For the first couple of years after the introduction of the IPSC Production Division, it was won by production pistols. But over time, boundaries were tested and grey areas were explored.
Production Division was established as a cost-effective alternative to Standard Division after the 1999 world shoot. Dave Sevigny won the Division at the next World Shoot in 2002 with a Glock. Take note, a Glock 17, not a Glock 34. A Glock 34 is a sporting pistol, and did not make it on to the IPSC’s Production Division List because of a barrel length limitation. (That other sport, the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), on the other hand, had no problem declaring the Glock 34 a Stock Service Pistol that can realistically be carried every day.) But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The next World Shoot in 2005 was won by Adam Tyc with a CZ SP-01. According to my research, the SP-01 could still be considered a production pistol, since it was developed on request of a Special Forces unit wanting a CZ75 with a tactical rail. That was not the case anymore with the SP-01 Shadow with which Tyc won the next World Shoot in 2009. Based on his recommendations, amongst others, CZ removed the firing pin block from the SP-01, lightened some springs, extended some controls and added sports sights to create the first pistol tailored to IPSC Production Division.
Robert Vogel briefly wrestled the Championship back for Team Glock at the 2011 World Shoot, but the next two World Shoots belonged to the Tanfoglio Stock II in the hands of Eric Grauffel (2014) and Ben Stoeger (2017). The Stock II followed the same recipe as the Shadow, but put a unique twist on the “production” moniker by proving to be almost impossible to find, earning it the nickname “Unicorn”.
Few people will bet against Eric Grauffel in 2021, this time with a CZ Shadow 2 Orange in his hands. Unlike the Shadow 1, the Shadow 2 is said to be designed from the ground up for IPSC Production Division. The Orange version tops this with some “gunsmithing modifications”, completing the journey to custom-designed, hand-fitted, production division.
So does this mean that Production Division has become a farce? Not at all. Top honours still go to the shooter who puts the most practice rounds downrange. (Paid for by the manufacturer who sells enough sporting pistols to club shooters because of his achievements.) Club shooters can still be competitive with their carry gun before moving on to a sporting pistol. The basic formula is still sound: 9mm scoring only, limited magazine capacity, reasonable trigger pull weight limits. It is when you start prescribing intricate details that it becomes the epitome of the phrase “herding cats.”
It makes good sense to allow some modifications to production guns. Adding some sports sights to a budget gun is a whole lot cheaper than buying a purpose-built sporting gun. The rules attempt to limit these modifications, in order to limit the costs, but this lead to some amusing consequences.
According to legend, Angus Hobdell of CZ Custom stumbled on to the fact that disconnectors from the very early CZs reduced the trigger pre-travel significantly when installed into the latest Shadows. So after shooting a European match, he visited the CZ factory and purchased all the stock lying around after they discontinued those pistols. They were production legal because they were CZ manufactured, and worked really well, so he sold lots of them. And then some more. And lots more. Until he ran out of stock. And then he must have discovered some misplaced ones because suddenly he had stock again. And then other companies discovered they also had some misplaced stock and there were enough “pre B” disconnectors for everybody for years.
Some consequences were less amusing. Limiting some modifications to those “offered by the original firearm manufacturer” should have prevented exotic modifications, but in reality it created a monopoly that left us paying up to double for original upgrades than for aftermarket. Other consequences were not funny at all. Some rules are pretty straightforward in the context of the pistol that the rule makers had in mind, but becomes quite vague when applied to a different pistol. This sometimes left competitors at the mercy of whatever Range Officer was inspecting their equipment. Every time a top official tried to clarify a rule, it paved the way for more questions: “So if these are allowed for that reason, then what about those?”
Since the adoption of the latest rules (January 2019), "Aftermarket springs and trigger assemblies are permitted." This is good news. It means that a few simple upgrades can make the trigger on a Shadow 1 or Glock Gen4 equal or better than that on the latest generations, thereby actually keeping costs down. It also allows for competition, keeping the cost of the upgrades down.
There is still some vagueness, though. A subsequent rule interpretation clarifies as follows: "A trigger assembly is defined as a mechanism that, once the trigger is pulled, activates the firing sequence of a firearm." Great. Now I need clarification of what "activates" means. Is it meant to be distinguished from "activated?" Oddly, a broader definition would have reduced the uncertainty, not increase it. Thankfully, most people seem to interpret it that way.
After watching this for a couple of years, I came to the conclusion that the vagueness is part of the plan. Detail rules in a complex system have a limited shelf life, as described by Peter Senge’s third rule of Systems Thinking: “Behaviour grows better before it grows worse.” The recipe for maintaining control seems to be changing the rules when you are about to lose control, then slowing change down with just the right amount vagueness.
Rules are a part of life. They play a crucial role in balancing the interest of the individual with the interest of the group. Get it right, and everybody shoots cheaper. Get it wrong, however, and you can easily fall foul of Senge's fifth rule of Systems Thinking: "The cure can be worse than the disease." As a company, I would prefer better-defined rules because we often get approached for advice that requires staying inside the rules. As a shooter, however, I like the more open rules of the latest incarnation. People with older equipment can close most of the gap to a Shadow 2 Orange without breaking the bank, allowing them to focus on what matters more - practise.