Deep-Cover Desert Eagle

Need a potent powerhouse .44 you can actually carry?
Then the lightened L5 is for you!
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The new Desert Eagle L5 is a lightweight version of the larger original. Photo: R. Jones/The Imagesmith, LLC.

To cut down on weight, the muzzle features dramatic
lightening cuts. Photo: R. Jones/The Imagesmith, LLC.

Certain firearms are iconic. Their cultural impact extends far beyond their simple mechanical influence. The Kalashnikov rifle, as an example, altered the fates of nations and figures prominently on the national flag of Mozambique. Similarly, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle pistol is generally acclaimed as the manliest pistol in the world.

The Desert Eagle has enjoyed applications both practical and otherwise throughout its nearly four decades of life. The couch commandos who wield one in Call of Duty and similar video game platforms call it the “Deagle.” The gun’s trapezoidal cross section and leviathan geometry tend to catch the light just so. And aesthetics like this will reliably set the typical American gun nerd’s heart aflutter.

The Desert Eagle, for all its testosterone-fueled machismo, is really too massive to be useful. Up until recently, unless you were a comic book superhero — or a muscle-bound cyborg from the future — you wouldn’t be packing a Desert Eagle comfortably or concealed. The thing is as big as a Frisbee and weighs as much as a concrete block. However, all this is about to change. The new L5 model brings some exciting new practicality to this ballistic paragon.

The new L5 (left) is 1" shorter and a lot lighter than the original Desert Eagle (right).

A fluted barrel and a minimalist optics rail add to the L5’s cool good looks.

In The Beginning …

The ’70s were an odd time. The world seemed to run out of gasoline (though we obviously eventually found some more). Most everybody who had hair wore it long and the fashions of the day were so ghastly as to precipitate blindness. However, despite all this pervasive weirdness, the era first acquainted the public at large with the salient benefits of the magnum cartridge.

Dirty Harry made the .44 Magnum a household word in 1971. By 1979 a remarkable autoloading handgun had been developed to manage these magnum rounds. That early pistol sported a unique trapezoidal cross section along with a gas-piston operating system most commonly found on combat rifles. The resulting handheld howitzer was arguably the world’s coolest-looking pistol.

Made in Israel from 1979 until 1995, the Deagle then bounced around a bit until Kahr Arms acquired Magnum Research in 2010. Now the Desert Eagle is produced in Pillager, Minnesota. If ever there were a town needing to play host to a gun manufacturing concern, it would be Pillager (as in, “one who willfully pillages”). What a cool name!

The skeletonized snout of the L5 looks even more sinister than
that of the original Desert Eagle, were that even possible.

The Desert Eagle L5 features a rotating bolt head system reminiscent of the AR-15.

Nuts And Bolts

The Desert Eagle’s piston-driven action most closely resembles that of the Ruger Mini-14. Gas taps from underneath the barrel to vent into a cylinder bored into the frame. There a modest piston attached to the slide recoils in response to this high-pressure gas and performs the same function as the bolt carrier on a rifle. The slide incorporates a multi-lug bolt strikingly similar to an AR-15’s. The subsequent action is novel, reliable and stout enough to accommodate these powerful cartridges.

The basic Desert Eagle chassis can be adapted to five chamberings. Swapping out barrels, magazines and bolts will allow the same gun to run .357 Mag., .41 Mag., .44 Mag. and .50 Action Express. As the .50AE incorporates a rebated rim sporting the same geometry as the .44 Mag., swapping between these two calibers requires but a new magazine and barrel.

The trigger is of the 4-lb., single-action sort with a massive slide-mounted safety. Up until recently barrels came in lengths from 6″ to 10″ with the former version being the most common. The various models weighed around 4.5 lbs. Despite the behemoth nature of the frame and the prodigious energy of the cartridges the gun fired, the Desert Eagle’s remarkable gas-operated design kept things fairly comfortable.

Magnum Research advises you to let your shoulders bear the recoil, not your wrists! Nevertheless, Will still opted for shooting gloves!

But What’s It Good For?

Believe it or not, the Desert Eagle was originally marketed as a military weapon. In the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw (the flawed effort to rescue American hostages held in Iran in 1980), the world’s Special Operations community struggled to find, define and arm itself. Into this volatile milieu marketers claimed a reliable autoloading handgun firing a massive magnum round might be just the ticket to quickly put paid to your typical bloodthirsty terrorist. The argument had some merit. However, in practical usage the sheer mass of the weapon made a submachine gun of comparable dimensions a desirable alternative. By contrast, among civilians not encumbered by realities of bulk and weight, the Desert Eagle garnered plenty of attention.

The monstrous gun has graced screens both large and small in the mitts of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sybil Danning, John Lithgow, Sasha Baron Cohen, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson. While movies and TV shows need not be constrained by the same sorts of physics driving the real world, there is a new variant of the Desert Eagle effectively bridging the gap between fact and fantasy.

Lightening The L5

Magnum Research engineers have recently taken up the challenge to transform the basic Desert Eagle into something you can really use. The resulting gun is still bulky, but it is light enough to tote comfortably while remaining adequately powerful to deter most any threat whether it walks on two legs or four. They call it the L5.

The L5 only comes in .357 and .44 Mag. Where most Desert Eagle barrels are 6″, the L5’s is an inch shorter. A standard .44 Mag. Desert Eagle has a steel frame and tips the scales at 71 oz. empty. The new L5 sports an aluminum frame and weighs in at 48 oz.

The first chore was to do something about the weight, so the L5 is festooned with lightening cuts. The Magnum Research designers clearly cut everything off they felt we could live without. The top of the barrel is milled into a Picatinny rail for optics, leaving a nifty channel running along the top. They also cut a brake into the barrel to help tame recoil and muzzle flip. The architecture is both unique and menacing, with generous lightening cuts on the pistol, particularly around the muzzle. The subsequently skeletonized Desert Eagle looks even more sinister than the original, were that even possible.

As potent as it is, the L5 is still manageable for those with normal-sized mitts.

Packable Powerhouse

Kahr Arms offers several different carry options for the new Desert Eagle L5. Outside-the-waistband belt holsters keep the big gun snug and close, while various shoulder rigs spread the weight out across your shoulders. There are 16 different variations by my count. I opted for a basic black shoulder rig. This cool leather holster system packs the gun vertically and close to the chest. It’s still a massive weapon, but the shoulder rig manages all the bulk nicely.

I’m a pretty skinny guy so I can’t get away with packing a Desert Eagle, even the lightweight L5 sort, underneath my fitted suit and not have folks notice. However, the same effort cocooned within my baggy flight jacket or some similar generous outerwear works like a champ. I never might have imagined, but I really can stroll about Walmart packing a .44 Mag. Desert Eagle without alarming the little old lady standing next to me buying Q-tips.

Though the L5 printed a hair low at 12 meters, the
gun groups just fine for serious social work.

The L5 packs in 8 rounds in its beefy steel magazine.

Towering over the competition, the .44 Mag. dwarfs typical
defensive cartridges (left to right): 9mm Luger, .40 S&W,
.45 ACP, .44 Mag.

How Does She Run?

The model I tested was the 8+1 .44 Mag. version. It is important to remember the laws of physics are immutable, so the gun kicks a bit. However, the gas-operated action makes the experience more pleasant than with your typical .44 Mag. wheelgun. Still, it’s more fun with gloves.
It’s easier to drop the slide by jacking it back a bit than by thumbing the slide stop. Additionally, the gas-operated Desert Eagle is notoriously intolerant of limp-wristing. The manual demands you absorb recoil with your shoulders rather than your wrists. This takes a spot of practice but ultimately rewards with proper reliability.

The short barrel and muzzlebrake also make the L5 really loud. Doubling up with plugs and muffs is the order of the day. My long-suffering bride was indoors reading maybe 50 meters behind my favorite shooting spot and she said the racket was extraordinary.

Once broken in, the L5 gobbled up those gaping Hornady and Federal HPs like a monkey on an orange. Muzzle flip is manageable with proper technique, but the muzzle flash in dim light will make you get religion.

The Desert Eagle in L5 trim is more concealable. However, the weight is genuinely nice, and the mechanics of the gun really do tame the .44 Mag. If the threat is a Kodiak Brown Bear the size of a small tractor, a mob of hate-fueled anarchists or an army of belligerent space aliens, the L5 will reliably handle it.

The gun packs 8+1 of serious magnum chaos at an MSRP of $1,790. Bottom line? The L5 would be a good gun to have under your arm on your next foray through bear country. 

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