One of the most recognizable pistols of all time, the Desert Eagle has featured prominently in movies, shows, and video games as a big bore semi-automatic pistol capable of bringing down nearly anything. Indeed, over five hundred motion pictures have featured the Desert Eagle as a sidearm of either heroic or villainous characters alike, including but not limited to The Matrix, Deadpool, Predator, and Last Action Hero.
In reality, however, the real history and worldwide usage of the Desert Eagle is a bit more subdued. The pistol is not utilized nearly as prominently as movies and games would lead you to believe, but that does not mean that it’s not an interesting pistol in its own right.
The Desert Eagle is known today as being the ‘most powerful’ semi-automatic pistol available. Chambered in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, or .50 Action Express, it actually has a very unique design in order to accommodate these larger calibers.
The Desert Eagle was originally manufactured by Israel Military Industries, also known as IMI, up until 1995. It was then produced by Magnum Research Inc, who originally designed the pistols, until 2009. Since then, the Desert Eagle has been produced in the United States by Kahr Arms, who acquired MRI.
It should be noted that there are many other pistols with the name ‘Desert Eagle’ in them as well, while being completely separate pistols from the original Desert Eagle that most people recognize.
What makes the Desert Eagle so unique for a pistol is the fact that it makes use of a gas operated mechanism like you would normally find on a rifle, in contrast to the blowback or short recoil designs like most pistols features. This gas operated mechanism means that each time you fire a round, the gas is transported through a hole in the barrel located in front of the chamber before traveling to a cylinder located underneath the barrel.
The slide then acts as a bolt carrier, and is used rearward while a large pin inside the rear of the bolt causes the bolt to rotate and thus unlock. The bolt is prevented from moving freely thanks to a mechanism located on the left side of the bolt. When the case is free from the chamber and relieved of tension from the ejector, it ejects and breaks free of the extractor, thus permitting a new round to be loaded. The slide then moves forward again due to tension from the recoil springs.
The bolt to the Desert Eagle is of a rotating design, consisting of four radial locking lugs. The bolt bears more than a striking resemblance to the bolt on the AR-15 series of rifles.
The main benefit to the Desert Eagle using this kind of a gas operated mechanism is that it allows the pistol to handle and fire magnum cartridges. In an era where almost all magnums were revolvers, having a semi-automatic pistol that could shoot the rounds was a very welcome entry into the firearms market back in the 1980s.
However, it’s largely because of the gas operated design that the Desert Eagle is so large. Furthermore, the gas operated design is not the most friendly to the the use of unjacketed lead bullets, because it can cause tiny lead particles to become sheared off and clog the gas release, thus increasing the odds of a jam.
Another welcome feature to the Desert Eagle is the ability to easily change between calibers. All you need to do is change the magazine, bolt assembly, and the barrel, and you will be able to switch between .357, .41, .44, and .50. Contrary to what many people think, the rim diameter of the .50 AE (the most powerful semi-automatic pistol cartridge currently available) is actually equal to the .44 Magnum. This means that only a barrel and magazine change is required for swapping between .50 and .44, but switching to .357 will also require a new bolt assembly to be installed.
The standard barrel length to the Desert Eagle is 6 inches long, but extended 10 inch barrels are available for greater bullet velocity and accuracy at longer ranges. Capacity is 7, 8, and 9 rounds respectively in .50 AE, .44/.41 Magnum, and .357 Magnum.
The initial variant of the Desert Eagle was called the Mark I and was offered in an aluminum alloy or stainless steel frame. There have been numerous versions, or Marks, of the Desert Eagle released since then. The current iteration is called the Mark XIX, and it is also amiable in a bruised chrome finish as well. The XIX also comes with the addition of a Picatinny rail along the top of the barrel to easily add optics.
All in all, the Desert Eagle is one of the best choices for a semi-automatic pistol capable of reliably and accurately firing Magnum cartridges that are more closely associated with revolvers. Even though it’s not as widely used as the movies would lead you to believe, it can still be used as a home defense or hunting weapon if you so choose.