Magnum Research Inc. (MRI) of Pillager, Minn., garners plenty of time in the spotlight with its powerful Desert Eagle semi-auto pistol. While this iconic handgun is now made in the United States, for many years it was subcontracted out to Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Ltd. While working together to produce and sell the Desert Eagle, IWI made arrangements with MRI to import one of its pistol lines. Originally called the Jericho 941, the pistol was re-named the Baby Desert Eagle for sale in America. Today, the Baby Desert Eagle II is available in a variety of configurations with steel or polymer frames, three different size options and in 9 mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP.
The Baby Eagle's design is based on the Czechoslovakian CZ 75 design. Just as John Browning's M1911 pistol inspired a flood of clones and modified models, Ceská zbrojovka's 9 mm pistol, released in 1975, has been mimicked and modified by several companies around the world. But the Baby Eagle has features that set it apart from the original CZ design. For this review, a model BE9915R, which is the full-size, steel-frame 9 mm with 15-round magazines, was requested.
The features of the Baby Eagle make a positive impression right out of the box. The black-oxide finish is even and cleanly applied. All of the fixtures and controls show the company's attention to detail with a high-quality level of craftsmanship and fitting. The slide, which has been shaped to resemble the much larger Desert Eagle, fits inside of the frame instead of wrapping around it like most other semi-autos. Thus, the frame and slide are flush, which gives the pistol a sleek appearance. Unlike the original "short-rail" version of the CZ 75, the Baby Eagle’s frame extends all the way to the end of the slide. This gives the slide full internal rail support instead of just the original short rail or the four small metallic contact points commonly found in polymer-frame, striker-fired pistols. As a result of the full-length rails and quality workmanship, the slide feels exceptionally smooth when cycled.
The slide is topped with fixed, metallic, combat three-dot sights. Inside the slide is a 4.52-inch polygonal rifled barrel with an integral ramp. The Browning-style barrel bushing and link are absent, replaced by a bushing-less slide design and a barrel that is locked and unlocked by a slot cut into the lug under the chamber. The recoil assembly consists of a full-length steel guide rod and singular round-wire recoil spring.
Activating the slide-mounted ambidextrous safety blocks the firing pin, de-cocks the hammer and de-links the trigger from the firing mechanism. The trigger is of the Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) variety. When the pistol's safety is disengaged the trigger requires a long, heavy stroke of about 12-pounds to fire the first shot. The Baby Eagle’s double-action trigger proved to be smooth, much like that of a quality double-action revolver. After the first shot, the lighter, short-reset single-action trigger is in play. The pistol's single-action trigger gauged at 4 pounds, 6 ounces.
The CZ inspired grip frame is designed for comfortable handling. Some double-stack magazine frames can feel boxy or bulky, especially for shooters with smaller hands. The Baby Eagle’s frame is relatively slim with rounded front and back straps that have been lightly grooved to improve purchase in the shooting hand without being abrasive. A swell at the heel of the frame pushes the pistol against the palm for added stability without being intrusive. For those with larger hands, the beaver tail is just the right size to prevent hammer bite. The front of the trigger guard is curved and textured to provide a finger rest. It’s easy to see why American shooters who have tried the CZ and its variants become devoted to them.
The carbon-steel construction of the slide and frame gives the pistol an unloaded weight of 38.6 ounces. This will feel heavy to those who are used to full-size polymer handguns that tip the scale at about 23 ounces. This extra weight may not be a bonus for concealed carry, but it certainly works well to tame the recoil of the pistol for quick follow-up shots and comfortable practice sessions. Unlike earlier models, the Baby Desert Eagle II has a long tactical rail milled into the frame to accept most of the lasers and light modules on the market.
The Baby Eagle is a simple gun to field strip for cleaning. Remove the magazine and verify the pistol is completely unloaded. Align the two dimples on the left side of the frame and the slide by pulling the slide back slightly, and then press the slide release pin out of the frame. Move the slide assembly forward off of the frame and remove the recoil assembly and the barrel. That's all there is to it. Some pistols require you to squint and hold your tongue just right to get it back together, but the Baby Eagle is not one of these guns. It's just as easy to reassemble as it is to take apart.
On the range, the Baby Desert Eagle II proved to be an enjoyable shooting companion. The weight, balance and grip size of the all-steel pistol manages the recoil well, especially with hot +P loads. Certainly a pleasure to shoot for the experienced trigger tripper, the Baby Eagle would be a great fit for less experienced or recoil-sensitive shooters. The top of the magazine release is grooved and rests level to the flat of the grip panel. It's intuitively placed and has the right level of resistance to resist accidental magazine drops while remaining comfortable to operate. The well-made, 15-round magazines drop free quickly when released and lock firmly in place when inserted. It should be noted here that the Baby Eagle does not have a magazine safety, meaning it will fire if a round is in the chamber even with the magazine removed from the grip.
The pistol did not generate any ammunition failures during formal or informal testing. It reliably fed everything it was fed from 115-grain practice-grade ball loads to 147-grain defensive hollow points, as well as +P ammunition. Formal accuracy testing was conducted from a bench rest using five-shot groups fired into targets at 25 yards. The single best group of 2.25 inches, as well as the best five-group average of 2.45 inches was produced using DoubleTap 115-grain +P jacketed hollow points. Hornady Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock loads averaged 2.7 inches, followed by HPR Hyperclean 124-grain jacketed hollow points at 2.85 inches. Seeing defensive handguns produce 3- to 3.5-inch groups is a positive indicator of a pistol’s accuracy potential. The Baby Eagle's ability to shoot sub 3-inch groups consistently sets it apart from other defensive semi-autos on the market.
Right now there is a good deal of focus in the media on super-light, polymer-frame and ultra-compact 9 mm pistols. Shooting the Baby Desert Eagle II is a good reminder of why all-steel, duty-size pistols still have an important place in the market. The factors that make this pistol ideal for military or police applications also make it an excellent choice for home and personal protection. Shot placement will always trump caliber size, and proper placement comes with plenty of practice. This is a pistol that will encourage regular practice since it's so comfortable to shoot. Although the Baby Eagle costs more than some of its compatriots, its quality, reliability and accuracy will easily make up the difference in price.