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.50 AE Desert Eagle: The Most Powerful Gun on Earth?

There’s just something about .50 caliber weapons; crossing that half-inch threshold has a certain magically, mystically masochistic appeal to us gun enthusiasts.

Desert Eagle Gun .50 Caliber. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

There’s just something about .50 caliber weapons; crossing that half-inch threshold has a certain magically, mystically masochistic appeal to us gun enthusiasts.

First and foremost, of course, is dear ol’ “Ma Deuce,” the time-honored M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun. In sniper rifles, you have the Barrett M82A1 and the McMillan TAC-50

In the handgun world, you have revolvers such as the Smith & Wesson Model S&W500 as well as the lesser-known .500 HWP Magnum and .500 Linebaugh. And last but not least, for autopistol fans, there’s the current subject at hand, the culturally iconic Desert Eagle in .50 Action Express (AE)

.50 AE Cartridge and .50 AE Desert Eagle History and Specifications

The behemoth gas-operated single-action semiautomatic Desert Eagle (“DE”) dates back to 1984, starting off with the .357 Magnum version and followed shortly thereafter by the .44 Magnum chambering. Regarding the actual origins of the DE, Chris Eger of Guns.Com provided us with this useful nugget of historical trivia in a September 2021 article: 

“To be sure, although many think the Desert Eagle was an Israeli gun, it came from Minnesota with Magnum Research. With work on the large-framed semi-auto icon going back as far as the 1970s, Bernard White in 1983 filed a 14-page patent for the design of a gas-operated pistol with a rotating bolt and twin recoil springs. A short-stroke piston in a gas cylinder under the fixed barrel drives the slide to the rear.”

The .50 AE DE came out in 1991, three years after the .50 AE cartridge itself was designed by Evan Whildin, then-Vice President of Action Arms, Ltd. Regarding the ballistics of the round, 

Chuck Hawks provides these stats: “Speer offers .50 AE factory loaded ammunition, developed in conjunction with IMI, using a 325 grain JHP bullet (SD .186) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1400 fps from a 6″ barrel. The muzzle energy (ME) of this load is 1414 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the figures are 1138 fps and 930 ft. lbs. The trajectory of this load from a scoped pistol is as follows (Speer figures): +2″ at 50 yards, 0 at 100 yards, -8.7″ at 150 yards.”

As per the official Magnum Research info page: “The Mark XIX Desert Eagle is a gas-operated, semi-automatic pistol with a 7 round capacity in .50 AE and 8 round capacity in .44 Magnum. The gun measures 10.75” in length with a 6” barrel, or 14.75” in a 10” barrel available in black as an aftermarket item. Width is 1.25”, height 6.25” and the weight with an empty magazine is approximately 72 ounces. It has a trigger reach of 2.75” and a sight radius of 8.5” with the 6” barrel.”

Personal Shooting Impressions/Range Report

‘Twas in August 1993 that I first fired the .50 AE Desert Eagle, at a now sadly-defunct range in Warner Center, Calif. Being as I was on a “starving student’s” budget, I purchased a mere 20 rounds of ammo, which I split with my shooting buddy. On the firing line, I took a solid, recoil-absorbent Classic Weaver stance, squeezed the trigger and … well, the muzzle flash and report weren’t much worse than the LAR Grizzle .45 Winchester Magnum. But my forearms were sent flying into my forehead, and the ejected brass case was also flung directly at the same beleaguered forehead of mine; lemme tell ya, getting pinged by 9mm or .45 ACP brass is one thing, getting drilled by .50 AE brass is quite another!

But the gun was dang sure accurate. Reliability in the admittedly limited string of ammo was flawless, which is better than I can say for the .44 Magnum Desert Eagle I fired back on Labor Day Weekend 2022

So then, is the .50 cal DE practical for self-defense or competitive shooting? Heck no; there’s a reason I included it in my recent 19FortyFive article titled “FIRE! 5 Guns That Only Belong In The Movies!” .50 AE ballistics are way too over-penetrative for home defense usage from a liability standpoint – unless perhaps if you live in a log cabin in the middle of the woods – the gun itself is way too bulky for concealed carry on anybody with a body build smaller than that of WWE pro wrestler Paul “The Big Show” Wight, and last I checked, competitive shooting leagues like International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) don’t allow calibers more powerful than .45 ACP.

I for one ain’t gonna rush out and buy one anytime soon. But for pure visceral shooting thrills and being able to say “Been There, Done That. Got The (metaphorical) T-Shirt,” shooting the .50 cal Desert Eagle was totally worth the experience.

Want Your Own?

True Gun Value states that “A DESERT EAGLE .50 AE pistol is currently worth an average price of $1,848.32 new and $1,652.81 used. The 12-month average price is $1,926.38 new and $1,731.80 used.” 
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes.

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).