Stepping out of Glock’s Shadow

Pistol newcomers making their mark, says Rod Pascoe

Firearms manufacturer Shadow Systems is a fairly recent arrival on the US handgun scene and even newer to Australian shooters, thanks to the appointment of Outdoor Sporting Agencies as importer and distributor here. Based in Plano, Texas, Shadow Systems are philosophical about their roots and have no shame in mentioning their now-competitor, Glock, when marketing their pistols, as the company was founded in 2016 producing aftermarket parts, predominately for off-the-shelf Glock handguns.

To paraphrase the company’s own marketing spiel: “. . . Glock operating systems are plentiful in the market and frequently our customers already own one. That means customers have lots of off-the-shelf options and may already own parts and accessories that fit. As far as Generations go, our pistols are modelled on the Gen 4 operating system so go with that choice if its applicable”.

Initially their products were helping Glock owners extract the most from their handguns by providing aftermarket barrels, trigger groups, slides and internals to enhance their performance. But here in Australia where competition shooting is the only genuine reason to own a handgun, a Glock frame full of aftermarket parts doesn’t satisfy the ‘Production’ division rules in a number of the practical shooting sports.

The solution? Shadow Systems have now incorporated their aftermarket parts into complete handguns modelled on the Glock platform. By adding injection moulding equipment to their in-house production line, polymer frames along with all the other parts come together to produce original, production handguns under the Shadow Systems name. Naturally the company’s first priority was to concentrate on the largest and most lucrative segment of the US handgun industry, producing a range of compact and sub-compact guns for the thriving concealed-carry market.

Released at the 2023 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, the DR920L adds to a vast line of polymer-framed, striker-fired ‘duty role’ pistols by adding an optics-ready feature to a full-size frame and lengthened top end, giving Shadow Systems an entree into the competition handguns arena. OSA gave Australian Shooter the chance to put the DR920L through its paces.

What’s in the bag?

Not a great deal as it turns out. Unlike some pistol packages these days which tend to fill the box with numerous enticing bits and pieces – some of which will never be used or sometimes discarded – Shadow Systems have elected to go the way of minimal accessories. I prefer this approach as it gives shooters the option to customise their range bag with accessories they want without paying for ones the factory think they should have.

For most serious competitors the first essential additions are of course magazines, which are plentiful. Two are supplied which is enough for a run of the mill pistol club weekend shoot however, depending on the particular match, buyers will want to add another two, six or 10 to this number.

Inside the large, tough Cordura range bag is the pistol itself, a choice of three backstraps, detachable magazine well, set of screws, spacers and a tube of Loctite 243 for attaching optics. All this is accompanied by the instruction manual and a padlock. One side of the bag has five elastic magazine loops and the other a large pocket for the pistol itself with Velcro closure.

First impressions

Shadow Systems’ philosophy is simply to put function before aesthetics although the DR920L does have quite a distinctive ‘look’ of its own. It does somewhat resemble the Glock 34 Gen 4 optics-ready model and that’s because it’s the platform the business started producing its wide range of aftermarket parts for. The frame’s wraparound grip texture is aggressive enough to keep the gun firmly in the shooter’s hold without being uncomfortable.

The backstraps aren’t the usual small, medium and large, instead they relate to the grip angle and position of the hand to suit the shooter’s natural point of aim. They’re labelled ‘High’ which places the muzzle in a relatively high orientation, ‘Neutral’ puts it in a flatter position and is the one fitted to the pistol, while the ‘Low’ backstrap has a nose-down orientation. I thought I’d decide on which to attach once I got to the range and became familiar with the overall feel of the pistol.

The full-size frame has a larger beavertail and the redesigned trigger guard has deep undercut which allows the pistol to fit Glock 17 compatible holsters. There’s a detachable magazine well supplied which can be used in certain divisions of competitions, while the instruction manual has full details for fitting backstraps and mag well.

The bronze coloured spiral-fluted, match-grade barrel is 5.3” (135mm) with conventional rifling and while this one’s unthreaded, other handguns in the range do provided threaded ends for adding compensators. The slide-to-barrel fit is good and hopefully will improve accuracy. The manufacturers are less concerned about this as they say it’s not so important to accuracy and a slightly looser mating of these parts improves reliability.

The trigger group incorporates a drop-safe, flat-faced aluminium trigger with 4.5-5lb (2-2.3kg) pull and a crisp, tactile reset. The usual striker-fired internal safeties are also incorporated and as with any trigger, especially on striker-fired handguns, I expect it’ll take time to get used to it. The long slide adds to the sight radius of the open sights. Removing the optic cover plate at the rear of the slide reveals the patented multi-footprint optics cut, with just four threaded holes to accommodate most brands of miniature reflex sights directly to the slide, without requiring intermediate plates or adapters.

In lieu of adaptor plates, Shadow Systems have instead opted for a range of plastic compression spacers to insert in front of, or behind, the optic to stop any forward movement under recoil, a great invention which seems to work well. I noted the extractor spring has been repositioned and is designed to allow longer than normal screws to be used to secure the optics to the slide, without them interfering with internal parts. The DR920L slide is part of the Elite range featuring deep rear directional top serrations, window cuts and a thinned profile at grasping locations.

The attached open steel sights – with the rear being windage adjustable, plain with no dots or lines around the square notch – are simply serrated to be non-reflective. The front sight has a large tritium lamp to draw the shooter’s focus to the sight at night, a carryover from the pistol’s Defence role. Nevertheless it’s big and easy to acquire and without distracting dots or lines on the rear, certainly stands out. But it’s the optics I’m mainly interested in. A SIG Romeo 1 Pro red dot reflex sight was supplied by OSA for review and was installed easily and quickly.

To the range

After applying some lubrication to the usual metal-to-metal contact points and a wipe of the bore, the DL920L was ready to go with a variety of commercial ammo form various factories. Those included Geco, Winchester, Federal, PPU and Sellier & Bellot. I didn’t try any home loads because, as we all know, powder is scarce. All factory rounds worked reliably in the pistol, feeding, shooting, extracting and ejecting cleanly, to leave a neat pile of brass in one spot about a meter to my right.

Yet the big test for me was of course accuracy followed by handling and controllability. While a very different gun to the heavier steel frames I’ve been testing recently, I was surprised at its controllability in rapid-fire situations. I tried all three backstrap options and settled on the High grip as I was able to find the dot quicker out of the holster than with Neutral or Low.

All ammunition brands were equally acceptable, however tuned home loads would certainly improve precision and accuracy. In the mix of factory ammo were bullet weights ranging from 115 to 147 grains and, generally speaking, the heavier the bullet weight the better precision and controllability.

Although the pistol is very light at a mere 640g, the balance is well forward. The long slide configuration tends to soak up felt recoil from full-house factory loads which I put down to aiding shot-to-shot recovery during rapid fire. Fellow members of my club, one of whom is an IPSC Production Division aficionado, was impressed by the pistol and particularly its ‘pointability’ out of the holster.

The recommended break-in time for Shadow Systems pistols is 150-200 rounds. According to the manufacturer, the gun has close tolerances and benefits from a ‘wearing-in’ period before reliability and performance reach their best. During this time the parts will fully mate and springs will achieve their final set, and they also recommend keeping the pistol well-lubricated during this.

I fired at least 400 rounds for this review and did notice a change in ‘smoothness’ of the slide over three to four hours, not to mention the fact I was becoming more comfortable with overall handling and feel, so I was also being ‘broken-in’. The comprehensive operation manual goes into detail on running-in as well as fitting optics, care, maintenance and lubrication.


At a little over $2000 the DR920L is a value-for-money pistol when you consider what you’d spend to bring a Glock Model 17 or 34 up to the same specs (using aftermarket parts) as this gun. And if you did make all those modifications to a Glock it would no longer be a Production Division handgun, whereas the DR920L with all the bells and whistles is an original standalone Production pistol.

I was impressed and actually surprised by overall performance of the DR920L – it was accurate, reliable and controllable in rapid-fire situations, especially with heavier projectiles. For newcomers to the pistol shooting sports, this should be one of the first handguns to try before you buy if you have the chance.

Caliber: 9×19
Action: Striker-fired
Weight: 22.4oz (640g)
Frame: Textured polymer
Length: 7¾” (196mm)
Height: 5¼” (133mm)
Slide finish: Nitride
Barrel length: 5.3” (135mm)
Trigger pull: 4.5-5lb (2-2.3kg)
Capacity: 10+1
Front sight: White dot
Rear sight: Black serrated
Retail price: $2034

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