(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By David Blanton
If you’re the type of person whose eyes instinctively dart for the nearest target every time you hear an electronic beep and know the inviolable sanctity of the 11th commandment (“Thou shalt not break the 180”), then you’re likely already well familiar with the CZ SP-01 Shadow Target Custom. While the GLOCK 34 reigns supreme in the world of IDPA, according to the 2015 USPSA Production Nationals equipment survey, approximately 4 in 10 pistols represented were CZ, nearly as much as the next three brands combined. Of those CZ’s, most were probably SP-01 Shadows, and some of those were Shadow Customs, worked over by the smiths at Angus Hobdell’s CZ Custom.
What separates the SP-01 Shadow from the SP-01 model is primarily the absence of a firing pin block and other competition-related features. Deleting the firing pin block makes the trigger reset shorter. The target sights, enlarged controls, and extra magazine should be fairly self-explanatory. What separates the Shadow Custom from the stock Shadow is a reliability tune and a trigger tune, carrying the good work the Czechs started to the next level.
The DA/SA action is slicked up, a competition hammer fitted, the slide rails sport a glass like finish, and it wears an aluminum pair of grips inlaid with skate tape. The result is a gun even the most ardent striker fired fanatic will have a hard time complaining about. As the Shadow Custom shares many of the features with the base line Shadow, much of what is to come holds true for the regular Shadow models, as well as the SP-01s. The Shadow Custom just has a ridiculous trigger out of the box.
The SP01 sports a full length steel dust cover. Unlike a standard 75B, the trigger guard is relieved and the rear grip tang / beaver tail is upswept, allowing a higher, more comfortable grip. The slide rides inside the frame, resulting in a slide that appears short to the uninitiated. As with most CZ’s, it’s black. The swept back competition rear sight married with the proper 1913 picatinny rail makes me think of a shark mouth P-51 mustang.
Fit and Finish
As far as finish is concerned, the Shadow wears CZ’s excellent black poly coat paint. This is a very good coating that is very resistant to abuse. My particular example is a ’10 model with an unknown round count of at least 10,000 rounds. It’s holding up pretty well, despite the mileage and is only really showing wear at the muzzle from holster rub and on the slide where the former owner botched a rear sight install using a steel punch an improperly padded vise.
As far as fit, the folks at CZC have you covered. The contact areas are polished to a mirror finish, including the slide rails. CZC includes a test target highlighting the pistol’s accuracy as well as the trigger weights of the two pulls leaving the shop. The double action is smooth and predictable, the single action has very light take up, a small wall then a clean break. You can stage the trigger in single action if you’re careful.
A lot of plastic pistoleros usually cook off a few rounds before finding the “wall” for precision shooting. The sear/hammer engagement breaks at about 2# and the trigger return spring/slack takes about 3# of pressure to overcome. You can feel it when you get to it, but it will take a couple tries before you can stage it. This particular pistol left the factory rated at 8 lbs DA, 3 lbs 5 oz SA. It really doesn’t feel that heavy in single action, it feels lighter. The trigger has an over travel set screw, to tune as much/little over travel as your shooting style needs.
As of the time of writing, I have 5,000+ rounds down range through this firearm. Most of the rounds are my reloads, but some factory S&B 115 and 124 loadings as well as some Atlanta Arms 115 commercial reloads. That said, it’s a Euro gun and as such the chamber is optimized for round-nosed ammunition. JHP’s or projectiles with JHP profiles are going to need to be loaded shorter to clear the lands.
I’ve plunk tested three brands of self defense/duty JHP’s and they all fit fine. I never bothered firing any SD JHP, but did fire some truncated cone projectiles no problem, which is close enough, right? I’ve experienced probably 5-10 malfunctions total, and in all cases they were hard primers not seated to the correct depth by yours truly (hey, S&B primers go on sale at Cabela’s). The follow up double action strike sent all rounds on their way.
Does it need to be pampered? Not really, I oil the rails and barrel every week. And I even clean it every 5000 rounds or so, whether it needs it or not. That’s really just to pull the extractor and make sure there’s no carbon build up.
The gun ships with three 18-round magazines. This is a complaint, kind of. They work, most people who run the OEM 18 rounders swap the springs for +10% springs. If you compare the 18-rounder to the OEM 16-rounders, the mag bodies are less robust, I would imagine they’re more prone to feed lips getting bent out of spec, but I’ve not personally encountered it and I would assume that only power users would really encounter that. For competition, most folks use the Mec Gar 16-round or 17-round magazines with aftermarket base pads.
The gun runs like a Swiss watch…until it doesn’t. The black eye of the CZ 75 design is the fact that the trigger return spring is a torsion spring and prone to snapping one of the legs. The other eye is blackened by the slide stop eventually fatiguing and shearing.
These issues are not unique to this gun, but the platform at large. Many anecdotes on the internet exist of folks with 10’s of thousands of rounds without either part breaking. I’ve broken one of each with a daily dry fire practice and 200-300 rounds a week in practice/matches. If the TRS goes, the trigger will stop resetting automatically, however you can work through that resetting the trigger manually.
The slide stop failing will seize up the action. Keeping the TRS oiled greatly extends the life of the spring. As a precaution, the wisdom of the internet recommends changing the slide stop and all the springs at 10,000 round intervals. It sounds like a hassle, but I’ve basically just said to you “If you spend $2,000+ on ammunition, you need to change $60 in parts”.
Further, the gun is tuned to function “optimally” with the correct spring weights, as opposed to over springing the gun from the factory so “the parts never wear out” (hint: that’s why GLOCK triggers improve with time/use, the striker spring begins to wear in and lighten up in addition to contact points being polished from use.) As the gun’s mission is competition, I find the juice is very much worth the squeeze. Be that as it may I would still recommend any CZ for SD/HD due to just how shootable these guns are.
Ease of Use / Handling Characteristics
If you’ve not shot a CZ at this point in your pistol owning career, just don’t. You don’t need to buy another gun and absorb the grief of your significant other will give you for another black plastic box taking up space in a closet. Joking aside, CZ’s are super comfortable in hand, and they point well for most people. More importantly they also shoot super flat. Recoil management is primarily the responsibility of the shooter, but the kind folks at CZ with their slide-in-rails-hammer-fired design sure do help out in the process. The SP-01 design takes the 75 design a step farther, including a thicker diameter barrel and a full length dust cover that keeps more weight at the front of the gun, combatting muzzle flip. As a result, the balance in hand is a little forward biased, as you would imagine. Plus the gun is simply heavy – tipping the scales at about 42 ounces with a magazine. That’s 1911 territory with a barrel length of just 4.6”. If you’re capable of doing a pushup, then that’s a great thing when pulling the trigger, however it does take a period of adjustment if you’re used to swinging around a pistol that weighs half of that.
The grips shipped with the gun make the grip very slim, about 1.1” thick, which provides excellent trigger reach. That’s also great for folks who like to pull the trigger closer to their distal crease. Folks with longer fingers may favor a more pronounced palm swell, available from dozens of grip makers, or simply the black rubber OEM grips that ship on the standard SP-01s / Shadows. I personally prefer the feel of VZ Diamondbacks. Folks with really large hands may just want to check out the Italian clones offered up by Tanfoglio.
On the SP-01 Shadow all of the controls are enlarged and extended. The slide stop is lengthened and larger than a standard 75B. Some folks can reach the slide stop with their strong hand thumb, but I can’t without breaking my grip, that doesn’t bother me as I release the slide with my support hand thumb on all reloads. The magazine release is a “D” style release that’s enlarged vs. the standard 75B, and extended more than the base model SP-01. It’s very easy to reach and activate, and as a result take care transitioning to support hand only so the magazine won’t inadvertently drop. I’ve witnessed one shooter punt his magazine down range on the switch.
Then there’s the curious choice of CZUB’s insistence that this be a manual safety gun, and that the safety be enlarged. This pistol was optimized for IPSC Production competition, which requires double action starts. Nobody really uses the safety in action pistol games (ok, so there’s like 3 of you who do use SA starts and refuse to manually decock the gun, but we’re using sweeping generalizations here). In my first USPSA match with the Shadow I burned up 16 seconds trying to “clear” a seized up slide which was nothing more than the safety being inadvertently activated on a reload entering a position. Either practice reloads with your thumb resting on the safety, or fit a pair of thin safeties (I went the thin safety route).
Let’s be clear: in the context of action pistol shooting you will be required to lower the hammer manually on a live round. That’s a scary proposition to some, but not difficult to do. The Shadow Custom sports a “Competition Hammer” that is longer than the standard ring hammer that comes on the base Shadows, which make it pretty simple to lower the hammer. Please YouTube videos on lowering the hammer and PRACTICE it dry before trying it in a live fire context.
The magazine well also sports a slight bevel, and CZUB even attempted halfheartedly to “checker” the front and back straps. This isn’t a deal breaker as I find the relieved trigger guard and upswept beavertail work together to lock the gun into your hand. All the same, you’ll notice my front strap wears grip tape, which is pretty common.
The sights are a target set with a pretty large fiber optic rod and wide front sight. It’s not as quick in transition due to less light coming through the notch, but it does shine at longer ranges where the wider front sight makes the “equal height” part of the equation easy to line up. My pistol came sighted for 124 grain projectiles, 115’s hit a little low, 147’s hit high.
Ease of disassembly
Remove magazine. Clear weapon. Line up notch on slide with notch on frame. Press out slide stop from right hand side using a magazine base pad. Pull out slide stop.
Some people don’t like that CZ’s don’t have a little lever that you pull down on. I like the fact there’s not yet another lever on the frame taking up space for my support hand. Tomato, Potato.
Detail stripping is a lot more contrived than taking apart a GLOCK, but still possible by the kitchen table gunsmith, if you’re so inclined.
That’s what the boys at CZC could do, probably from a bench. I’m not certain on the distance, but the test target CZUB includes is from 25 meters, I would think it’s at least that.
That’s what I could do off hand at 25 yards at an indoor range with my reloads. I’m not a bullseye shooter. In a longer string of fire my hold starts to migrate south (it’s a little muzzle heavy, and heavy in general). I have no question it could keep all the shots in the 7 ring, if not the 9 ring, if you are more patient than I am.
In a “Practical Pistol” context, the Shadow is brilliant. That’s really why you buy this gun. That and to show off to your friends. It’s very easy to shoot this gun well. I’m really not going to address an HD/SD scenario because that’s not what this is for. Get a vanilla SP-01 / tactical if that’s what you’re after.
Off the shelf, you’re not going to find a heck of a lot of choices for CZ pistols. But in the age of the internet, that’s not that big a deal.
Most major kydex companies make CZ SP-01 molds, pretty much all the custom ones do.
The magazines that are branded as CZ are somewhat pricy, especially the SP-01 variety (~$46 – $56), but if you’re savvy and use the internet and are comfortable with Mec-Gar magazines, you can get into magazines for $21-$30 per. Here’s a hint: Buy the 17 round Mec-Gar magazines with anti-friction coating.
Small parts and springs are available through CZ Custom or Cajun Gunworks, or even CZ-USA themselves.
Springer Precision, Shockbottle, Henning Precision, CZC all make magazine base pads suitable for competition.
Sights are available from CZC, Dawson Precision, and Tru-Glo, plus the CZUB factory options.
A 2014 Shadow Custom will set you back $1,300 at the time of writing. A standard SP-01 Shadow is $880, and an SP-01 is $610-$650. Most other competition pistols that sport polymer frames are in the $650 neighborhood (or less). I prefer the SP-01 frame to most of those. There are other CZ smiths on the net that will build you a Shadow, but they’re a little more spendy.
If you consider the competition for this gun to be other double action autos, specifically production race guns, the price isn’t outrageous. If you consider the competition to be ALL service pistols then “YOU CAN BUY TWO GLOCK 34’S FOR THAT!” You sure can. A more fitting comparison would be a TTI GLOCK 34. For some, the difference is worth it, for others it won’t be.
Do you need it? Nope. The 75 platform just makes a lot of sense if you like hammer fired guns, appreciate good triggers and appreciate guns with insane practical accuracy with near nil recoil. Most everyone I let shoot this gun immediately shoots it as well, or better, than their preferred platform.
Can you build up a base SP-01 / Shadow to this level? Sure, but you’ll spend close to as much on parts as to nearly close the gap in price. Arguably you don’t need quite all of the parts on the Shadow Custom. If you don’t care to do any polishing/tuning you can buy out of the box performance. My recommendation if funds are tight and you want a CZ for competition is to get a base line Shadow and build it up as it makes sense, and you feel the need. The base model SP-01’s are fine weapons as well, but the firing pin block introduces 2 more springs, a roll pin, and 2 small parts to monitor. It’s easier to maintain the non FPB guns.
Due to the initial cost, it won’t make sense for everybody, but it’s pretty spectacular.
SPECIFICATIONS: CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Custom
Caliber tested: 9mm
Frame/Slide: Carbon Steel / Carbon Steel
Sights: Target rear / Fiber Front
Overall Length: 8.15″
Overall Height: 5.79″
Overall width: 1.46″ (at the safeties/slide stop)
Barrel length: 4.6″
Sight Radius: 6.42″
Weight w/Magazine: 41.6 oz
Action Type: DA/SA
Trigger Pull: DA 8 lbs./SA 3 lbs. 5 oz.
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
Way more accurate than I am.
Ergonomics (handling): * * * *
Size large gloves and medium gloves should fall in love. XL gloves may get crowded.
Ergonomics (firing): * * * * *
Double action autos like this are affectionately referred to as “Cheater Guns” for a reason.
Reliability: * * * * *
Only issues were ammo issues.
Customization: * * *
Docked one star for mail order factor.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
The Shadow Custom won’t make you a better shooter, but it sure makes it easier.