Photos by Joseph von Benedikt
Dubbed the .429 Desert Eagle (DE), Magnum Research has a new, super fast .44- caliber cartridge in its lineup. It’s based on the .50 Action Express (AE) cartridge case that’s been necked down for .429- diameter bullets. The goal? To find the maximum useful velocity in a big-bore semiautomatic handgun.
Aside from a couple of obsolete cartridges that failed due to design flaws, the .429 DE is easily the most potent factory made .44-handgun cartridge in existence.
In the semiautomatic handgun market, the Desert Eagle Mark XIX pistols are the largest sidearms that can be reasonably fired handheld.
Traditionally chambered in .50 AE, it’s a handgun model that exists simply because it can. It’s not practical for duty or concealed carry, but a lot of things in life don’t need to have practical purposes to be fun. It doesn’t change the fact that the Desert Eagle is still an entertaining gun and can be used for handgun hunting or for range time with friends and family who’d like to say they’ve shot one of the most powerful semiauto handguns in existence.
Variations on the Desert Eagle include finish options, grips and muzzle ports, but they’re also available for shooting the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. Neither of these cartridges really measure up to the experience of shooting one of these handguns in .50 AE. Both the .357 Mag. and .44 Mag. can be fired in much sleeker, lighter and handier revolvers. However, the .50 AE isn’t for everyone.
.429 DE Ballistics
The .429 DE is not plagued by a lack of puissance. It’s a bona fide, hand-fired cannon. It carries lighter projectiles than it’s big .50-caliber brother, but it heaves them faster.
Typical velocities from the .50 AE average between 1,400 and 1,550 feet per second (fps) with projectiles in the 300-to 325-grain weight range. By comparison, the .429 DE is factory-rated to push 210- to 240-grain bullets between 1,600 and 1,750 fps.
As Magnum Research points out on its website the .429 DE offers a 25 percent velocity increase and a 45 percent energy advantage over the classic .44 Magnum cartridge. All this while employing similar weight bullets fired from a 6-inch barrel.
Put another way, the .429 DE provides performance from a 6-inch pistol barrel that is equal to that of a .44 Magnum fired from a rifle-length lever-action barrel. (Let that sink in for a moment.)
Is it convertible?
To answer a question that owners of Desert Eagles are surely asking, yes, Magnum Research is selling drop-in, 6-inch barrels for existing pistols. As we understand it, the conversion requires nothing else; your .50 AE bolt and magazine will mate perfectly with the .429 DE. Initially, barrel kits will be available in black for $425, however, a variety of other finishes and treatments will be made available in the future.
What about ammunition?
Magnum Research indicates that HSM Ammunition (hsmammunition.com) is loading Starline brass headstamped with the correct .429 DE cartridge designation. It’s packaged and marketed as part of Magnum Research’s Glacier Ridge ammunition line.
It’s important to note that the .429 DE is not interchangeable with the similar-but-obsolete .440 Cor-Bon cartridge that was first produced in 1998. It, too, started out as a .50 AE case necked down to accept a .44-caliber (.429-inch) bullet. The latter produced eyebrow-raising velocities and more energy using a 305-grain bullet than the .50 AE does with a 300-grainer. However, there was difficulty with inconsistent headspacing issues, and the .440 Cor-Bon has all but disappeared.
A few design features integrated into the .429 DE cartridge are worth discussing. As mentioned earlier, it’s engineered to fit and feed from standard .50 AE magazines. A substantial 30-degree shoulder ensures consistent headspacing. Generous neck length and a robust crimp prevent recoil from causing projectile movement in cartridges migrating their way up the magazine toward the chamber.
Factory-loaded ammo is currently available through Magnum Research’s webstore (shopkahrfirearmsgroup.com) at a list price of $42 per box of 20, which is the same price as .50 AE ammo. I found some online listed for $31 per box, which is very similar to the lowest common prices for a variety of .50 AE loads.
Handloading the .429 DE
Where the .429 DE is going to outshine the .50 AE is when handloaded. It’s not because projectiles can be pushed to faster velocities than factory ammo (a bad idea in this case), rather, the reason to handload the .429 DE is that the cost per shot goes down significantly. Because the .429 DE fires the same projectiles as the common .44 Magnum, component bullets are readily available and for reasonable prices. By the time you read this, reloading die sets should be available from the major reloading suppliers.
Unfortunately, there is no manufacturer-published handloading data available yet. Presumably, the classic big-bore magnum pistol powders such as Hodgdon’s H110 and H4227 will be appropriate for handloading the .429 DE.
At the Range
With both of the initial factory-ammo offerings in hand along with a Desert Eagle equipped with a .429 DE-marked barrel, I sallied forth to test this monster.
Figuring my middle-age eyes wouldn’t give the pistol it’s best shot at producing tiny groups, I mounted an Aimpoint Micro H-2, which is possible since the Desert Eagle Mark XIX features an optic rail atop the fixed barrel. Resting the massive semiauto on a sandbag rest, I glued the red dot to the target spot and began shooting groups.
With wind gusting to 19 mph, my groups produced adequate results, but just barely. I thought to myself, Surely this pistol should shoot tighter groups given calmer conditions! With point of aim and point of impact adjusted to be the same, I shot an 8-inch Birchwood Casey steel popper-type target at 50 yards in an attempt to see how lethal I’d be on deer at that distance. I disappointed myself by hitting it just four times out of 10 shots.
Grumbling, I studied the pistol, yanked off the red dot and resettled onto the sandbags to fire another group at a 25-yard target using the iron sights. The resulting group measured half of those groups I’d fired using the optic.
Perplexed but relieved, I ran another series of accuracy tests to give the pistol and cartridge its rightful representation. I fired the last four cartridges I had on hand at the 50-yard popper. Three impacted perfectly with one scratching the edge of the plate.
I’ve used Aimpoint red dots to tighten groups while accuracy testing handguns with measurable benefit. Whether it was tricky light conditions, the mounting of the optic on the Desert Eagle’s rail or some aspect of the cartridge’s recoil dynamics, I just don’t know.
I’d consider felt recoil from the .429 DE to be zesty, but it’s not painful due to the pistol’s semiautomatic design and the inherent recoil absorption that goes along with its 4½-pound weight.
By my measurement, velocity figures didn’t quite hold up to the factory-advertised numbers, but they weren’t far off. The lightweight 210-grain hollowpoints were zippy as they exited the muzzle at an average of 1,668 fps, which was 82 fps slower than advertised. Similarly, the heavier flat-nose 240-grain bullets averaged 1,541 fps — 59 fps slower than factory spec. Even at those speeds, the .429 DE produces impressive energy figures.
Sierra’s 210-grain hollowpoint generates over 1,300 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy at the muzzle. Zeroed at 50 yards, it drops just 3 inches at 100 yards where it still packs 785 ft.-lbs. of wallop. As for the 240-grainer, it generates 1,285 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle and drops 4 inches at 100 yards where it impacts with just over 800 ft.-lbs. The 240-grain bullet’s greater sectional density makes it a considerably better choice for hunting.
On that note, given one .429 DE-related wish, I’d love to see a factory load pushing a 300-grain controlled-expansion bullet, or better yet, a 300-grain, hard-cast, gas-checked bullet with a broad, flat nose. Either would be big medicine on elk, moose, bison and the like should you be so inclined to pack a Desert Eagle in pursuit of big western hooved game.
As for reliability, it wasn’t perfect. Three times the slide locked open on a partially full magazine while test-firing the 210-grain factory load; once it locked back halfway through a magazine full of 240-grain bullets. Either the slide is reciprocating so fast that the next cartridge occasionally isn’t getting up against the feed lips in time, or more likely, the recoil spring isn’t quite worn in yet and the timing of the slide is a tad off. The failures to feed occurred early on and, with one exception, went away during the last half of my testing.
Some might knock this pistol for the malfunctions I’m reporting, but I’m not one of them. Consider this: It’s an enormously powerful tool of gargantuan proportions that features precise engineering, machining and tight tolerances. In my opinion, a firearm such as this deserves a break-in period. Conventional wisdom, even with the Model 1911, is to never trust a pistol entirely until you’ve got at least 500 rounds fired through it.
The .429 DE’s ergonomics are interesting. The big pistol isn’t easy to pack, and it’s not particularly comfortable to hold in the hand. You’d have to have fairly big hands to fire it one-handed. However, the sights are excellent. As for the trigger, the one on our sample required a tad over 7 pounds to fire.
Hauling the slide back to chamber a fresh round, or to clear a cartridge from the chamber, requires a decent amount of hand strength. Regardless, slide travel is quite smooth and it’s fun to watch and feel the rotating bolt work.
Do you need a .429 DE?
If you already own (and shoot) a Desert Eagle Mark XIX in .50 AE, then yes; I’d say you owe yourself a sparkling new .44-caliber barrel. If you simply want to own a sidearm chambered for the latest, fastest and most powerful .44-caliber cartridge currently made, then absolutely — you must purchase a .429 DE pistol. If you want to hunt the bigger big-game species with a handgun and like shooting semiautos, then there probably isn’t a better setup than the Magnum Research Desert Eagle.
Given time, the .429 DE could prove to be the most versatile hunting cartridge in a Desert Eagle of them all.