If you’re a serious handgun shooter, the sort of person that sees a rainy afternoon as a great opportunity to dry fire – or spends too much time thinking about how 1/32 of an inch removed here, or 5° rounded there might improve your gun… eventually you are going to want a serious pistol. One that was designed for true perfection, and to maximize the shooter’s ability to perform. There are a few options out there, and more and more throw their hats into the ring every year. Because while the sales of the top-of-the-line performance models might not be staggering in numbers – the prestige associated with them can be. And it can lift the entire brand. But what if that brand is already considered among the upper echelon? Why, then it just becomes legendary.
Such a pistol is the CZ 75 Tactical Sport Orange, or TSO. It is one of the most elite production handguns on the market. Let’s explore why.
WHAT IS A TSO?
My experience with the TSO began when the gun I evaluated for this review arrived. Never before have I held, much less fired, this coveted CZ pistol. To understand its status, we should first understand the lineup of CZ’s elite class handguns. Built upon the legendary CZ 75 design, these pistols reside in the “Competition” category of the CZ catalog. This includes the Shadow series, the A01-LD, and the flagship of the brand, the Czechmate. Nestled into the sizeable price gap between the Czechmate and the other competition guns is the TSO. Perhaps the best way to think of the difference between the two is to think about, Production division versus Open division. The Tactical Sport Orange is essentially the crowned prince of the Czech manufacturer’s handgun line.
The TSO is a big handgun, as a quick browse of the specs will tell you. But, as is the case with virtually all CZs, what the numbers can’t communicate is the feel of the gun in the hand. The ergonomics of the TSO make it feel much smaller. Building from the foundation of the CZ 75 design, the TSO has a deep grip tang with full-length beavertail, which drives the web of the shooter’s hand deep into the pistol. Below that, the doglegged backstrap finds the natural crease of the hand and accommodates a natural grip angle. The razor-thin aluminum grip panels add almost no thickness to the gun and combined with the SA trigger, make for a short and comfortable trigger reach. Controls are well placed for the right-handed shooter and are even improved over previous versions of the TSO. Frankly, the first thing you’ll notice when you lift the TSO is the weight. At 47 ½ ounces, it is a very densely heavy handgun. Far too heavy to be IDPA legal, you’ll need to find other outlets such as IPSC and USPSA. It is also wonderfully suited for Steel Challenge.
Once your eyes get accustomed to the vibrant orange milled aluminum grip panels, which are the signature aesthetic of the pistol, you’ll see the generous magwell and the pre-installed support-hand thumb rest (known at the range as a “gas pedal”), and you’ll know what this gun was built for.
Recent changes to the TSO reflect the company’s ability to listen to its customers and respond to their desires. The most common upgrades or modifications for new TSO owners involved the safety switches, magazine release, and magwell. The latter was more often complained about than any other detail, to this writer’s awareness. Previously, where the magwell joined the frame of the handgun, there was a very pronounced offset in the size of the opening, which resulted in a ledge large enough to easily snag the leading edge of the steel magazine and foul a reload. I was not aware that CZ had rectified this mistake until I took delivery of this pistol and was pleased to see the fit a much more beveled and blended one. It is now unlikely you’ll catch a magazine on it. This is a very subtle but huge improvement. Next, the safety catches have been addressed. This one is probably going to raise a softer cheer because personal preference for the size and feel of safeties is near that of triggers.
But the most commonly heard complaint about the old ambidextrous safeties was that the right-hand (left side) switch was not wide enough, causing users to sometimes miss the swipe in the heat of competition; and that the left-hand (right side) control was too wide and beat the right-handed shooter’s metacarpophalangeal joint (the big knuckle) on the trigger finger to a pulp. CZ has swapped out the previous ambi-switch set for a standard configuration that provides the right-handed shooter (what I think is) an ideal setup. The left switch is wide and gently bent, making it easier to both activate and deactivate, plus it also serves as a shelf for the strong-hand thumb while shooting – a grip style that most single-action shooters prefer. On the flip side, the safety control is nearly flat – just a well-milled hump that stays clear of the trigger finger, no matter how high you choke up on the gun. Lefties were obviously under-represented at the table. At the time of this writing, it is uncertain if parts are available to reverse this exact configuration, although one can revert to the previous-gen safety selectors. And last of the three, but by no means least, the magazine release has been upgraded to bear a large rectangular face like its sister, the Shadow 2. The oversized mag release is also made of nicely milled aluminum in matching bright orange to accessorize the grips. These three changes may just strike out the “almost” part of “almost perfect”.
SHOOTING THE TACTICAL SPORT ORANGE
I expected the TSO to feel heavier when I first extended it toward my target. Don’t get me wrong – you feel the 47 ½ ounces of weight, but it feels very balanced in the hand, with the center of gravity working together with the shooter’s physiology in a way that just can’t be an accident. The next thing you’re likely to notice is the sight picture, which is as good as any I’ve seen on a factory competition gun. I generally prefer a front sight blade that nearly fills the rear notch (combat style), but the TSO has a very thin blade out front that leaves the shooter more ‘wiggle room’. That extra air space on either side of the sight is both a blessing and a curse – and which it probably depends on whether your cup is usually half full or half empty. It allows you to be off-center by a couple of degrees and still have a pretty normal looking sight picture, but the uptick of this is that it offers you the ability for precision that the wider, slot-filling front sights just can’t. It will make you work those fundamentals – but the reward will be much greater accuracy. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation by click values but only adjustable for windage by drifting the sight.
Next in line for things you’ll notice, is the ergonomic design that makes the CZ TSO feel like it was tailor-made for you. From the deep grip tang under the full beavertail, to the dogleg backstrap that fills the natural crease of the palm, to the generous checkering front and rear that makes it stick. Add to that, the generous undercut of the trigger guard that aids the high grip, and the large magwell that is a perfect place to wedge the pinky finger of the support hand.
I’ve never used a forward thumb rest (gas pedal) on a handgun and wasn’t sure how I’d like it – or if it would force me to adjust my natural grip. The good news for me is that it is perfectly located, and I found it natural and very helpful to use. Your mileage may vary, as grip style and hand size could make a significant difference.
The trigger on the TSO is a dream. I know guys that take a brand-new pistol home and break out the Dremel and start fishing through the drawer of springs before they’ve even tested the new gun. You probably know one or two like that yourself (especially if it’s you). But I honestly don’t know what more one could do – apart from using the provided adjustments to fine-tune pre-travel and over-travel – to improve the trigger. And frankly, if a sub-two-pound trigger on a handgun isn’t light enough for you, I’m a bit frightened. But being the only significant polymer part on this otherwise all-steel gun, I was curious how it would feel in live-fire – hoping there wouldn’t be any squish or flexing of the material. I was unable to discern any. I left it just the way the factory set it, as that seems to fit my preferences nicely. It has a very small amount of take-up, and then a wall that breaks so crisp and light, it’s like snapping a raw strand of angel hair pasta. There is zero overtravel. Adjustments are available, but I found no need to tamper with them.
Regarding the polymer trigger, I’ll admit I was a bit curious as to why CZ would choose that material for the TSO when obviously no expense or quality had been spared elsewhere on the pistol and its packaging. A viewer on my YouTube channel commented that the reason for this choice was because a metal trigger shoe, such as aluminum, essentially becomes a heat sink during rapid, “spirited” shooting – and the polymer trigger does not conduct heat to the shooter’s finger, as do the metal ones. This makes good sense, and until proven otherwise I am going to assume that’s the reason.
What all this should add up to is a pistol that shoots well. At the end of the day, that’s all that counts. And it does. Very well indeed. I feel like I should apologize to the TSO for making it look bad because there is nothing I can do besides take away from the gun’s inherent accuracy. Which means that when I do my part, it is a tack driver. I like to do most of my testing with off-hand shooting and medium distance, but when you’re testing a CZ 75 TSO the urge to put it on a nice rest and make 25-yard groups is strong. I shot four groups of five shots from a CTK Precision rest at 25 yards, using a variety of very common ammunition that I know to be reliable and produce consistent results. SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance V-Crown ammo made an incredible group that fit inside a 1-inch square and just about had all holes touching. Save a single flyer (likely the fault of the shooter), the Federal 124 grain ball ammo did all pass through a single ragged hole.
In a more practical test, I fired an entire box of Remington UMC 115 grain FMJ from 12 yards at a 3” target dot. Of those fifty – 2 rounds escaped the dot. Once again, I think we know where the blame belongs. What this test indicates to me is how easy it is to shoot the TSO well. Fifty rounds in a row is fatiguing for anyone, and yet the ergonomics, clear sight picture, and trigger made light work of it.
But this gun is more often used by action sports shooters than bullseye shooters, so it is also important to mention the qualities related to the mag-dump crowd. This gun is a triple-tap machine, and beyond. The weight, low bore axis, superior ergonomics, and a trigger that is close to mental telepathy allow a skilled shooter to make Swiss cheese out of the zero ring in about a single second.
JUST MY OPINION
I stipulate that I am a fan of the CZ 75 design. After all, the design that turned Jeff Cooper’s head away from the 1911 had to be world-class and ready for serious business. It is all that, and also at the time of its introduction (in 1975, hence the name) it was highly innovative – almost revolutionary. And like the 1911 it has weathered the test of time and has spawned countless clones and variants. The “inside out” slide to frame fit has become as distinctive as the brand name itself. That lowered bore axis got the attention of competition shooters from day one.
The Tactical Sport Orange is on the top shelf of the CZ handgun line and commands a price that begs the question of value. If the CZ 75 is that good of a design inherently, then why pay three or four times more for one because it has pretty orange parts?
One downside to plan for if you buy a TSO – quality holsters for it are scarce. I looked for a quality rig that would accommodate the thumb rest, to no avail. There are only a small number of holster makers that offer one for the TSO, such as Red Hill Tactical – who are completely unresponsive to customer inquiries. It would be nice to see CZ-USA contract with someone reputable like Blade-Tech and have them available. I’ll find one eventually – so far, I’ve only learned who not to buy from.
As mentioned above, the TSO is not about sales records or being the model you find in every gun store. Most CZ shooters start with a variant of the ’75, such as the SP-01 family, and after realizing the potential for excellence with the design, they usually start modifying. A trigger job here, new grips and better sights there… and soon they have nearly double the investment. This is usually the point where that shooter starts to look at the top shelf models. How do I know? Because I am that guy. This TSO didn’t show up as a test gun for me to abuse and return… nope, this was a personal purchase.
The internals are honed to a fine polish, the slide rails are finely machined and fit ultra-tight. The match-grade barrel is fitted to the pressed-in bushing, and the guide rod rides in a polymer sleeve to keep it running true. These things, combined with the trigger work, extra parts included, and beautiful fit and finish – including those pretty orange milled aluminum parts, clearly provide the value for the price – in this writer’s opinion. No buyer’s remorse here. Just a solemn prayer that the ammo shortage will end.