Legend and Lore
The Desert Eagle is an iconic pistol, and many of us know it from Hollywood entertainment and other popula media such as videogames. In In videogames and in movies it is often the favored weapon of protagoniss and villains alike. In reality, the Desert Eagle is only preferred by a select few. The gun has massive weight making it burdensome for carry and in calibers like .50AE the recoil is substantial and hard for many to control.
Hwowever, just as Hollywood glorifies the Desert Eagle as an ideal weapon, many myths abound about this gun and it has acquired a perhaps undeserved reputation for problems. In many cases, people will claim that the reliability of the gun is not sufficient. However, in many cases this is as a result of improper ammunition and use. Especially in the .357 Magnum loading and the .44 Magnum loading, there are many rounds commercially designed for revolvers that lack the power necessary to cycle the stiff action of the Desert Eagle. And in the case of the .50 AE especially, the recoil can cause malfunctions if the proper shooting technique is not used.
Handling the Beast
With any semi-auto pistol the frame needs to be held in a steady position in order to allow the slide to cycle reliably. This is often referred to as a limp-wrist failure, but it could also be due to a general lack of resistance to the recoil motion.
However, with the .50 AE Desert Eagle, proper grip is especially important. The recoil is so severe that it is very easy for the gun to twist under recoil which is a sure recipe for not only malfunctions, but also injury. The Desert Eagle needs to be gripped as firmly as possible. If the wrist is not locked, it will cause the gun to twist in the hand. I have found that if I do not lock my wrist, the gun will twist so much that the corner of the slide will slice into my arm just behind the wrist every time. (To be specific, the rear left corner of the slide cuts into my right arm if shooting right handed, or the rear right corner of the slide cuts into my left arm if shooting left handed.) The elbow of the shooting arm should also be locked to help control the muzzle rise, and the grip must be strong enough to hold onto the gun. One only has to look on YouTube to see examples of improper technique where under recoil the gun comes back and hits the user in the face.
Eye protection is especially important with the Desert Eagle, for this reason, and also because the shell casings move backward at a very high speed. On my Desert Eagle, the shell casings seem to fly backwards and to the right at about a 30 degree angle, so when shooting left handed I have had shell casings smack into my protective glasses. The first time I fired the Desert Eagle left handed in fact, the shell casing hit with so much force that I thought the gun itself had hit me until I realized that my arms never moved back that far.
While it is a common saying that "Samuel Colt made men equal" because a firearm can put the weak and strong on a level playing field, with the Desert Eagle there is certainly a degree of physical strength required to properly operate it. I recommend practicing grip strength to help prevent injury from the heavy recoil of the .50 AE and to improve the ability to grip the gun. In order for the gun to function, a very tight grip is necessary. Further, the gun is heavy at over 4 pounds unloaded. Practice holding a weight out in front of you can increase the duration you can hold the gun up without tiring.
Personally, I think I lack the strength for optimal handling of this gun. In the hands of my cousin, the gun runs like a top and is totally controllable, but in my hands I have more difficulty keeping my wrists locked and holding the gun firmly enough to cycle. But I am relatively small, at 5'7" and about 120 lbs. A few years back I injured my right hand thumb firing a 12 Gauge Pistol Grip Only shotgun with 3 inch magnum buckshot shells. The Desert Eagle definitely seems more controllable and less painful to fire than the shotgun even with 2.75" birdshot, but at least for me, firing the Desert Eagle in .50 AE still has significant kick. It has enough kick that it will leave my right hand a little sore after firing a full magazine but my previous injury might have something to do with that. I do not feel sore after shooting it with my left hand. While the recoil is not nearly as severe as with the shotgun, it is quite probable nonetheless that firing large numbers of magnum rounds from handguns will eventually lead to joint problems and repetitive stress injury and thus is an activity that is best done in moderation.
Supposedly, the recoil of the .357 magnum version of the Desert Eagle is very light in comparison to revolvers, and the .44 magnu version is light also compared to the .44 magnum revolvers as the weight of the Desert Eagle and gas operation help mitigate the feel of the powerful rounds. I have not fired the .357 magnum or .44 magnum versions of this gun, but he .50AE is 2.4 times as energetic as .357 magnum and 60% more energetic than .44 magnum so it makes sense that these loads will be a lot more tolerable.
What is the gun for?
Despite the incredible recoil of the gun in .50 AE, the difficulty in mastering the gun, and the sensitivity in ammo in the other calibers, there are still strong advantages to the design. The gun is designed to be powerful, and in .50AE, it still remains he most powerful of semi-auto pistols that feature a magazine inside the grip. But even .357 magnum is a seriously powerful cartridge and with that caliber and suitable ammunition the gun would be easy to control.
The rounds the Desert Eagle can shoot make the gun suitable for use against large animals, and therefore it is a popular choice for handgun hunting as well as self-defense in areas where large dangerous animals like bear are nearby. With suitable projectiles practically any game animal in North America could be taken with the magnum rounds that the Desert Eagle fires.
The modern Desert Eagle XIX comes with an integral rail on the barrel which makes it easy to add a scope or other optic as well. The increased weight of an optic may also help with recoil control.
The relatively fast and hard hitting rounds also make the gun suitable for long range metallic silhouette target shooting. The increased velocity makes them flat shooting. And the lack of a barrel cylinder gap on and the polygonal rifling are factors which cause the same round to typically have a faster velocity out of the Desert Eagle than in a revolver with a similar barrel length.
But probably, the sheer fun of shooting this massive gun in these powerful calibers is the reason most people choose to have a Desert Eagle. Every person I have let shoot mine has had a huge grin on their face afterwards, and with hollow points it does a spectacular job devastating jugs. The muzzle blast often creates a cool fire ring as well.
While .50AE has been surpassed in power by a variety of revolver cartridges, the Desert Eagle holds more rounds and is a different shooting experience. And the .50 AE is on the fringe of recoil tolerability for me, anyway.
The gun utilizes a fixed barrel, and is a precision weapon. The accuracy of this pistol is better than some rifles. This makes the Desert Eagle a popular choice for bullseye target shooting.
One of the advantages of the Desert Eagle design is that caliber changes are relatively easy.
.50 AE to .44 MagnumThe .50AE is an unusual cartridge in that it features a rebated rim that is the same size as the .44 magnum rim. So while the .44 magnum rim is wider than the cartridge case, the .50AE rim is smaller than the cartridge case. To switch between .50AE and .44 magnum, all that is needed is to change the barrel and magazine as the bolt and its extractor grabs onto the .44 magnum and .50AE cartridges in the same fashion. The .50 AE is more powerful than the .44 magnum, but the magazine holds one less round. The lack of protruding rim on the .50AE eliminates the possibility of a rim lock failure that can occur from improperly loading a magazine. And since .50 AE revolvers are rare, almost all .50AE loads are full power loads that will cycle the Desert Eagle well.
.50 AE to .440 Corbon
A lesser known cartridge, .440 corbon, also exists. This cartridge is essentially a .50AE necked down to a .44 magnum, and thus it shoots .44 magnum sized bullets at increased speed. This would utilize .50 AE magazines and a .50AE/.44MAG bolt and a special .440 Corbon barrel.
.50AE or .44 Mag to .357 Mag
The .357 magnum has a smaller rim diameter than .44 magnum. Therefore, not only must the magazine and barrel be changed but also the bolt.
Conversion to .41 Magnum
The .41 Magnum chambering is also a more unusual one for the Desert Eagle. I'm not completely sure, but I believe this would require a unique bolt, barrel, and magazine.
.357 Magnum to .38 Special
Dimensionally, .357 magnum and .38 special are only different in that the .357 magnum utilizes a longer case. Therefore the .357 barrel, magazine, and bolt should work. However, the .38 special cartridge does not generate enough oomph to cycle the slide and must be fired one round at a time unless recoil spring assembly is changed
In California, presently only the DE44CA model of the Desert Eagle is available for purchase from a dealer. This is a .44 magnum version with a loaded chamber indicator. Therefore, if one wants to get any other caliber of Desert Eagle in California, the most practical way to do so is likely to purchase the .44 version and then convert to the desired caliber.
Magnum Research also sells a version of the Desert Eagle with a compensator. Jerry Miculek used a compensated Desert Eagle and demonstrated some pretty quick shooting. This can be seen on his YouTube channel.
10 inch barrel
Normally, the desert eagle comes with a 6 inch barrel, but 10 inch barrels are also available. The main drawback is that it makes a really long and heavy gun even longer and heavier. But there are some advantages as well. Considerably higher velocities can be achieved out of the 10 inch barrel. Also, the longer barrel means that there is a longer sight radius for easier alignment of iron sights, and more clearance for a longer scope. Many if not most scopes with magnification are long enough that on the six inch version of the gun they can stick past the muzzle of the gun, which means that the fragile scope is less protected from jarring and that the muzzle blast may negatively effect the scope.
The Desert Eagle is heavy, thick, and long. While some people manage to carry a Desert Eagle concealed the size of the gun works against it for concealment. Personally, at 5' 7" tall and 125 pounds, I find that it is too thick and long for comfortable inside the waistband carry although IWB holsters are sold and I've seen them effectively employed for the big gun on bigger people. Hip holsters do exist, which probably work well for open carry but not so much for concealed carry. Shoulder holsters are popular options.
I have tried an Uncle Mikes Shoulder holster but I found it incompatible for me. The Uncle Mikes model that is advertised as fitting the gun is much longer than the 6 inch barrel gun and long enough that it looks like the 10 inch barrel version might fit. The length makes it require a long coat if one wished to conceal it. Worse though, I found that no matter how I adjusted it, there was no way to comfortably use it. It automatically adjusts itself too, which might work if it was a double shoulder holster, but I found that I ended up with the non-gun side painfully lodging into my armpit from the weight of the gun on one side with no counter-weight on the other side. I also found it made it very hard to even reach over to it to try and draw. Perhaps this set up may work for larger people, but I think the holster may just be a poor choice. The holster is much more comfortable with an L-Frame S&W revolver which it is also advertised as fitting. The revolver is half the weight.
Next, I tried a nylon Bandoleer holster I got on e-bay for $35. This is a lot nicer I think. It goes on and comes off easy, and although it wraps around only one shoulder and has a strap across the front, I find that it can be concealed more easily than the too long shoulder holster. One way to do this is to wear a jacket or button up shirt with only the top one or two buttons snapped, which will cover the strap on the bandoleer holster.