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Shadow Systems' CR920 9mm Ultimate Carry Pistol

Loaded with features and designed with concealed carry performance in mind, the new Shadow Systems CR920 could be the ultimate ccw 9mm handgun yet.

Shadow Systems' CR920 9mm Ultimate Carry Pistol

This is a review of the new Shadow Systems Corp. CR920 pistol, but as Shadow Systems makes Glock-pattern guns, it’s impossible to honestly talk about their products without referencing the Glock models from which they’ve sprung. Glock, for all their success, has a long track record of ignoring commercial consumer feedback and consistently producing guns that are 90% of what they should be, which is why so many companies are now making better Glocks than Glock. Think of the Shadow Systems CR920 as a combination of all the best features of the newer Glock 43 and the older Glock 26, while being better than either of them. FYI, CR stands for “Covert Role,” and this is a pistol purpose-built for concealed carry. If you’ve heard of the CR920, you might be a bit confused why I’m mentioning the Glock 26, as Shadow Systems advertise it as fitting into Glock 43 holsters, not Glock 26. The G43 is a subcompact, single-stack six-shot 9mm. The G26 is a double-stack 10-shot 9mm. While being roughly the dimensions of the Glock 43, the SSC CR920 is a double-stack 9mm—it comes with one flush 10-round magazine, and one extended 13-round magazine.

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Whether you think of it as a slimmed-down G26, or a G43 with double-digit capacity, Shadow Systems’ CR920 is a small Glock-pattern pistol with upgraded features, meant to maximize the subcompact category.

There are three versions of the CR920—the standard Combat model, the optics-ready Combat Optic model as seen here, and the CR920 Elite, which features additional slide texturing and ports machined into the slide. Both are available either with black nitrided barrels or as seen here, sporting barrels with a bronze TiCN (titanium carbo-nitride) coating. The CR920 has a 3.41-inch barrel, and overall is 6.37-inches long and 4.27-inches tall with a flush magazine in place. But the real magic is in the width of the gun. People love the G43, G43X, and G48 due to their slimline frames. They feel good in the hand and are easy to conceal carry. The slimline G43 according to my calipers is 1.03-inches thick at its fattest point. The CR920, on the other hand, is 1.06-inches thick at its fattest point, and your hand can’t tell the difference between 1.03" and 1.06." But while being basically the same width, the SSC CR920 holds 10 shots where the G43 only holds 6. If you insert the extended magazine into the CR920 it offers 13+1 capacity while still being shorter than the 10+1 G43X.

This isn’t magic. Both the 43 and 43X are fed by a fat single-column magazine—there’s room for more ammo inside the grip, but Glock doesn’t use it. SSC does, by using a steel-bodied magazine with no wasted space. Let’s start back at the beginning—the CR920 is a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm pistol. It is supplied with one flush 10- and one extended 13-round magazine. Striker Systems Corp. (SSC) produces Glock-pattern guns, and all of their other models use Glock Gen 3-pattern internals. Like a lot of people, I think the Glock design pretty much peaked with the Gen 3, so I’m okay with this. This pistol, on the other hand, follows the later designs, and you’ll only see one frame pin through the locking block above the trigger, unlike the two pins of the Gen 3 guns. Weight with the empty 10-round magazine in place is officially 17.8 ounces; my scale put it at 18.0 ounces even.

The dimensions above state how thick the CR920 is at its fattest point, which isn’t fat at all. This is a very flat gun, and most of the frame and slide are just under an inch thick. With the flush magazine in place this gun is small and light enough to fit into a pocket, although it had better be a big pocket. However, because this pistol has no external safety other than the lever on the trigger, you shouldn’t carry it in such a manner that anything can get wedged inside the trigger guard and cause an accidental discharge. Which means keep it in a holster if it’s in a backpack or a purse. If it’s in a pocket it should be inside a holster, but if you’re not going to do that, it should be the ONLY thing in that pocket, so that nothing can get inside that trigger guard. Both the front and rear of the slide sport aggressive, flat-bottomed, angled serrations. In fact, most of the slide is textured. The Elite model has texturing on the top of the slide as well, but that’s more for looks than function. As is the spiral fluting on the outside of the Elite’s barrel, and the ports on the Elite’s slide. There’s nothing wrong with having a pretty gun—factory Glocks are soul-crushingly ugly and boring; their beauty is in their performance. But there’s no reason you can’t have looks and performance….

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The Night Fision day/ night front sight works great. The green is visible if there’s any light at all, and the tritium insert in the center glows in the dark. The magazine well is lightly beveled. The texturing on the grip doesn’t look like much but is the right amount of aggressive. The textured areas at the front of the frame are for the thumb of your support hand. The pistol has a single-slot rail for mounting lights.

As a general rule, Glock never makes any changes to their guns until not changing something will cost them military or law enforcement contracts. Historically, they have completely ignored the desires of the American commercial market, their biggest consumer, which is a psychopathy I find fascinating, although they seem to be trying to do better. One continued disappointment with Glock pistols is their standard sights, which 1. Are plastic, and 2. Feature an improperly sized/positioned dot on the front sight. Shadow Systems has always put great sights on their pistols, which was never true for Glock until the FBI demanded AmeriGlo day/night sights on their contract guns. The day/night sights on the CR920 are steel, made for Shadow Systems by Night Fision. The front sight has a tritium insert, surrounded by a bright green ring. Just an FYI, if you’re new to tritium—it is a radioactive element that glows green in darkness and is consumer safe, inside a stainless steel cylinder with a glass lens at the end to release the illumination. It has a half-life of about ten years. After ten years, likely that front sight glow will have faded significantly—but that green ring will still be bright.

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The double recoil spring of the CR920 reduces recoil but adds a bit of resistance when cycling the slide.

The rear sight is plain black and serrated, the corners shaved to reduce snagging. These sights are full-size, not reduced models for a tiny gun, and allow you to shoot up to the capabilities of the pistol. Another brief aside—even though red dots on guns are the cool hip thing, you should still know how to run iron sights, and with iron sights, the front sight is everything. You should be focusing on the front sight, as where it is, so too will the bullets fly. Bright inserts on your front sight are good, as they help you see it and keep track of it at speed. The rear sight, on the other hand, should be thought of as a window frame; you should be looking through it at the front sight. Anything on the rear sight which distracts your eye from the front sight generally should be avoided, which is the long way around for me to say I’m perfectly okay with plain black rear sights.

This Combat Optic version of the CR920 is optics ready. It is delivered with a steel plate mounted atop the slide. Remove that, and you’ll see the slide is set up for direct mounting of optics using the Shield RMS-c or Holosun 507K footprint. The slide is only 0.85" wide, so full-size optics like the Trijicon RMR won’t fit on it without hanging over both sides. Personally, I think mounting red dots on concealed carry pistols, especially subcompact concealed carry pistols meant to be used at spitting distance, is a mistake, but the customer wants what the customer wants. I mounted a Holosun 507K to the slide, and it sits low enough that you can use the sights through the window, which is a good thing. The only thing a battery can be guaranteed to do is die, usually at the most inopportune moment. A brief explanation of my position—red dots are incrementally more accurate than iron sights, but that is irrelevant at any realistic defensive range, which is even shorter when talking subcompact pistols. What isn’t irrelevant is speed, even though a dot is “simpler” to use than iron sights, most people are no faster, and in fact slower using a red dot at realistic defensive distances, as it takes them longer to find the dot in the window of their optic both before and while shooting. In the meantime, that optic has mounting screws that can loosen, electronics that can fail, and a battery that is guaranteed to fail at some point. All of this while compromising concealability. Handgun optics currently, in my opinion, have more disadvantages than advantages, although the balance has gradually been shifting. But they’re cool, and everybody wants to be cool. And there’s this—the cooler you think your gun is, the more likely you are to practice with it, and carry it, so being optics-ready is definitely a net positive. But…

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A comparison of similarly-sized pistols—the Shadow Systems CR920 with 13-round magazine, a 10-shot LTT custom Glock 43X, and a 2012-era 7-shot S&W Shield.

This seems a perfect spot to point out that Shadow Systems also sells the CR920P—this is the CR920 equipped with a barrel-mounted compensator which extends the length of the pistol by half an inch or so. Have you noticed how everyone is selling compensated guns? Ever wonder why? Sure, comped guns are cool, but that’s not the driving force behind this sudden influx of them—the driving force is people mounting red dots on their carry guns, and then losing their dots as they’re shooting. They’re trying to solve that problem with more gear—a compensator that reduces muzzle rise and lowers the chances of them losing their dot. The phrase “redoubling your effort after losing sight of your goal” comes to mind. But again, comped and red dot-sighted guns are cool, and if having a cool gun is what it takes to get you to carry the darn thing, I’m all for that. First rule of a gunfight—HAVE A GUN.

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The Combat model of the CR920 has a standard slide. The Combat Optic model, as seen here, is optics ready, and ships with a removable steel plate. The 10-shot Glock 43X magazine on the left. It is a master class in wasted space. On the right is the CR920’s 13-round magazine, which uses a 10-shot steel body with an extended base pad. Every bit of the CR920 is made in America. The magazine release is reversible.

Slide-to-frame-to-barrel fit on SSC guns has always been very good. The bronze titanium carbo-nitride coating SSC puts on their barrels has always looked more like copper to me than bronze, but I do really love the color contrast of it with the black nitride finish on the slide. The more you shoot it, the darker it will get, and with enough rounds downrange it should look closer to bronze than copper. And I would argue that bronze color is, in fact “tactical”—the only time the bad guy is going to see it is when it’s pointed at him, and then the bronze coating will make the muzzle look bigger… This pistol utilizes a double recoil spring system, with a stainless-steel guide rod. Those springs do help absorb some of the recoil, to make this gun more shootable, but that means you’ll definitely appreciate all those slide serrations when it’s time to rack the slide, as it requires some force. The magazine springs were quite stiff as well; getting the last round in took a bit of effort. The slide stop is a standard model. It locks the slide back, but is small and flat enough to the gun that using it as a slide release really doesn’t work. The magazine release is a serrated rectangular steel button that is reversible. It is very low profile, and you shouldn’t have any issues accidentally ejecting magazines. At the bottom of the frame you’ll see the magazine well opening is very slightly flared, and there is a nice bevel at the front to help guide the magazine in. Shadow Systems has specced a slightly heavier trigger pull for this gun than their larger models. Factory spec for the CR920 is a trigger pull between 4.5 to 5.0-pounds. Trigger pull on my sample, fresh out of the box, was 5.5 pounds, but I know that will lighten up by at least a quarter pound after a couple hundred rounds. While that is heavier than I would want on my personal gun, it is perfectly acceptable for a subcompact defensive pistol.

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The CR920 ships with one flush 10- and one extended 13-round magazine. The extended magazine allows you to get your whole hand on the gun. The CR920 is optics ready, and with the extended magazine in place it is a 13+1 9mm with top-of-the-line features. With the flush 10-rounder in place the CR920 is very con- cealable, but you’ll only be able to get two fingers on the grip. Shadow Systems also sells a factory ported version, the CR920P as seen here (bottom right). But once you slap a comp, optic, and light on your subcompact pistol... it’s no longer a subcompact.

The trigger itself is polymer, with a gently-curving, flat face and the expected safety lever in the center. Trigger pull weight aside, trigger pull quality was pure Glock sproinkiness, exactly what you would expect. The frame of the CR920 sports all the same tweaks and upgrades from Glock factory as SSC’s other pistols, except one—this pistol does not have interchangeable backstraps. They just didn’t feel there was enough length on the gun to make them worthwhile. They did specifically tailor the length of the backstrap on this gun—you’ll see it protrudes as far down in back as the basepad of the flush magazine. They did this to provide a bit more control and comfort. The texturing on the front, back, and sides of the grip is nicely aggressive, and you shouldn’t have any problems with this pistol moving in your hand. There is identical texturing on the front of the trigger guard. You’ll also see texturing and a small lip on either side of the frame above the front of the trigger guard—this is where the thumb of your support hand goes while shooting with a proper two-handed grip, and again is designed to provide a little bit of extra control on a small gun.

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Black Hills’ 115-grain EXP load is a bit hotter than standard ammo, but not quite a +P, and seems well-suited to a subcompact. It posted good groups, including this 3.25-inch effort. Hornady’s 147-grain Subsonic offering loaded with their XTP JHP is always accurate, averaging about three-inch groups, but Tarr somehow pulled off a freak 1.75-inch group with it.

At the front of the frame is a single slot accessory rail. There’s enough room on the gun for one of the compact tactical lights, which is a nice feature that would be useful if this gun pulls double duty as a home defense weapon. As for carrying this pistol with a weapon light attached, let me ask a question to get you thinking; as a private citizen carrying this pistol concealed out in the world, explain to me exactly why you’d need a weapon-mounted light and (much more importantly) how you’d actually use it without violating one of the four basic gun safety rules. I’m not saying don’t do it—I’m saying think about what you’re doing. Think about what you might do, and how you’d use that light in a defensive encounter. Before you find yourself in the middle of such a situation. At the back of the frame you’ll see a beavertail that is reduced in size—SSC calls it their “intelligently designed beavertail” which is big enough to protect your hand but not so big it makes the gun print any more.

Recommended


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The CR920 on the right, compared to the direct competitor Glock 43X on the left (seen here is an LTT custom 43X). The 10-shot G43X is a bit taller than the CR920 with its 13-shot magazine in place.

If you don’t understand why SSC went with an all-metal magazine for the CR920, let me briefly explain. Steel magazines have the thinnest side walls of any type of magazine, which means they have the most internal volume for their external dimensions. Which is the opposite of a Glock factory magazine, which has a thick polymer body with a steel liner. The double-column steel magazine of the CR920 is 0.80" wide; the fat single column magazine of the G43/43X/48 is 0.79", and yet there is enough room inside the CR920’s magazine for a true double column of cartridges. Shadow Systems is far from the first company to notice the capacity failure of the Glock 43 magazines. Shield Arms makes an all-metal magazine for the G43X/G48 that increases capacity from 10 to 15, although you’ll also need to swap out your magazine release to use them in your Glock. SSC didn’t go with these magazines because they don’t work with the reversible magazine release of the SSC guns. They also didn’t want to use the Shield S15 magazine because it is longer than what they wanted for their subcompact pistol. So, they designed their own magazine. The CR920 magazine has a steel body with numbered index holes on the back (4, 6, 8, and 10). The follower is polymer and bright orange. The 13-round magazine uses the same steel body as the 10-rounder, but with an extended basepad. The basepad is very well designed from an ergonomic standpoint. It has a curve at the front that works as a finger groove for your pinkie, and it sports the same texturing as the front strap.

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Tarr hammering steel at his local club. The pistol was a bit snappy due to its light weight but handled very well.

Shadow Systems does sell the extended basepad separately (for $15.74), so you can just have two 13-rounders. As I write this, they are currently sold out on the website, which should tell you how popular they are. If you want additional magazines, they are reasonably priced, somewhere under $30 depending on capacity. With the flush magazine in place, the CR920 suffers from the same issue that handicapped the Glock 26, 27, 43…you can only get two fingers on the grip. Not only does this feel awkward, it definitely compromises shootability. Yes, the gun is more concealable with that magazine in place, but at what cost? How about you carry a gun you can actually freakin’ shoot? With the extended magazine in place, I can get my whole hand on the gun and shoot it with full control. No, it’s not quite as concealable, but it’s close. I’ve always carried bigger guns and dressed around them, and even with the extended magazine in place this is a small, easily concealable gun, so if this was my gun I’d stuff it with the 13-rounder, buy a spare extended basepad for the second magazine, and run it like that. The same capacity as a Browning Hi-Power in a gun darn near half the size and weight? Hell yeah.

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There are several variations of the CR920. The CR920 Elite as seen here has slide ports, a fluted barrel, and serrations atop the slide.

I’ve neglected to mention something yet which is important to Shadow Systems, located in Plano, TX—their guns are made in the U.S. They make a point of this, that every part and piece of their pistols is made in the U.S. This is why they ship the other models of their pistols with American-made Magpul magazines. The magazines for the CR920 are clearly marked MADE IN USA. If you look at the numbers, you’ll see the CR920 is slightly bigger in every dimension than the SIG P365, which currently is the gold standard of subcompact carry guns. With the 13-round magazine in place it is almost exactly the same size as the 10-shot Glock 43X, while offering superior features and controls—which was kinda the point. At the range the CR920 provided no surprises. First off, physics don’t care about your feelings. Size matters, as does weight. Even with the extended magazine in place, allowing you to get your whole hand on the gun, the CR920 only weighs 18 ounces, so it is a bit snappy. Especially with +P ammunition. That said, it was a lot of fun to shoot. Reliability was 100%, but I have to be honest—other than loading it up a few times just to see if it worked, I had no interest in using the 10-round magazine. Almost all of my shooting was done with the 13-round magazine in place.

I practiced controlled pairs and hammers on IDPA targets, and knocked down my club’s various steel targets, plate racks and Pepper Poppers. The bright front sight of the CR920 worked great. The CR920 did not perform like a subcompact pistol, it performed like a mid-size pistol, with the capacity to match, with a tiny bit more recoil. As this pistol fits into holsters made for the Glock 43, you should have no problem finding a holster for it. Pistols, at least when compared to shotguns and rifles, suck as fight stoppers. This is due to a lack of velocity, and while faster +P loads often perform incrementally better on bad guys, they also recoil more, especially in smaller guns. So, I find it perfectly acceptable to load your carry gun with standard pressure ammunition, which (theoretically) should allow you to shoot faster and more accurately. Many ammunition makers offer mild defensive loads specifically tailored to perform well out of shorter barrels, including Hornady’s Critical Defense line. Federal’s 150-grain HST Micro was one of my favorites, but unfortunately, I see that it’s been discontinued—but if you can find some on your gun store shelf, buy it, as it is very soft shooting and penetrates deeply. Or send it to me for my birthday, which as you read this will be coming up soon…

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The Glock 26 was always too short for how thick it was, or too fat for its length. The magazine extensions Glock offered helped, but not as much as they should. The Glock 43, on the other hand, was thinner and felt better in the hand, but was too short and had inexcusably low capacity—it was ten years out of date when it was introduced. Glock did a lot better with the 43X, combining the 43’s short slide with a longer grip and a magazine that held 10 rounds, but still it took American after marketers (Shield Arms with their 15-round magazine) to properly maximize that gun. Like I said at the start of this article, Glock produces guns which are 90% of what they should be. That is not the case with the CR920. After handling, examining, and shooting it, I’m not sure if I can think of a single way in which it could be improved. Considering how picky I am, that’s saying something. There are so many great carry guns on the market that some people are, understandably, overwhelmed. I would and have carried most of them. Shadow Systems Corp. isn’t as well-known as some companies, and the CR920 is more expensive than some competing guns, but in its size/weight class it’s as good as anything out there, and better than most. You are getting what you pay for.

Shadow Systems CR920 Specs

  • Type: Striker-fired, semi-auto
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 10+1, 13+1 rds. 
  • Barrel: 3.41 in., black nitride or bronze titanium carbo-nitride (tested)
  • Length: 6.37 in. 
  • Height: 4.27 in. 
  • Width: 1.06 in. 
  • Weight: 17.8 oz. (unloaded) 
  • Slide: 17-4 stainless steel
  • Finish: Black Nitride
  • Grip/Frame: Polymer 
  • Sights: Night Fision tritum green front, plain black rear, optics ready
  • Trigger Pull: 4.5-5 lbs. (5.5 lbs. tested) 
  • Safety: Trigger lever, striker drop safety
  • Price: $799 (CR920 Elite is $940)
  • Accessories: one 10- adn one 13-round magazine, cable lock
  • Contact: Shadow Systems 



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