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Gun Report
Magnum Research Lone Eagle
June 1999
Dan Martinez  

I bought my Lone Eagle just a little over a year ago. Some of you may have seen me at the CF Handgun Silhouette shoots wielding this formidable-looking "ray-gun." Prior to picking up this fine tool, I competed in the silhouette shoots first with a Ruger Blackhawk in 9mm/.357, and later with a 4" Colt Anaconda in .44 Mag. I usually finished very close to the bottom of the pack, shooting those wheelguns.

It's not that those 6-shooters aren't fine tools, it's just that I can't shoot them well enough to compete against our more serious competitors in this game, who typically are using scoped single-shot T/C Contenders.

Well, I've always been somewhat of a contrarian. I think I was one of the last buyers of a Beta format VCR. If everyone else was shooting a Contender, then I needed to find something different that no one else had. For CF Handgun Silhouette, I found that difference in the Magnum Research Lone Eagle.

Like the Contenders, this gun is a single shot, but any other similarity ends there. Instead of a hinged, break-open action, The Lone Eagle employs a rotating, "cannon-breech" system of loading and unloading the gun. At the rear of the gun, a large round knob rotates to open or close the breech.

When the notch in the breech knob points straight up, a cartridge can be inserted directly into the chamber. The knob is then turned 105° counter-clockwise to close the breech.

Breech rotation has nothing to do with cocking the action. There is a cocking handle built-in to the left hand side of the fore stock which needs to be pulled back to cock the action. This draws an action rod forward against a spring. The action rod resides inside the grip assembly, parallel to, and underneath the barrel. When the trigger is pulled, the action rod is freed to fly backward where it strikes a transfer bar inside the breech knob. When the breech knob is in the closed position, the transfer bar is oriented vertically, the bottom end in line with the action rod, and the top end in line with the firing pin. When the action rod strikes the bottom of the transfer bar, the top end of the transfer bar pivots forward to strike the firing pin, and the gun fires.

To unload the gun, the breech is rotated clockwise, and at the end of the rotation, the ejector is activated which results in the cartridge popping vigorously right into the palm of your hand! In a fast-reload hunting situation, you can hold your hand in such a way that the shell is simply thrown to the ground, so you can insert your follow-up cartridge quickly.

I had a heck of a time deciding what chambering to get when I was considering my purchase. The Lone Eagle is chambered for a number of different cartridges. Examples are .22 Hornet, .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem., .243 Win., 7 mm-08 Rem., 7 mm B.R., .30-30 Win., 7.62 x 39, .308 Win., .30-06, .357 Maximum, .358 Win., .35 Rem., .44 Magnum, and .444 Marlin.

Recent cartridge additions to the Lone Eagle line are the .260 Remington and the .440 Cor®Bon. The .260 Rem is the newest member of the the .308 family of cartidges, and could also be called a 6.5mm-08. The .440 Cor®Bon is the .50 AE case necked down to .429. This is advertised to push a 240 grain projectile in excess of 2000 fps.

Initially, I was leaning heavily toward 7.63x39, until I remembered the straight- wall-cases-only rule in our silhouette shoots. This narrowed the field down to .357 Max, .44 Mag, and .444 Marlin. I wasn't real interested in stress fracturing my wrist and forearm bones trying to shoot .444 Marlin with no shoulder support, so that one was ruled out early. The .44 Mag ended up the winner for two main reasons: 1) because I was already loading for it; and 2) the .44 mag can more easily be loaded to a wider spectrum of power levels than the .357 Max. It is the more versatile of the two cartridges.

High scores in CF Handgun Silhouette seem to be positively correlated with low recoil cartridges - but not too low. As a matter of fact, we do allow the .22 Hornet in our shoots, and that's what Gerhard usually shoots and wins with in his Contender. In picking the .44 Mag, I made a compromise that sacrificed pure competitiveness in favor of overall practicality. You see, I also wanted to try it for big game hunting; well, at least javelina.

When I first got the gun, I had a problem with primer piercing. Even on loads that weren't pushing the pressure limits, I was getting pierced primers. I fixed the problem by filing down the tip of the firing pin, and trimming the action rod spring down by one coil. I attribute the problem to this gun being designed primarily to fire rifle cartridges. Rifle primers are made with a slightly thicker cup than pistol primers. Even the .357 Max is spec'ed by most reloading sources to use small rifle primers.

As long as I was taking the gun apart for some amateur gunsmithing, I decided to address the very heavy trigger release on this gun. I was able to get it down to about 4 pounds by stoning the sear engagement notch on the action rod. Of course, both of my mods void the warranty, can be a very dangerous practice, and I am not recommending that anyone else try this at home. And don't stick Q-Tips in your ears either.

The first scope I tried on this gun was a 3x lighted reticle Simmons that I bought out of the Sportsman's Guide catalog. This was not a regularly cataloged item by Simmons, and it did not prove up to the job. In short order, I lost my clicks in the vertical adjustment axis, then in windage adjustment. I noticed a tendency for the gun to throw flyers. I lost confidence in the scope, took it off, and it remains in my closet at this time.

So now, I have the 2x Simmons previously mounted on my Colt .22 on the Lone Eagle, and the wild flyers seem to have disappeared.

The one other accessory I have mounted on the LE, is the Snipe Pod "surrogate sling unit" (SSU). The Snipe Pod is a collapsible, detachable, lightweight bipod. The SSU is the part of the Snipe Pod system which is permanently mounted to the gun. The legs of the bipod easily attach and detach to the gun by way of the SSU. I have one Snipe Pod, but three SSU's mounted on different guns.

I ordered a sling at the same time I ordered the gun. I got my first chance to hunt with the gun this past spring during the H.A.M. javelina season. I learned a few things about the practical field use of the Lone Eagle on this hunt. The first thing I learned was that I did not like carrying the gun on the sling.

The most comfortable carry arrangement I found while humping over the hills, was the simple and time tested "Mexican Carry." I simply tucked the gun at a cross- draw angle under the front of the wide web belt I wear for carrying my other field accessories.

The other thing I learned was how to carry the gun with a round ready to go in the chamber. I mentioned earlier that loading the gun and cocking the gun are two entirely separate operations. I could have carried the gun with the gun uncocked, but with the breech fully closed. Still, I did not feel entirely comfortable with the firing pin a hair's breadth away from the primer of a loaded round, even if the gun was uncocked.

What I ended up doing, was half-closing the breech on a loaded round. In this arrangement, the edge of the loading port exposes half of the back of the round, yet the round is positively retained in the chamber. The firing pin is nowhere near the primer and the gun is left uncocked. Using the Mexican Carry, a quick glance downward verifies the condition of the gun in its half-closed state with a live round ready to go.

This is about the most fun gun I own. There's just something about an accurate, powerful, scoped handgun. I guess it comes from being able to carry a tool that will project serious power to a reasonable hunting distance downrange with good accuracy, yet is light and small enough that it can be carried without really noticing its presence until the moment you need it. Though I've owned my Anaconda 3 times longer, I bet I've put 3 times the number of .44 Magnum rounds through my Lone Eagle - and that's comparing a single-shot to a sixgun!

For me, the configuration of the Lone Eagle is the most ideal of all the rifle-caliber capable hunting handguns currently on the market. The central location of the grip gives the gun excellent balance. Contrast that with the current production Remington XP-100R, or T/C's Contenders and Encores. These all are rear-handle guns which result in a pronounced nose-heavy feel. Also, because of the compact action of the rotary breech, this gun is also the shortest of any of the other rifle caliber capable handguns, even though the Lone Eagle's barrel length is comparable to the others at 14". Installation of the muzzle brake adds another 2 inches to the barrel length. The rearmost portion of the gun projects a mere inch behind the base of the cartridge.

I must admit that sometimes I have a hard time understanding the logic behind bolt action hunting handguns, such as the XP-100, the Savage Striker, and the Weatherby CFP. These guns are so big because of their bolt action that they approach the weight and bulk of a regular rifle. Why not then simply carry a rifle?

As far as reconfigurability, no hunting handgun system can beat the T/Cs. With a T/C, either Contender or Encore, many barrel options in a variety of chamberings are available at reasonable prices. All you have to do is swap a barrel to change the mission of your T/C.

It's not quite as cheap and easy to reconfigure a Lone Eagle, but at least it's a factory available option, unlike the situation for any of the bolt action guns. To order up a Lone Eagle, first you buy the grip assembly. Second, you specify the barreled action. What chambering? Black or silver finish? With or without muzzle brake? Third, what kind of sights do you want? There are two options for open sights, or you can order it without sights, but with scope mounts. You can even order a Leupold scope from Magnum Research to be delivered with the gun.

To get a new chambering for your Lone Eagle, you must buy a complete new barreled action which includes the rotating breech. Doing this saves you the cost of needing to get a second grip assembly which retails for around $119. Of course, the barreled action is the expensive part, which retails from $319 (black action, no muzzle brake) to $469 (silver action with muzzle brake).

The long barrel and closed breech of the Lone Eagle results in .44 Magnum velocities that exceed the velocities of even the longest barreled hunting wheelguns by about 200 fps. My favorite "medium power" load for this gun is 11.5 grains of Alliant Power Pistol behind a 200 grain Hornady XTP. This is the load I settled on for javelina, and I will be using it in the upcoming silhouette shoots. It comes charging out of the bore at 1500 fps for a muzzle energy of 1000 ft.-lbs. I get 5-shot groups of about 3½ to 4 inches at 100 yards with this load and the 2x scope.

The most powerful loads I've experimented with so far in the Eagle were filled with Blue Dot. Using a 240 grain Remington semi-jacketed hollow point on top of 18.0 grains of Blue Dot, I achieved 1695 fps for a muzzle energy of 1530 ft.-lbs. So far, my Blue Dot experiments have been limited to velocity testing. I can't comment yet on the accuracy potential of the Blue Dot loads.

Yes, I've had fantasies about going after game bigger than javelina with the Lone Eagle. But 100 yards is probably the maximum range that I should attempt a shot at game with this gun. That just about rules out desert-dwelling deer for me. I'm just not that stealthy. High timber deer may be a possibility, and I've even given thought to testing it on cow elk.

I just got back from another unsuccessful turkey hunt in the tall pines, but one morning, my son and I did manage to catch about a half-dozen antlerless elk grazing in a park at a distance of about 100 yards. I think with very little work, I could have got even closer. A stout load of Blue Dot behind the 250 grain Nosler Partition HG would certainly bore right through. Herr Schroeder recommends nothing lighter than 300 grains.

So last year with this gun I was able to significantly improve my standing in our CF Handgun Silhouette shoots. From finishing in the basement in prior years, I came in second to Gerhard 2 out of 3 times in '98. I can't wait to see how '99 shapes up!

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