May 19, 2023
By James Tarr
Being a fan of big semi-autos, of high-capacity 9mms, and single-action-only pistols, I was immediately drawn to the new CZ Shadow 2 SA (Single Action) debuted at the 2020 SHOT Show, which is all of those and more. I obtained a sample for testing as soon as they were available. If the CZ 75 design is something new for you, check out the sidebar on how this workhorse of the Cold War has been tweaked and massaged into a performance thoroughbred, much like the rattle-trap GI .45s of your grandfather’s time have morphed into the custom 1911s of today.
The original Shadow 2, introduced a few years ago, just like the original CZ 75, has a DA/SA operating system. This pistol is the single-action-only version of that gun, which means the hammer has to be cocked before it can be fired. If you’re looking for a small, light, pocket pistol, this isn’t the gun for you. The Shadow 2 SA is an all-steel gun that tips the scales at 46.5 ounces with an empty magazine in place. It has a low bore and is chambered in 9mm, which means that muzzle rise even with stout +P loads is negligible. This should be no surprise to anyone who knows the background of the Shadow 2, which was designed with competition in mind.
The pistol has a nitride finish, and the frame gets an additional polycoat. Sporting a 4.89-inch barrel, the Shadow 2 SA is fed by 17-round magazines, and three are provided with the pistol. The magazines sent with my very early production gun may not have the same finish as those ultimately provided with this pistol. The Shadow 2 SA takes standard CZ 75 9mm magazines. Flush magazines have a capacity of 17 rounds but extended high-capacity magazines are available, including big stick mags which hold 26 rounds if you’re feeling sporty.
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This pistol has the same “Black and Blue” color scheme that was so popular with the DA/SA Shadow 2. It mates a black gun with thin checkered blue aluminum grips. Apart from its single-action-only operating system, the only difference you’ll see between this Shadow 2 and the original DA/SA model is the model marking on the slide and the trigger itself. First, while it is not flat, the trigger does not have nearly as much of a curve as found on the original. Second, the trigger on the SA model has been anodized blue to match the grips. Colored triggers generally aren’t my thing, but I have to admit that it looks good. Actually, I’ve never been a guy much interested in colored grips, either, but the whole look of the “Black and Blue” Shadow 2 is very attractive, and I’m not the only one to think so, which is why it’s the initial color scheme offered in the Shadow 2 SA.
There is a red fiber optic insert in the steel front sight. The front sight doesn’t have a traditional dovetail. It is pushed into a slot in the slide from the front, and then a crosswise roll pin holds it in place. The steel rear HAJO sight is fully adjustable elevation (HAJO=height adjustable only). The rear sight is drift adjustable in the dovetail for windage and has a finely serrated face. There are very aggressive flat-bottomed serrations on the slide, front and back. However, there might not be as much to grab onto as you might expect. The only idiosyncrasy, shall we say, of the CZ 75 design, is the fact that the slide rides inside the frame instead of outside as with most other pistol designs. The only downside to this is that there is a bit less of the slide to grab hold of when you’re working the action. The top of the slide is flattened and serrated. The hammer is skeletonized which both looks good and helps to produce crisper, lighter trigger pulls. The magazine well is very nicely beveled.
The magazine release is extended, and has an oversize checkered paddle. Not just that, the paddle is adjustable for angle — loosen the set screw, and you have your choice of three angles at which to position that paddle for a fit customized to you. The magazine release does not stick out so far that you have to worry about the magazine self-ejecting if you place the pistol on its left side on a hard surface. The slide release protrudes further from the side of the gun than the magazine release.
There is a generous amount of checkering on both the front of the frame and the rear. The texturing on the thin aluminum grips is nicely aggressive. The trigger guard has been undercut quite a bit when compared to an original CZ 75, and the front of the squared trigger guard has been checkered as well. All of these features combine to create a pistol that not only sits low in your hand but is very easy to hold onto while shooting. Like the original DA/SA Shadow 2 this pistol is supplied with extra polymer recoil spring buffers. The original Shadow 2 was designed to be a competition gun, and if there’s one thing competition shooters are known for it is putting a high volume of rounds downrange. While recoil spring buffers aren’t as popular now as they used to be, some people swear by them.
If you slap a weapon light on the rail and use one of the provided 17-rounders or even obtained an extended 26-rounder from CZ it would make a heckuva bedside table gun, in theory. Let me explain. Many American shooters loved the original CZ 75 because you could carry it Condition One, cocked-and-locked (hammer cocked, safety on) just like a 1911. In USPSA’s Production Division the first shot of a DA/SA auto is required to be fired double action, and a big safety lever is not needed. The original DA/SA Shadow 2 comes from the factory with a thin bilateral thumb safety that has been designed specifically to stay out of your way. The DA/SA Shadow 2 was originally supplied with a second bilateral safety, with a big shelf on the left side for your thumb, but that is no longer the case, and the Shadow 2 SA only comes with the installed flat bilateral safety.
I understand the inertia you have to deal with when doing business with an entrenched European company. And I understand that businessmen and engineers, even ones who work for a gun company, are not necessarily “gun guys”. That said, for a company which has made so many savvy market decisions in the past ten years, and so many great pistols, I am more than surprised that the Shadow 2 SA comes equipped with the same flat manual safety lever as found on the standard DA/SA Shadow 2. The original Shadow 2 was of course purpose-built for USPSA competition, specifically Production Division, where the first shot has to be fired double action. This means, of course, that the manual safety is never used. The single-action-only Shadow 2 does not fit comfortably into any USPSA or IPSC firearms division, and I suspect a lot of people interested in this gun are (perhaps secondarily) looking at it for defensive use, either for serious carry or as a bedside table gun.
The thing with a DA/SA auto is that it can be safely carried/stored with the hammer down and the first shot can be fired simply by pulling the trigger. With a single-action-only gun the hammer has to be cocked to fire that first shot, and nobody (Dear God I hope) is going to be wandering around with that hammer cocked and the safety off. Or the hammer down. So, a good thumb safety is as essential on this piece as it is a 1911. And the factory safety on this pistol is even less usable than the original GI thumb safety on a 1911, which no one who carries that gun cocked-and-locked uses or likes. Hell, it’s hard to find a 1911 with one of those original small thumb safeties. Even CZ’s new 1911/CZ 75 hybrid DWX has an oversize 1911-style thumb safety. THAT style thumb safety should be on THIS gun.
Was this a very long rant just about the thumb safety on this pistol? You bet it was, and I’m not done, because this is a great gun, but as it comes from the factory it’s only suitable for use at the range, or as a bedside table gun stored with the chamber empty. I wouldn’t carry it or use it for any defensive purposes, because the safety is nearly unusable under stress (even my CZ contact called it “the flat safety”), and carrying a SAO pistol with the hammer down and cocking the hammer during the draw is six kinds of stupid. Luckily CZ’s webstore does sell an extended ambi safety (Safety Set Shadow 2 Extended), but that’s an additional $78 plus the time to install a part that should have been on the gun when it shipped. Here endeth the rant. Almost.
How difficult is it to swap out the thumb safeties on a CZ 75? Not difficult, per se, and you won’t need any specialized tools, but it’s a bit involved — you’ll have to punch out the safety, move a spring leg out of the way, twist the right side lever the correct way to get it out and remove the sear cage, among other things. If you’re interested, check out the internet for videos of CZ 75 disassembly/assembly techniques.
The trigger pull on this pistol is a work of art. It is crisp and smooth and broke at an even three pounds. The sometimes jaded and bitter employees at my local gun store where I pick up my guns (I’d be jaded and bitter too if I had to deal with the dumb questions they get every day) were oohing and aahing over the trigger pull of this gun, and for good reason. When Jeff Cooper was asked what was the perfect trigger pull for a defensive 1911, he said, “Three pounds, crisp, is the word.” The trigger pull on this pistol is Jeff Cooper’s idea of perfection for a single action trigger pull on a fighting pistol, and I totally agree.
Shooting the Shadow 2 was, once again, a joy. Because of the low bore and weight, felt recoil and muzzle rise is about as minimal as you’ll see with a 9mm. You get as much recoil straight back into the palm of your hand as you’ll see muzzle rise, which is why CZ 75 pattern pistols have become the dominating force in USPSA production division. On my first trip to the range I put fifty rounds of mixed hollowpoints through the gun, just to check reliability. As expected, the CZ’s ramped barrel ate everything, and at 10 yards shooting offhand I was able to do nearly a one-hole group with four different brands/weights of ammo. I’ve included a photo, and you’ll see vertical stringing that is totally my fault. The group should have been smaller but I was going too fast, trying to shoot about one round per second.
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The “slide within the frame” construction of the CZ tends to produce very tight guns, with great accuracy. The Shadow 2 SA was no different, and I’d guess this pistol was actually more accurate then I was able to shoot it. Between its size and weight the Shadow 2 is just too darn big and heavy for most people to want to carry it. I would carry it (with the extended safety), but then I’m weird. In fact, I have carried guns this big and heavy. My current daily carry gun (Beretta 92 Elite LTT) is just as big as the Shadow 2 SA, in fact it’s thicker, although because the Beretta 92 Elite LTT has an aluminum frame it is noticeably lighter than the CZ. Size and weight provide advantages, however. The base design of this pistol comes from the Cold War era, which means it is a hefty piece of steel. As I’ve said before, saying the Shadow 2 can handle +P ammo is like saying your Charger Hellcat can manage the 75 MPH speed limits you see out west.
While this gun is a bit of a niche piece, personally I love its looks and performance. As a soft-shooting and accurate pistol for having fun at the range it excels. With a proper thumb safety installed it would be awesome for open/duty carry or as a bedside table gun, where you’d have the option of a rail-mounted light and/or extended magazine. It is more accurate than most shooters, and in fact as accurate as most custom 1911s, with a trigger pull as good or better, at about half the cost, if not less.
CZ-USA Shadow 2 SA Pistol Specs
- Type: Single-action, semi-auto
- Caliber: 9mm
- Magazine Capacity: 17+1 rds.
- Barrel: 4.89 in.
- Overall Length: 8.53 in.
- Overall Height: 5.75 in. (Mag inserted)
- Width: 1.3 in.
- Frame: Steel
- Slide: Steel
- Sights: Steel, height adj rear, fiber optic front
- Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. SA (tested)
- Safeties: Manual, Firing pin block
- Weight: 46.5 oz. (empty)
- Accessories: Three 17-rd. magazines, bore brush, cleaning rod, lockable case
- MSRP: $1,349
- Manufacturer: CZ-USA
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
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