Q&A: IMI Desert Eagle

Just out of curiosity, why did you class the desert eagle as idiocy on the last post?

bruciewayneisbatman

Because it is.

The longer answer is that the IMI Desert Eagle is an interesting firearm that serves no real purpose beyond bragging rights.

Designed in the late 70s, the Desert Eagle entered production in 1983. It was not the first semi-auto .44 magnum to hit the market. I believe that recognition goes to the Auto Mag Pistol which entered production 12 years earlier. (Thought, there may be an earlier example I’m not aware of.) By the time the Desert Eagle was in full production, there were a number of other .44 automatics on the market.

If you need, or want, a gun for anything, you can get one for a fraction of what you’d pay for a Desert Eagle. Expect to spend at least $1,600 (USD.) You can sometimes find them cheaper than that, but these are very expensive guns that fire very expensive ammo.

There are two, plausible, uses for the Desert Eagle. The first is recreational shooting. You can do that, and if you’re the kind of person that wants a Desert Eagle to go out on a range and show off that you have a Desert Eagle, cool. At that moment, one of the major downsides of the gun actually becomes an advantage.

Desert Eagles are very heavy guns. This means, they can soak a lot of recoil. If you don’t control it, you’ll get a face full of chrome and stainless steel. If you do control it, it will be a more comfortable experience than, pretty much anything else chambered for that cartridge.

On the range, the Desert Eagle is a luxury gun, and it’s priced to match.

The second plausible use is big game hunting. For that, you are better off using a long arm. It will be cheaper and significantly more accurate.

There’s no real application for using the Desert Eagle as a combat pistol. The capacity is low, the weapon is heavy. You will get more value out of a high capacity 9mm or .45 service pistol. Carrying extra magazines only multiplies this difference.

For a simple example, carrying a .50AE Desert Eagle with two spare mags will leave you with 21 rounds. Carrying two spare mags for your USP .45 will see you with 36, and if you’re just dropping mags into a pocket or pouch instead of a mag carrier, you’re going to be able to carry more magazines than if you’d gone with the Desert Eagle.

Now, I do need to clarify something, there’s no value in the Desert Eagle as a combat pistol today. When it was designed, the prevailing perspective was that bigger bullets with higher grain loads were better. The 9mm was seen as an under-powered cartridge, and the .44 magnum was viewed as more effective than the .45. A lot of things have changed. There has been a lot of ballistics R&D, (the 10mm research comes to mind) and that has changed perspectives on cartridges like the 9mm.

Similarly, it’s much easier to conceal a normal sized service pistol, for those times when you really don’t want to announce you’re carrying around a hand cannon.

I’m going to point this out again, the Desert Eagle is a huge gun. These are over a foot long. They weigh over four pounds. (Coming in just under 2kg.) This is double what you’d expect from a full size handgun. It’s a big gun, you buy because you want to be able to brag about how you’ve got a big handgun.

(Worth noting, there are smaller versions. However, the differences are not that significant. The 6″ barrel still results in a gun that’s over 10″ long.)

Also, I’m going from memory here, it’s been a few years since I handled one, but my recollection is that the grip is borderline uncomfortably large for me. I say this as a guy with relatively normal size hands. Like the rest of the gun, the grip is huge. This is, strictly, an engineering consideration. The magazine is large, so the mag well needs to be large, meaning the grip needs to be larger.

Now, I’ve said that I like firearms from an engineering perspective and an aesthetic perspective, and this is the one place where I do have to hand it to IMI and Bernard C. White. The Desert Eagle is a beautiful gun. Much like 1950s muscle cars, it’s impractical as hell, but visually very appealing when covered in chrome. It’s also a very mechanically unusual gun.

Most semi-auto handguns operate off of various blowback designs. It relies on the force generated by burning powder to cycle the bolt. This works best for lower power rounds, and is a natural fit for most handgun cartridges. There are some variations, ranging from short recoil, to roller delayed systems which will allow pressure to build before cycling the bolt (usually giving the bullet time to leave the barrel before the action cycles.) This is not a good fit for rifle cartridges. Most of the time because the chamber pressure is too high for these designs.

The Desert Eagle borrows elements from rifle designs and uses a gas operated system. This is something you’d usually see on rifles, and as a result, the Desert Eagle is very unusual. As with being a .44 automatic, it’s not the first gas operated pistol. The oldest example I’m aware of was a .45 prototype dating to 1919.

Internally, the Desert Eagle is the unholy lovechild of several different rifle designs. So, it’s interesting, or at least, novel. It was also an approach being taken by other weapon designers who were trying to create magnum automatics at the time. So this wasn’t just a flight of fancy.

The result is that this is a massive, expensive, handgun; who’s only real purpose is to show how much money you spent on it. In fairness, the line about the gun being stupid reflects more on its owners than the weapon itself. This is a gun that appeals to people who think a bigger gun is always better.

It also also appeals to collectors, for a number of reasons. I’m going to badmouth someone for thinking the gun looked good. It does. However, if you’re thinking you want a gun, and you’re looking at the Desert Eagle, it’s just not worth the money.

-Starke

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