While I’m blessed to have an increasing number of opportunities to handle and shoot different firearms as a result of running this blog, the continued exposure has an unintended side effect – I find myself completely blown away by a firearm with decreasing frequency. It’s almost as if I’ve developed a tolerance for the exhilaration associated with handling a new firearm. Don’t get me wrong, I still get excited and absolutely enjoy each and every opportunity. Regardless, there are still moments when I handle something new that completely knocks my socks off. Shooting the CZ Shadow 2 for the first time was one of those moments.
The CZ Shadow 2 isn’t new to the market. Having been introduced in 2018 it is not exactly old either, but it has been around. I’ve heard about it in competitive shooting circles and from other gun enthusiasts since the early days of this blog, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I didn’t really know anything about CZ and had never fired one of their guns previously. I have also had a few opportunities to hold one and dry fire it. I thought it was just another double-action/single-action metal-framed pistol that was on the heavy side. Having been acquainted with the P229 Legion, I figured it would be something similar to it. I dismissed it having not developed any real interest in it.
The lack of interest was replaced by curiosity this year as I got more involved in shooting USPSA matches. There is something to be said about noticing that several Master and Grand Master level shooters were shooting Shadow 2s in the carry optics division. There is also something else to be said about noticing no Master and Grand Master level shooters shooting Sig Sauer double-action/single-action pistols (granted there were a few P320 Legions in play but they weren’t as dominant as the Shadows). It became obvious that those high level shooters knew something that I didn’t and I wanted to find out. So I got my hands on one. More specifically I got my hands on a Shadow 2 Optics-Ready variant or a Shadow 2 OR if you will, which I will refer to from here on out as the Shadow 2 or simply the Shadow.
So what does one get for about $1,500 street price? Well, one gets:
- A CZ-branded hard-sided foam-padded gun case,
- a manual,
- a warranty registration card,
- a cable lock,
- a nylon-bristled cleaning brush,
- a cleaning patch rod,
- four spare guide rod buffers,
- tools to remove the optic plate cover and adjust the rear sight,
- three nineteen (19) round nickel plated magazines,
- the gun itself.
Out of the box the gun has everything one needs to compete in the USPSA Production division (with the exception of a belt, holster, and magazine pouches). One could argue that another magazine or two would be strongly advised in order to finish higher round count stages since Production division capacity limits magazines to ten (10) rounds each. But it’s pretty close to being match ready. For USPSA Carry Optics, one will need to acquire and install a red dot sight and an adapter mounting plate (and maybe an extra magazine). But again, it gets one pretty close to being match ready out of the box.
The Shadow 2 is a hefty gun weighing in at 46.5 oz. The overall dimensions are 8.54″ long by 6.18″ tall by 1.34″ wide. As such, it meets the dimension and weight criteria for USPSA Production and Carry Optics division (it also happens to be in the production gun list). For IDPA, the Shadow meets the dimension criteria but is too heavy for the Carry Optics division. This shouldn’t be a surprise given this gun is designed for competition, or as some would say it’s a gamer gun, and IDPA rules cater to guns designed for defensive carry and duty use intentions. It’s something to keep in mind, before dropping money on this heavy beast.
Rather than exploring this pistol from front to back, I’m going to take a different route and go from the top down. Which I think will make more sense, although it might not. Starting at the very top we have the sights which are typical notch and post type sights. The front sight is a high visibility fiber optic style front sight with a red insert. The rear sight which is mounted to the optic plate cover is a fully adjustable black serrated rear sight. The long slide which houses the 4.89″ 9mm chambered barrel provides a generous sight radius.
While typically I would complain that having a rear sight installed on an optic plate cover is a bad idea because one loses the option to install tall back up iron sights, I’m going to give this design decision a pass for two reasons. The first is that this is a gamer gun so backup sights aren’t as beneficial in case of an optic failure as they would be on a gun intended for defensive carry or duty use. Sure backup sights might keep one in the game if the optic fails, but it will be unlikely to remain competitive in that division after an optic failure. The next reason is that some aftermarket adapter plates provide a dovetail notch that will allow the owner to install back up sights should they want to. In my case, I replaced the optic cover with a CZUB RMR optic plate and mounted a Trijicon SRO to it without worrying about a backup iron sight solution. I think this is the right play since a plate swap allows the gun to be configured for use in either Production or Carry Optics divisions.
Moving just a hair down we have the slide itself. On the sides near the front we have slide serrations that can be used for slide manipulations and press checks. However, the serrations are angled towards the other side of the slide following the slide’s contour. I found this slide shape and serration design combination to be pretty difficult to grip well which makes reliable slide manipulation challenging. This is another design element that I will give a pass to because the gun is intended for competition and I can still use the mounted optic to manipulate the slide reliably. The gun also features an external extractor.
The slide to frame rail interface is often touted as a major contributing factor to the Shadow’s soft recoil impulse. While it isn’t unique to the Shadow or to CZ guns, the rails on the slide and the frame are reversed from the approach that dominates the market. That is the frame rails are on the outside and the slide rails are on the inside. This supposedly reduces the mass of the slide which reduces the reciprocating mass when the pistol is fired and therefore reduces the recoil impulse. I’m uncertain if this is fact or fiction. However, I can confirm that the recoil impulse is incredibly soft, but I think that has more to do with the gun’s weight than it does with the slide to frame interface.
The disassembly process is mildly reminiscent of a bushingless 1911. The slide is retracted and aligned so the slide stop can be removed which allows the slide to be pulled forward and removed from the frame. The barrel and slide both have 1911-esque locking logs and recesses. However, the barrel doesn’t have a hinged barrel link. The gun uses a full length guide rod and recoil spring as well. Like I said, I see some similarities and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of CZ’s design decisions were inspired by the 1911.
Near the top of the frame at the back of the pistol we have a skeletonized hammer. Along the sides of the top of the frame we have an ambidextrous manual safety which can be used to holster the gun while cocked and locked, ready to go straight into a single action trigger pull. While this start position is acceptable in Open and Limited divisions, it is not allowed in either the Carry Optics or Production divisions. Furthermore, the safety is small and flat which I found rather difficult to operate with my firing hand thumb. Granted my short thumb reach added to the difficult actuation I encountered. Even so, I suspect a less flat thumb safety would go a long way in allowing reliable and consistent safety manipulation. Just forward of the left side thumb safety is the slide stop lever I mentioned earlier which right-handed folks with a short thumb reach will likely have to rely on their support hand to manipulate during slidelock reloads.
Continuing on down, we arrive at the trigger. Being a double-action/single-action pistol, the trigger has two pulls. The double-action pull happens when the hammer is uncocked or halfcocked and the trigger pull performs two actions: cocks the hammer and releases the hammer. This pull is long and heavy, but smooth. It begins with about a quarter inch of virtually resistance-free take up which is followed with almost an inch heavy travel as the hammer is cocked back and released. According to the Wheeler Engineering trigger pull gauge, the heavy travel comes in at about 8 lbs 11 ounces on average. I should also note that the double-action trigger reach is rather long. The single-action pull happens when the hammer is cocked and releasing the hammer is the only function the trigger has to perform. The single-action trigger reach and travel is short, light, and offers a crisp break. The pull begins with less than a quarter inch of resistance-free take up before the wall is reached and is followed by maybe an 1/8″ of almost unnoticeable travel that breaks crisply after applying a hair more than 3 lbs of pressure. The reset is positive and happens after a 1/4″ of release. Overall, it’s an excellent trigger which added another dimension of exhilaration to shooting this gun. The only complaint, which really isn’t a complaint, was that I found myself a bit uneasy manually decocking the Shadow 2 with a loaded chamber since the gun doesn’t have a decocking lever. However, it only takes a little bit of practice to get comfortable with the process. A decocking lever can be added to the Shadow, however it isn’t necessary and I’ve been told that it negatively impacts the smooth trigger action.
The magazine release button is reversible so it can be actuated from either side of the handgun. The extended button can be adjusted to three different settings in order to adapt to the shooter’s preference and hand morphology.
The grip feels fantastic. The blue aluminum side panels have a moderately aggressive checkering texture that works well. In my opinion the panels could be improved with a little modest palm swell, but otherwise they are great. The grip offers a deep curved beaver tail that allows the web of the hand to naturally and comfortably nestle high on the gun. The beaver tail combined with the narrow grip panels allow small hands to reach the trigger easily when the hammer is cocked. The front and back of the frame have aggressive checkering that helps keep the grip in place, but aren’t so abrasive that it’s painful or uncomfortable to grip the gun tightly. The trigger guard does have a smooth undercut that also supports a high and aggressive grip that remains comfortable. Folks who like to place the support hand index finger over the front of the trigger guard should be pleased to find a flat serrated front trigger guard design. Overall the grip design and finish is phenomenal.
I am honestly baffled as to why I didn’t develop an interest in the CZ Shadow 2 sooner. I know I was unimpressed by how it felt in my hands in the past, but I don’t remember why. There was nothing wrong with it, but there was nothing that really stood out to me. Perhaps I thought it too heavy and made inexperienced assumptions that made the Shadow seem like just another option amongst other options. It’s obvious to me now that I missed the mark. Especially after sending some lead down range with it.
I didn’t love the long heavy double-action trigger pull and I’m still not impressed by the manual safety. However, it’s easy to forget about those details when running the gun. As I’ve said, the recoil impulse is soft and smooth. The muzzle rise with each shot is minimal and the hefty gun just feels like it wants to settle back down quickly and go again. The trigger is smooth and offers little resistance to repeating the firing cycle. It’s hard to describe and characterize. It’s almost as if the gun is trying to communicate to the shooter that shooting is its natural state and how it achieves zen. It’s not rushing anything or trying to control the flow of things. It simply is present. That’s the vibe I got from it that allowed me to just shoot.
In the grand scheme of practical shooting things, the Shadow 2 is a no-brainer for folks that are serious about shooting competitively in USPSA Carry Optics or Production divisions. The price tag might appear a bit steep to folks who are only mildly interested and curious about competing, especially considering this pistol really only optimal for a handful of dynamic sport disciplines, but it is a hoot to shoot nonetheless. The Shadow 2 is certainly the pistol I will be shooting in the USPSA Carry Optics division for the foreseeable future and I’m very much looking forward to it.