January 10, 2022
Founded in 2016, and operating in Plano, Texas, Shadow Systems offers defensive pistols that are made in America by Americans, and built around Glock Gen3-pattern internal components. While Glock-inspired designs are prevalent and well documented in these pages, Shadow Systems seeks to stand apart by offering enhanced, fully featured pistols priced below competitive models. They are on track to offer value and reliability above similarly assembled aftermarket builds.
Shadow Systems catalogs five models of polymer-frame, striker-fired semiautomatic pistols, all chambered for 9mm but differentiated by size and trim level. The MR920 is comparable to the G19, which was introduced in 1998. It has a 4-inch barrel and 15-round capacity, and uses a Glock-pattern magazine. DR920 models are larger and follow the G17 format with 41/2-inch barrels and 17-round magazines. Both variants are subdivided into Combat and Elite renditions, wherein the Elite models possess all the standard Combat features but offer additional slide lightening cuts and include the optic-mounting assembly as standard equipment. (The optic mounting feature is an option on Combat models.) The final offering is the MR920L, which pairs the compact 15-round frame with the longer 41/2-inch barrel and slide assembly. The MR920L is only available in the Elite trim, but all five models can be had with either standard or threaded, 41/2- or 5-inch barrels, and a choice of black Nitride or bronze Titanium Carbon Nitride (TiCN) barrel treatments. The MR920 Combat and MR920 Elite are optional with a flat dark earth (FDE) frame and slide, also.
All The Upgrades
The subject of this review is the MR920 Elite. Although many characteristics will be familiar, there are a lot of interesting features to discuss, so I’ll start from the top: The sights reflect current preferences among defensive shooters, pairing a green luminescent and tritium-powered front with a black, serrated, square-notch rear. It really is an ideal setup that balances speed and accuracy. I’d describe the sights as being medium height since they are taller than low-profile irons, but these are not nearly as tall as suppressor-height sights. They are well-suited for standalone use and offer a lower-third co-witness when used with a red-dot optic.
Speaking of optics, a selling point of the Shadow Systems platform is its versatile mounting system. Beneath its coverplate, the slide is drilled with two sets of mounting ports. Each gun comes with three pairs of screws and three molded spacers. Compared to the plate systems such as Glock’s MOS, the Shadow Systems slide allows for a lower, direct-mount arrangement. It still offers compatibility for many popular optics, including models from Holosun, Leupold, SIG Sauer, Swampfox, Trijicon, TruGlo and Vortex. For testing, I mounted a Trijicon RMR Type 2 with 3.25-MOA reticle. Mounting required the use of the “A” spacer and screw set “2.” The fit proved to be very snug and secure, and the optic experienced no loosening or shifts in zero throughout testing. Detailed mounting instructions are included with the gun, and a complete list of optics tested for fit is maintained on Shadow Systems’ website.
The slide itself is machined from 17-4 stainless steel and wears a durable black Nitride finish. Lightening cuts, enhanced serrations and larger window ports have become a staple of custom-enhanced pistols, and the MR920 has them in spades. But they don’t just give the gun a racy look, they also have utility. Forward cocking serrations match the size and style of the rear grooves and include a pronounced ledge for sure purchase. These cuts reduce mass and provide a grasping point for press checks and other slide manipulations. Scale-like cuts over the top, just behind the front sight, give the web of the hand a friction point for greater leverage when conducting such manipulations. Window slots not only offer a view of the colorful barrel, but further reduce mass and give dirt that might collect a way to evacuate the gun during cycling. Smartly, even with all the fancy machine work, the MR920 is expertly dehorned. The overall weight savings can be felt in the hand, on the belt line, and during recoil. There’s less reciprocating mass which means that there is less kick and a faster return to battery.
Within the slide, G&A’s test sample carried a 4-inch, unthreaded bronze TiCN barrel. Regardless of color or thread, all Shadow Systems barrels are spiral fluted. It’s a good look and, again, shaves some weight from the overall package. In fact, the barrel and slide cuts add up to save more than 2 ounces compared to a G19. Shadow Systems lists the MR920 Elite as weighing 20.9 ounces, which I confirmed on a digital scale. Then, for a true apples-to-apples comparison, I weighed both the MR920 Elite and a Glock 19 Gen5 MOS with empty magazines and identical Trijicon RMRs installed. The MR920 tipped the scale at 22.2 ounces, and the Glock weighed 24.5. It’s not a big difference, but in the hand it is noticeable. Besides the standard G19 Gen3-pattern small parts, the gun’s top end also contains a captured, flat-wire recoil spring on a metal guiderod. A Torx-head screw secures the front of the spring assembly, which allows for easy maintenance or replacement.
Controls are standard fare given the gun’s lineage. Takedown tabs are above the trigger area, there’s a left-side slide-lock lever and a left-side-only magazine release button that is slightly larger than a G19’s, and ridges make it easier to activate.
Non-standard is the MR920’s flat-face trigger with central safety lever. It’s comfortable and the assembly removes some of the take-up and most of the mush and grit common to striker-fire guns of this type. The press meets the wall near the 90-degree point, which is ideal, and Guns & Ammo’s test sample produced an average pull weight of 5 pounds, 5 ounces, according to a Lyman digital trigger gauge.
The molded polymer frame appears to be a significant departure from the standard G19, but the MR920 is compatible with G19 holsters. And on the point of “compatibility,” the frame accepts Magpul PMAG 15 GL9 magazines (two of which are included), as well as Glock’s Gen3/4/5 factory mags. Other aftermarket options work, too.
Returning to the frame, a tacky stippling pattern is generously applied. It’s even molded into the thumb and finger shelves on both sides, and the front of the triggerguard. An enlarged beavertail protects the shooting hand from slide bite and, with the undercut triggerguard, promotes a high grip. Its ergonomic design and effective texturing make the MR920 easy to shoot fast.
The gun can also be fit for shooters with large or small hands. Three interchangeable backstraps are included with the pistol and adjust the front-to-rear width of the frame. The backstraps are fully textured and easily installed thanks to a central lengthwise channel that engages a dovetail-type rail on the spine of the grip. Shadow Systems also includes a tool, a simple punch, to aid in removing or replacing the single roll pin that secures the backstraps. The tool can also be used to install or remove the included magazine well. A molded polymer component, the mag well attaches to the lower lip of the grip frame’s frontstrap and is secured by a roll pin that traverses a ported grip plug below the backstrap.
Proof In Performance
For range testing, my evaluation team included not only myself, but also a cadre from the Crucible training center near Fredericksburg, Virginia (team-crucible.com). That team has decades of experience conducting high-risk training for the three-letter agencies, non-government organizations, and first-tier operators with “.mil” web addresses. They know their way around a pistol and how to identify failure points.
Shadow Systems puts particular emphasis on reliability, so our testers were eager to see if the company’s focus on that point was borne out on the range. After several hundred rounds of shooting, including accuracy testing from the bench, the gun never flinched. In true maniacal fashion, evaluators decided to pour magazine after magazine of mixed-bag ammunition through the MR920 in an attempt to make it quit. The gun was fired strong-hand-only, weak-hand-only, limp-wristed, cocked-sideways, upside-down, and with the magazine removed, just to name a few of the intentional — usually troublesome — shooting scenarios. Ultimately, these men did manage to best the machine. During 180 rounds of purposely challenging shooting, the MR920 presented two stoppages. One was a stovepipe during a limp-wrist string where the shooter was barely holding the gun. The next occurred after a single shot was fired with the magazine removed. Both were easily cleared by slide manipulation, and neither reappeared or could be replicated as shooting continued.
I’m happy to report that Shadow Systems made good on its claim. G&A’s test pistol was as reliable (and probably more so) than other production polymer-frame, striker-fired G19 clones. It far outstripped the performance I’ve seen with other “Gucci”-type Glocks.
If I seem to be breezing over accuracy, it’s only because the MR920’s performance was predictably very good. At 25 yards shooting from a rest, the gun averaged 21/2-inch groups all day. It’s perfect for a duty or defense pistol. During this evaluation, Remington 124-grain UMC ammo posted the smallest five-shot group at 1.67 inches, and Federal’s 147-grain HST load that’s popular with law enforcement produced the best five-group average at 2.08 inches. Besides being near-impossible to stop, many of my fellow testers echoed how good the grip feels in hand. The ergonomics and lightened slide work together to facilitate fast, accurate shooting. In the case of the MR920 Elite, less metal meant more “rock-n-roll.”
Prior to testing, it was hard not to lump the MR920 in with other blinged-out Glock-pattern products we’ve been seeing. We’ve all heard the so-called “perfection” of stock Glock pistols being maligned by eager DIY gunsmiths using drop-in components. Further aftermarket work allows frames to be reshaped or retextured and the slides to be lightened, cut for optics and given additional grasping points. But, for all the guff that Glock gets, the reliability of the G17 and G19 pistols are beyond reproach. We’ve learned that the addition of aftermarket parts and labor almost invariably compromises reliability. Production builds patterned after the Glock designs, however, tend to fare better, and our testing verified that the Shadow Systems MR920 is unfailingly dependable. Each evaluator said that they would trust the MR920 Elite as a duty pistol or one for personal protection.
The question becomes then, is it worth it? Priced roughly $250 more than a current-generation Glock 19 MOS, and $450 more than a standard G19, the cadre were asked if they could achieve a similar build for the $960 asking price of the MR920 Elite. Every estimate exceeded Shadow Systems’ pricing by $200 or more. Of course, for those who don’t need (or want) the same level of slide or frame work, there may be more cost effective options but the MR920’s combination of features and performance seems to offer a unique proposition.
The market for proven, optic-ready, mid-size defensive pistols is hot, and it shows no signs of cooling. Within this category, shooters who consider functional and aesthetic upgrades as “must haves,” and who refuse to sacrifice reliability, will find that the Shadow Systems MR920 Elite is a strong contender that offers serious value.
Shadow Systems MR920 Elite
- Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 15+1 rds.
- Barrel: 4 in., 1:10-in. twist rate
- Overall Length: 7.13 in.
- Width: 1.2 in.
- Height: 5.1 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 4.9 oz.
- Materials: 17-4 stainless steel (slide); 416R stainless steel (barrel); polymer (frame)
- Finish: Black Nitride (slide); bronze TiCN (barrel)
- Sights: Green luminescent, tritium-powered (front); black, serrated square-notch (rear); optic mounting system
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 5 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $960
- Manufacturer: Shadow Systems, 469-458-6808, shadowsystemscorp.com
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