August 15, 2023
Compromise. When it comes to semiautomatic pistols designed for concealed carry, we always talk about “compromise.” Sure, you can have a handgun that’s small and mighty, but the trade-off is seriously snappy recoil and less onboard capacity. It’s fair to say the latter complaint has been addressed by the recent wave of optic-ready micro-compacts. Pistols including the Ruger Max-9 ($439, ruger.com); SIG Sauer P365X ($599, sigsauer.com); Springfield Armory Hellcat OSP ($633, springfield-armory.com); Smith & Wesson Shield Plus OR ($549, smith-wesson.com) and Taurus GX4 TORO ($450, taurususa.com) boast extremely efficient magazines, holding 10-plus rounds of 9mm despite diminutive designs. The recoil issue, though, is a tougher nut to crack.
Using a micro- or subcompact pistol (read those descriptors interchangeably), it’s not as though shooting a few rounds of defensive 9mm is unbearable. Still, look around the range next time you visit; chances are no one is shooting more than a mag or two from their micro-compact carry gun. Most would agree a 4-inch-barreled 15-round pistol — think G19 size — is orders of magnitude easier to shoot than a subcompact. This is especially true during extended, high-round-count training sessions or multi-day classes. Conversely, many find the little micros carry and conceal more comfortably than even slightly larger guns.
So, it all comes back to compromise. If market trends are any indicator, customers have decided, by no small margin, that comfort and concealment trump control and capacity.
What if you didn’t have to compromise? What if there was a gun small and light enough to carry easily, and discreetly, and offered 10-plus rounds of capacity, and was pleasant to shoot? Allow me to introduce Shadow Systems’ CR920P.
Since 2016, Shadow Systems of Plano, Texas, has developed a comprehensive lineup of striker-fire, semiautomatic, polymer-frame pistols. Loosely arrayed in three sizes and three trims, the company’s offerings include full-size duty-role DR920s, compact multi-role MR920s and the subcompact covert-role CR920s. The divisions have become a bit murkier with the introduction of long slide “L” models, compensated “P” pistols, and the popular XR920 crossover, which pairs a compact slide with a full-size frame. Suffice it to say, Shadow Systems offers an option for any handgunning pursuit. Its catalog can also accommodate most budgets through its “just the essentials” Foundation Series ($679), the well-equipped Combat trim and the fully loaded Elite packages.
Looking specifically at its subcompact, the CR920 was a 2022 introduction intended to be more comfortable to shoot than other guns in its class. Though dimensionally similar to its micro-compact competitors, sporting a 3.4-inch barrel and feeding from 10- or 13-round magazines, the CR920 exhibited enhanced shootability compared to its peers. Speaking to Trevor Roe, Shadow Systems CEO, I noted that the CR920’s frame had a bit more circumference than similar pistols, giving the shooting hand more to hold on to. Roe noted that it wasn’t just the size of the frame, but also the aggressive texturing that covers the grip, as well as the ergonomically designed “skirt” at the back of the magazine well. He was referring to the frame extension that drops below the rear of the magazine well, which includes a subtle palm swell. That skirt is designed to interface with the meaty portion of the hand, just below the thumb, resulting in a fuller and more secure firing grip. In my hand, it’s a near-perfect fit.
However, despite its evolved ergonomics, the CR920 is still a sub-18-ounce, short-barreled, 9mm pistol, meaning that it’s ideal for carry, but nobody’s favorite range gun. It’s physics; the gun’s small, lightweight slide travels rearward as it recoils with more speed and violence than the longer, heavier slides on larger pistols with the same chambering. When that fast-moving slide hits the end of the line, the sudden stop cranks the muzzle end skyward.
Enter the compensated new-for-2023 CR920P. Not only is it more comfortable through recoil than its competitors, but it’s flatter shooting. Specifically, with the CR920P, Shadow Systems set out to develop the flattest shooting gun possible, while staying within the G48 MOS profile.
To date, Shadow Systems’ offerings have intentionally mirrored the dimensions and some of the design features of popular Glock pistols. For example, the MR920 is a match (albeit refined) for the 4-inch barreled, 15-round G19. Benefits to Shadow Systems’ effort include immediate holster compatibility with the G19 — a hurdle for many handgun makers — as well as a robust and established aftermarket for accessories and components.
Following the sensible practice, the CR920 upper half is a dimensional match to the G43X. The CR920P, though, is a hybrid design that uses the same concealable frame as the base gun, but paired with a top-end designed to match the G48 MOS slide profile. Considering there is only about a three-quarter-inch difference in length between the G43 and G48 uppers, Shadow Systems did not have much room for both an effective compensator and an attachment method.
The solution is both spatially efficient and robust. The CR920P’s 3-3/4-inch barrel features a channel and three lugs near the muzzle. The lugs fit snuggly into complementary recesses within the compensator’s body, and the channel provides clearance for compensator’s integrated locking lever to open and close. Users can rest assured the comp will index correctly and will not rotate during firing thanks to the lugs’ fitment. As well, a redundant spring-tensioned safety detent retains the hinged locking lever. To remove the compensator during pistol disassembly, a small punch is needed to depress the detent.
In use, the compensator’s single topside port diverts expelled gasses upward. The force of the gas works directly against muzzle rise and, in conjunction with the CR920 grip, effectively keeps the pistol flat during recoil. In other words, rather than the muzzle torquing skyward with each shot, the gun’s motion during recoil is reduced to the rearward and forward reciprocation of the slide on the frame. The benefit of a flat-shooting gun is that the user perceives less snap and jump and, thus, less recoil. It also makes reacquiring the sights for follow-on shots much easier and faster since they remain in the same linear plane.
For these reasons, many larger handguns and competition-ready race guns are equipped with compensators. However, compensators are less common on defense-oriented guns because when the weight, dimensions, spring tensions or other characteristics of a proven pistol design are changed, you risk introducing reliability issues — an absolute no-no for self-protection handguns. Top-of-the-line race guns, for example, represent a delicate balance between slide and spring weights, and often only function reliably with a narrow range of ammunition offerings. Defensive guns, on the other hand, are expected to feed and fire everything, even when covered in mud, blood or sand.
Why would a company such as Shadow Systems — with duty-ready reliability as a professed priority — add a compensator to a concealed-carry handgun? Think back to the physics I mentioned earlier, particularly the speed and violence of a subcompact’s slide movement during recoil. That hard-to-handle energy actually makes these micros perfect platforms for compensators since they are more tolerant of added weight on the barrel or slide. In fact, the CR920P’s slide energy is so robust that Shadow Systems’ engineers opted to use a heavy steel compensator as opposed to one made of lightweight aluminum. The added weight at the muzzle, too, helps flatten the pistol’s recoil further.
To expand the point, Roe told me that the company’s competition-ready, full-size DR920P — another flat-shooting gun — would not tolerate a steel compensator such as on the CR920P. I tested the DR920P and found that the gun was not nearly as finicky as some custom racing rigs when it comes to ammo selection, but Roe reported that its mechanics are balanced such that any extra weight at the muzzle could negatively affect its function. The little CR920P, on the other hand, was designed to be unfailingly reliable and not subject to dietary restrictions. Also, thanks to its construction, the compensator requires no additional maintenance.
Of Micros & Magazines
While I had Roe on the phone, I took the opportunity to pick his brain about the CR920 and CR920P’s most distinctive departure from their Austrian-made inspirations: The magazine. Except for the CR920, Shadow Systems’ pistols come with Magpul’s GL9 PMAGs. They also function with Glock OEM and most aftermarket magazines. The micros, however, use proprietary 10- and 13-round metal-bodied mags. Why proprietary magazines? Roe replied, “Obviously the Glock magazines for the G43 and G48 aren’t very efficient. We knew we could do better.” To his point, those guns only hold six and 10 rounds, respectively. Even with the grip-extending 13-round magazine inserted, the CR920 still measures an inch shorter than the G48, making it both more capacious and concealable.
Conceding the shortcoming of Glock’s slim-frame magazine designs, why not use an established aftermarket option such as the Shield Arms S15? Roe was ready for that one. “First of all,” Roe said, “the CR920s use a G43-size frame.” Shield Arms’ magazines are meant for the larger G43X/G48 frames. More important, though, was Roe’s concern that the CR920’s magazines feed reliably. He again referenced the micro’s high slide velocity and explained, “The rounds in the magazine need to lift quickly to beat the slide as it returns to battery. To do that, our magazine spring is as long as a Glock 17’s.”
It’s true that some aftermarket magazines suffer from being marginally or lightly sprung. Shadow Systems offers surety by using springs designed to power long, 17-round double-stack magazines in its short 10- and 13-round staggered-column units.
Naturally, my next question was about plans for larger magazines that hold 15 rounds or more. Roe wouldn’t rule it out, but made clear that his focus — and the company’s — puts reliability first. “We’re not going to sacrifice reliability over trends like the recent capacity wars,” Roe said, “even if it means our gun’s capacity is conservative.” He continued, “You’ve got a 13-plus-round 9mm carry pistol. That was good enough for the Browning Hi Power.” He’s not wrong, and the CR920P is arguably easier to carry and shoot.
Just as with the standard model, the CR920P will ship with one 10- and one 13-round magazine. The 10-rounder comes with a flat, flush-fit basepad, but a pinky-extension pad is also included. Anyone considering shooting and carrying this gun would likely want to add a few extra magazines, and Shadow Systems has made a point of keeping both options available on its webstore. Costing just $27.29 or $29.39, respectively, as Roe stated, “They’re priced like we’re in this together.”
On Range & Road
The “P” model’s distinguishing features are the compensator and barrel fitment. Keith Wood reviewed the CR920 (“Role Models,” June 2022), so I won’t linger with a lengthy description. I will note, though, that G&A’s two test guns were both Elite models that included slide lightening cuts, topside ridge cuts between the iron sights — black serrated rear and tritium-powered, green luminescent front — and Shadow Systems’ proprietary optic-mounting system. We had one each of the black nitride and bronze TiCN barrels for testing.
There were no surprises in terms of reliability or performance on the range; both guns shot great. They were equipped with Holosun 507K X2 red dots ($342, holosun.com), and I was able to keep five-shot groups at 25 yards under 2-1/2 inches with a variety of ammo. The best performers were the heavier, higher-quality loads, including Wilson Combat’s 135-grain flat nose and Federal’s 124-grain Punch self-defense round. Winchester’s Service Grade 115-grainers ran well and posted good results, too, though. The trigger on the primary test gun exhibited a 5-pound, 6-ounce, pull weight measured using a Lyman digital gauge. In my experience, it was a touch lighter than most production micros, and it was not a hindrance to accuracy, which is more than I can say for many striker-fired triggers.
Important for this test, though, was to judge how the compensator performed. To test its effect on recoil mitigation, I took the 20-ounce CR920P to the range alongside an uncompensated 18-ounce micro-compact, a 4-inch-barreled 21-ounce compact pistol, and a 28-ounce 9mm Model 1911 in a lightweight commander configuration. I predicted that the CR920P would outshoot the micro and come in on-par with the compact, and surely that would have been a win. I really got excited when, to my hand, the CR920P edged out the compact and shot just as smoothly, and controllably, as the 1911. If you’ve experienced the nirvana that is shooting a good 9mm 1911, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, it was only the single-action 1911’s trigger that really kept me from declaring Shadow Systems the outright winner of my ad-hoc competition. Both guns felt great in the hand, secure during recoil, and each had sights that tracked flat during recoil for fast and accurate shooting. The 1911 has its longer grip and greater mass, but the CR920P has its comp.
For a serious carry pistol, though, there is no doubt I would prefer the CR920P’s greater capacity, smaller profile and ability to accept electronic sights. In fact, I’ve been toting the compensated CR920P since shortly after this review began. Whether in a strongside FO3 holster from BlackPoint Tactical ($105, blackpointtactical.com), or a Rogue System from Crossbreed ($100, crossbreedholsters.com), the CR920P has replaced my other micros and some larger compacts to become a constant companion. I’ve trained with it, flown with it, and let other shooters try it out for their impressions. Feedback has been universally positive. The CR920P is as easy to shoot as it is to carry. Now, there’s no reason to compromise.
Shadow Systems CR920P
- Type: Striker fired, recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 10+1 rds., 13+1 rds.
- Barrel: 3.75 in., 1:10 rifling
- Overall Length: 7 in.
- Width: 1.05 in.
- Height: 4.27 in. (flush mag.), 4.79 in. (ext. mag.)
- Weight: 1 lb., 4 oz.
- Material: 17-4 stainless steel (slide); 416R stainless steel (barrel); polymer (grip)
- Finish: Black nitride (slide); bronze TiCN or black nitride (barrel)
- Sights: Tritium dot (front); black square notch (rear); optic ready
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 6 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $1,046
- Manufacturer: Shadow Systems, 469-458-6808, shadowsystemscorp.com
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