The Legendary Magnum Research Desert Eagle: The Supermodel of Handguns


The lightweight Desert Eagle L5 in .44 Magnum is quite a handful.

Shooting this thing is like touching off a grenade in your hand. But, oh, doesn’t it look cool?

Ennui kept to the dark corner of the street, cold rain cascading in rivulets down his long black duster. He put the discomfort out of his mind. The fact it wasn’t real helped him to compartmentalize.

His mission was to contact Zaob. Zaob was a hacker of some renown. If Ennui could get to him before the Agents, they might yet still have a chance at winning this war.

Zaob was fat, like crazy fat, and easy to pick out of a crowd. Ennui spotted the big man instantly as he left the Chinese grocery. He immediately fell in behind him, muscling his way through the crowd to keep up. When Zaob turned into a dimly-lit alleyway, Ennui knew it was time. His hand tightened around the HK MP5K submachinegun, somehow affixed to the small of his back.

Approaching the fat man, Ennui said, “Zaob, the world is not what it seems. Come with me if you want to live!”

Bullets suddenly began tearing apart the walls. Ennui looked up to see Agent Smith charging through the rain, his massive Desert Eagle handgun barfing fire. Ennui had his MP5K out and up in an instant, spraying the alleyway with 137 rounds in a single continuous burst.

In short order, both men dropped their weapons and began inexplicably kung fu fighting in the rain. They leapt against the walls and gyrated in ways otherwise impossible based upon the dicta of both physics and anatomy. Meanwhile, Zaob waddled around the corner and got sucked into a phone.

For the uninitiated, all that likely sounds pretty ludicrous. If you’ve not seen the Matrix movies, then I’m kind of amazed you’re still reading. However, The Matrix was anything but ludicrous — it raised the bar on the science fiction action genre across the board. This film pioneered any number of cinematic effects frequently used today. It also had guns, lots of guns.

The standard handgun for the Agents in the film was the Desert Eagle Mark XIX in .50 AE. While the Wachowskis selected these big handguns because of their inimitable aesthetic, John Bowring, the armorer for the movie, dismissed the weapons as “wanker” pistols. I’m not really sure what that means in this context.

The Desert Eagle is an insanely large handgun. It is, however, also as rugged as a main battle tank.


The Desert Eagle is indeed the supermodel of combat handguns. This insane handheld howitzer is undeniably pleasant to gaze upon. However, in a proper fight, I might sooner be packing a Civil War-era Colt Navy.

Gisele Bündchen, Cindy Crawford and Fabio undoubtedly “go in for theatrical effect.” However, they would likely not be much help facing down the zombie hordes. Perhaps you could make your escape while the famished ghouls nibbled on their spindly appendages, but I just can’t see Heidi Klum holding the line while you stuffed magazines. They look great but somehow lack substance. So it is with the Desert Eagle.

The gas-operated Desert Eagle is nothing if not unique on the inside.

The rotating bolt on the Desert Eagle pistol resembles that of the AR15 rifle.
Though certainly not interchangeable, they are mechanically similar.

Origin Story

Video game commandos call them “Deagles.” Bernard C. White of Magnum Research and Arnolds Streinbergs of Riga Arms Institute filed the U.S. patent application for the mechanism behind their extraordinary gas-actuated pistol in January of 1983. The result was an unholy union of the AR15 and the Mini-14, all packed into a massive handgun chassis. These guns were first built and marketed by IMI (Israeli Military Industries).
The Desert Eagle is powered via gas tapped from the bore. This gas impinges upon a fixed Mini-14-style piston that actuates the gun’s massive slide. A cam subsequently drives a four-lug rotating bolt akin to an AR15 that affects extraction and ejection.

The Desert Eagle is a massive single-action handgun with a surprisingly decent trigger. The safety is a slide-mounted bilateral rotating drum that disables the weapon. The curious gas-operated action allows immensely powerful cartridges that would otherwise be impractical in an autoloading handgun.

The Desert Eagle has been offered in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .429 DE, .440 Cor-Bon, .44 Magnum and .50 Action express. Swapping out the barrel,bolt and magazine lets you interchange calibers. The .44 Magnum and .50AE rounds both use the same bolt. The .357 version packs nine rounds in the magazine, the .41 and .44 eight, and the larger calibers seven. Several different barrel lengths are available, but the long ones all look lame.

All up, the Desert Eagle weighs 4.2 lbs. That’s nearly twice what an M1911 weighs. It is also as big as a dorm-room toaster. The only way you will successfully conceal a Desert Eagle is if you are a digital construct in The Matrix.

The original Mk 1 was available with aluminum, steel, or stainless frames. The Mk VII featured an adjustable trigger. The latest Mk XIX comes in a bewildering array of finishes, including brushed chrome and titanium gold. The latest models include Picatinny rails on the dust covers and a generous scope mounting rail up top.

The lightweight skeletonized Desert Eagle L5 is the chemical formula for insanity.

The gas piston is fixed to the slide and vaguely resembles that of the Mini-14 rifle.

How Does She Run?

I actually own two of these ridiculous pistols. One is in .357, while the other is .44 Magnum. Both guns are absolutely enormous.

This is my second .357 Magnum Deagle. I kept the first one for a while and then witlessly traded it for something. In an ongoing quest to right past wrongs, I found a replacement on GunBroker a few years ago. Interestingly, all three of my guns have been somewhat finicky.

You would think a gas-powered magnum handgun would run reliably from the bottom of the ocean to the moon. However, the Desert Eagle is surprisingly intolerant of limp-wristing. Reliable operation demands an intentionally firm hold.

These guns shoot straight and are reliable crowd-pleasers when my kids’ college chums come over to shoot. The aura up close nonetheless wanes over time. Muzzle blast is predictably awesome. When fired at dusk, the flash is visible from space. There’s no real point to that, but it looks undeniably cool.

Early on, IMI actually marketed these things to the military and law enforcement. The Polish GROM counter-terrorist mob was the only unit I could find that actually drank the Kool-Aid. While this honestly seems a bit inane to me, I bet they were the coolest guys at the SWAT rodeo.

Will made this “carry holster” from seatbelt webbing. Normal people cannot
conceal the Desert Eagle. This thing is as big as a sneaker and weighs as
much as a half-gallon of milk.


“The fact that you’ve got ‘Replica’ written down the sides of your guns … and … I’ve got ‘Desert Eagle Point Five O’ written down the side of mine … should precipitate a shrinking of your presence.”
“Bullet-Tooth” Tony —Snatch

What the Desert Eagle truly excelled at was looking awesome. That bought the big gun billing in such action classics as Eraser, Red Heat, Demolition Man, Barb Wire, Last Action Hero, Snatch and Austin Powers. However, like a supermodel, the Desert Eagle might best be appreciated on the big screen.

I’m obviously kidding. Despite its epic size, prodigious weight, and gross impracticality, of course, you want a Desert Eagle of your own. A Desert Eagle will put hair on your chest irrespective of your gender. I write for gun magazines and really should know better, but I still actually bought two.

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