The, Mighty, Mighty Desert Eagle Mark XIX: Gun Review

Thanks to its interchangeable barrel system, it’s one magnum semi-auto pistol in three magnum calibers.

Desert Eagle Mark XIX pistol
A handsome case hardened Desert Eagle Mark XIX pistol.Magnum Research

Most people, myself included, learned about the powerful Desert Eagle from the movies.

Arnold toted a matte stainless Desert Eagle in Commando, easily my favorite boyhood flick. DE's were all over RoboCop (1987) and Dolph Lundgren carried one in The Punisher (1989). They were in the video game series Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and on television in Miami Vice, The Sopranos, and a brief appearance on an early season of The Walking Dead.

Even if you didn’t follow action movies, or guns, you at least heard about a Desert Eagle coming up in the 1980s, ‘90s and early ‘00s. Kids like me who liked to blow stuff up were the target audience. Magnum Research got to us through the movies.

guns in movies and pop culture
(clockwise) Mickey Rourke was the first actor to use the Desert Eagle on screen when he carried a DE Mark I in Year of the Dragon (1985). The pistol made many more pop culture appearances in the 1980s, including in RoboCop (1987) and Commando (1985). CREDIT:imfdb.org

The patent for the first Desert Eagle design was filed by Magnum Research, of Pillager, Minn. in 1983. Just two years later the Mark I in .357 Magnum made it's onscreen debut in Year of the Dragon (1985), used by Mickey Rourke playing a Chinatown police detective.

The folks at Magnum Research knew the gun had a special kind of appeal, and actively solicited Hollywood prop houses. Movie directors, armorers, artists, and pop culture outlets of all kinds took notice.

The big pistol has since been in literally hundreds of movies, TV shows, and video games. It might just be the most well-known handgun in American popular culture. A bikini-clad Pamela Anderson even showed up on the cover of Playboy in 2001, holding a pink hued Desert Eagle to match her outfit.

Desert Eagle Mark XIX
A Desert Eagle Mark XIX chambered in the company’s proprietary cartridge, .429DE.Magnum Reasearch

Though designed in the U.S., the pistols were manufactured by Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI) until 1995. Because of that, and “desert” being part of the gun's name, I assumed like most kids in the 1980s the Deagle was a 100 percent Israeli, and the standard-issue sidearm of their Special Forces. It was neither. (The Desert Eagle was picked up for a spell by Polish and Portuguese operators, but was never really saw service.)

Since 2009, the Desert Eagle has been manufactured in Minnesota. In 2010, Magnum Research was bought by Kahr Arms.

It’s 100 percent American—a supersized handgun for supersized fun.

The folks at Desert Eagle sent me a stainless Desert Eagle Mark XIX with an integral muzzle brake with a six-inch barrel to get acquainted with—along with two additional barrels with integral brakes, but more on those later.

variety of desert eagle handguns
The Desert Eagle comes in a variety of colors and finishes, from the tactical, to the ostentatious.Magnum Research

Care & Feeding

Nothing about the Desert Eagle is normal in handgun terms. The hard plastic case comes chock-full of special instructions, including “HOW TO SHOOT THE DESERT EAGLE,” a one-page guide on how not to hurt yourself, with recommended factory loads on the back.

How not to hurt yourself:

  • "The best way to hold a DEP is the modified Weaver stance."
  • "Don't limp-wrist!"
  • "Maintain the push-pull grip…"
  • "Do not push up on the bottom of the magazine."
  • Reminder: .50AE "puts out more than 60 percent more energy that the .44 magnum."

There’s also exterior care instructions, so your $2,000 hand cannon doesn’t rust to bits in your gun safe.

“Do not attempt to polish your finish. It will remove/ruin the finish.” (Their emphasis.) Special instructions are included for the various finishes. Solvents will destroy 24kt gold, FYI (yes, that’s a real finish option).

A cleaned gun should be kept in the bubble wrap bag it arrives in, after a healthy dose of fine gun oil. Don’t put it in a foam case or naked in your gun safe for any amount of time. “Chemicals used during the process of manufacturing open cell foam liners can remove gun finishes over time.” Noted.

After reading all this, I was not only scared to shoot the Desert Eagle, but scared to leave it alone in my safe. This was silly, of course, because six months in after following the care instructions, the gun still looks brand-new.

Operation and Recoil

And despite its fearsome reputation, shooting this big beast really isn’t all that bad. I wouldn’t call the recoil light, or even moderate, but it’s manageable, largely thanks to the weight of the gun, the soft and wide Hogue grip, and the gas-operated design.

desert eagle mark xix muzzle covers
The same frame can actually be used to fire three different cartridges with a simple barrel and slide change.Michael R. Shea

Unlike most pistols with a blow-back action, when the Desert Eagle is fired gas is syphoned off through a hole in the barrel near the breech and ported under the barrel, to pistons in the slide that run the bolt at slide rearward, rotating and unlocking the AR-15-looking bolt.

The slide is really a bolt carrier, or both slide and bolt carrier. The extractor pulls and throws the spent shell while moving rearward, then all the way back, heavy spring pressure pulls the slide forward again, picking up a fresh round.

It works very much like a Ruger Mini-14 with an four-lug AR-15-style bolt. This system allowed the heavy steel pistol to manage very big loads, previously only available in magnum revolvers—the .50AE being the biggest load to date any semi can handle.

This system, plus the 4 ½ pound overall weight, and good grip make it much easier to shoot than big magnum wheel guns for me. I’d rather shoot a Desert Eagle in .50AE than a small-framed, short-barreled .357 with hot loads.

What’s also neat about the platform: the caliber can be changed in a few minutes by swapping the barrel.

Friends and I jumped around from shooting .44 Magnum, to .429DE, to .50AE, right at the range, without the use of any special tools. Here’s how that’s done:

Trigger Time and the 429DE

The Mark XIX Desert Eagle has a 7-round capacity in .50 AE, an 8-round capacity in .44 Magnum, and it holds 7 rounds in .429 DE. The pistol is big—10.75-inches long with a 6-inch barrel, or 14.75-inches with a 10-inch barrel—and heavy, 68 to 72 ounces depending on the barrel or 4 ¼ to 4 ½ pounds. (I’ve hunted with rifles that weigh as much.) There are two lightweight models, the L5 and L6, plus a Desert Eagle 1911 .45 ACP and a Baby Eagle in 9mm, though their operations are entirely different.

The .429 Desert Eagle (429DE) is a new proprietary round released this year, designed and developed by Magnum Research and put out through their ammo division, Glacier Ridge.

It’s a .50AE necked down with a 30-degree shoulder to a .44 Mag—the actual bullet diameter of which is .429. They sell ammo with 240- and 210-grain pills by Speer and Sierra, loaded into Starline brass by HSM in Montana.

three ammo cartridges
The three cartridges used in the review.Michael R Shea

The 429s have a 25 percent velocity increase and 45 percent more energy over the .44 Mag when shot through a 6-inch barrel, according to Magnum Research.

It cycles great and hits hard. At no point over eight boxes of ammo in .429, .44 Mag. or .50AE, did the Desert Eagle misfire, jam or malfunction.

Struggles with the new round feeding and jamming have been reported, but we didn’t see a hint of that. Like an AR, we shot the pistol well-greased.

Ammo used included:

  • Glacier Ridge (HSM) .429DE 240 gr. Soft Points
  • Glacier Ridge .429DE 240 gr. Hollow Points
  • SIG .44 Mag. 240 gr. JHP
  • Hornady .44 Mag. 240 gr. XTP
  • Hornady .50AE 300 gr. XTP

The .429 loads felt noticeably lighter than the .50AE, and on par with the .44 Mags. I put it in the hands of half-a-dozen experienced shooters. Watching their trepidation over the monstrous pistol, than the first shot (some of them admitting to closing their eyes) was hilarious.

a man in sunglasses holding a desert eagle pistol
The pistol is definitely a handful.Michael R Shea

The integrated muzzle brakes on the barrels throw a mean concussion sideways and back, but after that first round or two, all of them cracked smiles, then got back on the gun and shot it well.

We never measured groups, but rocked steel plates at 10 to 30 yards with all calibers. One friend—a career Sheriff’s Deputy and a high-level shooting instructor—walked .429DE rounds into a 12-inch plate at 100 yards. Soon the rest of us were stretching it out.

There’s a top pic rail on the barrel for a scope, and another under the barrel for a laser or light.

The trigger pulled at 9-pounds even on my Timney scale. The slide spring, big ambi safety, slide release, and break down lever come very stiff out of the box, but break in very nicely.

Others have written that they couldn’t run the safety with one hand. That’s not the case with mine, at least after a few boxes of ammo. One-handed operation is very possible.

Yes, you could hunt with this behemoth handgun and any of the big pills it’s design to shoot, but I don’t think that’s really the point. You could pick apart it’s practicality, but that’s also missing the point.

Excess is the point. Flash is the point. Fun is the point. The Desert Eagle is an awesome range toy, a show piece, a terrifying beast that any adult shooter can tame in a few rounds.

It also make inedible fruit salad:

CALIBER: .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, 50AE, and .429DE

ACTION: Single Action, Gas Operated

BARREL LENGTH: 6"

OVERALL LENGTH: 10.75"

HEIGHT: 6.25"

WEIGHT: 4 lbs. 7 oz. - 4 lbs. 8.8 oz. (depending on caliber)

CAPACITY: 50AE: 7 rounds; 44 Magnum: 8 rounds; 357 Magnum: 9 rounds; 429DE: 7 rounds

SLIDE WIDTH: 1.25"

RAILS: Integrated top optics rail and under-barrel accessory rail

MUZZLE: Integrated muzzle brake

MSRP: $2,143