March 15, 2023
By Jeremy Stafford
Foundations are important. Without a good foundation, anything you build will fail when it’s subjected to stress. Likewise, without good foundational skills, you will fail under stress. Shadow Systems has attracted a lot of attention since the company’s flagship pistols were first reviewed in the June 2022 issue of Guns & Ammo. While many of the brand’s options are more familiar to high-end customs — titanium-nitride-finished parts, intricate slide milling and threaded barrels, for example — custom treatments are not necessary for a pistol intended for duty or self-defense. Sure, some folks consider a threaded barrel for comps and silencers are necessary, but those things are in the “nice to have” category; they are not necessary, and most duty holsters never see those options.
Shadow Systems looked at the market and realized that it could configure an improved version of its popular duty guns at a comparable price point by stripping certain models down to the core components. This became the Foundation Series. Shadow Systems’ product managers removed the “nice-to-have” bits and kept the “need-to-have” parts. The Foundation Series currently includes three 9mm pistols starting at $679: MR920 FS (analogous to a G19); the XR920 FS (analogous to a G45); and the DR920 FS (analogous to a G17). These pistols fit into holsters intended for appropriately sized Glock pistols, and all of them will run Glock magazines. This solves the so-called “ecosystem” problem that many face when considering an upgrade or change of pistol. As many already know, holsters and magazines can total up to a higher cost than the price of a pistol.
Each Foundation Series pistol starts life with the modular Shadow Systems frame. With most pistols, the included backstraps simply move the web of the hand closer or further from the trigger; this allows the shooter to achieve consistent and comfortable finger placement on the trigger and often allows a shooter to exert more consistent trigger control. (If you don’t believe me, try teaching a shooter with small hands how to shoot on a full-size, double-action auto. You’ll see all sorts of interesting hand gymnastics.) The Shadow Systems frames not only give shooters the benefit of backstraps, but they also subtly change the angle of the pistol in your hands. Some say that it allows you to shoot more naturally. (I’ll address the idea of grip angle later.) The frames have a nice, medium-bite texture surrounding the grip with an upswept beavertail, a useable magazine well, and a generously undercut triggerguard. These guns also feature a ledge built into the frame above the triggerguard to afford the shooter some purchase with a thumb-forward grip. You see, the frame really is excellent, in my opinion. It really is the main pillar of the new Foundation Series.
The next foundational pillar of this line is the optic cut. The pistols all feature a patented optic cut that permit direct mounting of most popular red dots optics. It supports them with the longest and sturdiest screws on the market that work with several included spacers. Optic adapter plates — even the very best ones — allow for another failure point in an already complex chain of tolerances. If you shoot them often enough, you will see them fail, usually as the optic sails across the range. The Shadow Systems solution is one of the best I’ve used.
With those two pieces of the foundation in place, the rest of the parts shine on merit. The barrels are conventionally rifled and nitrided. These are not as distinctive as other Shadow Systems models, but you’d be hard pressed to see the difference on the target. The Foundation Series also feature a steel guide rod, although it’s made of carbon rather than stainless. Slides are nitrided steel and feature milled grasping grooves front and rear. The grasping grooves are simplified from the ones on more expensive pistols, but these provide ample purchase for their intended purpose. Topping the slide is a set of metal sights with a blacked-out rear and a white-dot front. The Foundation Series do not need the option of suppressor-height sights since the optic mounting system allows the red dot to sit low enough to use with stock sights.
While not the same aluminum match unit Shadow Systems installs in other guns, the Foundation triggers are a polymer type that has a more refined press than the stock Glock trigger. The trigger weight averaged between 41/2 and 5 pounds, 1 ounce. The press has the same characteristics of a Glock trigger but there was no grit, the staging not as abrupt, and the break was not as hard. During practice, there was less front sight and dot bounce, even if I purposely relaxed my grip. Reset was positive and tactile.
I’ve used the term “refined” a couple of times in describing Shadow Systems’ pistols, and that really sums up my overall impression of the Foundation Series. These are refined versions of a proven duty pistol, providing advantages where it can.
Earlier I mentioned that I wanted to consider the grip angle. Regarding any pistol, I personally think that this characteristic can be overemphasized. When I switched duty guns from a Beretta 92FS to a G21, I loaded the magazines and shot a 396 out of 400 on the LAPD Bonus course. The change in grip angle didn’t matter, nor did the different caliber. I lined up the sights, pressed the trigger straight to the rear, and repeated. I transitioned easily because my skills had a strong foundation. Unfortunately, many shooters lack fundamentals, so they look for something else to blame. Nine out of 10 times, my fellow officers shot poorly because they were a poor shot, not because the pistol had a different grip angle. Where I find that the Shadow Systems frames shine is with the ability to match grip angles to recoil control. Different hand shapes make different leverage, so when you want to go fast, the grip angle can help — just don’t expect it to make up for a lack of skill.
Now, the second issue that got me thinking: Shadow Systems recommends a break-in period for its guns. I did have a couple of failures to go into battery within the first two magazines testing the MR920 FS. However, it never appeared during formal testing, so I stopped worrying about it. There’s some contention about whether a quality pistol should require a break-in, and I think that the argument is misguided. If the pistol needs to “break in” due to tight manufacturing or machine imperfections, then that is not a good thing. It could be a sign of a poorly manufactured pistol that is expected to smooth out. If a pistol needs to be broken in because it is purposely manufactured with tight tolerances, I don’t see a downside. Firearm engineers are keenly aware of tolerance stacking. If they choose to err on the pistol being a little tight, and they inform the consumer that it was deliberate, and that the pistol will run 100 percent after a couple of magazines, I don’t see that as a negative. If the pistol performs as intended within the usage cycle that the manufacturer specifies, I say that’s intentional, not luck.
I quite like Shadow Systems’ Foundation Series, and I think you will, too. Remember, no matter what gun you are shooting, the most important foundation is the one that your skills are built on.
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