Firearms

Review: Desert Eagle Mark XIX .50 AE

Desert Eagle Mark XIX Review

There are guns we’ll recommend and there are guns we don’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t like the guns we don’t recommend!

It’s just that some guns are such niche/specialized devices that for the prospective buyer to attain satisfaction, they really need to know what they’re getting into.

“Satisfaction,” at least, means “not being disappointed.” Being thrilled beyond all reason is ideal, of course. It’s not just guns.

There are also trucks, motorcycles and more, where some takes on the “ultimate” expression simply aren’t for everyone.

Desert Eagle pistols are that way.

Desert Eagle Mark XIX
The slide has four ports, which no doubt help its manners. As you might imagine, its report is thunderous. Safety is mounted high up and “up” is the fire-ready mode. The finish on this gun is matte black and not corrosion proof—keep it wiped down.

Desert Eagle History

The Desert Eagle has been around a while now. Along with the ill-fated Automag, the DE was the first reasonably available magnum semi-automatic handgun.

The Mark I was introduced in 1983 in .44 Mag. It was originally designed by Magnum Research and, shortly after, IMI had a hand in some redesign refinement.

Magnum Research has been at the heart of it all along, but the pistols have been produced in conjunction with a few others along the way, including Sarco and IWI.

The Desert Eagle, including this one here, has been produced by Magnum Research in the USA for the past 10 years.

The one reviewed for this article is a Mark XIX chambered in .50 AE.

Delivering the Power

Desert Eagle Recoil
At just over five pounds, the Desert Eagle takes a fair amount of strength to manipulate and hold this gun. Its springs are stout. Hand-cycling the slide to load the gun is a high-effort operation. Cocking the hammer back first helps.

The .50 AE (Action Express) is far stouter than any other semi-auto handgun round.

The Hornady 300-grain Custom XTP load we used produces a published 1,475 fps velocity and calculates to 1,449 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.

More than .44 Mag by a good stretch and, compared to other more commonly applied semi-auto powerhouse rounds, like 10mm Auto, it’s well beyond— over double the muzzle energy.

The comparison can’t end there. One reason is because the DE also competes against other pistol powerhouses.

The muzzle energy difference between a .454 Casull and .50 AE is about 400 ft/lbs favoring the revolver, and a .500 S&W is an extra 1,400 ft/lbs above the AE.

That’s well beyond significant.

Trigger Time

Desert Eagle with Ammo
Big bullet! There’s a lowly .44 Rem Mag (left of the box) for comparison.

Folks, this is a chunk of a gun. Everything about it is big. Using our proven postal scale, weight with a loaded magazine is 84.8 ounces (or 5.3 lbs). Dang.

Holding on target gets to be a chore after a few carefully aimed rounds. Recoil is substantial, but not painful. The gas operation system softens this big round a large amount.

That massive reciprocating mass has a lot to do with it. There’s a lot of weight to move and some energy gets soaked up in the process.

And! Speaking of energy getting soaked up, this next information is very important for a prospective Desert Eagle operator. You best lean in on this one!

I handed the DE (let’s call it that from here on out) over to my son for the first firing go-round.

He has long had a fascination with these guns, and this was his first chance to fire one.

After four tries, Chuck didn’t get more than one consecutive shot away— failures to feed after each retry.

I suggested that he get a stronger hold on it. No difference. I suggested that he really lean in more, get on the balls of his feet, for the next try. Problem solved!

Shooting Desert Eagle
A whopping lot of power onboard. Magazine capacity is seven. Lean in on this gun if you want to see the magazine work! We had a rash of feed fails due to a shooter platform that absorbed too much recoil energy.

A substantial young man, he doesn’t have to lean in as far as I do to manage recoil and maintain shooting position. But, this wasn’t about managing recoil.

It was about providing a strong enough backing to cycle the slide. In other words, you have to give this gun something to recoil against to ensure cyclic function.

We’ve seen this in other firearms, but not to this extent.

To be clear: it’s not hand pressure (how hard you’re squeezing the pistol grip), it’s making a more unyielding platform out of your body, one that’s better at resisting getting pushed back.

(I recently did an article on The Shooter’s Log about managing big handgun recoil, and everything in that piece applies double to firing a DE.)

Once we got that figured out, the DE was fully functional.

The DE pistol grip is substantial in all directions. That’s not all bad, but that’s not all good. It depends on hand size.

The grip is deep enough front to back that finger position on the trigger is more extended than on something like a 1911 or GLOCK. That’s usually better for someone with larger hands.

It also helps dissipate some recoil, again, if you can get your hands around it. If not, it’s liable to lever against your fingers.

Trigger function was really spongy, with a good deal of movement in the pivot, but not heavy. The overall effort was just past four pounds.

Best results came by working the trigger as if it were a really short pull double-action and not trying to feel a clean stop prior to the final break.

Mind you, this is technically a single-action trigger. The trigger guard has the popularly squared-off front edge that we don’t like on anything.

It interferes (painfully) with the routine shooting hold, and, of course, that’s us and not you.

More Tech

Desert Eagle Tool
Don’t lose this! It’s the supplied combo tool and is needed to get the bolt and firing pin out for a thorough cleaning it also scrapes carbon from the gas system. It is essentially the key that unlocks this handgun.

The takedown is straightforward, after doing it a couple of times, but it’s more complex than most. There’s a “combo tool” supplied to get enough parts separated to give it a thorough cleaning.

Again, not difficult, just more steps.

Sights are simple. Good, but simple. The front is a sharp, square black post and the rear is a well-proportioned notch on a wide base. No inserts or outlines.

The rear is wind drift-adjustable. Fortunately, our test gun hit right on top of the front sight right out of its plastic carry case.

The safety switch is just wrong and wrong-headed. Neither of us were able to work it without using the support hand.

It’s too high up and flips the wrong direction— “up” is fire, down is “safe.” The magazine release is a small rounded button that neither of us could trip using the shooting hand.

It’s doubtful anyone would consider this gun for USPSA competition, but, on the other hand, it sure goes slowly if you’re ever in a circumstance that requires speed.

There’s about four inches worth of rail on the top of the slide, but nowhere else.

Desert Eagle Bolt
Gas piston-operated, rotating bolt, dual-recoil springs. Very different from other handguns, but this is what gives the Desert Eagle the capacity to handle the pressure of a true magnum-class round.

DE uses a gas-operated system like what’s found in some rifles, as opposed to the short-recoil design in most centerfire, semi-auto handguns.

The barrel doesn’t move during action operation. Propellant gases go through a port in the barrel located near the breach.

These move forward through a tube under the barrel to a cylinder near the front of the barrel. The slide acts as the bolt carrier and there’s a small gas piston on the front that fits into this cylinder.

When the gases reach this cylinder, they move the piston rearward. The slide rides on two rails, each with a braided, coil spring around it on either side of the barrel.

There’s a pin inside the camming surface in the rear of the bolt that causes the bolt to rotate and unlock.

A cylindrical “bolt stabilizer assembly” limits bolt rotation coming back and re-establishes correct alignment with the barrel as the slide comes back forward.

The 4-lug bolt design itself looks a whole lot like an AR15 bolt, including the ejector and extractor, and the fixed gas cylinder, moving-piston design, closely mimics what’s used on a Ruger Mini-14.

All this mostly means that a DE can handle a whopping lot more cartridge pressure than a conventionally engineered semi-auto pistol. Keep it clean!

It gets doggone dirty inside, just like an AR15. The combo tool incorporates a scraper to clean the piston area. Also, keep this thing well-lubricated!

I have never seen a handgun with as much metal-to-metal contact on the slide/frame rails.

Accuracy testing became a chore and therefore didn’t get done for the record. Offhand, from 15-25 yards we had no trouble staying comfortably inside the 3-inch diameter circles we used.

However, we could not get it to function fired off sandbags— it would not feed or slide lock. That’s back to backing it up, and from the usual rest setup we use it just wouldn’t.

Based on experience offhand, though, accuracy seems about as good as any of the big revolvers we use. We don’t question its capacity for perforation.

Objective Subjectivity

Disassembled Desert Eagle
The Desert Eagle barrel is a well-machined work of complex art. That’s all one piece of metal (aside from the dovetailed front sight).

Seeking for practical applications is a big part of determining the worth of a gun, and that word— practical— is decidedly subjective. Obstacles to that determination?

It’s awfully big to carry around in a holster so we don’t see it as a defensive firearm, and say the same about big revolvers.

It’s not as potent as a big revolver, so we don’t see it as a top choice against an insurgent bear or as the better choice for hunting. Plus, unlike the big revolver, there’s no “little brother” round to fire for casual range-day fun.

Semi-autos all have what’s essentially an ammo power (pressure) range in which they operate, so loading it down makes it unreliable (unless there are spring swaps).

Keep in mind that “big revolver” means the Smith & Wesson X-frame class.

Back to where this started. The DE is a niche pistol. It’s for those who want it for what it is: an extremely powerful semi-auto handgun.

When someone says “I want a powerful handgun…” either of us would steer them toward a big-frame revolver.

We just can’t put the DE in the group of “recommended options” simply because you really have to want one to like one, and the big revolver isn’t really like that.

If you need a very powerful handgun, for whatever reason you deem, a big revolver puts a smaller burden on you.

To put it in a clearer sense: you might not really love the big revolver, but it does what you think it will, which is blast honking holes in whatever you direct it toward, and getting that is as simple as buying the gun.

Conclusion

The narrow operating margin, complexity and cost shoo us away from the DE. But! It was a total blast to shoot! It’s just something that neither of us would want to live with as a go-to.

A Desert Eagle is decidedly not like any other handgun on the planet. Everything about this gun is big and different.

It’s not for everyone, but, for some, there will be no substitute. Hummers are like that too.

[NOTE: I wrote this article with a great deal of help and input from my son, Chuck. He’s won eight straight district and regional championships with precision and sporter-class pistols, and is a firearms enthusiast through and through. Look for more with him soon. — Glen Zediker]

Are you a big gun guy/gal? Let us know why or why not in the comments below.

About the Author:

Glen Zediker

Glen Zediker is the owner of Zediker Publishing, which specializes in books and other publications focused primarily on AR-15s, handloading, and shooting skills. Since 1989, he has authored or co-authored 20 books.

He started shooting at age 5 and competing in NRA Smallbore rifle at age 8. He got his first AR-15 at age 15 and has now had 45 years of experience with that firearms platform. He’s worked professionally with some of the greatest shooters on the planet and leading industry professionals. And he does pretty well on his own! Glen holds a High Master classification in NRA High Power Rifle and first earned that using an AR-15 Service Rifle. He’s also competed in many other forms of competition, including USPSA, Steel Challenge, Silhouette Rifle and Pistol, Bullseye Pistol, ISSF Air Rifle, Practical Rifle and shotgun sports.

Since 1986 Glen has been a frequent and regular contributor to many publications, having had over 500 assigned articles published. See more at http://www.ZedikerPublishing.com
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. I love my .50DE!!! When I offer someone to shoot one of my pistols they always go for the “50 Cal.” It’s just one of those unspoken things. It the one gun that says alot about you when you have one. Much like a cigar, truck, Rolex, bourbon, or sports car, the taste for it is unexplainable…you just love it because you love it! That’s how I explain to people why I love the DE. You have to own or shoot one to get it!

  2. I agree that the DE isn’t to be recommended for a daily driver, but it’s another matter if one’s looking for a big fun gun or maybe a hunting pistol. The DE excels at that! I had a XIX with the three barrels and agree with Dr. Hess in that a DE in .44 mag is well tamed indeed. You can get a lot of practice with full loads in .44, and they’ll be precisely placed. (The accuracy’s up to you!) Strap on the .50 barrel and you are in yee-haw territory. I’d never had a problem with extraction or feeding, but that may be due to being a large guy. I did have a hot factory .50 load eject the case with enough force that, when the case hit my forearm, it left a bruise such that you could clearly read the imprint of the case head for almost two weeks. Not only that, but the case was still hot enough to brand me; I had tiny 2nd degree burns perfectly overlaying the bruise tattoo. Strong stuff! It was accurate too, with nice sights. It was fun for a while, then was sold for to pursue some other boomer.

    Daily Driver: 2.5
    Grin Inducer: 9.0

  3. I went shooting with a friend and his new .44 DE pistol; I had my .44 S&W revolver. He was disappointed that his pistol would not cycle, until I traded my box of .44 Magnum ammo for his box of .44 Special, then the pistol worked fine. The big DE pistols do need the right ammo to function, while my revolver works with anything I put in it.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article on the DE 50cal. I had no information on the pistol and this was a real eye opener. Thanks for taking the time to put this article together.
    By the way, I also despise a pistol with a square front corner. This just plain sucks.

  5. 1st off, great article! I honestly can’t argue against any points made here. I used own an very early model DE, aluminium frame in the .357 Mag. I loved it! I also used to own a Colt Python .357, also a nice piece. In comparing the two, you can’t. From my perspective and experience, the DE is a VERY Heavy-Duty Handgun. It LOVES heavy loads and will take them on all day long! The Colt Python will loosen up firing the the same heavy loads that the DE handles effortlessly. Yes, it’s a large Frame and big hands are an asset (which I have)! I also used to reload and used FULL LOADS in the DE and like I mentioned, The DE handled them effortlessly with no signs strain. Yes, it’s a “Niche” weapon, but I’ll take one any day!

  6. I recently “built” a 1911a1 460 Rowland Frankengun. I know it’s at the bottom of your power list, but it’s fun to shoot. I reload, so it’s not a financial burden to shoot like the above calibers.

  7. I’ve owned a Mark I 44 mag in the early 90s and now a Mark VII 50 AE for a few years. Not sure with the newer made in America ones from Magnum Research under Kahr but there is a screw in the upper magwell to adjust trigger slop and mine is short and crisp like a 1911. Also both Israel ones I’ve owned can be fired by anyone and doesn’t jam no matter how you stand or grip. Grip it loose though and get hit in the forehead with brass which hurts. Don’t place them on sandbags as the slide will have to ride on it as it is level with the bottom of the frame and why that doesn’t work unless you rest just the grip. Take down is also super simple and similar to a Beretta 92 but easier since the barrel pops right up on a DE and the Beretta you have to unlock the cam to get it out.

  8. Like Dr. Hess I own a total of 4 DE’s, 357, 44, 50 and most recently the 429. I have both 6”
    & 10” barrels in 357, 44 & 50. The 357 & 44 both have light recoil & you could easily shoot a couple hundred rounds with no problem. The 429 & 50, well you better have your seat belt on. They are just novelty pistols to me, they provide much entertainment letting & watching other people shoot them. Like the article says they won’t function off of a sand bag rest, however they are great fun to shoot.

  9. I would think “the Full Set” should include the DE in .41 Mag. I have one and love it, but as the article Stated, They aren’t for everyone!

  10. I recently purchased one about a year ago in 44mag. I have shot Ruger and Smith and Wesson 44’s but will say the DE managed the recoil better to me. Mine is very accurate and I have taken it hunting several times only to see small bucks and no does or shooter bucks. It is very heavy and grip is quite large but that’s to be expected of a semi auto 44 mag. Main thing is have plenty of ammo and ear plugs if you pull it out because everyone is going to want to shoot it! I had always wanted one since I was a kid and finally got to get one. Wish they made more choices when it comes to holsters, I could only find about 3. Did get a leather one that is ok and where it out to grocery store to mess with my wife ha ha.

  11. I’ve had my DE for about 15 years. I bought it used in the .50 A.E. First time I took it to the range, had the range people coming out to see what the noise was. I eventually purchased a .44 mag barrel (and barrels will cost the price of a new gun) and shoot it more than the .50. The .44 is much more controllable then the .50, but the .50 is still fun to shoot (about 6 rounds and I’m done). Definitely a niche gun, especially for the price. I got mine used from someone in the Peoples Republic of Kalifornia before they were banned there. It had a pretty rough life so I got a good deal on it. If you get one, especially in the .50 A.E., bring plenty of ammo to the range. You will be popular

  12. I owned one of the original .357 magnums back in the mid 80’s and this gun was extremely accurate out of the box.It would group under 1/2″ at 25 yards but was very finicky with ammo.I sold it off and a few years ago I bought the .50AE but sold it off about 6 months later not because of the recoil but the spent casings would bounce of the top of my head and that annoyed the hell out of me.I even shot it off hand( I’m not afraid of recoil with hand cannons) but once again my short 5’4″ bald headed frame proved a great platform for the shells to bounce of my head.I should have bought a .500 magnum instead.However,if they chambered one in .41 magnum I would definitely look into it.

  13. I have the complete set: 357 Mag, 44 Mag, 50AE barrels/bolts and the metal carrying case. I added a 44DE barrel as well. 44 Mag is “perfect” in this gun. Recoil is (relatively) mild, accuracy is very, very good, functions 100%. I can even shoot it one handed with the 44 Mag barrel. For 357 Mag, you need a full power round. The dumbed down FBI load I tried wouldn’t function the slide. My personal experience with the 50AE and 429DE are similar to the authors, function problems from the recoil. I had assumed that I was not gripping it hard enough, despite my having a strong grip. My step son had no trouble with the 50AE. It functioned perfect for him. He has more weight to put behind it. I will try the author’s suggestion on leaning into it. I am working up 429DE loads now.

    Yes, it is huge, too heavy, the controls are all in the wrong place (unless your hand is the size of Andre the Giant, or MAYBE Arnold.) It is a movie star. It is just about completely useless. I love it.

  14. I have enjoyed firing my desert Eagle immensely. I use a home load of IMR4227 at 32.5 Grains , 300gr bullet. It shot great with this set up. It is a fun gun to shoot and gamers will recognize it as soon as they see it.you do have to keep it clean and lubricated for it to function correctly.

  15. I’ve owned and shoot a .44 Mag pistol, enjoying it immensely (as did most all who fired it too). I’ll probably never own a DE but I do admire them, and some day. would like to experience one. Good article, thanks!

  16. I bought my first Desert Eagle in late 1982, the only caliber available was the .357 magnum. It was by Magnum Research and IMI. I was fairly happy with it for all of about six months which is when they released the Mk.I in 44 magnum. It was a bit finicky when it came to ammo choice. It loved home loads with 180 JHP and seemed to love factory loads of Winchester 125 JHP. It absolutely hated Federal 158 JHPs. It was well built, robust, loud and actually fit my hand quite well. It would never do much better than 3″ at 25 yards and it ate at least 40,000 rounds. If/when I get another it will probably be the .44 magnum. .50 AE is not that common to find.

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