There was a lot of interest in the Umarex Desert Eagle when it launched in 2005 – it was the first blowback pellet shooter since Crosman stopped making the 451 Military (a Colt 1911 replica) in 1970. It’s certainly a striking pistol – it’s over two inches longer than the Umarex Colt 1911, and despite mainly plastic construction, it weighs a little more too. It also has a reputation for fearsome power (and CO2 consumption), but is it actually any good?
Real steel background
The Desert Eagle is a large frame semi-automatic pistol which uses a multi-lug rotary bolt similar to that found in the AR-15 rifle. Unlike most recoil operated semi-auto pistols the Desert Eagle is gas operated – a small valve is used to channel gases to move the rear part of the slide. Only the rear and sides of the slide move during operation. The pistol was designed and developed by Magnum Research Inc. (MRI) based in Minneapolis, USA (now wholly owned by US gunmaker Kahr Arms, producer of the famous Thompson submachine gun). The Desert Eagle was initially conceived as a semi-auto pistol capable of using .357 Magnum ammunition – it was originally to be called the Eagle 357. The MK1 Desert Eagle was launched in 1983 and until 1995 was manufactured in Israel on behalf of MRI by Israel Military Industries (IMI). From 1995 manufacturing switched to a US contractor before reverting back to IMI (who were later renamed Israel Weapon Industries) in 1998. In 2009 manufacturing was switched to MRIs own plant in Minnesota, USA and all Desert Eagles are currently made in the US.
The current Desert Eagle is the Mark XIX, mainly distinguished from earlier versions by having a fixed picatinny rail on top of the barrel. It’s available in a variety of finishes including black, brushed chrome or titanium gold and is provided with fixed or adjustable open sights. However, the non-moving front part of the upper body allows a range of aftermarket red-dot or telescopic sights to be fitted. The Mark XIX is chambered for .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .50AE (Action Express) rounds and barrels are interchangeable.
Sadly, the idea that police, military or special forces use the Desert Eagle is a Hollywood myth. Massive recoil, blinding muzzle flash and deafening noise aren’t ideal characteristics for a police or military weapon. Add to this that you could carry two Glock 17s and spare ammunition and this would still weigh less than a Desert Eagle and it’s no surprise that this is principally a target shooting pistol. In the US the Desert Eagle is also used for hunting, mainly using the .50AE round. If you need to stop a charging grizzly bear with a single shot, this is probably the pistol for you.
Don’t believe me about the recoil? The brief video below shows a woman attempting a single shot with her husband’s Desert Eagle.
The Umarex Magnum Research Desert Eagle
The Umarex Magnum Research Desert Eagle is a replica of the Desert Eagle Mark XIX and is constructed mainly of plastic with metal internal parts. This a blowback pistol where the moving slide cocks the hammer as it recoils. CO2 stored inside the grip and accessed and pierced by turning a slotted brass threaded plug. No slide lock or release is provided and the slide does not lock back on empty. Pellets are retained in the familiar Umarex rotary pellet holder (which holds up to eight pellets) and the front part of the slide is released for loading by operating what looks like the slide release catch on the left of the frame. The magazine release catch and takedown lever are moulded in place and have no function. A standard Weaver style rail is moulded-in above the barrel and an additional removable accessory rail is provided which can be fitted below the barrel.
Magazine capacity: eight shot rotary pellet holder
Barrel length: 5.7″, rifled
Weight: 2.45 pounds
Sights: front fixed, rear adjustable for windage only
My Desert Eagle came in a sturdy cardboard box and was provided with a single eight-shot rotary pellet holder, a tool for use with the brass CO2 plug, an additional accessory rail which can be fitted below the barrel and a brief user manual. It was perfectly acceptable packaging, but not up to the standard of the hard case provided with most other Umarex pellet shooters. However, it has been pointed out to me that some Desert Eagles are provided in an Umarex hard case. I don’t know if the provision of a hard case is limited to some markets or to certain periods of manufacture, but it’s something worth checking before you buy.
Mark XIX Desert Eagle (top) and Umarex Desert Eagle (bottom)
The overall profile of the Umarex Desert Eagle is close to that of the original Mark XIX. However, there are a number of minor differences. There is additional grooving on the barrel of the original and the shape and location of the slide release is different on the replica, as is the left grip. The trigger is also mounted further forward on the replica and the characteristic projection of the magazine beyond the base of the grip isn’t replicated. Markings on the left of the replica are good, lacking only the calibre on the nose of the barrel. Markings on the right of the replica provide safety information, some printed in highly visible white text. The shape and location of the ambidextrous slide mounted safety catch levers are accurately replicated though the takedown lever on the right of the frame is very obviously moulded in place. However, the most notable difference isn’t noticeable in pictures – most of the Umarex Desert Eagle is constructed of plastic, and this is very evident when you actually handle one of these. Some manufacturers (Tanaka and Tokyo Marui, for example) seem to be able to make plastic replica pistols which look like metal. This one is made of plastic (albeit very good quality plastic) and it looks like it. There are also obvious moulding seams – on top of the slide and barrel for example.
The weight of this replica is good at over 2.4 pounds but isn’t even close to the 4½ pounds (unloaded) of the original. Overall a reasonably close visual replica, but the plastic construction is very evident.
Functional accuracy 10/15
The Umarex Desert Eagle is the only Umarex replica to use the rotary pellet holder which is also a blowback pistol. The rear and sides of the slide move, as on the original. The slide only moves back around 1″ during blowback, compared to well over 2″ on the original. The moving slide also doesn’t cue up the next pellet for shooting, so this isn’t true semi-auto action. The rotary pellet holder revolves via the trigger, regardless of slide action. What looks like a slide release catch is used to release the barrel to move forward and allow loading of the pellet holder. The ambidextrous slide mounted safety catch works as it does on the original.
The takedown lever on the right of the frame and the magazine release are moulded in place and have no function. There is no drop-out magazine – CO2 is retained within the grip and accessed via a threaded brass plug which is tightened and loosened by using the supplied tool (though a coin can also be used).
I have seen a variety of conflicting reports on shooting with the Umarex Desert Eagle. Some people complain about a lack of power while others praise the gun’s extreme power. My experience with a Desert Eagle seems to be somewhere in the middle but bear in mind that I have only tried a single example of this pistol. Preparing for shooting is simple. Remove the brass plug from the base of the grip, insert CO2 and use the supplied tool to tighten the plug until the CO2 pierces. Load pellets into the rotary holder (being careful to tamp them down to avoid jamming), insert the holder, close the barrel and you’re ready to go. The first shot can be fired in double action or you can retract the slide to cock the hammer or simply manually cock the hammer for single action. The first thing you’ll notice is the length of trigger pull even in single action. There is around 15mm of movement before the pistol shoots. This is because pulling the trigger also rotates the pellet holder to cue up the next pellet. You can clearly feel the mechanism working as you pull the trigger back. In single action it’s not a particularly heavy pull, but it is long and a little crunchy and the release point isn’t especially clear. It’s quite different to the trigger on other Umarex pellet shooter such as the Colt 1911 or Beretta 92FS. In those pistols, cocking the hammer also rotates the pellet holder, so the trigger pull tends to be short and crisp in single action. On the Desert Eagle, cocking the hammer (either manually or using blowback) doesn’t rotate the pellet holder.
The next thing you’ll notice is the sound – this is LOUD. It has a unique sharp crack, which sounds a lot like a .22 rimfire pistol and it’s notably louder than most replicas. Then you’ll notice the recoil. The slide may be made of plastic, but it obviously has good weight and provides sharp, snappy recoil. Then you’ll notice that you’re shooting tight groups, pretty close to the point of aim. This is a very accurate pistol – as good if not better than most of the other Umarex pellet shooters. It also shoots with a fair amount of power – on a fairly chilly day I saw an average of 420fps with the Desert Eagle (as a comparison, in similar temperatures my Umarex Colt 1911 gave around 370fps). In the unofficial catfood tin test (those cats had to be good for something!) most pellet guns were capable of piercing the near side but only dented the far side of the tin, leaving the flattened pellet inside. The Desert Eagle consistently shot through both sides of the can and left the pellet embedded in the backing board.
Eight shots, six yards, rested. Outer circle diameter is 6″
Groups free standing were around 1¼” – 1½”, though if rested this came down to under 1″. The Desert Eagle also had more range than most of my pistols, grouping around 2½” at 25 feet and around 4″ at 10m. At these ranges it was hitting the target hard and without noticeable pellet drop. I also tried it at 20m, and at that range it was still hitting the target hard though accuracy wasn’t great (though this was probably down to my elderly eyesight and using open sights). Many of my replica pistols aren’t even capable of consistently hitting a 6″ target at this range.
There are two drawbacks to shooting. First is the size of the pistol. It’s big – the first time you pick one up, it feels like handling a prop from Land of the Giants. The grip is broad as well as long, and it never felt as comfortable as (for example) a Colt 1911 to me. If you have small hands or you like to shoot single-handed, this may be an issue. The second issue is CO2 usage. I could generally get around 28 – 30 shots before power started to drop noticeably (I generally get around double this in other Umarex pellet shooters). This means I was getting only three full power eight-shot strings. It was necessary to re-load the CO2 after 24 shots if I wasn’t to run out of power during the next string. I suppose that’s the price you pay for that string blowback action. On occasion, the slide would give a sort of double stutter (though only one shot was fired) as CO2 pressure dropped. As the slide doesn’t lock back on empty, it’s easy to lose count of the number of pellets you have fired and find yourself shooting just air. The sights seem well set up for shooting at six yards – at that range the point of impact is around ½” above the point of aim, which is just the way I like it. I also tried mine with a red-dot sight and that worked very well indeed allowing 1″ groups at six yards even free standing. This is one of the very few replica air pistols I’d be tempted to try with telescopic sights. With a decent scope, I suspect that this might be capable of impressive accuracy at ranges well beyond those most air pistols can achieve.
Quality and reliability 12/15
Like most Umarex pistols, this appears to be very well made. There are no rattles from the slide and blowback action is crisp and precise. Although made principally of plastic, this seems to be very high quality material which is strong and durable. Even the trigger is plastic, though the hammer is metal. Because there is no paint, the Desert Eagle is almost impervious to minor scuffs and scratches. I am aware of owners of Umarex Desert Eagles who have complained that the sides of the slide can distort with use, and I have seen one or two complaints about failing safety catches. I had no such issues with my Desert Eagle, and overall this seems to be as high quality and reliable as most Umarex pistols. If you’re considering a used example, do remember that early examples are now almost ten years old and will probably be suffering from seal degradation and general wear and tear.
Overall Impression 12/15
When I first received my Desert Eagle, I was a little disappointed. The weight is good (though not close to the original) but this very evidently a plastic pistol. For me at least, it just doesn’t have the quality feel of other metal Umarex replicas such as the S&W 586/686 or the Colt 1911. However, mine was a very fine shooter indeed which more than made up for my initial doubts.
My biggest problem is the sheer size of this pistol. I have average to large hands, but it still felt unwieldy and one-handed shooting was difficult. You can’t blame Umarex for this – the grip and overall size are accurately copied from the original, which MRI claim has good ergonomic design. This pistol may suit you if you have Andre the Giant sized hands, but those with smaller versions may want to try handling before they buy.
The Umarex Desert Eagle is a satisfying shooter – it’s loud, powerful and accurate with crisp blowback and decent recoil. It’s also capable of hitting targets fairly accurately at ranges where some other replicas are running out of puff. However, it’s a large and unwieldy pistol which has a very long single action trigger pull and it does go through CO2 at an alarming rate.
For me though, the biggest disadvantage is its obvious plastic construction. It’s ironic that a replica as powerful as this looks more toylike than many much less powerful pistols. However, if you can put up with those looks, and if you have big hands and especially if you’re willing to fit a red-dot or telescopic sight, you’ll have a very fine action shooting target pistol indeed.
Total score: 80.5/100
You can buy this pistol at Pyramid Air here.