September 20, 2023
There’s no more cramped segment of the firearms market than striker-fired 9mm pistols. It seems every gun manufacturer has launched one, and sorting through the varied makes and models and all their overlapping features can be a chore.
Why, then, am I excited about Shadow Systems’ new Foundation Series line of pistols? For starters, even though these guns are entry priced by Shadow Systems standards, they’re still packed with features you won’t find on most $600 striker guns.
To understand what makes Shadow Systems guns different from other brands, you must first understand what makes Shadow Systems different than other gun manufacturers. The company was founded in Plano, Texas, in 2016 by Trevor Roe, who might be the most qualified person on Earth to design his own line of handguns.
Roe became interested in shooting as a teenager and quickly rose through the competition ranks to become the youngest-ever Master in USPSA’s Limited division at the age of 15.
“I grew up in southern California, which was the epicenter of competitive shooting at the time,” Roe said. He attended West Point and competed on the school’s Combat Weapons team and won the Joint Service Academy Combat Shooting Championship all three years he competed. Roe later served as an infantry soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Having shot more rounds before he could drink a beer legally than most shooters fire in a lifetime, Roe was well positioned to improve upon some of the striker-fired guns that existed at the time. Until recently, polymer-frame pistols weren’t considered premium products like hand-tuned and hand-fitted 1911s. In the last few years, however, there’s been an increased availability of premium polymer guns, and Shadow Systems is the leader in this new subsegment of striker-fired pistols.
With guns like its DR920P costing just under $1,300, Shadows Systems was playing at a higher price point than most polymer guns. However, we’ve learned that many Glock owners immediately start tuning their pistols with improved slides, barrels, triggers, controls and other features.
What Shadow Systems offers is a tricked-out polymer pistol that doesn’t require any gunsmithing or add-ons. These guns are a cut above right out of the box.
With the Foundation Series, shooters are getting that same attention to detail and American-build quality at a substantially reduced price. Although these guns don’t offer the premium slide and barrel treatments you’ll get with the company’s higher-priced guns, the foundation (hence the name) of this new line of pistols remains the same, and they offer the same reliability and function as their higher-priced Shadows Systems counterparts. You’re giving up some of the bling with Foundation pistols, but none of the bang.
Let’s begin by examining the three members of the Foundation family. First, is the MR920 FS, which sports a four-inch barrel and boasts a magazine capacity of 15. The “MR” stands for “multi role,” meaning this pistol can serve as a primary duty pistol, a backup gun or even a concealed-carry pistol.
The Foundation XR920 FS is a crossover pistol that shares the same barrel and slide as the MR920 FS but features a larger polymer frame with a capacity of 17 rounds.
The DR920 FS (for duty ready) has a 4.5-inch barrel and a larger grip that holds 17 rounds.
The MR920 FS, XR920 FS and DR920 FS pistols bear a resemblance to the Glock G19, Glock G19X and Glock G17 respectively. That’s no accident.
For years pistol manufacturers have been building striker-fired guns on their own proprietary footprints, and these footprints don’t vary all that much. But, of course, when you’re trying to purchase a holster or replace the gun’s sights, you’ll have to find model-specific aftermarket accessories. If there isn’t a robust market for your firearm, those accessory options will be limited.
Not so with the Shadow Systems Foundation guns because all the essential stuff—sights, holsters, lights, and so forth—match the Glock footprint. There is one exception. Roe told me the unique position of the Foundation dovetail, which sits farther back to accommodate the optics cut, may make some Glock sights hang over the rear of the slide.
I received all three Foundation models for testing, and because I already had holsters to fit a Glock 19 and Glock 17, I didn’t need to order anything to fit the Shadow Systems guns. And because Glock pistols are so popular, you can probably find just about any holster you like to fit your Foundation 9mm.
The dovetailed rear and post front sight also fit the Glock footprint—while noting the foregoing potential issue—so you can swap out sights if you like. I must say, however, that the blacked-out pyramidal rear sights on the Shadow Systems pistols are better than the cheap and uncomely rear sight on a Glock.
So what exactly has been changed on the Foundation guns to keep cost lower than Shadow Systems’ other polymer pistols? Primarily, the cost savings are a result of fewer machining cuts on the slide.
Instead of the more elaborate machining with ports and other artistic touches on Shadow Systems’ guns that cost over a grand, the Foundation pistols feature more sedate machining. These guns are austere by Shadow Systems standards, but the angular, pill-shaped front and rear slide cuts are still more than you’ll typically find on a polymer-frame striker-fired pistol.
There’s a “pocket” machined around the front slide serrations, and this is designed to help make holstering the gun safer and more efficient. Also, Foundation guns come without threaded muzzles or the spiral fluting found on some of the company’s other models.
Foundation pistols lack some of the frills found on other Shadow Systems offerings, but the precision-machined slide receives a nitride finish, and the polymer frame and texturing remain unchanged. A flat-face, bladed trigger that breaks between 4.5 and five pounds comes standard on these guns, and Roe told me that because these guns are built for reliability and durability, you won’t find the very light striker springs included on some other models.
The optic cut features a unique multi-footprint direct mount design, so you won’t have to fiddle with a bunch of plates. Spacers, three sets of screws—the longest in the industry—and Loctite are all included, and with these components you can mount just about any reflex sight on these pistols. The optic setup is durable and as close to a foolproof design as you’ll find.
The polymer frame used on the Foundation models has the same wraparound texturing you’ll find on Shadow Systems’ premium pistols. Three backstraps are included, but instead of different sizes, the backstraps mimic other popular pistol designs: Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P and flat-mainspring 1911s.
These backstraps actually change the shooter’s wrist position relative to the bore, which allows you to configure the gun to fit your natural hand position. This in turn helps shooters find what Roe called a “natural point of aim” and aids in fast, accurate shooting.
The backstraps are quick and easy to replace. Remove the roll pin at the base of the grip using the supplied punch tool, then slide off the backstrap. Once you do that, you’ll see the backstraps are attached via a dovetail that runs along the back of the grip—no small grooves or fragile tabs. Slide a different backstrap onto the dovetail, reinstall the pin, and you’re done.
The XR and MR guns weigh around 22 ounces unloaded, while the DR version weighs 24 ounces. The 15-round MR measures 4.8 inches tall while the two 17-round guns measure 5.3 inches tall. Overall length ranges from 7.1 inches to 7.6 inches, and these guns measure just over an inch wide, so they’re all thin enough to carry.
The controls are well laid out in a pattern that will be familiar to Glock fans. There’s a slide stop and magazine release as well as a transverse takedown pin that must be depressed for the slide assembly to be removed from the frame. The beavertail is extended, which is nice, and the primary controls seem a bit larger than those found on Glock pistols.
The controls on the Shadow System pistols are more user-friendly to be sure. I had an aftermarket slide stop and mag release button added to my first Glock 17 to allow me to run it more quickly in competitions, and the aftermarket speed-enhancing controls feel very much like what you’ll get standard on a Foundation gun.
I’ve spent many years shooting Glock pistols, so I noticed the areas where Shadow Systems has improved upon the G19 and G17 designs that have become the standard bearers of the striker-fired market. Foundation pistols have recesses in the slide into which angular slide serrations are cut, and the layout is far more aggressive and functional than the thin, shallow serrations on factory Glocks. As stated, the controls are better and the sights are an improvement, too.
It’s difficult to beat Glock reliability, though. If you have time to kill, you can watch all sorts of videos where social media gun gurus subject Glock pistols to all manner of abuse, and the Glocks always come out firing. I’ve never baked a Shadow Systems gun in a cake in the oven, but based on what I’ve seen from field testing the three guns that were sent to me, I’ll say that you won’t wear out one of these guns in an average lifetime of shooting. Everything on this gun comes out of the box slick and remained so throughout hundreds of rounds of testing.
For accuracy testing, I chose the DR920 FS and mounted a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro. With that setup I routinely shot groups under two inches at 25 yards, and a couple of those groups would have measured around an inch had one round not strayed away from the rest. Overall that’s superb accuracy for a 4.5-inch striker-fired gun.
The trigger was very clean and crisp, the high undercut allows for maximum control, and the beavertail is extended to prevent slide bite. These guns shoot flat, and that promotes fast follow-ups.
Off the bench I fired rounds at defensive distances with all three pistols. Although the Foundation guns feature sights more basic than the company’s more expensive pistols, I like the layout.
The steel rear trapezoidal sight is blacked out, and that drives attention to the white front-dot sight. I could get on-sight quickly with the gun and deliver fast follow-ups, and even though these sights are rather austere, they are functional. You can swap them out for other sights if you’d like, but I don’t think that’s necessary since the stock sights are serviceable and robust.
These guns are well built with tight tolerances and very clean lines. I appreciate that Shadow Systems has made things easier on us shooters. Mounting an optic on this gun is straightforward, and I like that Shadow Systems includes a tube of gun grease and Loctite.
The backstraps swap out easily, and their robust design doesn’t leave you wondering whether you’re going to snap the thin polymer tabs off every time you reconfigure your gun. The polymer frame and nitride finish slide will stand up to excessive abuse, and all those Glock sights, lights, lasers and holsters will work perfectly with your Foundation pistol.
With a price tag of $679, they cost more than what you’ll pay for other striker-fired guns. But the Foundation pistols offer more features than you’ll find on the average polymer 9mm, and that’s because of the attention to detail that goes into the firearms the company makes.
Unlike a lot of other handgun manufacturers, Shadow Systems is staffed largely by competitive shooters and current and former law enforcement and military professionals. It’s clear that time and energy have gone into the design and layout of these guns, and Roe said he’s lost sleep worrying about minor nuanced features in his effort to create the best all-purpose polymer pistol available today.
It must be paying off, because it isn’t just a handful of gun writers who are taking note of the success of Shadow Systems. Major law enforcement agencies are adopting these pistols as their duty weapons, and Shadow Systems is one of just four handgun manufacturers that are certified by the National Institute of Justice.
“We are here to stay,” Roe said. Shadow Systems manufactures their guns and parts, so they have complete control over their products, and the company prides itself on offering the best customer care. Roe said that he’s gone as far as calling a customer on Facetime about an issue on Christmas Day.
That type of commitment leaves little doubt that Shadow Systems is indeed poised to become one of the major players in the striker-fired pistol marketplace. Based on what I’ve seen, this company and their quality American-made guns won’t be a secret much longer.
Shadows Systems Foundation MR920 FS, XR920 FS, DR920 FS
- Type: Striker-fired semiauto
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Capacity: 15 (MR), 17 (XR, DR)
- Barrel: 4 in. (MR, XR), 4.5 in. (DR)
- OAL/Height/Width: 7.1/4.8/1.2 in. (MR); 7.4/5.3/1.2 in. (XR); 7.6/5.3/1.2 in. (DR)
- Weight: 22 oz. (MR, XR), 24 oz. (DR)
- Grips: Textured polymer w/three interchangeable backstraps
- Finish: Black nitride
- Trigger: 4.8 lb. pull (DR, measured)
- Sights: Notch black rear w/serrations and tactical ledge, post white dot front; optics ready
- Safety: Trigger
- Price: $679
- Manufacturer: Shadow Systems, ShadowSystemsCorp.com