A Defensive Handgun Born of Combat
By Will Dabbs, MD
Back when I was an Army Aviator I once had the privilege of working alongside an Israeli gunship helicopter pilot. One evening we were just chewing the fat about our jobs, our families and our lives. Incredulous at the open space we enjoy in the US, he asked how far it was to the nearest hostile force bent on my destruction.
I pondered his question for a bit and answered, as it was still the height of the Cold War, it was perhaps 5,000 miles to East Germany and the hordes of communist armor massed for the purpose of killing me and my friends. He looked me in the eye and said it was 30 minutes by T72 tank from his daughter’s grade school playground to the nearest hostile army. The Israelis are born fighting. It shapes everything they do.
The Baby Desert Eagle II is a rugged combat handgun. The version we tested
is chambered for .45 ACP and built around a steel frame for unrivalled
durability. Like the Israelis who birthed it, the Baby Desert Eagle II
is a no-nonsense warrior. Combat light by SureFire.
In 1982 Magnum Research introduced a revolutionary gas-operated autoloading handgun unlike anything previously imagined. Sporting a rotating bolt similar to that of the M16 rifle along with a captive gas piston not unlike that of the Ruger Mini-14, the Desert Eagle allowed magnum cartridges like the .357, .41, .44 and .50 Action Express to be safely and comfortably managed within a handgun chassis. The massive gun also had a unique look instantly endearing it to Hollywood. The Desert Eagle and its iconic trapezoidal cross-section subsequently appeared in more than 500 feature films and TV shows.
Produced in a variety of locations both in the US and Israel, current production versions are born in Pillager, Maine. If there is a better name for a gun-making town I have yet to hear it. While the Desert Eagle is ludicrously heavy and as large as a proper submachine gun, the gun has an undeniable manly allure. While I hate humping my .44 Magnum Desert Eagle any significant distance, it is indeed great fun on the range.
In 1990 Israeli Military Industries introduced the Jericho 941 semiautomatic pistol. Adapted from the highly successful Czech CZ75 combat handgun, the Jericho was at various times available in 9mm, .40 S&W, .41 AE and .45 ACP. As the Jericho bears an esoteric similarity to the behemoth Desert Eagle, the gun is currently marketed as the Baby Desert Eagle II. Aside from the name, the two systems have nothing in common. The Jericho in 9mm is the standard combat handgun of the Israeli Security Forces.
The Baby Desert Eagle II takes its name from the iconic Desert Eagle. A veritable
crew-served handgun, the Desert Eagle has appeared in more than 500 movies and TV shows.
I spent a little time in Israel a couple of years ago and came away with several deep impressions. First, most all Israelis of all ages are soldiers. Women serve two years of mandatory military service at age 18, and men serve three. Second, Israeli society is simply bristling with weapons. Most of the time a soldier is home on leave he or she carries their service weapon and a magazine of ammunition with them wherever they go. As such, it was not unusual to wait in line at McDonald’s behind some hard young stud with an M4/M203 on one arm and his girlfriend on the other. While Israel suffers more than its share of attention from terrorists, such attacks seldom last very long.
It is tougher to own a handgun in Israel than you might think. Permits are required from the government, and they must show cause. However, given the current state of the Middle East, there is no shortage of causes to go armed. Schoolteachers taking their classes to museums and historic sites all carried guns. Our 72-year-old Israeli tour guide was authorized a handgun. Every hotel in which we stayed had an armed concierge at the front door. I’ve never felt safer.
All the handguns I spotted on my trip were either Jericho pistols or some variation on the Browning Hi-Power. They also unexceptionally sported lanyards securing the guns to their belts, something you never see in the US. The bottom line is Israelis live personal defense in a hostile world every day. Their equipment is well-reasoned and effective. When they build a combat handgun, it works.
The steel no-snag sights include the obligatory three white dots and the
slide-mounted safety automatically drops the hammer when engaged.
The Czech CZ75 was a highly desirable addition to any seasoned gun collection back in the 1980’s. Czechoslovakia was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, and the guns were available only through direct purchase via a Rod and Gun Club by US service members stationed in Europe. Copies available on the American gun market commanded a premium as a result. One of the reasons for the CZ75’s desirability was its trigger. The single-action/double-action trigger on this Czech combat pistol is generally recognized as the best ever made. The current Baby Desert Eagle II replicates the trigger nicely.
The version we evaluated for this article is built around a steel frame and runs .45 ACP through a 10-round box magazine. The gun has an ambidextrous slide-mounted de-cocking safety and polymer grip inserts. The dust cover is railed for accessories and the steel sights sport the obligatory three dots. The gun is portly at 39.8 ounces but very effectively tames the spunky .45 recoil impulse. My .44 Magnum Desert Eagle tips the scales at 71 ounces. By way of comparison, an unloaded GLOCK 22 weighs 22.9 ounces. The Baby Desert Eagle II is made in Israel and I couldn’t find a flaw anywhere inside or out.
The double-stack magazine tapers to a single feed presentation,
as do most modern combat handgun magazines, and packs 10 rounds
of .45 ACP on board.
The Baby Desert Eagle II is markedly smaller than its big brother
yet retains the same competent feel.
All combat handguns based upon the CZ75 design nestle the slide within the frame rails rather than the other way around. This means unlike more conventional heaters like the 1911 or your ubiquitous GLOCK, there is less slide to grasp when charging the piece. However, most of the Israelis I met carried their weapons with the chambers empty and trained to jack the slide on the draw stroke. They do just fine with their Jericho’s in this configuration. The up-side to this little Czech quirk is the steel frame offers superb rigidity and accuracy potential as a result.
Some hard facts. The sights fit into dovetails in the slide and are adjustable for windage. My copy shot about 2.5″ low at 20 meters, but groups hovered in the 2″ or sub-2″ arena. This gun can shoot. The magazine catch is technically reversible but, according to my reading, swapping it is a bit of a chore. The slide release is easily accessible by the right thumb for right-handed shooters. The front strap on the frame is ridged for better purchase. The black polymer grip insert, in addition to just looking cool, sports little nubbins on the rear aspect for an improved grip.
While the gun is heavy by plastic pistol standards, everything about it is nicely melted for comfortable concealed carry and fast presentation. The double action/single action trigger is very 1980’s but, call me old-fashioned, the longer first round pull has an appeal for added safety when packing around kids or crowds. Like the CZ75 from whence it came, the trigger on my Baby Desert Eagle II is slick and sweet. Magazine changes are fast and smooth and the steel frame nicely tames John Moses Browning’s heavy .45 ACP round as they thump down range. The gun is compact for its class and fun to run.
Gals serve two years of mandatory military service at age 18 in Israel;
guys serve three. Off-duty soldiers are required to carry their primary
weapons with them while in public. I’ve never felt safer.
The various defensive handguns available to the American shooter just about defy characterization. Frames can be had in aluminum, polymer, or good old-fashioned steel. Triggers come in myriad forms, and operating systems tilt, rotate or even pass gas. However, the combination of a steel frame and the trusted single-action/double-action trigger from the CZ75 makes the Baby Desert Eagle II a potent and effective defensive pistol.
As an American military veteran myself, I must grudgingly admit the Israelis make the best soldiers on the planet. They share a heritage of suffering and hardship unparalleled in modern times. Surrounded as they are on all sides by antagonists of varying stripes, they are veritably born fighting for the very life of their small nation. As a result, when they set out to build a combat weapon, they keep it simple, powerful and effective. The Baby Desert Eagle II is more than a catchy trade name. It is a rugged combat-proven defensive handgun.
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