Launched in 1975, the CZ 75 was among the first double-action (DA) and single-action (SA) semiautomatic 9mm pistols with double-stack capacity, a category of pistol created by John Browning’s 13-plus-one-capacity P.35 Hi-Power 9mm. The Hi-Power was discontinued in 2017 after 82 years in production.
The 15-plus-one CZ 75 remains, and the year 2020 marks its 45th anniversary. Even in 1975, the CZ 75 had a 15-plus-one capacity, but today it can offer up to 19-plus-one rounds to challenge more recent introductions.
CZ-USA continues to design variations of the CZ 75, a pistol possessing a signature low-bore axis that’s become a sought-after quality. Although it could be used in DA or SA modes, the CZ 75 could also be carried with the hammer cocked and locked, safety lever pushed up to engage. In days when the best shooters carried or competed with a Model 1911, the CZ 75 was on its was to becoming the solid rival it is today.
Sights on Competition
Until July 1, 1991, when Czech President Vaclav Havel formally ended the 1955 Warsaw Pact with the former Soviet Union, the CZ 75’s popularity in the West was limited. The following year, International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competitions became an overnight sensation. In 1992, the CZ factory team was also formed. In addition to the development of the CZ 75 platform for use by militaries and law enforcement (LE), CZ had to meet a growing interest in the gun as a competition pistol destined for U.S. shooters.
Fast forward to 2003 when NATO approved the compact CZ 75 P-01, the first CZ 75 variant made by modern manufacturing. CZ was about to earn more interest from the American shooting public. The full-size SP-01, introduced in ’04, sported an extended beavertail to protect the shooter’s hand and allow for a deeper and more secure grip.
Though originally developed as affordable military and LE duty pistols, the P-01 and SP-01 found a fan base when the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) introduced a Production Division specifically for factory pistols that were not single-action designs. At the 2005 IPSC championship, World Shoot XIV, Adam Tyc and my cantankerous friend Angus Hobdell placed 1st and 3rd respectively while shooting the new SP-01.
The original SP-01 morphed into the SP-01 Shadow and featured the removal of the firing pin block, a reshaped grip and safety, a lighter recoil spring, and an improved trigger. In 2016, the Shadow 2 was introduced with additional input from Tyc and Hobdell. Tuned for competition, it added a longer slide and barrel with aggressive serrations, factory trigger job, heavier frame with improved checkering, and a small fiber optic sight.
The Shadow 2 quickly became a go-to gun for competitors in Production Division, but a new division was in the works: Carry Optics. First introduced provisionally in the US in 2015, by the time the Shadow 2 came onto the scene it just missed the weight limit for the fledgling U.S. division by 11/2 ounces. CZ competitors found creative ways to cut Shadow 2s for an optic sight while at the same time eliminating weight in discreet places to come just under the limit. No optic-ready option was available from CZ that could be used in competition.
New for 2020
The new year brought a number of changes, both to USPSA’s Carry Optics division and CZ’s Shadow 2 line. With the division’s higher weight limit of 59 ounces, the newly-debuted Shadow 2 Optics Ready (OR) is poised to be a contender. Previously available in other world markets, but not in the U.S., CZ-USA’s Marketing Manager Zach Hein said, “This change allows the factory Shadow 2 OR to be used in competition here, so we’re happy to import it. CZ-USA had waited in hopes that either the factory could lighten it to meet the rules, or that the rules would change to allow more firearms to compete in this division.”
I am not a USPSA competitor, so this and the plethora of other USPSA rule changes do not affect me, but it does help explain why CZs and Shadow 2s have been so hard to find in the States. Hein added, “When I started working for CZ-USA in 2012, all CZ 75 variants were heavily backordered. SP-01s were backordered 18-plus months, and it was the same with the compact-sized P-01 and PCR, or ‘Police Czech Republic’ pistols. Once folks get to shoot one, they realize what we’ve had going with the CZ 75 for the last 45 years.”
Born in the Shadows
CZ’s Shadow series are manufactured in the Czech Republic at Ceská zbrojovka Uhersky Brod (CZUB), where CZ guns have been produced since 1936. CZ starts with raw material and molten steel that’s poured in the factory’s foundry. Frames are molded, while the Shadow’s slides start from bar stock, and both frame and slide are computer machined before final hand fitting to a finished product. If you visit the CZ factory website, you can watch snippets of the process showing frames molded in wax castings. The impurities are pulled off the top of the molten metal, the molds poured, cut apart on a chop saw and sent to a machining station for milling.
Externally, the Shadow 2 OR is a work of art. CZ continues to use machined Duralumin grip panels to complement the robust and corrosion-resistant nitride finish. In the signature color scheme for many Shadow 2 variants, the OR has a set of blue grips on a black frame. Duralumin is a durable aluminum and lightweight alloy. The result is that the Shadow 2 OR is an all-metal gun. If you are one of the polymer-phobic, the Shadow 2 is for you.
More than before, the Shadow 2 frame features a dramatic undercut behind the triggerguard for an even higher grip that’s closer to the low bore axis. The high grip is enabled by the high undercut at the backstrap.
Control is further enhanced with generous checkering covering the frontstrap and backstrap. These features, along with the aggressive wavy checker-like machining on the grip panels, work together to minimize slippage within your hands while firing. A good, solid grip does much to compensate for an imperfect trigger pull.
The full-length dustcover keeps a balance of weight up front, and CZ machined a single-slot rail for attaching accessories. More importantly, the entire frame and slide are machined from stem to stern with rail engagement surfaces absent of binding and tilt when racking or firing. A contoured slide lowers a majority of the reciprocating mass and centers it on the bore. This change, coupled with increased weight at the dust cover and rail, the low-bore axis and high-grip undercuts, work together to minimize muzzle rise and flip.
Previous experiences have caused me to dislike DA/SA semiautomatic pistols. For most, you have to learn to manage two different trigger pulls, which requires a lot of effort in training. The Shadow 2 OR’s trigger could be a different story. To me, it felt like an ice skate gliding across a freshly Zamboni’d pond.
Measuring 8 pounds in double-action operation and 2¾ pounds in single action, the Shadow 2 OR’s trigger is the slickest, non-stacking, non-staging double-action trigger that I’ve ever felt on a factory gun. My learning curve was shortened. I’m relatively certain that anyone who is willing to put the time on task and rounds downrange will appreciate this trigger.
Some have complained about the Shadow’s lack of cocking serrations. Primarily a competition pistol, I hesitate to concur. With minimal serrations at the front of the slide and none at the rear, the Shadow 2 OR model was designed to accept a miniature red dot sight (RDS) on top, making serrations inconsequential.
Manual safeties on handguns are either loved or hated. Falling into the latter group, I have my reasons. Many students who come to class won’t use them due to a more complex manual of arms, ergonomics and for speed. My argument is, if a gun has a manual safety and you don’t train with it, it is likely to be engaged at the most inopportune moment. When the gun is decocked fully, the safety will not go on. When the gun is cocked in SA mode, or half-cocked in DA mode, you can put the safety on.
The CZ Shadow 2 OR does not feature a decocking function. I inquired about the proper carry condition of the Shadow 2 OR and CZ’s response was, “As a USPSA or IPSC pistol, you are not likely to ever use the safety, so it was kept small and unobtrusive. If you wanted to use this pistol in a cocked-and-locked condition, or for 3-Gun where you might have to quickly ground a handgun, you could add the extended paddle safety lever, which is available from the CZ-USA webstore.” True to their point, I found it in stock online for just $70.
The Shadow 2 OR does offer a three-position magazine release button that is user adjustable with a Torx bit. I found the out-of-the-box position sufficient, but you may have different length fingers and need more or less reach than I do. If you’re a lefty, you’ll be pleased to know that the button is also completely reversible. Besides the slide-lock lever, the Shadow 2 OR is ambidextrous.
The fixed, fiber-optic front sight and height-adjustable-only (“HAJO”) rear sight is excellent, but the Shadow 2 OR is meant to be paired with an RDS. Keeping in mind its intended use minimizes confusion when you realize that the rear sight is fixed to the removable RDS cutout and comes off with the factory sight plate. RDS plates for specific sights are available through CZ-USA’s webstore, but there is no option to co-witness iron sights. I mounted Trijicon’s new Specialized Reflex Optic (SRO) using the Trijicon plate labeled “RMR.” Lucky for us, Trijicon’s popular RMR and new SRO share the same footprint.
Prolific now, the slide-ride RDS wasn’t as popular for competition in years past, mostly due to durability issues resulting from the recoil impulse of a slide repeatedly slamming into battery. Today, sights like the RMR and SRO have proven durable, lightweight and small. The SRO weighs only 1.6 ounces and is as strong as its older sibling, the RMR.
I went without my usual 25 yard, out-of-the-box accuracy test because I had to zero the RDS first. Generally, if you zero a red dot at 10 yards you’ll see a repeat zero at 25 yards, so that’s what I did. Using practice Ball ammo, I was quickly on the mark. Immediately impressed, I also noticed that the Shadow 2 OR’s recoil impulse was pleasantly light.
I ran the plate racks and steel out to distance to get a feel for the weight of the gun and to try tracking the SRO under recoil. The DA/SA trigger was easy to quickly master and ball-bearing smooth. It made first-round hits, double taps and precision DA shots at distance easy. The extra weight of the all-metal gun helped keep the red dot in its window, too.
Firing drills for a couple hours isn’t a durability test, but the CZ Shadow series is already a respected and vetted pistol worldwide. Guns & Ammo’s sample ran like a fine European sports car. I want to own this gun.
Takedown is somewhat similar to a Model 1911 and internally, the Shadow 2 OR is much the same. A solid guiderod with a coil-over spring helps tame recoil. The yolk-style trigger bar runs down both sides of the magazine well, unlike some one-sided designs such as the Beretta 92 series. Inside the action is an out-of-battery safety, and the half-cock position can serve as a drop safety, which is also reminiscent of Series 70 Colt 1911.
My accuracy report does not reflect what this gun is capable of. All the listed brands shot well, but not as good as I believe the Shadow 2 OR could do. The issue I had at the range was me blowing one or two shots out of every five groupings. This skewed my results, as you can see from some from the “best group” column in the performance chart. If you were to work up a handload, as many competition shooters would, the Shadow 2 OR would likely produce 2-inch groups at 50 yards, which is comparable to some more expensive, hand-fit custom guns.
Sometimes imitated but never duplicated, the CZ 75 has always intrigued me. The Shadow 2 and Shadow 2 OR models are as good looking as they are functional. After this experience, I would consider shooting USPSA just so I could justify the purchase of this gun. I’d even consider going back to shooting the Open Division of the NRA’s Action Pistol matches with a red dot on top.
The only problem I can see in owning the Shadow 2 OR is getting it back into the factory box with an RDS mounted. You’ll have to make some adjustments in cutting the foam where the factory did not, or buy another pistol case to transport it in. Perhaps I should just keep it.
CZ Shadow 2 OR
- Type: Short recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 19+1 rds.
- Barrel: 4.7 in., cold hammer forged
- Overall Length: 8.5 in.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 14.5 oz. (tested)
- Height: 6.2 in.
- Width: 1.3 in.
- Frame: Steel
- Grips: Duralumin, blue (anodized)
- Trigger: 2 lbs., 12 oz. (SA); 8 lbs. (DA)
- Sight: Fiber optic (front); notch (rear), click-adj. elevation, drift adj. windage
- Safety: Manual lever, ambidextrous
- MSRP: $1,549
- Importer: CZ-USA, 800-955-4486, cz-usa.com