Magnum Research has long been famed for the Desert Eagle handgun, introduced in 1982. First offered in .357 Magnum, the unique, gas-operated autoloader was later produced in .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .50 Action Express. Easily identifiable by its unique silhouette and massive size, the iconic autopistol has been featured in hundreds of action movies and TV shows.

I’ve used a .50 AE Desert Eagle, and its performance was as impressive as its size. The gun’s gas operation, combined with its steadying heft, made recoil manageable and helped produce good accuracy. However, this is a specialized handgun for shooters who value its uniqueness and enjoy impressing others at the range. Its practicality is limited.

Magnum Research also offers a pair of much smaller pistols designed specifically for defensive use. Borrowing many features from the time-proven CZ 75, the Baby Desert Eagle is available with all-steel or polymer-frame construction in Full-Size, Semi-Compact or Compact models. The steel Compact version I tested has a 3.64-inch barrel and weighs 33.9 ounces empty. It’s chambered for 9mm cartridges. The larger Full-Size and Semi-Compact variations are available in .40 S&W or .45 ACP.

The Baby Desert Eagle is manufactured by Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI) and imported by Magnum Research. Unless the hammer is manually cocked, it fires the first round in double-action (DA) mode. Subsequent firing is single action (SA). When engaged, the ambidextrous safety decocks the hammer, locks the firing pin and disconnects the trigger mechanism. The DA trigger pull is long, with some stacking at the end. The DA trigger breaks after 14 pounds of pressure. This takes some getting used to and isn’t conducive to fine accuracy. Fortunately, only the first round in the magazine requires the DA pull, unless you take the time to manually cock the hammer.

After 0.33 inches of takeup, the SA trigger breaks crisply at 4.25 pounds. The Baby Desert Eagle is a well-balanced, solid-feeling handgun. It fits in my hand nicely, and recoil is easily controllable. The sights are easy to see, thanks in part to the eye-catching white-dot aiming picture. The controls are well located. The ambidextrous safety is thumbed downward to activate the decocker and lock the firing pin; upward to prepare the gun for firing. There’s no magazine safety, so the gun can be fired with the magazine removed.

At the range, the Baby Desert Eagle burned through just over 200 rounds of mixed ammunition without a single malfunction—there were no hang-ups or failure to feed. The gun features an oversized ejection port to help empty rounds on their way. That kind of performance is comforting for a gun intended for self-defense.

When I tested the gun for accuracy, I fired off-hand from 25 yards. That’s long range for self-defense, but I thought the Baby Desert Eagle could handle it. Thanks to the gun’s easy-to-see sights, solid heft and crisp SA trigger, the Baby Desert Eagle delivered consistently good accuracy. The largest group averaged 4.2 inches between centers, while the smallest (using Black Hills’ 115-grain jacketed hollow-point ammo) came in at 3.25 inches.

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