Ready for Duty: CZ P-09 Duty Review
October 10, 2013
The P-09 is the latest in a line of handguns manufactured by Ceska Zbrojovka, or CZ for short. The company was founded in 1936 in what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Early firearms production was for the Czech Army during World War II, but the company eventually began pursuing the civilian market. The well-known Model 75 was introduced in 1975, long before the abundance of high-capacity autoloaders in 9mm Luger that we have today. Back then the Model 75 was the pistol many Americans spoke of, wrote about, and yearned for, but which few actually owned.
The CZ 75 had many features of other classic pistols that handgunners favored. Like the French MAB PA-15, with a cartridge in the chamber, the 9mm CZ 75 held 16 rounds. Like the Austrian SIG P210, the CZ 75's slide traveled to and fro inside the frame. And like the good, old, American Model 1911, a sear-locking safety allowed the CZ 75 to be carried hammer down with a round in the chamber, cocked and locked. The CZ 75 had a lot going for it, but a high import tax imposed by the U.S. government on products manufactured in Soviet Bloc countries increased its price beyond what most Americans were willing to pay. But after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire, CZ in 1996 established an import subsidiary in Kansas City, Missouri, called CZ-USA.
The Model 75 is still CZ's flagship auto pistol, and its many variations take up about 20 pages in the current catalog, but it is no longer the only show in town. A steady stream of other CZ pistols, rifles, and shotguns flow into our country, and some have become quite popular.
I've included a bit of history on the CZ 75 because the recently introduced Pistol-09 (P-09 for short) borrows a few of its time-proven design details. The most noticeable is how the slide attaches to the frame. On most autoloaders, with the 1911 being a classic example, the slide rides to and fro in grooves on the outside of the frame. CZ pistols are just the opposite; the slide fits inside the frame.
Ready for Duty
The new P-09 is a full-size version of the more compact P-07, which was introduced in 2009. The P-07 has a 3.8-inch barrel, weighs 27 ounces, and holds 16 9mm or 12 .40 S&W cartridges. The P-09 has a 4.5-inch barrel, weighs 30 ounces, and holds 19 9mm or 15 .40 S&W cartridges. At 5.9 inches, the P-09 is taller due to its longer grip, but the thickness of both pistols is the same at 1.5 inches. Otherwise, the two pistols are the same, including a steel slide and a polymer frame.
The P-09 can be fired single action by manually cocking the hammer and then squeezing the trigger. Its double-action capability allows the first shot to be fired by simply pressing the trigger, with subsequent shots fired single action. If you grew up shooting John Browning's 1911 pistol, you may prefer, as I do, to carry it cocked and locked. With its two-position manual safety installed, the P-09 can also be carried in Condition One. Engaging the safety blocks the sear and locks the slide.
Nothing new there, but here's something that is. If you'd rather have a decocker gun, then simply spend about 30 seconds replacing the manual safety with the supplied decocking unit. Squeeze the trigger to fire the first shot double action and then keep on squeezing for single-action pulls. Lowering the hammer on a loaded chamber is a simple matter of pointing the pistol in a safe direction and thumbing down the decocking lever, causing the hammer to travel forward to its safety notch. The first shot can also be fired single action by manually cocking the hammer, but with the decocking assembly installed, the gun should always be carried hammer down and never cocked.
Regardless of whether you choose to use the manual safety or the decocker, thumb tabs on both sides of the frame make the gun friendly to both right- and left-handed shooters. The decocking tabs are fine, but those on the manual safety could be improved by the addition of a narrow shelf for a more solid purchase by the thumb.
The magazine release button can also be switched to the other side, although I know left-handed shooters who will leave it as is because they have learned to punch it with the trigger finger as quickly as a right-hander can do so with his thumb. Rather than using up space explaining how to switch the magazine release or giving you the instructions on how to convert the gun from manual safety to decocker, check out CZ-USA's website.
The firing pin block works basically the same as the one on Colt's Series 80 pistol. The firing pin is blocked from forward movement until the end of a spring-loaded plunger protruding from the bottom of the slide is depressed by a pull on the trigger. This prevents the firing pin from making contact with the primer of a chambered round should the gun be dropped.
The 4.5-inch, hammer-forged barrel has six-groove rifling at a twist rate of 1:16 inches. Lockup is accomplished by John Browning's tilting-barrel design in which the breech end of the barrel is cammed into and out of engagement with the slide as inclined surfaces on its underlug ride against the slide stop pin. A properly angled and highly polished feedramp makes for smooth feeding of cartridges loaded with bullets of various styles. The chamber fully supports a cartridge all the way back to the edge of its extraction groove so you don't have to deal with excessively swelled cases when reloading them. The recoil spring is held captive by a steel guide rod.
Molded-in grooves on the frontstrap and backstrap of the fiberglass-reinforced polymer frame offer a no-slip grip. Included with the gun are three interchangeable backstraps of varying thicknesses. I didn't make a switch because the thinnest size came installed on the review sample gun, and it felt just right in my hand. The grip angle also proved to be correct for my style of shooting. When drawing from a belt holster and getting off quick double-taps, the sight picture was always there without me having to hunt for it. A roomy trigger guard allows shooting the gun while wearing thin leather gloves.
By the way, changing the backstraps is easily done, but care must be taken because the mainspring plug pin has to be removed, and it holds the mainspring plug and the compressed mainspring. Once that is safely accomplished, just remove the backstrap and swap in the new size backstrap.
An integral five-lug Picatinny rail at the front of the frame offers an easy way to attach a light or laser sight. Beveling at the mouth of the magazine well makes for snag-free recharging. Another nice touch is the integral lanyard loop at the bottom of the grip. And while it probably won't be used by a lot of American shooters, a lot of police in European countries will love it.
The rear sight is drift adjustable for windage, and the front blade is replaceable. A 0.120-inch-wide notch at the rear combined with a front sight blade of the same width, along with a sight radius of 7.75 inches, presents what I consider to be the perfect sight picture for a personal-defense gun, with just the right amount of daylight showing on both sides of the front blade. I have never been high on tritium inserts, but I have to admit one up front and two out back make it easy to locate the P-09 on a nightstand in the darkness.
Field-stripping for cleaning is a snap. With the chamber empty, hammer cocked, and magazine removed, retract the slide until small index marks at the rear of the slide and frame align and then push out the slide stop. If the slide stop won't budge, a few light taps on the exposed end of its pin at the right side of the frame should break it free. With the slide stop removed, lower the hammer and pull the slide forward and off the frame.
Magazine capacity is 15 for the .40 S&W and 19 for the 9mm. I have not tried the 9mm version, but squeezing the last three rounds into the .40 magazine became a bit tiring. I found a solution for that and have detailed it in an accompanying sidebar.
Passes with Flying Colors
I fired .40 S&W loads with five different styles of bullets: CorBon 135-grain PowRball; Federal Premium 155-grain Hydra-Shok; Black Hills 180-grain FMJ; and two Hornady loads, Critical Duty 175-grain FlexLock and Critical Defense 165-grain FTX. All delivered adequate accuracy well beyond typical personal-defense distance, but the Federal Premium and Hornady Critical Defense loads shared the small-group prize. I was surprised at the difference in recoil of the two Hornady loads. Critical Defense is faster, but Critical Duty is loaded with a heavier bullet, so before shooting them I figured there would be very little difference. Both loads are quite controllable in the CZ, but the Critical Duty is much softer shooting.
Reliability in a firearm you may have to bet your life on is far more important than minor differences in ammunition accuracy, and the P-09 passed that test with flying colors. In addition to shooting ammunition loaded with five different nose profiles, I shot it upside-down, left-side down, and right-side down, and it never missed a single beat.
The single-action pull started out rough but smoothed up considerably at about 100 rounds. A fair amount of take-up is followed by copious creep, but before being too critical we must remind ourselves that the P-09 is an off-the-shelf, high-capacity pistol and not a hand-built custom 1911. After all the shooting, pull weight measured an average of 48 ounces on my Lyman digital scale with a 4-ounce variation. I consider that quite good for any mass-produced pistol.
The double-action trigger is similar to the one on the older CZ 75B, and as is typical of a hammer-fired autoloader, it offers multiple-strike capability in the event a hard primer needs another tap of encouragement. Pull weight was close to 12 pounds, but smoothness made it seem lighter. The expected stacking was there, but it had no effect on my ability to shoot the gun accurately. During one of the test sessions, I fired several groups offhand at 10 yards and decocked after each shot so all rounds would be fired double action. I then fired several single-action-only groups, and there was practically no difference in group size between the two exercises.
I've carried Model 1911 pistols for many years, so it is doubtful that I will ever abandon John Browning's finest. But the CZ P-09 with a compact light attached to its accessory rail and filled with 16 .40-caliber cartridges might just be the ideal pistol for car or house.