April 03, 2019
If you were to gather together a group of gunwriters (which I will tell you is about as easy as herding the proverbial cats, unless free alcohol is offered) and ask them to name all of the companies which make 1911s, they could name most if not all of those manufacturers. If you asked them to name all the companies which made AR-15s, none could name them all, because there are so many.
In addition, no group of gunwriters would be able to name all of the companies which produce custom versions of Glock pistols. Not because there are so many, but because most of them are small companies without big advertising budgets, and they’re growing their market one customer at a time, often through posts on Instagram or AR15.com. The technical term for this is guerrilla marketing.
The Same, But Different
Shadow Systems (ShadowSystemsCorp.com) is one of those small companies producing customized Glock pistols. I’d never heard of them until my editor brought them to my attention, and once I started perusing their website I can say some of their ideas on slide contouring definitely intrigued me.
Shadow Systems is far from the first or only company to offer custom packages on Glocks that include slide cuts. Taran Tactical Innovations (TTI), ZEV Custom, Salient Arms, Agency Arms, and Lone Wolf Distributing are just some of the companies I can name off the top of my head doing the same thing.
Except they’re not the same. Every company does things a little bit different, and those in the know can usually tell which company did the work on a gun simply by the pattern of slide cuts. The pistols from Shadow Systems are no different — they offer some slide work the like of which I haven’t seen anywhere else. That is very attractive in addition to being functional. In fact, some of their ideas are so common- sense smart I’m shocked no one else is doing them.
For this article, I secured one of their SS9F pistols with their LFT Hybrid Grip slide. Shadow Systems’ nomenclature is pretty easy to figure out — the SS9F is the Shadow Systems 9mm Full Size (Glock 17) pistol. They also offer the Glock 19-size SS9C (Compact). Both platforms are offered with standard or extended threaded barrels. Actually, as they are a custom shop, both their models are fully configurable to meet the customer’s wants and/or needs.
The base gun for the Shadow Systems SS9F is a Gen 3 Glock 17 and it is supplied with two Magpul 17-round magazines. Actually, that choice of magazines is the only thing that had me scratching my head about this otherwise excellent pistol — Glocks come from the factory with several Glock magazines, after all.
As I repeatedly tell my children, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people, so I reached out to Chad Jewett at Shadow Systems about their choice of mags with the gun. He explained that they want these pistols to be as American-made as possible, which is why they use Magpul magazines — that and they’re very happy with the performance of these magazines as well. Just about every part on the Shadow Systems pistols except the Glock frame are made in the U.S….and Glock has started making many versions of their pistols in the U.S. as well, so don’t be surprised if you see a wholly made-in-the-USA SS9F or SS9C.
It Goes To Eleven
Shadow Systems’ Glocks are meant to be fighting/ tactical pistols pushed to the boundaries of the envelope, so the first thing you’ll see on the SS9F if you start from the top is the AmeriGlo night sight at the front of the slide, the tritium insert inside a large orange circle. The rear sight is plain black and serrated, which tells me that there are people at Shadow Systems who actually know stuff. To repeat, as I have said before:
The rear sight is a window frame. You look through it, not at it, so any dots or colors or whatever you put on the rear sight tends to draw your eye away from the front sight, which is the exact opposite of what you want. The front sight is what you focus on to get your hits.
As America is the land of options, and many shooters have different preferences, these aren’t the only sight choices offered by Shadow Systems. You have your choice of a green outline tritium front sight, plain black front sight, or a front sight with a red fiber optic insert. The slide is also cut at the rear to accept a Trijicon RMR, as red dot-sighted pistols are the cur- rent hot new fad, but I will circle back around to that.
The barrel in the SS9F is a match unit constructed of 416R stainless steel. As a “match” barrel it has a slightly tighter fit than a standard factory Glock barrel, but you don’t want it too tight — the magic of the Glock design (same as with the AK-47) is that the loose tolerances allow the gun to run in all environmental conditions. Even “inaccurate” pistols are usu- ally more accurate than the shooters using them, and to be honest the thing which affects a pistol’s practical accuracy the most isn’t actually how inherently mechanically accurate it is but the quality and weight of the trigger pull. The SS9F (thank goodness) doesn’t have a Glock factory trigger pull, and we’ll get to that in a second.
The barrel is fluted, and you’ll notice it is a fancy color — that is Shadow Systems’ bronze Titanium Carbo-Nitride (TiCN) which is harder than conventional titanium nitride (TiN) and has a lower coefficient of friction. Both TiCN and TiN offer excellent corrosion and wear resistance. Shadow Systems offers barrels with a standard titanium nitride finish, which looks gold, as well as black DLC (diamond-like carbon). The barrels all have traditional lands and grooves so they’re safe to shoot lead and/or coated bullets through, unlike the factory polygonally-rifled barrels.
Show Me On The Pistol Where To Touch You
It is the slide texturing that really caught my eye with the SS9F. Originally it was the cutout at the front to accept grip tape that drew my attention, but once I got my hand on a pistol that wasn’t the only thing that impressed me.
The slide features Shadow Systems’ LFT Hybrid Grip texturing. LFT is Lead Faucet Tactical — specifically Dan Brokos of LFT. Brokos spent 25 years in
U.S. Army Special Forces, including being in charge of Range 37 at Fort Bragg. The slide on this pistol was designed by Shadow Systems in partnership with Dan Brokos.
The first thing that will catch your eye on the slide is the rectangular inset panel on the front designed to accept pre-cut grip tape inserts. This cutout is part of, but not the whole story, but please allow me to briefly rant about Glocks in general and their slides in particular before I delve into the details of this slide texturing, and why you both want and need it.
A quick story about how people who know what the hell they’re doing understand where the Glock design is lacking:
It was over ten years ago when I was picking up my first Glock from my gunsmith Doug Jones (Acc-U-Rail.com). I carried that Glock 34 every day, and also shot it avidly at USPSA matches, competing in Production Division. In Production Division, you’re only allowed to do a minimal amount of work to the pistols, as the division is supposed to favor factory stock-type guns.
Doug had done a trigger job on my Glock, and while I was there picking it up I noticed another Glock sitting there. Doug had machined some very aggressive forward cocking serrations on the front of the slide, something I’d seen in magazines before but never in person.
Glocks really need forward cocking serrations, the factory slides are just too slick and even the rear factory serrations aren’t aggressive enough, but as I told Doug as I looked down at the other gun longingly, “I can’t get that done on my gun and still be legal for Production Division.
Doug told me, “They don’t care about that when you’re just using them to shoot people.” Which is both funny and true.
Turns out the other pistol belonged to one of Doug’s oldest customers, Jerry Barnhart. Many of you readers might not know who Jerry “The Burner” Barnhart is. Holder of multiple national and world- champion titles in USPSA and IPSC, for about a decade every major action pistol match was won either by Rob Leatham, Todd Jarrett, or Jerry Barnhart. Jerry was so fast he is said to have disproved the “you can’t miss fast enough to win” dictum, and he need-ed stronger trigger return springs in his competition 1911s because he could work the trigger faster than the slide could cycle (which is .08 second on a 1911 in case you’re wondering). Not kidding.
Jerry is a serious guy and had a good side business training serious elite soldier types in high- speed gun-handling and shooting skills. Then 9/11 happened. Jerry dropped out of competition to spend 250 days a year traipsing around the world training the most elitist of the elite ninja spec-ops trigger pullers, and he tended to work up his training drills/curriculum using guns similar to what the SF/Seals/etc. carried, which is where the customized Glock with forward slide serrations came in.
Which is a long way of saying that when your hands are slippery with blood and/or sweat, slick surfaces are not your friends, but you might not realize that until it happens. After twenty years Glock finally listened to their customers and started putting forward cocking serrations on their Gen 4 FS guns, but that’s the definition of “too little, too late”. “Glock Perfection”? Not by a long shot, pal.
That rant wasn’t so bad, was it? Now back to the texturing done on the Shadow Systems pistol. You can see for yourself in the pictures what it looks like, but what the photos don’t really show is that the texturing cuts on the slide are directional.
Run your fingers down the slide from rear to front and the slide cuts are smooth bumps. Move your hand from front to rear on the Shadow’s slide, the direction you would when actually working the slide, and you realize that every one of those bumps suddenly has a sharp edge. Exactly what you want and maybe need when trying to chamber/eject a round in the midst of what might euphemistically be called a dynamic environment.
And here comes the unique part of the SS9F’s slide — the cutout for the grip tape inserts. Whether you’re wearing gloves or not, gripping the sides or the corners of the slide, your fingers are going to grab onto something grippy, and you’ll be able to work that slide no matter what.
The pistol is supplied with three pairs of pre-cut grip tape inserts. One rough and one medium grit gray (black) inserts, and one medium grit pink.
You might think the pink inserts are meant only for women and are insulting and sexist. My better half likes pink and purple guns, and doesn’t find them insulting to her womanhood or whatever. I also know several guys who run either pink guns or pink holsters in competition. As for tactical/carry uses…I would like to point out that bright pink is very visible in low light.
I have seen numerous tactical types who have put strips of grip tape on the forward sections of their Glock slides. The LFT slide is a better solution to this, for two reasons. 1. Unlike when putting grip tape on the outside of a standard slide, the edges of the grip tape panels on the LFT/ Shadow Systems slide are protected and much less likely to start peeling. 2. Putting grip tape panels on the outside of a factory profile slide means that you will be grinding on your holster every time you draw and re-holster your pistol, as it widens the slide beyond the factory dimensions. Not by a lot, admittedly, but most polymer/Kydex holsters are form fit, and I can tell you that you both wear down your grip tape and the inside of your holster when slapping grip tape on a factory- profile slide. Not so with the Shadow Systems LFT slide, as the grip tape doesn’t protrude past the edge of the slide, which is no wider than factory specs.
Oh, and I mentioned how Shadow Systems is doing all they can to put as much America into these pistols as possible, which means this isn’t a factory Austrian-made slide that’s been ground on, this is an American-made slide constructed of 17-4 steel. The slide has a DLC (diamond-like carbon) finish for the utmost in corrosion resistance, and unlike TiCN and TiN (and the poorly-thought-out factory finish Glock is currently putting on their pistols), DLC is not slick under the fingers. The matte finish of the DLC aids the shooter in gripping the slide.
Rough And Ready
The frame of the SS9F started out as a Gen 3 Glock factory frame. Shadow Systems then removed the finger grooves found on the Gen 3 and stippled the frame by hand. My pistol sports their more aggressive Enhanced Traction texturing, but they also offer traditional-style stippling.
The texturing is done over the entirety of the grip as well as on the frame just above the front of the trigger guard (on both sides), which is where your support-hand thumb will press when shooting the pistol with a proper two-hand hold.
Shadow Systems’ Standard Package includes texturing of the grip and a relief cut underneath the trigger guard to get your hand just slightly higher on the grip. Their Premium Package, which you see on this pistol, includes grip texturing, texturing forward on the frame for your thumbs, a slight reduction of the grip angle/backstrap, a double undercut trigger guard with texturing on the bottom, and a scallop around the magazine release. This is a standard-length magazine release, but if you look close you’ll see Shadow Systems chose an extended slide stop for this gun. Un-like the standard G17 slide stop, you can actually use the extended slide stop as a slide release.
A note on stippled grips and concealed carry: for well over a decade I have shot a lightly customized Glock in competition, while also carrying it all day every day. For years I avoided stippling the grip because I was worried that the stippling would wear through my clothing, as the hand-checkering on my custom 1911s did back when I worshipped at the altar of the 1911. Finally (after 30,000 rounds downrange and 100K+ dryfires) I replaced my original Glock 34 with a new improved TTI custom G34 with a stippled frame. After close to five years of carrying that gun I can report that the stippling will not wear through or ruin any of your clothing, perhaps because no matter how aggressive it is, the material is still polymer rather than metal? However, you will want a t-shirt or something between your skin and the grip. My G34 usually resides between a tucked-in T-shirt and (depending on the season) either a hooded sweatshirt or very stylish Hawaiian shirts that are the envy of my gunwriting peers. Just ask them.
While you can request a factory standard trigger pull, I don’t know why you’d ever want to. The standard Glock factory trigger pull on a G17 or G19 is north of seven pounds, and as I mentioned the largest handicap to shooting a pistol fast and accurately (which is kinda what you’d want in a defensive situation, doncha think?) is a heavy trigger pull.
This pistol came supplied with Shadow Systems’ Elite Trigger Assembly, which includes a 3.5# connector to bring the pull weight down and their Elite Trigger itself. Shadow’s Elite Trigger is an aluminum piece, anodized flat black, with a nearly flat face that breaks right at 90 degrees. This trigger has a functioning safety lever in its face, so the pistol remains just as drop-safe as a factory Glock while providing a much better trigger pull.
Shadow Systems advertises their Elite Trigger Assembly will provide a trigger pull between 4–4.5 pounds. The trigger pull on my sample weighed in at 4.75 pounds and was as crisp as a Glock trigger pull can get. Shadow Systems uses a full power striker spring in their guns, so light primer strikes are not an issue.
Shakespeare Called It A Sea Change
A brief time out for some sociocultural commentary: in the past 5–10 years Glocks have replaced 1911s in the holsters of serious gun carriers, or those who style themselves as such, or those who just want the latest and greatest gear.
There is a reason for this — Glocks are reliable. Period.
Memories are short, but I’d wager that most people today aren’t aware that most of the first custom work done to those GI 1911s starting way back in your grandpappy’s time weren’t to make them look cool but rather to make them reliable. Throating and polishing the chamber mouth, polishing and adjusting the feed ramp, lowering and flaring the ejection port, and tuning the extractor were all things done solely to get the gun to run reliably, specifically with JHPs. That is also why there are so many aftermarket manufacturers of 1911 magazines, because the GI pattern magazines worked pretty well with FMJ ammo, but that was about it.
Once gunsmiths figured out how to make 1911s reliable (mostly), all the work being done to them on the outside was to improve their handling and ergonomics — checkering the frontstrap and main-spring housing, installing a beavertail grip safety, undercutting the trigger guard, installing an extended thumb safety, etc.
Glocks, on the other hand, start out pretty much 100% reliable. So, all of the work that you’re seeing done to the design isn’t to make them more reliable but rather to make them more ergonomic and/or shootable. And not so boring to look at.
To be honest, Glocks run just fine out of the box, and the vast majority of people are not and will never be serious enough shooters to understand just how much the Glock factory sights and trigger pull suck, why they need better and more slide serrations, or be able to make the most out of the features on custom Glocks like the Shadow Systems guns. But everyone can appreciate the better-than-bland-factory appearance, and even if you’re not Delta Force or a USPSA GrandMaster it’s a nice feeling knowing the pistol you’re carrying is the best that it can possibly be. And looks as sharp as James Bond in a tux.
To Dot, Or Not To Dot, That Is The Question
And now we come to the slide cut for the Trijicon RMR mini red dot. Carry guns equipped with mini red dots are all the rage. These types of pistols, especially Glocks, are currently the James Bond of carry guns. And the idea of a red dot sight on any pistol, much less a carry gun, is cool. However, I think there are as many reasons to not put a red dot on your pistol as there are reasons to recommend it.
- A red dot is like a night sight in that it is visible in every lighting situation.
- A red dot is simpler to use than iron sights.
- For aging eyes that can’t get a front sight into focus, a red dot solves that problem.
- For expert shooters trained up on them a red dot is faster to use than iron sights.
- Most people can shoot slightly more accurately with a red dot than iron sights.
- Red dots on pistols are cool.
- For just about everybody except expert shooters who have been using/training with them regularly, red dot sights have been proven to be slower at every realistic defensive handgun distance.
- Red dots are electronic devices powered by batteries. Batteries die. Usually at the worst possible time. And electronics break. And they are held to the slide by screws, which tend to loosen.
- The incremental (15%) increased accuracy provided by red dots over iron sights is irrelevant in a real-world defensive situation, but the increased time required to use them is very definitely not.
Yes, some very high-speed guys use red dot-sighted pistols. The original “Roland Special” handgun, a Glock with a slide-mounted Trijicon RMR and a rail-mounted flashlight was originally worked up for an active duty Delta Force operator, which would make him a highly trained shooter with that gun…but I would bet he swapped out the batteries on that RMR regularly, if not before every mission, the same as he did the batteries in his EOTech, NVGs, IR laser, and weaponlight.
I know the average CCW holder. They don’t swap out the batteries on anything until they die. If then. They’re not going to swap out the batteries on their RMR until they notice the dot has ceased to be. Hopefully that isn’t during the middle of a carjacking or riot….
What is awesome about the SS9F is that it gives you the option of mounting an RMR on your slide. And it mounts directly to your slide, so you don’t have to worry about an extra piece (a mounting plate) coming loose. If you choose to just use iron sights, the pistol comes with a very nice machined aluminum cover plate with the Shadow Systems stylized “O” logo on it (for a little extra $$$).
If anyone ever says they’ve never seen a Glock malfunction, that just tells me they haven’t spent enough time at the range. I’ve seen every type of gun there is choke or break.
The Shadow Systems SS9F didn’t choke or break, and it went bang every time I pulled the trigger. How- ever, I did notice that because the match barrel was a little oversize, for the first 75 rounds (or so) downrange I could feel the slide/barrel ka-chunking under recoil, moving more slowly than normal, until the new sharp edges (maybe on the barrel, maybe on the inside of the slide, maybe both) got a little worn in. After that it was smooth sailing.
It is most challenging to write about boring things. The only thing boring about the Shadow Systems SS9F is its performance. No, let me clarify that, its performance isn’t boring, writing about it is. Because there weren’t any weird malfunctions. It goes bang every time you pull the trigger, and its accuracy is as good as you’re ever going to get out of the Glock design thanks to a good trigger and an accurate bar- rel. Practicing my splits on USPSA targets or running plate racks with such a high-speed tricked out pistol was the most fun I’ve had generating once-fired brass in a long time.
SHADOW SYSTEMS SS9F
Type: Striker-fired semi-auto
Barrel: 4.49" stainless steel with bronze Titanium Carbo-Nitride finish
Height: 5.47" (with magazine inserted)
Weight: 22.05 oz.
Slide: Stainless steel
Sights: AmeriGlo tritium orange front, plain black rear
Trigger Pull: 4.75 pounds (as tested)
Safety: Trigger lever, striker drop safety
Price: $1,249 base gun, $1,627 (as tested)
Accessories: Two 15-round magazines
Manufacturer: Shadow Systems