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Propellant Profiles
Rifle Magazine
December - January 2001
Volume 36, Number 6
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 214
On the cover...
In its heyday, the Browning Model 71 in .348 Winchester was considered potent bear medicine. See page 34 for updated loads. Grizzly photo by Jeffrey Rich.
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Table of Contents
Product Tests
What's New
Rifle Magazine
Product Tests
Magnum Research “Baby Eagle” Semiautomatic

Lots of rifle hunters pack handguns along when they head for the boondocks. Some depend on them to take care of camp pests. Others like to add a bit of fresh squirrel meat to the stew now and then. Occasionally a beltgun comes in handy for finishing shots or, during emergencies, to fire signal shots. Whatever the rationale, choice of sidearms seems evenly divided between light .22 autoloaders and heavy, long-barreled magnum revolvers. There is another category: what used to be called pocket pistols.

Made in Israel and imported by Magnum Research, the Baby Eagle is fairly typical of the new breed of pocket arms. It’s light, compact and powerful with a steel slide and barrel mounted on a synthetic frame. Designed with safety in mind, it can be carried with the safety engaged, simultaneously locking the firing pin, uncocking the hammer and disconnecting the trigger and sear. If a hunter prefers, it can also be borne with the hammer down and the safety in the “Off” position. In that mode, the pistol can be fired simply by pulling the trigger or the hammer can be cocked manually, permitting the pistol to be fired single action.

That’s the way it was set up when it was packed afield on three coyote hunts. The magazine was packed with CCI’s .40-caliber shotshells. August through October are the snakiest months here in Arizona. State law forbids killing rattlers unless they are life-threatening. In my judgment, that’s 6 feet. If a snake is farther away, it’s usually possible to beat a hasty retreat. If he’s 6 feet or closer, it’s either him or me.

Fortunately, no snakes were spotted during any of the excursions in the local hills. No coyotes, either, sad to say. Even so, the CCI shotshells patterned well at the range.

Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-See targets were set up 6 feet from the muzzle. The sights were aligned with the center of the target’s middle diamond (1.5 inches top to bottom and side to side). One round put 26 pellets inside the diamond’s outline. They would have been more than enough to crumple a snake’s head at that distance.

A second target was set up. Two rounds were fired at it just as fast as the trigger could be pulled. That punched 44 pellet holes inside the diamond plus 20 more that smashed into the diamond’s border. Had a rattler, even a grandaddy type, been coiled at that distance, he’d have been non compos mentis before the last empty hit the sand.

What the weight of CCI’s .40-caliber pellet load amounts to I can’t say. One round at 6 feet put a total of 87 pellets through the Birchwood Casey target. Recoil of the shotshells, by the way, was noticeably tamer than that experienced when popping away with the jacketed-bullet factory loads. All CCI shotshells functioned perfectly too, feeding and ejecting flawlessly.

Front and rear sights are simple, sturdy and highly visible against all types of background. In the rear, there’s a fixed vertical leaf, some .3 inch high, bearing a 1/8-inch wide square notch bracketed by two large white dots. Up front, a flat-topped blade, also 1/8-inch wide, bears another white dot on its rear face. No matter how dim the light, those three dots stand out, enabling a shooter to align sights and target in remarkably short order.

According to the accompanying manual, the sights were set for 25 meters at the factory. At the range, the target was erected 25 yards from the firing point. Bullets from two of the three factory loads tested landed slightly above the aiming point at that distance.

The initial range tests made it very clear that the littlest Eagle was going to be very choosy about its ammunition. Both the Winchester and Federal rounds grouped well. Speer’s 165-grain hollowpoints did not. Of the 50 rounds of the latter brand that were fired, seven failed to feed, effectively jamming the action. Although the exact cause was undetermined, those extra-wide hollownoses were probably to blame.

Most of the Federal and Winchester rounds grouped in 1.5 to 2 inches at 25 yards. Without exception, every flier was called. Like most fresh-from-the-factory autoloaders, the Eagle’s trigger was nothing to boast about. Its single- action pull was characterized by a plethora of uneven travel; weight of pull varied from 3 pounds, 4.6 ounces to an even 5 pounds (according to Lyman’s electronic trigger pull gauge). As I became more accustomed to the trigger and learned to increase pressure against it very gradually, scores improved enough to convince me the pistol’s accuracy potential was being frustrated by that bloody awful trigger. Anyone who buys one of these pistols will regret it if he doesn’t have a good pistolsmith civilize its trigger pull.

Only one handload was made up to discover if polygonal rifling would accommodate cast bullets: Oregon Trail’s 180-grain roundnoses were seated over 5.0 grains of Bullseye. Fifteen feet from the muzzle, velocities averaged 1,043 fps with an extreme velocity spread of a mere 14 fps. Ten rounds went into 4 inches at 25 yards - but half of them clustered in 1.5 inches. The rest were blamed on that uncooperative trigger.

Oregon Trail bullets are cast very hard, but they left streaks of lead just in front of the chamber. Ambient temperature was 92 degrees Fahrenheit during those tests.

Whoever designed the Baby Eagle must have had a hand like mine, for the little autoloader’s grip fit my paw like a glove. There was never any need to shift the pistol around for a better fit. Each time my fingers wrapped around that frame, they fell in the same place. Those grips fitted as though they had been custom-made.

A few years ago, the Baby Eagle would have been categorized as a pocket pistol - period. It can certainly serve that purpose, of course, but the little auto’s inherent versatility makes it a good choice for anyone heading outside the city limits. Compact and lightweight, it should be ideal for backpackers, hikers, wildlife photographers and, of course, hunters. - Al Miller

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