has a complicated gas-operated system, and it’s one of the only handguns to be chambered in its most popular caliber. And yet to this day, its presence is undeniable. Magnum Research is going strong, new models and configurations are coming out every year.

So there is obviously a market for Desert Eagle pistols, but why? The answer is its allure, plain and simple. It has a lot of ‘firsts’ and ‘onlys’. It’s pretty much the only relevant handgun chambered in .50 Action Express, it’s certainly the only mass produced semi-automatic .44 and .357 Magnum out there (while also being the first mass produced semi-automatic handgun to be chambered in those calibers), it holds more rounds than any similar chambered handgun of its calibers, it’s almost as recognizable as the Walther PPK through movies and video games with less than a quarter of the PPK’s production figures, and it’s one of the largest, sexiest handguns you’ll see today on the market. Despite all the disadvantages listed above, this pistol took off where other big-bore, semi-automatic handguns have been left in the dust. The Wildey pistol comes to mind because it tried to fill that void of a big-bore semi-automatic handgun, but it failed with less than 10,000 or so being produced before it was discontinued.

Source- Magnum Research

Source- Magnum Research

Conception, initial design, and production

The concept for the Desert Eagle came from a proof of concept design idea. It came about during the late 1970s when .357 magnum hunting revolvers were beginning to become very popular in the hunting community. It was also the time of reliable semi-automatic handgun experimentation. The Glock 17 entered Austrian service in 1982, Ruger’s P series was introduced in 1985, about the same time the Beretta 92F and Sig Saur P226 came into prominence. Smith & Wesson had their 39, and 59 series had also been introduced towards the end of the Vietnam War. Basically what was going on is that the development of polymers, metals, and manufacturing techniques had caught up with firearms design and the era of the revolver and 1911 style pistols was coming to an end. This also had to do with proliferation and development of rifles and submachine guns, changing the entire tactical side of things that police had to deal with and thus called for more reliable semi-automatic handguns. Realizing all this in context, it’s no surprise that the idea of a reliable semi-automatic handgun handling big-bore revolver cartridges that would attract both the revolver hunting crowd and the new semi-automatic pistol crowd became so successful

The pistol concept was put together by John Risdall and Jim Skildam, the founders of Magnum Research. Technical details and development were headed by a man named Bernard White. It is interesting to note that White isn’t mentioned at all on Magnum Research’s history page, similar to how Dave Walls invented the L96 but Malcom Cooper received much of the fanfare. It was originally built around the .357 Magnum, but later on interchangeable barrels were introduced chambered in .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and finally the .50 Action Express in 1991 (which was the largest claim to fame because at the time the .50 AE was the largest production handgun cartridge at the time, superseded recently by the .500 S&W). The original patent was entered in 1983, and IMI revised the design in 1985. Magnum Eagle was the original name of the handgun but as is the case with all start-up manufacturers, Magnum Research Inc. didn’t have the manufacturing capacity or funds to mass produce the pistol. Israeli Military Industries (not to be confused with the civilian break off, Israeli Weapon Industries, IWI) was subcontracted to produce the handgun while Magnum Research Inc. still retained the property rights. It was in this venture that the handgun truly took off, changing its name to “Desert Eagle” and taking on the recognizable form it still has today.

Source- Magnum Research

Source- Magnum Research

The design of the Desert Eagle isn’t actually anything spectacularly new; it’s a combination of various designs coming together. The beavertail and magazine release echo from the 1911, the gas and piston system derive from the Ruger Mini 14. The external safety and take-down lever are similar to the Beretta 92F. Operationally, gas systems in firearms are usually found on rifles and submachine guns, and not handguns. This is usually because blow back and tilt-locking barrels are more than sufficient for the cartridges that handguns are used with. The Desert Eagle, however, requires a gas operation good enough to reliably cycle the magnum calibers that it is usually chambered with. Thus the rotating bolt head found on Stoners designs was also introduced with the pistol. This use of the bolt head also lends itself to easier caliber conversions because all a user has to do is to change out the barrel and bolt head, leaving the slide and action untouched.

Source- World.guns.ru

Source- World.guns.ru

Company History
IMI produced the Desert Eagle until 1995, when the contract for production was shifted to Saco Defense in Saco, Maine. In 1998 production moved back to IMI, which at this point had become IWI. Beginning in 2009, production finally began with Magnum Research in Pillager, MN, where it continues to this day. The company was bought out by Kahr Arms in 2010, and control of production remains with this company. Magnum Research is still very much alive in showcasing the pistol and announcing various modifications and enhancements. A look on the current offers will show over 40 different combinations to choose from, including a titanium and gold finished variant. However, the company has expanded into various other platforms as well, such as big-bore revolvers, 1911s, .22 rifles, and a commercialized Jericho. This last platform is interesting as the company named it the “Baby Desert Eagle” despite the fact that the two pistols are completely different in design. Magnum Research used a similar advertising scheme in promoting the “Micro Desert Eagle”, claiming it shares all of the family traits with the original handgun, also despite the fact that the two have almost nothing in common.

Variants and design changes

The basic design of the Desert Eagle was changed by IMI when they took over the production of the firearm, but has since remained unchanged. The original design was called the Mark I, and then afterwards came the Mark VII. The Mark I has since been discontinued, with the Mark VII raising to prominence. The difference between the Mark I and Mark VII lies mainly in the different calibers each was chambered in, the Mark VII being chambered in .41 Magnum in addition to versions in .357 Mag, .50 AE, and .44 Mag. In addition, the Mark VII has an adjustable trigger unlike the Mark I. Today the most recent design is the Mark XIX, the difference mostly being updated manufacturing and a large variety of different finishes such as the gold or titanium mentioned earlier. A variant of the XIX has also been made to accommodate sales in the state of California, the only addition to the pistol being the incorporation of a firing pin block. This variant can be purchased with either a standard 6 inch barrel, or a lengthened 10 inch barrel for hunting purposes. There is a further variant of the 10 inch barrel in the form of a miniature scale Desert Eagle made in Russia (not related to Magnum Research). This version is for sale for several tens of thousands of dollars and is fully functional with miniature ammunition. Larry Vickers recently made it famous during a tour of some Russian manufacturers. Among all these various barrel configurations and chamberings, it’s important to note that within each variant, barrels can be exchanged to alter the length and even the caliber. Because the pistol has a separate bolt head, it can interchange matching barrels and bolt heads to accommodate different rounds. This is something truly unique about the pistol, but regardless, the handgun is usually sold with only a single barrel/bolt-head set. The pistol has gone along with many of the improvements in firearms technology, such as the addition of picatinny rails, compensators and modern manufacturing techniques. Because of the widespread popularity in entertainment, there’s even two 9mm blank firing replicas made by Bruni Combat and the Retay Eagle.

Source- Counter Strike video game. Notice the skin below the company name on the handgun.

Source- Counter Strike video game. Notice the skin designer name below the company name on the handgun.

Use in entertainment media

The pistol is reported to have been featured in over 500 different movies, mostly due to its iconic image and size. But video games are where the Desert Eagle really found its niche. It is perhaps one of the only firearms to have gotten a nickname from its use in video games: the “Deagle”, a shortcut for typing “Desert Eagle” on a keyboard. One of the first games to really take advantage of the handgun is the game Counter-Strike from Source. The game used the massive size of the handgun and cartridge to good effect. Nearly every player in the game is allowed to purchase it, and it is programmed to have the hardest-hitting effects of any of the pistols in the game, even exceeding most of the submachine guns. For this reason it’s very popular among players to “buy” the gun at the beginning of a match, as a secondary or even as a primary weapon system to be used throughout the game. And although the pistol became hugely popular in Counter-Strike, it its popularity was not limited to this platform but blossomed into a number of different forms in other games because of its reputation for effectiveness.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • The details of the IMI -> IWI story are incorrect. IMI still exists. IWI came about when IMI privatized their Magen factory (where small arms were produced), and sold it to Sammy Katz of the SK Group (which also owns Meprolight). IWI is not a civilian-only enterprise, and most certainly supplies the IDF with their small arms.

  • Agitator

    Couldn’t have used a 1.5 skin for the CS deagle? Lolol such n00b.

  • Yutrzenika

    “One of the first games to really take advantage of the handgun is the game Counter-Strike from Source.”
    Valve are the ones who made Counter Strike, Source is the engine the game runs on.

    • Wetcoaster

      To be even more pedantic, Valve made Half-Life. The original Counter-Strike was a mod by a third party. (Valve subsequently hired the modders and acquired the IP)

      • USMC03Vet

        Gooseman!

        I’m old 🙁

    • Shevrock

      Oh, Cool, I was hoping I wasn’t the only nerd to catch that. I was really into the article until that little tidbit popped up. 🙂

    • Friend of Tibet

      TACTICAL FACEPALM!

  • J-

    It’s like the Hummer of handguns. It’s big, it’s expensive, feeding it ain’t cheap, and there are a lot of other options on the market that will do a better job. But damn if every boy in America who sees Arnold with one on the silver screen would get one if they could afford it.

  • JE

    “the “Deagle”, a shortcut for typing “Desert Eagle” on a keyboard”

    Actually it has little to do with being a typing shortcut – deagle was the title of the item in the logs of a CounterStrike server host and being easy to say / type the item abbreviation stuck around.

    • Jay

      Nobody cares

    • Don

      Im on my second Desert Eagle .50 and the only people I ever hear call it a “Deagle” are the online gun geeks.

  • BearSlayer338

    The Desert Eagle in .44 magnum is very nice,but I prefer the Lar Grizzly in .44 magnum or .45 Winchester Magnum.

    • Chris

      Poor LAR, man I hate Remington.

    • G0rdon_Fr33man

      I own a LAR Mark 1. Exceptionally well made. A shame they stopped making them. The funfactor is through the roof! I hope Coonan will eventually make a .44 magnum. I´ll be first in line to get one!

    • Tothe

      I got to shoot a Grizzly .45 Win Mag once. it was fun.

  • Lance

    You forget they made some for several years in .41 Rem Mag and shot well.

  • S. Cautela

    Rumors about Special Operations use?

  • Gidge

    Very much the muscle car of the handgun world. Forget about practicality, running costs or any legitimate reason for having it, the Desert Eagle is all about FUN!!!

    I love my black IWI made .44 Magnum version. Never jammed, very accurate (once you learn how it likes to be held and shot) and anyone who shoots is winds up grinning like an idiot. Any ammo that goes to the range does not come home

    • Anon. E Maus

      Yeah, the Deagle can be testy, but if you get to know it and treat like it wants to be treated, it’ll run pretty damn smooth.

      I’d do dirty things for a stainless one gun in .50AE, with a blued slide and 10″ barrel.

      Something else I would do shameful things for is if Magnum Research developed a rifle/carbine variant of the Desert Eagle, because dear lord would that be attractive.

  • Grindstone50k

    I was looking for the Ahoy video.

  • ak1134

    This is a common topic that brings up alot of debate… Can anyone even come up with one practical application why some special military units may use this? I can’t come up with anything that a soldiers .223/.308 and .45/9mm can’t handle…

    • Gidge

      “Evaluation Purposes” or “Specialized Application”. I wouldn’t be surprised if some elite special forces units somewhere have bought a couple to play with under some bullshit pretext because they can get away with it. I know I would

    • Dave

      In Svalbard it is mandatory to carry a weapon outside of the main settlement due to the threat of polar bears. You see plenty of people with big bore revolvers and shotguns loaded with slugs although the most common carry is a Kar 98 K (many of these were left behind in Norway by the Nazis – you can still see the eagle and swastika stamped on those in Svalbard) If price wasn’t an issue then the Desert Eagle might be a pretty good option. However when it comes to reliability with snow and ice a revolver could have the advantage.

      In the extreme cold its best to leave your weapon outside of a tent or in the cold-foyer of an Arctic hut. A chunk of cold metal will attract condensation when brought into the warmth, then the temperature in your tent/hut drops again after you turn off the stove or leave the fire to go to sleep and the moisture will freeze. Over several nights this can have a cumulative effect and if you need to use it the bears won’t give you time to blow on the action and unfreeze your gun.

      Sorry I went off at a tangent there with some Arctic firearms facts – but that is the only practical civilian use I can think of for this weapon.

  • Wetcoaster

    I wonder if anyone’s considered putting a stock on it in the manner of some 1911 and Glock conversions (or like the holster-stocks on the C96, Browning Hi-Power, or Stechkin APS) to turn it into a carbine (yes, I realize this would make it an SBR in the states)

    • MR

      Ummm…Red Jacket did that in one of their episodes ( I almost hate admitting that I know that.)

      • MR

        Of course, if RJ did it, there were probably six or seven kits already on the market.

  • Don Ward

    Desert Eagles are the equivalent of two drunk co-eds making out on the couch on order to get attention. They target the same demographic and now they even dress the same.

  • A

    I would think that “Deagle” isn’t keyboard-generated slang, but the name that was used in counterstrike to avoid legal issues with intellectual property. Many games slightly alter the names of the guns for this reason. The remington model 700 is called “R700” in call of duty, and the MP5k is called D5K Deutsche in 007 Goldeneye for N64.

    • Nick

      Also in goldeneye you had the PP7 (PPK) and RCP80 (P90). Similarly in Payday 2 you had the Redfield 880 (Remington 870).

    • Jared

      And I thought I was the only video game nerd on this blog. Nice to know I’m in good company.

    • Max Glazer

      STALKER games are notorious for that 🙂

      SGI5K – SIG-550
      BC Vintar – VSS Vintorez
      OC-14 Thunder – OTs-14 Groza
      AKM-74/2 – AKS-74
      AC-96 – AN-94
      TR301 – LR300

  • Ripley

    It would be interesting to have a select fire KRISS Vector in .50AE. I know, but I can dream can’t I?

    • Tinklebell

      The more anemic .50 GI wouldn’t be too much of a stretch…

  • Is anyone that surprised that sometimes, just sometimes, some of us want, if not buy, specific guns just because they look cool? The DE’s market is right there, 100% of its justification is the cool factor. And it’s perfectly fine that way, guns don’t always have to be tacti-practi-cool, that’s part of the hobby after all.

    • sliversimpson

      Thank you! I don’t get why people make such a big deal about its uselessness or cost of ownership. The Desert Eagle wasn’t designed for either purpose. Just enjoy the variety and capability of the firearms industry! ‘Murica!

  • Bob

    So… I guess I’m the only one who thinks the Desert Eagle looks kind of ridiculous? I mean, I don’t really see much of a need for one unless I start hunting grizzlies with a handgun, nor do I really feel any real desire to buy one for the “lols”. Oh well, guess I’m that guy again.

    • Bob

      Also, “…the era of the revolver and 1911 style pistols was coming to an end.”
      Oh rly?

  • Ben Enjerry

    Depending on which manufacturer made your DE, some parts do not interchange with each other. At our public range, we have a few that are rentals for customers. These guns break down all the time. The folks who rent them know about them from video games. The new “shooters” of America? Sorry for being a cynic but I think the guns are less than sturdy. Snapped takedown levers, broken magazine catch pins, the metal tab on the recoil spring assembly’s wearing away; strange goings-on with guns designed for such battering cartridges.

  • Nitro

    Uh, wasn’t the Automag the first production pistol in .44 Magnum?