The CZ Shadow 2: Hands-on

At Calibre, sometimes we get a gun sent to us which generates more interest than we expect.  Other times, less interest.  Usually this is a function of when the release date is, and how new or innovative the idea is, and whether the gun is non-restricted.  Non-restricted guns that have just been announced, with a really interesting feature set, generally arouse the magazine-reading public.  Restricted guns that are an incremental improvement on past guns, which have been known about for months, usually have a more subdued impact.  And usually we’re pretty good at predicting this effect.

When we took the CZ Shadow 2 to the range for the first time, a casual social media post turned into an on-the-spot mobbing as the post was shared (by notable CZ shooter Rob Engh, which no doubt had an effect) in real time, and then we hardly got to shoot it for the rest of the evening, because everyone wanted to pose with it for pictures.

We thought we were pretty good at predicting buzz, but man, we really did not see that coming.

CZ Shadow 2

Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod, far more popularly known as CZ for reasons we can’t explain, launched the Shadow 2 at the German arms expo IWA in March of this year as the company’s IPSC (that’s International Practical Shooting Confederation, and one of Canada’s most popular handgun sports) Production class gun, the second generation of the extremely successful CZ SP-01 Shadow.  The original Shadow was a refined CZ-75, which itself is a traditional double action steel 9mm service pistol originally built in 1975 and popular among military and police organizations worldwide, although it never really took off in the West, where it faced stiff competition from the 1911 in the US, and the Browning Hi-Power everywhere else.  Conditioned as we were to single action triggers, the long first pull of the CZ-75, particularly when coupled with the somewhat questionable commitment to manufacturing excellence down at the old Uherský Brod of 1975, not to mention a good old-fashioned red scare, relegated it to use primarily among eastern bloc countries and third world armies.

CZ Shadow 2Fast forward through the end of a superpower, the total collapse of an entire political ideology, and the end of the Cold War (see our article on the 10mm Auto for details as to how this occurred) and the CZ-75 found itself reinvented as a competition gun in the form of the Shadow.  Owing in part to the particular rules of IPSC Production class, the Shadow, with its easily massaged trigger weights, readily available factory speed parts, legal-by-grams-and-millimetres design, reasonable price thanks to low Czech labour costs, and similarity to the already-popular Tanfoglio pistols, rapidly came to dominate the Production division.  Offered in a bewildering range of variants which we won’t detail because we literally can’t understand them all (but just as a sampling, there’s a Shadow Tac II, a Shadow Mate, a Shadow Line, a Czech Mate, a Tactical Sport, a Tactical Sport Orange which incorporates some of the features of the Czech Mate…and we’re only about halfway through here) the CZ line of pistols has a better eye on competition handgunning than just about anyone.  We don’t think they have a model designed to perfectly skirt the rules of every single game, but if they produce a variant designed to win the Glock-only GSSF, that won’t really surprise us.

Regardless, the original SP-01 Shadow was the best deal going in a competition pistol, no question about it.  But it was getting a little long in the tooth, and while it remained very competitive in IPSC, the list of features was starting to look a little bit threadbare, and the upmarket editions like the Shadow Mate and so on started looking less like high-dollar options for big money gamers, and more like necessary upgrades.

And so we come to the next generation of the Shadow, the Shadow 2.  We’ll just go ahead and get this over with: the Shadow 2 is an excellent pistol and if you’re on the fence about whether it’s worth it to get one, get off the fence.  This is a superb gun and there isn’t another pistol in its price range that can touch it.  If you want one, get one.  You won’t be disappointed.

We’re going to try to avoid drilling down into every technical difference between the Shadow and the Shadow 2 and just treat this as a new pistol for the sake of shooters who aren’t owners of the original, but some comparisons are worth making, in particular with regards to the frame and the trigger.

CZ Shadow 2

The frame is two millimetres wider than the original, with a much deeper relief under the beavertail to compensate.  The effect is a rounder grip, but it gives up nothing in terms of comfort or even trigger reach to the original.  In fact, the noticeable thing about the grip for most of us wasn’t the dimensions, it was the checkering, which is so superior to the original Shadow’s few lines of cast checkering on the front strap that it’s not even a comparison, it’s a revelation.  The Shadow 2 is checkered like a quality 1911 is checkered, with sharp, machined lines.  The original was usually found at matches with grip tape covering the checkering, which gives some idea of its utility.

The ergonomics of the new frame also include a completely redesigned trigger guard, which now contains a enormous and rather rectangular space, barricaded with a vertical front bar.  The frame itself is relieved a bit above the trigger making this the most generously accommodating trigger guard we can think of short of full-custom race guns.  If you can’t get your trigger finger on this go-button in a hurry, you’ll have to look elsewhere for the explanation.

CZ Shadow 2The wider frame also houses the new trigger mechanism, which from feel alone shares more with the Tanfoglio trigger than the previous Shadow trigger.  The reset is short but positive and tactile, which is exactly how we like them.  The previous Shadow had a good trigger, but this is excellent.  Even with the factory spring weights, it’s extremely smooth and easy to shoot with a high degree of accuracy.  Most competitors will replace those springs within hours of acquisition;  it happens that trigger spring kits from the original Shadow will fit the Shadow 2 although the effects of the individual springs will be slightly different on account of the different mechanism.  But for people committed to the original platform, take heart: even your accessories will work, for the most part.

One noticeable change which we found both visually apparent and which affected our manipulation of the firearm itself is the new slide.  It’s sleek, but it’s also difficult to grab.  IPSC shooters likely won’t find this to be a huge detriment, slide lock reloads being somewhat less appealing to employ with regularity when hundredths of a second count, but it’s one of our two quibbles with the gun.  We like a meatier slide, and while this slide may well suit the purposes of committed gamers, for us it’s a little awkward.

CZ Shadow 2The other quibble we have is not technically a part of the slide, although the slide features one of the most egregious examples: the font they used for the number 2.  I mean come on, guys…that font is appalling.  We don’t mind if you use it in ads but machining a weird early-90s euro-dance-party 2 right on the slide…that just hurts us.  The one on the grips we can cover with our hands but come on guys, the slide?

On the plus side, if one of your two complaints is “I hate this font” then you know the pistol is very, very good.

Shooting the Shadow 2

So when you get this excited about a pistol just pulling it out of the box, what’s next?  You go shoot it, of course.  And as it turns out, you draw a crowd and end up letting everyone else shoot it, too.

CZ Shadow 2And it just shoots like a house on fire.  The recoil is absurdly soft, likely as a consequence of the high grip and low slide mass.  The sharp checkering, if you have hands that can take it, locks the pistol into your hands good and hard and you can launch bullets downrange at any speed you feel confident pressing the trigger.  The sights, which are an adjustable rear paired with a fiberoptic front, are exactly what you’d expect on a pistol like this.  It’s a shooter’s pistol, no doubt about it.  The trigger we immediately loved on the bench was great on the range; that short, positive reset makes it essentially impossible to “short stroke” the trigger as one of our staff has done with several guns when moving at maximum speed (that’s what a lifetime of 1911s gets you).  It’s the best reset we’ve ever felt on a trigger, in fact: there’s enough push to take your finger well past the sear even though the entire travel is quite small.  The actual break is so short that by the time the reset occurs, you’re already having to press back to get to the sear.  In an ideal world, this is just exactly what triggers should feel like.

CZ Shadow 2For the sake of thorough testing, we also tried out the thumb safety.  Granted, we know perfectly well that nobody is going to use it very much, since IPSC Production class doesn’t require the use of manual safeties on guns with a double action trigger.  In fact, many competitive shooters swap the original thumb safety for a flush safety since they’re not using it to begin with, and not only do they not want to accidentally switch it on, but they commonly find it interferes with a high grip on the pistol.  So yes, the safety is pretty irrelevant.  But it does work, if you want to take the Shadow 2 into a different game that requires using it.

The mag release is also improved from the original; an interchangeable pad that can be tuned to suit your preferences with a torx wrench.

CZ Shadow 2Shooting the Shadow 2 also brought out another difference: the increase in weight (about 150 grams) combined with the new frame and undercut beavertail make recoil management extremely easy.  The heavy steel frame soaks up the already mild 9mm impulse, and the extraordinarily high grip that shooters can take advantage of situates the recoil very low in the hand.  The small slide which we found difficult to grip was now an advantage: its low mass makes for a very quick, almost “poppy” recoil that hardly upsets the sights.  This is simply one of the easiest guns to shoot quickly that we’ve ever seen.

The remaining changes won’t affect Canadians much, for both good and ill.  It’s an Australia-legal barrel length, something we’re happy to report doesn’t mean anything here.  Sadly, we can’t benefit from the fact that the magazine capacity in freer jurisdictions has been upped to 19.  Sorry, Canadians.  You can absolutely buy guns, but a magazine designed to hold eleven or more rounds and not displaying a pop rivet to keep the world from ending?  Obviously that is a bridge too far.

CZ Shadow 2In the end, there’s no way to describe the Shadow 2 as anything but an absolutely superior competition piece.  With a street price in Canada around $1400, there is nothing that can touch it.  If you’re on the fence about upgrading from an original Shadow, we highly recommend it.  If you’re giving serious thought to a competition-ready pistol, this is the gun to buy.  If you just want to own the best bang-for-buck hammer-fired steel pistol you can buy, get one.  The machining throughout is on par with 1911s costing significantly more and the performance aspect is impossible to ignore.  As 1911 and Hi-Power aficionados, it pains us to say this, but if you’re buying a metal pistol in this price range and you don’t buy a Shadow 2 right now…boy, you sure better have a good reason.  And you better let us know what it is, because we can’t think of one.