December 29, 2021
Though it is divided among several sanctioning bodies, each with its own niche, the sport of practical shooting is as popular as it has ever been. Competition creates innovation, and for decades practical handgun shooting has greatly influenced the rest of the shooting world. Everything from extended thumb safeties to grip modifications and carry gun optics originated in the practical handgun arena.
The sports have even influenced the guns themselves, pushing manufacturers to put their best foot forward in order to keep up. A great example of this is the SP-01 Shadow 2 from CZ, a 9mm handgun built to compete and win in the most competitive environments.
When the International Practical Shooting Confederation was formed in 1976, it was organized in the spirit of what was then called “combat shooting.” Competitors used handguns that, though tricked-out a bit, were still essentially street guns to shoot practical courses of fire.
Browning Hi-Powers, five-inch 1911s, and at least one SIG P210 rode in the holsters of world champions in those days, but not for long. In 1981 Ross Seyfried won the IPSC World Shoot with an iron-sighted Pachmayr Combat Special in a leather holster that could have been concealed under a shirttail. It was the end of an era, and after that win, the sport quickly changed. The guns grew larger and began to wear optics, compensators and high-capacity magazines. Shooters traded their .45s for .38 Supers and other hot-rod cartridges to gain every advantage. What started as a sport for practical guns became an equipment race.
Not only were the guns used in competition impractical in the defensive context, but also having one built was a pricey proposition. There was no real venue for shooters who wanted to compete with the guns that they carried for defense, which eventually led to the creation of different divisions. The U.S. Practical Shooting Association formed a Production class where shooters could compete—and win—with off-the-shelf firearms.
When I began shooting Production a decade or so ago, polymer-framed guns such as the Glock 34 ruled the roost in the Production class. No longer. Today, the most popular handgun used by Production competitors is the CZ Shadow 2, a modern interpretation of the classic CZ-75, built as an ideal platform for this style of shooting.
CZ-75s and their clones such as the Tanfoglio are not new to the world of practical shooting, and they pretty well dominate on a worldwide basis. It should have come as no surprise, then, when CZ found success with the SP-01 Shadow after its release in 2010 and with its successor, the redesigned Shadow 2, in 2017. Essentially a production version of what the CZ Custom Shop had been producing for competitors, the Shadow series was an immediate hit.
The Shadow 2 is an all-steel handgun, which makes it very heavy—46.5 ounces, to be exact—compared to most guns on the market. Though I wouldn’t choose a three-pound handgun for concealed carry, all of that weight provides a huge advantage when it comes to taming recoil and muzzle rise, making for an extremely soft-shooting handgun.
Compared to the original Shadow, the Shadow 2 has a higher beavertail and undercut trigger guard to allow the gun to sit lower in the hand. The slide and frame were extended by a quarter-inch to increase the sight radius and add additional weight up front. The result is a package that is accurate, easy to control and reliable.
Though the Cold War delayed the availability of the CZ-75 in this country, its features and benefits caught on quickly. When the Czech handgun was designed, engineers chose to create a slide that rode inside the frame rails in the spirit of the SIG P210. The resulting slide is lighter, which means that the bulk of the handgun’s weight rides lower. Simple physics dictates that the lighter slide creates less reciprocating force and helps tame muzzle rise. The full-length dust cover, which doubles as an accessory rail, adds additional weight in just the right place.
The frontstrap and backstrap of the Shadow 2 frame are checkered at 20 lines per inch and provide excellent gripping surfaces without being overly abrasive. Likewise, the textured aluminum grip panels add additional bite and a touch more weight than wood or synthetic panels would.
The bottom of the frame flares forward a bit, and the magazine well is beveled, making fast reloads a simple process. This is further aided by the magazine geometry of the CZ, which tapers to a single column at the mouth, which creates a natural funnel. Though resting the support hand finger on the front of the trigger guard pretty much went out with Member’s Only jackets, that surface is serrated for a firm grip.
One of the aspects of the Shadow 2 that makes it so shooter-friendly is its excellent trigger. The Shadow was the first SP-01 built without a firing pin block, which allowed for a much better overall trigger pull, something that CZ carried over in its successor. The Shadow 2 is a double-action/single-action handgun with a double-action pull of 7.75 pounds and a single-action break at 3.25 pounds with an approximately 1/8-inch reset.
The weights are only part of the picture, though. the real beauty of these triggers are how clean and smooth they are. I can’t think of a production handgun that can compete with it in this department.
Though USPSA rules require competitors to begin a stage with the hammer down, the Shadow 2 can be carried cocked locked. The frame-mounted ambidextrous safety is well positioned, positive and painless to disengage. The pistol comes with two safety levers: a slim and an extended version. I opted to install the extended safety, and the process of doing so was simple.
Three different user-interchangeable magazine releases are included with the Shadow 2, allowing the shooter to choose the size that best fits his or her needs. A frame-mounted slide stop rounds out the controls.
Like the rest of the handgun, the sights on the Shadow 2 are excellent. The front sight is a highly visible red fiber-optic bead set in a serrated steel frame that is held securely by a lateral roll pin. It contrasts well with the black all-steel serrated rear that is dovetailed into place. The EDM-cut HAJO rear sight is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation in 1mm increments with positive clicks. Give me a good trigger and great sights, and I can do my best shooting. The Shadow 2 has both.
The slide is milled with a five-sided top and is serrated along the sight radius. Cocking serrations are present at the front and rear of the slide. A slot is milled through the bottom of the slide below the dust cover, presumably to further reduce the reciprocating mass. An external extractor and its spring are held in place using a solid steel pin.
I’ve always been impressed by CZ’s machining, and this gun is no exception in that regard. As an example, the full-length rails on the frame and slide have just enough clearance for reliable cycling. Slide to frame fit isn’t a huge deal in terms of accuracy, but it is important in creating a smooth recoil cycle. I’ve had World Champion and Grand Master shooters tell me that they can feel the working parts of the gun as if in slow motion as they shoot, making the silky movement of the slide a more important factor than we mere mortals can appreciate.
Overall, the fit and finish on the Shadow 2 are excellent. The Shadow 2 pistols are finished with the rock-hard black nitride process, which is resistant to corrosion and wear. Even the bore of the cold-hammer-forged barrel is nitrided, which should significantly extend its already long life. I’ve always liked the two-tone race-gun look that goes back to the earliest days of IPSC, so I opted for the Urban Grey version of the Shadow 2. The slide assembly and small parts remain black, but the frame is coated in a Polycoat finish.
Internally, the Shadow 2 is a refined and modernized version of the 1980s-vintage CZ-75 currently on my bench. These guns have a great deal in common with the classic Hi Power, one of my all-time favorites.
The CZ combines a Browning-style locking system with a ramped and fully supported rail. Two locking lugs sit forward of the chamber, and an extension in the barrel hood recesses into the slide when it is in-battery. There is a full-length steel guide rod with a coil recoil spring and a factory-installed polymer recoil buffer that mimics the original Bill Wilson/Bill Rogers Shock-Buff design. Additional buffers are included with the Shadow 2, and replacements are available. Some shooters choose to remove them altogether with no reported issues.
Basic disassembly of the Shadow 2 is relatively straightforward. The slide is pulled approximately a quarter-inch to the rear, which aligns the takedown notch with the corresponding mark on the frame. The slide stop can then be driven out. The hammer must then be let down, which allows the side assembly to be removed. The recoil spring guide comes out, followed by the barrel.
This is all that’s needed to properly clean and maintain the gun. Unless you are very handy or want to show up at your gunsmith’s counter holding a bag of parts, I would not recommend further disassembly.
Now the good part: shooting the Shadow 2. I get my hands on a great number of guns as a writer, and I own some pretty nice ones, so suffice it to say that I’m a bit tough to impress. The Shadow 2 blew me away with the first magazine.
I hung a half-size steel USPSA silhouette at around 10 yards, drew the gun and emptied it as fast as I could, all but ignoring the sights. Not only was every shot a hit, but also all were grouped in the center of the painted surface. The speed came from the lack of recoil and muzzle rise and the accuracy from the excellent trigger and sights. Further drills established that my initial success wasn’t lucky shooting—or some amazing skill on my part—but simply an incredibly shootable handgun.
Though most of us will never shoot to the level our guns are capable of, top-level competitive shooters can all but maximize a pistol’s mechanical accuracy potential. Bench testing established this Shadow 2 as being quite accurate, with nearly all five-shot groups measuring under two inches at 25 yards.
My best results were with the Fiocchi 115-grain XTP load, which averaged just 1.6 inches. Accuracy is great but only if it can be realized in practical scenarios. The combination of that accuracy with the remainder of the Shadow 2’s features was such that I could shoot the gun nearly as well offhand as I could from the bench.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with CZ’s creation. Though I was very much into competing in USPSA’s Production class at one point, I haven’t shot a match since my kids were born. Shooting the Shadow 2 reignited my desire to compete, and I happily gave CZ my credit card to purchase this test model, which is something that I don’t often do. Though this firearm isn’t inexpensive, it is a true out-of-the-box race gun that feels and shoots like it was custom-built. I look forward to competing with the Shadow 2 with the confidence that if I’m unsuccessful I won’t be able to blame the gun.
CZ-USA SP-01 Shadow 2 Specifications
- Type: double-action/single-action semiautomatic
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Capacity: 17+1
- Barrel: 4.9 in.
- Weight: 46.5 oz.
- Construction: Steel frame and slide; black nitride/Polycoat on metal components
- Grips: textured aluminum panels
- Sights: steel rear, adjustable for windage and elevation; red fiber-optic front
- Trigger: 3.25 lb. single-action pull; 7.75 lb. double-action pull (measured)
- Safeties: ambidextrous manual thumb
- Price: $1,359
- Manufacturer/Importer: CZ-USA, cz-usa.com