High-Capacity 9mm Pistols: We Think CZ's 75 Is a Best Buy
A member of our staff recently returned from an intensive training session at Bill Davison’s 550-acre TacPro Shooting Center located about 65 miles west of Dallas. Davison is a former Royal Marine and British Special Forces instructor widely respected as a spec-ops consultant and provider of VIP protection. Coming as a surprise to students was Davison’s preference for high-capacity 9mm pistols over larger-caliber handguns, even the 1911 45. “It should be noted,” Davison said, “that the whole gun is in the fight, not just one round, so when we are looking at energy levels, we should look at how much energy is in each pistol.
“For example, if the pistol has eight rounds, then it has eight times the amount of energy of a single round. The same applies to a 17-round pistol having 17 times the amount of energy of a single round. How many rounds you have in your pistol is relevant to how long you can stay in the fight.
”Based on this point of view, we decided to put together a roster of high-capacity 9mm pistols and evaluate their potential for self-defense shooting. They were the Sigarms P226R DAK, the Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA, and the CZ75B SA. The Sigarms P226R DAK offered double-action operation only. The Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA operated with a “light double action” trigger, and the CZ 75B SA was a single-action gun. Each model, however, utilized a hinged trigger.
We shot for accuracy from the 25-yard bench. We chose three test rounds. They were Speer’s 124-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints, the Black Hills 115-grain JHP rounds, and 147-grain JHP subsonic ammunition from Atlanta Arms and Ammo. We evaluated the guns’ rapid-fire capabilities by engaging an IPSC metric target standing offhand from 7 yards. Our drill consisted of ten separate strings of fire wherein the first two shots were aimed at the 15-cm by 28-cm center-mass A zone. The third shot of each string was aimed at the 15-cm by 15-cm “head” of the target. Naturally, we expected all shots to be on target, but we wanted to know more about shooting each gun at speed. Our goal was to maintain a rate of fire producing an elapsed time between the first and second shot of approximately 0.15 seconds. In each segment of our test, the greatest challenge we encountered was mastering three very different trigger actions. Let’s see what each gun had to offer.
SIG Sauer P226R DAK 9mm, $840
In our May 2004 issue we presented a test of a P226 9mm pistol with a traditional double action trigger. Since then much has changed. The German-owned manufacturer has greatly expanded its stateside manufacturing capability to meet the demands of contracts with American military and law enforcement. The Americanization of the Sigarms product line is evident in the new single-action models and a full-time double-action trigger system favored by law enforcement.
The Enhanced Double Action Only DAK Trigger system was named for its designer, with the acronym standing for Double Action Kellerman. The DAK system is not the same double action found on the Sigarms TDA models with the single action removed. The DAK provides two different trigger pulls. The primary trigger pull is longer but requires less pressure. The second stroke is referred to as an intermediate stroke because it reaches its reset point with the trigger about halfway forward. Using a Chatillon Recording Trigger Pull Gauge, ($97, from brownells.com), we measured the primary trigger to require about 7 pounds of pressure and the intermediate trigger about 8.5 pounds. Benefits of this system were the trigger cannot be short stroked, and it offers second-strike capability. Second-strike capability means that if for any reason a shot does not go off, the primer could be struck again by pulling the trigger as many times as necessary.
The only outward differences between our 2004 TDA pistol and the DAK model tested here were the bobbed hammer, deletion of the decocker lever and an accessory rail on the frame. The accessory rail is now standard on nearly every Sigarms pistol. The P226R DAK costs about $75 less than the P226R TDA model and is also available chambered for .40 S&W and .357 Sig.
The “R” designation denotes the standard model with black Nitron finish topped with non-luminous sights featuring a white dot in the front sight and a white rectangle at the center of the rear sight notch. The rear sight was adjustable for windage only. Elevation changes could be made by changing the front sight, which was also dovetailed into place. Referred to by Sigarms as contrast sights, we found this combination to be easy to read.
The extractor was mounted externally, but the cutaway on the right side was very brief so as not to reduce the strength of the slide. The grip covered the back strap and pleasingly filled the shooter’s palm. The front strap of the aluminum frame was horizontally lined and undercut where it met the trigger guard. The front of the trigger guard was squared and lined to provide extra grip for those who shoot with their weak hand index finger extended. We thought the bore to grip axis was still relatively high, but thanks to a generous beavertail the web of the hand was nearly beneath the rear sight.
Two 15-round-capacity magazines with flat removable base pads were provided. The magazine release can be changed to the right side if so desired. The slide release was on the left side, but without the leftside-only decocker lever in place, the DAK pistol was more left hand–shooter friendly than the TDA model.
Maintenance of the P226R DAK was simple, and the gun could be broken down without touching the trigger. Simply lock back the slide, rotate the slide lever, lower the release and slide the top end from the frame. The hollow full-length guide rod was removed by compressing the non-captured multi-filament recoil spring. The barrel could then be lifted out of the slide. Lubrication points included the frame and slide rails, the leading edge of the barrel hood, plus lockup and slide return points indicated by faint bearing marks on the barrel.
In our 2004 test of the TDA model, all shots from support were performed in the single action mode. This meant a short, light trigger pull for each shot. In our test of the DAK pistol we concentrated on using the lighter primary trigger from the bench. We noticed little or no change in the amount of pressure needed to move the trigger from rest to point of ignition. In addition, any time we felt uncomfortable with our aim we could release the trigger and start again without jeopardizing ignition. Otherwise there were no external safeties.
Some of the most accurate groups produced in this test were fired from the Sigarms P226R DAK loaded with Atlanta Arms and Ammo 147-grain Subsonic JHP Match ammunition. We managed to land five shot groups that averaged a best overall 1.4 inches across. But power was lacking. Producing only about 258 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, this load has gained favor with Practical Shooting competitors because they feel that the heavier, slower bullet reduces slide velocity thereby promoting better follow through.
There may be some validity to this theory as all three guns responded with sub 2-inch groups. In contrast, groups printed by the P226R DAK firing the hotter 124-grain Speer Gold Dots and the Black Hills 115-grain JHP ammunition measured between 2.2 and 2.5 inches across on average.
The downside of shooting with the long DAK trigger pull was shooter fatigue. Even when using the lighter primary trigger we found holding through a controlled press to be tiring. Firing quickly from a standing position did not seem as taxing, but rapid fire with the DAK also had its concerns.
In our rapid-fire session we concentrated on keeping the gun level and not letting the muzzle dip. But with limited training on the DAK pistol, we found it impossible to focus on resetting the trigger to the shorter intermediate stroke. We just tried to keep our trigger stroke smooth and equidistant from shot to shot. Checking our rapid fire target, we had 13 of the available 20 hits grouped into the center of the target, with one shot just left of the A zone. Two more shots were lower but still inside the A zone. Another shot was directly below the A zone, and the remaining shots were low and to the left.In the head area we looked for ten shots, but only found nine well placed holes. Our test shooter remembered letting one shot go high of the target during transition that ended with a faster break than expected. Of the three guns, we felt that the DAK system required the most dedicated practice but would be most appreciated by those already trained on a double-action pistol.
Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA No. CTX189B 9mm, $1163
Produced in Ontario, Canada, the Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA was the largest of our three test guns. In profile it resembled a full-size 1911 pistol complete with 5-inch barrel. Para Ordnance offers three TAC (Tactical) LDA models built on a full-size wide-body frame. Forty-caliber models are available, but our Tac Five LDA was in 9mm and finished in Black Covert Para Kote.
The bottom of the grip featured a cavernous oversize magazine guide attached to the mainspring housing. Capacity was 18+1 rounds, and thanks to innovators like Dawson Precision, basepads that add up to three additional rounds are available aftermarket (dawsonprecision.com).
But the feature that sets the Tac Five LDA apart from the typical 1911 was the hammer, which sat flush with the rear of the slide. The slimline hammer was part and parcel of the Para Ordnance Light Double Action trigger. The hammer was left without a spur so as to discourage the operator from pulling it back manually with the thumb. Doing so will damage the LDA system. The correct way to load the firing system of an LDA pistol is to move the slide to the rear, an important point for those who dry-fire.
The Tac Five featured all stainless steel construction with thin checkered plastic grip panels. The front strap was wide and cut with mild vertical lines, but we thought grip was enhanced slightly by the flare of the magazine guide. The mainspring housing was checkered, above which was fit a grip safety. The rear sight was Novak’s elevation-adjustable snagproof design. The notch assembly was raised and lowered by a screw with detent housed inside a protective outer frame. Windage was adjustable by drift. In fact we found it necessary to move the rear sight before shooting. Using a brass punch plus a piece of tape for shielding both the Novak sight and Para Kote held up to our pounding without a mark. The front sight was also dovetailed into place and completed the three-dot system.
Field stripping varied little from the typical 1911. The Tac Five was fit with a standard-length (short) guide rod. We didn’t need a bushing wrench to press down on the end cap and turn the bushing to about a 9 o’clock position, freeing the recoil spring. Taking care to depress the grip safety, we pulled back the slide to align the slide stop with the take-down notch. With the stop removed, the top end was free. The barrel was thin for most of its length and flared at the muzzle to fit tightly inside the barrel bushing. We couldn’t help but notice that the recoil spring was very light. Looking over the frame there was a hinged trigger with tension spring connected to a transfer bar. No other moving parts connected to the hammer were visible.
Putting the Tac Five back together, we found it easier to put the recoil spring on the guide rod and thread it from the inside through the front of the slide. Reapplying the slide was simple as long as you held the receiver with the grip safety pushed in. Otherwise, the transfer bar can be abused if it is manually pressed downward and out of the way. We completed reassembly by inserting the slide stop and pressing the spring cap under the bottom of the barrel bushing.
The Para Ordnance Tac Five offered the safety of a long takeup to a hard break plus a left-side thumb safety. Even for the professional, most instances of gun handling involves holstering or storing the weapon, and the thumb safety provided extra insurance against an accidental discharge.
From the bench the Tac Five edged out the CZ pistol by printing sub 2-inch groups with all three test rounds. The Speer Gold Dot ammunition provided the best accuracy and most power, generating 384 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Standing and shooting as fast as we could at our 7-yard target, all ten head shots were printed neatly in place. In the center mass of the IPSC Metric target, we counted 17 shots in a group that formed a rectangle with the longest sides reaching from left to right. Five shots were pushed to the left and two the right of the A zone. Two shots were low. Our operator settled in on the LDA trigger after the second string of fire.
Some members of our staff were of the opinion that with the presence of the thumb safety, the trigger could have been lightened considerably without fear of liability. But after witnessing the performance of our test shooter in the rapid-fire segment, we agreed that familiarity with the LDA trigger was all that was necessary for improved performance.
CZ USA 75B SA 9mm, $518
CZ USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Czechoslovakian manufacturer, CZUB. Initially based in California, in 1997 CZ USA took up residence in Kansas City, Kansas, the following year. The focus of CZ USA does not yet include stateside manufacture, but like its competitors, the company continues to be influenced by the American shooter. Increased availability of the single-action model 75B SA with drop-free magazines reflects this influence. Only one finish, black Poly Kote, is available, but the 75B SA can also be purchased chambered for .40 S&W ($535).
With its stark fixed sights and checkered plastic grips, there wasn’t much to distinguish it from the DA/SA model. The key visual point was the trigger, which except for a contour at its tip was nearly flat. Barrel length was listed on the
Shooter controls consisted of ambidextrous thumb safeties and a slide stop that also served to lock the receiver to the top end. To separate the two parts we shifted back the top end so that vertical lines machined into the left side of the slide were directly above the matching line on the frame. Then the stop was removed from right to left. In our past experience with the CZ 75 pistols, the condition of the slide stop has much to do with lockup and accuracy. The stop on our CZ pistol was so tight we needed a rubber mallet to push it far enough through the frame so we could grab it from the other side. With the slide removed, we saw that the stop pin crossed through the barrel lug, limiting movement during cycling. The guide rod was short, and the recoil spring fit into the front of the slide, which was blocked at the tip. The slide rails fit inside of and underneath the matching rails of the frame. Cocking serrations were found at the rear of the slide only, and the top of the slide was lined to reduce glare. The extractor was mounted externally.
We liked the black Poly Kote finish of this pistol and the contour of the grip. The backstrap was smooth but was deeply undercut and finished with a long beavertail. The frontstrap was also left smooth but contoured to include a flare at its base. The trigger guard was squared in the front with serrations for additional hold.
We found it easy to get a high grip on the CZ, which helped control recoil. We also thought that controlling the safety levers was easier when holding the gun in the strong hand only. Some of our shooters preferred to turn the safety on by pushing upward with the outside edge of their trigger finger, which is not a bad idea. But when gripping the gun with two hands, pushing down on the thumb safety seemed to interfere with the weak hand grip. The CZ 75B SA had three safeties. The ambidextrous thumb safeties for cocked and locked carry plus a safety stop on the hammer and a firing pin safety. The firing-pin safety was controlled by the trigger.
From the bench the CZ made our job simple. Find the break point in the single action trigger and follow through. We did notice a rough spot in the trigger movement that seemed to pop up about every 15 shots. We even felt it during our rapid-fire session. This may be interference from the trigger interacting with the firing pin safety or perhaps there was a rough surface somewhere along the action that periodically cycled into position to create a gritty feel.
Nonetheless, we were able to print five-shot groups that measured on average just less than 2.0 inches across. (CZ provided a target grid that indicated this pistol had produced a five-shot group at 25 meters firing Sellier and Bellot ammunition that measured approximately 2.2 inches across.) Power and accuracy firing the 124 grain Speer Gold Dot hollowpoints nearly matched the Para Ordnance pistol.
In the rapid-fire test the CZ75B SA was the clear winner. Nineteen of twenty shots formed a 6.2-inch group in the upper half of the central A zone, with the 20th shot nearby. All ten hits were found in the head area.
Gun Tests Recommends
*** Sigarms P226R DAK 9mm, $840. Buy It. This is a high-quality product that should prove most effective in the hands of those who have previous training on DAO pistols.
**** Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA No. CTX189B 9mm, $1163. Our Pick.
This is one of the highest capacity and fastest-reloading production pistols we have seen. It provides safety, accuracy and power for the serious operator.
***** CZ USA 75B SA 9mm, $518. Best Buy. This is a proven design with uncomplicated operation. The price leaves plenty of money left over for custom work, extra magazines and practice ammunition. At the risk of inflating the low MSRP of the CZ pistol, one change we would like is a modern rear sight that positions the sight blade more rearward to increase sight radius. GT
Written and photographed by Roger Eckstine, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.