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Review: CZ-USA Shadow 2

Review: CZ-USA Shadow 2

The CZ 75 was introduced—not coincidentally—in 1975. This double-action/single-action 9mm was robust, with a low bore and great ergonomics, and none other than Jeff Cooper really liked the gun because you could carry it cocked-and-locked. CZ’s Shadow 2 is its veteran, time-proven CZ 75 design specifically adapted for both competition and the 21st century. For testing I secured the Black and Blue version of the Shadow, which features striking anodized blue grips.

Before we jump into the Black and Blue Shadow 2, a tiny bit of history. I started shooting competitively in 1993. Back then, if you weren’t running a 1911, you weren’t interested in winning. But there was also only one division.

In the late 1990s the USPSA introduced Production division, which was designed to be the home for non-single-action factory pistols. For years Glock pistols filled the hands of most match winners in Production division—but not all. Angus Hobdell, transplanted Brit and sponsored shooter, competed with a CZ 75 and did his best to convince people of the superiority of the design over the Glock.

Hobdell runs CZ Custom, which is a custom shop but also a bit of an R&D skunkworks for CZ (both in the United States and the Czech Republic). Not only did he tweak CZs for competition and shout their praises from every hill he could find, but also he tirelessly lobbied CZ to get those improvements incorporated into factory guns. And as much as you can convince any European gun manufacturer to listen to the American consumer market, it worked.

First CZ introduced the SP-01, which is a CZ 75 with numerous changes from the original that work either for competition or tactical shooters, such as a tactical rail. Then the SP-01 Shadow. Now CZ has introduced the Shadow 2, which incorporates many of the custom touches CZ Custom has been doing for years into a factory production gun. In what is almost a complete turnaround from 15 years ago, it’s now CZ pistols and not Glocks that are found in the hands of two-thirds of Production division competitors. Coincidence? I think not.

Interestingly, the CZ SP-01 with its tactical rail and tweaked features was adopted by practical shooters, but it wasn’t designed for them. CZ engineered those changes at the request of some European government agencies, but the end result was a pistol embraced by practical shooters. When combined with the CZ’s low bore, that heavy tactical rail really worked to reduce muzzle rise.

The Shadow 2 was designed specifically to be a competition pistol, although I think it’s utility extends far beyond the competition circuit. And it is as beautiful as many custom handguns I’ve tested.

The Black and Blue version I received sports aggressively checkered aluminum grips anodized in a bright blue. There’s also a Stealth Grey version. Both pistols have a black nitride corrosion-resistant finish with an additional layer of Polycoat to the frame. The Polycoat on the Stealth Grey version is somewhere between tan and gray.

The Shadow 2 stretches the original 4.6-inch barrel of the CZ 75 and SP-01 to 4.89 inches. While that will give you a few more fps in your soft-loaded competition ammo, the main purpose for that is a longer sight radius. A lot of serious competitors are shooting 5.4- and six-inch 1911s for exactly the same reason. A longer sight radius aids accurate quick shooting.

It also adds a bit of weight. At 46.5 ounces, the Shadow 2 is 10 ounces heavier than the original CZ 75 and more than five ounces heavier than the SP-01. Most of that extra weight is in the dust cover. Like most handguns produced in Europe, you’ll see the serial number of the pistol etched on the frame, slide and barrel.

Unlike most other handguns on the market, the slide of the Shadow 2 (and all CZ 75s) rides inside the frame, not on the outside. As a result, the slide is much reduced in profile. The SP-01 added some forward cocking serrations, but they weren’t as large or as aggressive as many shooters wanted. The Shadow 2 sports aggressive flat-bottomed serrations, with the same number on the rear of the slide as on the front. Whether you are of a competition or a tactical mindset, this change is a good thing.

The design of this pistol comes from the Cold War era, which means it is a hefty piece of steel that is built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Saying it can handle +P ammo is like saying your Charger Hellcat can manage the 75-mph speed limits you see out West.

The Shadow 2 comes with an unobtrusive ambi thumb safety installed, but also included is an oversize safety for those who want a thumb shelf. The mag release is three-position adjustable, a nice custom touch.

Many American shooters loved the original CZ 75 because they could carry it Condition One, cocked-and-locked (hammer cocked, safety on) just like a 1911. In USPSA’s Production division, the first shot of a DA/SA auto is required to be fired double action, so a big safety lever is not needed.

The Shadow 2 comes from the factory with a thin ambidextrous thumb safety specifically designed to stay out of your way. However, it is so flat that if you are interested in carrying the pistol cocked-and-locked, it won’t work because you won’t be able to sweep that safety lever off with any sort of natural movement of your thumb.

Luckily, the Shadow 2 also comes with a second ambidextrous safety, this one with a big shelf on the left side for your thumb. When installed, it now makes sense to carry the pistol cocked-and-locked. If I was buying this pistol, I would install this safety and use it all the time for competition and carry because I want that big shelf to rest my thumb on while shooting—the ubiquitous “thumb-high hold” that lets you put a little more leverage on the gun while shooting and forces you to choke up on it as well.

The only problem? CZ provides the spare safety, but there are no instructions in the owner’s manual on how to swap them out. There’s a reason for that. While you won’t need more than a couple of minutes and a punch, the process is a bit complicated, and describing it in a manual that doesn’t have any pictures doesn’t really work. However, if you do an online search for “switching out the safety lever on a CZ 75,” you can find lots of how-to videos.

The Shadow 2 features a longer barrel and a large dust cover with rail, a design that adds non-reciprocating weight out front to help dampen muzzle rise.

That big tactical rail on the frame’s dustcover will allow you to mount a flashlight, but nobody uses a weapon-mounted flashlight in USPSA competition. For competition purposes, the rail adds non-reciprocating weight out front where it will help reduce muzzle rise. If you’re considering the Shadow 2 for something other than competition, if you slapped a weapon light on the rail and used one of the provided 17-rounders or even obtained an extended 26-rounder from CZ, it would make a heckuva bedside table gun.

Compared to the original CZ 75, the beavertail on the Shadow 2 is much larger, but it is also higher on the gun. There is no grip safety.

Combined with that high beavertail is an undercut at the back of the trigger guard, enabling you to get your hand as high as possible on the pistol. You’ll also spot raised checkering on the front and back of the frame. The checkering looks to be about 20 lpi and in combination with the grips really locks your hand in place.

The magazine well on the pistol is nicely beveled to smooth and speed your reloads. The base pads on the magazines are polymer, which means they stick out a little farther than standard steel baseplates and ensure positive seating of the magazine when you’re reloading at speed.

The grips on the Black and Blue are engraved CZ Shadow 2 and very thin. The pistol is supplied with three 17-round magazines and extra polymer recoil spring buffers. Again, it is designed to be a competition gun, and if there’s one thing competition shooters are known for, it’s putting a high volume of rounds downrange. While recoil spring buffers aren’t as popular now as they used to be, some people swear by them.

One big visible difference from previous factory versions of the CZ 75 is the magazine release on the Shadow 2. It has an oversize checkered pad, but the pad is actually three-position adjustable. You can pick the angle/position of the magazine release that works best with your hands and grip style.

To my mind, what determines whether or not a pistol is suitable for competition use comes down to two things: sights and trigger pull, with a quality trigger pull being more important. The double-action trigger pull on the CZ 75 is one of the longest of any design. However, that pull can be made amazingly light and smooth, and that’s what you get with the Shadow 2. From the factory the double-action trigger pull was smooth and even, with no stacking, and broke at 8.75 pounds. Single action, there was a short bit of take-up and then a rolling break at 3.75 pounds.

The rear sight is click- and drift-adjustable for windage, and matching flat-bottom serrations are found on the front and back of the slide.

The steel rear sight on the Shadow 2 is click adjustable for windage and can also be moved in the dovetail to adjust windage. The front sight has a red fiber-optic insert and is 0.120 inch wide. When combined with the 0.120 inch notch in the rear sight, you get a decent amount of daylight around the front sight with a proper sight picture. Between the front and rear sight the slide is flattened and serrated.

Competition shooters burn through a lot of ammo, but finding factory ammo loaded to just barely meet minimum Power Factor (bullet weight times velocity divided by 1,000) required for competition has always been a problem. Usually, factory ammo is loaded a little hotter than what you need or want for competition. However, several ammunition manufacturers have recently realized the competition market was being underserved and have introduced products to that effect. The most recent is SIG’s Match Elite ammunition. The cases are nickel plated, and the bullets are SIG’s V-crown jacketed hollowpoint.

SIG’s 9mm Match Elite offering has a 147-grain bullet loaded to make the minimum 125 Power Factor required for USPSA’s Production division. Most factory “competition” ammo is loaded to make declared Power Factor out of the shortest barrels you’re likely to see in a competition gun—four inches or so. Out of the CZ’s 4.89-inch barrel this load averaged 921 fps through my chrono, which works out to a 135.3 Power Factor.

A handgun aimed at the competition market should be easy to shoot fast and accurately, and that’s just what I found when I headed to the range. My sons burned through all the SIG Match Elite and full-metal-jacket ammo I brought, repeatedly knocking down a plate rack and a bank of Pepper Poppers and fatally perforating half a dozen USPSA targets. Recoil was soft, muzzle rise was minimal, and the front sight came right back down on target.


“What is this? Is it yours? Are you going to buy it?” my oldest son asked after he cleaned a plate rack faster than he’d ever done before.

This year, I’ve been attending a lot of USPSA matches, and locally, Production division is always the most popular. CZs are now the dominant pattern guns in this division, and I see a lot of CZ Shadows. I’m guessing as those guns wear, or the shooters want to upgrade, they’ll be replaced with the Shadow 2.

While cheaper than any custom competition 1911, the CZ Shadow 2 is twice the cost of the base CZ 75. I think it looks better, and it performs better, so you definitely get what you’re paying for. CZ itself says the Shadow 2 is “engineered to dominate USPSA Production division,” and in that goal it is worthy.

However, I read a review of this pistol that raved about how great it would be for concealed carry. Ummmm…no. For several years I carried a high-capacity 1911 concealed, and I think the Shadow 2 is too big and heavy to carry concealed for just about anyone—even with the best holster and belt. While my current carry gun is roughly the same size as the Shadow 2, it weighs half as much. At 46.5 ounces empty, the Shadow 2 is heavier than any full-size 1911.

What about using the Shadow 2 for open carry? Yes. Or as a bedside table gun with a flashlight clamped to the rail and an extended magazine inserted? Heck yes. How about for having fun at the range? Oh, baby.

America is full of people who buy off-road-equipped pickups with no intention of ever going off-road and put K&N racing air filters in their cars they never intend to race. The CZ Shadow 2 is purpose-built as a competition pistol. I think everyone should take up practical shooting because it will increase their gunhandling skills under stress and is a huge amount of fun. But even if you’re not interested in competition and just love the looks of the Black and Blue Shadow 2, it will perform well no matter what you plan on doing with it.

ACTION: DA/SA semiauto
CALIBER: 9mm Luger
BARREL: 4.89 in.
OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 8.5/5.75/1.3 in.
WEIGHT: 46.5 oz.
CONSTRUCTION: black-nitride steel slide, Polycoated steel frame (as tested)
GRIPS: blue aluminum (as tested)
SIGHTS: steel; adjustable rear, fiber-optic front
TRIGGER: DA pull, 8.75 lb.; SA pull, 3.75 lb. (measured)
SAFETIES: ambidextrous manual thumb (small installed, large included), firing-pin block
PRICE: $1,299

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