A polymer-frame defender that is a cut above
by Bob Campbell
High-end, premier, deluxe, or first-rate — these are not adjectives often used to describe a polymer frame handgun. Reliable, dependable, steadfast, or trustworthy are the more common words attributed to the GLOCK and similar handguns. In this case, “high-end” fits the pistol.
The Shadow Systems MR920 is a formidable handgun. It is reliable and comes with many standout features. It is also a pistol with more than a little class, style, and bling. The gun is based on the GLOCK template but with significant changes.
The GLOCK rocked the world after it’s introduction. Here was a pistol that was a lifeline for police agencies. With its low maintenance requirements and high reliability, the pistol’s safe action trigger offered simplified training time. With only one trigger action to learn, the pistol swept the field clear of double-action-first-shot handguns. Load, holster, draw, fire. A simple manual of arms allow more training time. Those willing to train harder or more often may chose a different type of pistol. It is pointless to train hard for inferior results.
While the GLOCK has proven reliable, it is made to sell, as most products are. The GLOCK hasn’t swept the police world completely on merit. The training budget is friendly with the GLOCK. The pistol’s robustness is an advantage but so is the GLOCK’s low bid price. Other makers have attempted to equal or exceed the GLOCK on some point but most are running against the wind. The GLOCK has become the baseline for personal defense as well as service use. If a pistol is cheaper than the GLOCK, then corners often have been cut. If the pistol costs more than the GLOCK, then you should be certain of what you are getting. With the Shadow Systems pistol, you are getting a lot of handgun at a fair price. There is no longer any skepticism in my mind concerning polymer frame striker fired pistols and reliability. But the low bid pistol doesn’t suit me.
The double-action-only or safe action pistol represents a tactical doctrine that works well for many shooters. The pistol doesn’t feature a manual safety but it has safety features, including a blade lever in the trigger face and a positive striker block. Tactical simplicity is important, allowing the shooter to concentrate on the sight picture and trigger press. It is said the GLOCK doesn’t suffer fools, but then what machine does? There were plenty of negligent discharges in institutions issuing double-action revolvers. Keep your finger off the trigger until you fire — not when you think you will fire but when you fire — and you will not have a problem with these handguns.
There are not many designs over forty years old that cannot be improved in some way. Shadow Systems took a hard look at the GLOCK and gave us an improvement. They did not strive to cheapen the pistol and sell an inferior product. They have improved the pistol.
The MR920 resembles a custom GLOCK 19 with an aftermarket slide and sights. The pistol uses steel parts wherever possible over the GLOCK’s plastic parts. The slide is nicely cut and finished and features forward and rear cocking serrations. There is no reason to install an aftermarket trigger as the factory production trigger system is designed for a trigger pull more crisp and cleaner than the GLOCK. A personal protection or service pistol with an aftermarket trigger is a poor idea based on both reliability and liability.
The GLOCK 19 size handgun fits the hand well. The MR920 features spare grip inserts and is supplied with an optional magazine funnel (not interchangeable with the GLOCK). The grip finish features a good balance of adhesion and abrasion. The grip and grip angle is improved over the GLOCK by design and by a slight undercut in the frame. The grip isn’t uncomfortable and is certainly improved over the GLOCK and most anything else I have tried. A square trigger guard allows a good grip pushing the trigger guard to the rear for stability. The controls are standard in feel and placement for those who use the GLOCK. While the MR920 must stand on its own merits, comparison to the GLOCK 19 is favorable.
The GLOCK in its several generations has not addressed the grip tang. The MR920 features a redesigned grip tang. It extends over the web of the hand, making for a superior fit. There is no confusion as to where to hold the pistol. Just scrunch the hand up tight to the tang. As another advantage, this extended grip tang makes for a lower bore axis. The result is a better fit, greater recoil control and lower splits (time between shots) in combat shooting.
The nitride coated stainless steel slide is topped with a set of modern combat sights. The rear sight may be used to pull the slide back against a boot heel or gun belt. The value of this design is more in dropping the slide after a tactical, one-hand reload. If one hand is injured but the slide is locked to the rear on the last shot, you may jam the pistol in the waistband, access a spare magazine, and slam it into the pistol. The sight may then be pushed against the belt to quickly release the slide. The Shadow Systems’ rear sight is flat enough for this duty. It offer rapid acquisition with the front sight and its tritium insert is most appreciated. The plated barrel is cut in a helical design that may be easier to clean and maintain than most. Fit to the slide is excellent.
The GLOCK trigger should be well understood after many years in the market. Some GLOCK competitors manage to foist a single-action trigger onto the public and claim it is lighter than the GLOCK. Of course it is. The GLOCK’s Safe Action is preferable. As you pull back the slide, the striker is partially cocked. A press of the trigger acts on the drawbar and moves the striker to the rear, breaking the trigger action against the striker spring. The striker flies forward and fires the pistol. The pistol fires and the action is repeated for the next shot. The trigger may be kept pressed to the rear for subsequent shots as a trained shooter rides the reset. Very fast and accurate shooting may be accomplished with this handgun. The Shadow Systems pistol features a slightly flatter trigger than the GLOCK, which allows greater leverage. The first MR920 pistol I tested featured a 4.9 pound trigger press. The current optics-ready pistol breaks at a clean 4.8 pounds.
The Shadow Systems pistol features improvements that would be fairly expensive to apply to the GLOCK handgun. Shadow Systems starts out with top-end components. No need for “upgrades.” You would spend more than the final price of the MR920 by modifying a GLOCK to equal performance. Still, the MR920 is compatible with GLOCK internal parts, barrels, and magazines.
The MR920 optics-ready version features a neat and easy to use system. A number of screws and spacers are provided to accommodate different footprints. You are not tied to a handful of sometimes expensive choices. Swampfox, Trijicon, TRUGLO, Leuopold, Sig Sauer, Holosun, Vortex, and Shield are among the red dot sights accommodated.
Carrying a handgun concealed is serious business. The holster cannot be cheap or poorly designed. I ordered a Nelson Classic inside-the-waistband holster for the GLOCK 19 some years ago. It is a perfect fit for the MR920. The holster features the smooth side leather out. There are must-have features on a professional grade IWB holster. Among these is a sweat guard to separate the body from the handgun. Another is a reinforced welt around the holster mouth. The reinforcement allows the handgun to be re-holstered after drawing. The holster features a unique dual belt loop design. The loops are slightly offset toward the body to cinch the holster in tight. The Nelson Classic is as good as it gets in custom grade leather.
Most of the test-firing was done off-hand. This is, after all, a combat pistol. The MR920 is a fast-handling gun with a better feel in the hand than most polymer frame handguns. It clears the holster quickly. Combat shooting at man-sized targets was undertaken at 7, 10, and 15 yards with excellent results. Firing for absolute accuracy from a solid benchrest, the Shadow Systems MR920 9mm provided several 2-inch five-shot groups at 20 yards. The pistol has been fired with just over 400 rounds of various 9mm loads, including FMJ, JHP, and solid copper, as well as a few handloads.
What I Like
- The sights.
- Reliability, combat accuracy, and light weight are good features.
- 15+1 magazine capacity.
- Available optic cut.
What I Don’t Like
- There is nothing I really don’t like. I am not the biggest GLOCK fan, but this pistol is a greatly improved version of the GLOCK in most ways. I do wish it came with an improved take down lever.
- Less expensive variants on the theme, such as the Stoeger STR 9, Smith & Wesson Military and Police, and a few others suffer in comparison to the Shadow Systems. So does the GLOCK…any GLOCK. The Shadow Systems shoots and handles as well as most long-slide pistols!
Shadow Systems MR920 Specifications
- Caliber: 9×19
- Action: striker fire
- Weight: 5 oz. (Combat); 20.9 o.z (Elite)
- Frame: textured polymer
- Length: 7 ⅛ inches (unthreaded)
- Height: 4 ¾ inches
- Slide Material: 17-4 stainless steel
- Barrel Material: 416R stainless steel
- Trigger pull: 5-5.0 lbs.
- Capacity: 15+1
- Front sight: green outline, tritium dot
- Rear sight: black serrated