No-Limits Competition Models!
I’ve never shot an unlimited gun in any kind of competition, so I’ll confess I never quite understood the attraction. After all, they sorta’ look like an air-conditioning unit you’d see on the roof of a building. All angles and blocky-bits, with levers and widgets sticking out all over. What’s the deal?
While I’ve spent my share of time on ranges of all kinds, competing in the earliest days of “combat” matches, PPC, 3-Gun (before it was called 3-Gun) and lots of local bull’s-eye and informal club matches, I’ve never “needed” an unlimited gun. After unboxing the “Witness Gold Custom Eric” (for Eric Grauffel, Tanfoglio’s shooting star) I now know I’ve been missing out on something completely game-changing.
But first let’s get up to date. What we have here is an interesting mix from Tanfoglio (say it like this: Tan-foe-glee-o). These very high quality autos are imported into the US by European American Armory, who represents Tanfoglio here. Think of these three autos as a “good, better, best” situation. Or as I do now, after shooting them — “great, greater, greatest.” And I mean that.
Tanfoglio has been around as a gun-maker in Italy since 1900, making guns and gun parts. Then, in the early 1980s they produced their TA90, basically a CZ-75 clone, and nicely made. Keep in mind, in Europe, often the CZ-75 is thought of as their “1911” so there is a huge market for both the design, after-market parts and custom modifications, so there is a lot of attention to re-engineering this basic design. Just like the 1911 here. This model was followed up in 1986 with designs by Fratelli Tanfoglio, specifically intended for competition. Early models were for IPSC and IDPA competition, and today’s models have expanded on those original designs. They are all based on the CZ-75 style. Some are dedicated single actions, while some still have the ability to fire DA/SA and even cocked and locked carry.
As of today, these designs have won the IPSC World Championship 5 times, the European Championship twice, and many local, national and international events the world over. They are tried-and-proven designs, all showing extreme care in materials, craftsmanship and execution. Frankly, I came away from this test very impressed with these guns.
Witness Elite Stock II 40
Made specifically for IPSC Production Class competition, this is an all-steel, brawny pistol, with DA/SA or cocked and locked carry options. The coned muzzle/barrel locks up solidly when mated to the closed slide and that, along with the polygonal rifling in all three models, must be one of the secrets for the amazing accuracy all of the guns exhibited. Note the extended, full-weight dust cover, adding a great deal of stability to the design. In stock form, the basic CZ can feel muzzle-light, especially when a magazine is loaded to full capacity.
This model is a .40 S&W, with a 14+1 capacity, of carbon steel, nicely hard-chromed. At 43 ounces, it’s stable and helps to handle the snappy recoil of full-power .40s. The barrel is 4.5″ and the gun has an overall width of 1.4″, to give you an idea of the size. This is no lightweight carry gun, although it would make a solid duty gun for uniform police, or belt holster carry. The low-mount adjustable rear reminds me of a Bo-Mar and the extended mag release offers a fast-find for your finger. The mag well is funneled, front and back straps are nicely checkered and the beavertail and ambi-safety are nice touches.
A skeletonized hammer is likely to offer a snappy fall, and the slide lock lever is bold and easy to manipulate. The slide has forward serrations to help with press-checking, but unlike a 1911, these are sort of recessed and protected by the heavy dust cover. I doubt they would tear up a leather holster the way forward serrations on a 1911 can do. There’s also a full-length guide rod, if you like that sort of a thing.
The DA/SA or cocked and locked action is nice, but one caveat is needed. When the hammer is cocked (after chambering a round, for instance, or after firing) you need to press the trigger while holding the hammer back to then safely lower it. There is a firing pin safety, so if you manipulate the trigger carefully, you can engage the firing pin safety as the hammer lowers the final distance. Then you can elect to carry it DA/SA with the safety off or on, or cocked and locked (with the hammer cocked and safety engaged, like a 1911). Either way the safety sweeps “down” for off and “up” for on, like a 1911. Some foreign models work the opposite (and some early S&W autos) which for 1911-trained thumbs often turns safety manipulation into a real goat-rope.
The only really strange thing I found is the squared triggerguard. That’s sorta been a non-issue now for 20 years or so. It doesn’t really interfere with the operation or handling, and might even allow a bit more room to find the trigger when you’re working fast, but it kind of dates the pistol’s profile. I’d like to see this design in the future come with a classic rounded triggerguard. However, I do know some European shooters tend to use the “finger on the triggerguard” grip so that’s probably the reason the design has stayed.
The Stock 40 II shot extremely well with the four or five factory loads we ran through it. Best groups came with some Black Hills .40 S&W (Barnes TAC-XP) and hovered right around the 1.25″ mark at 25 yards. However, all of the ammo shot into essentially the same general size, and nothing went over 1.5″ or so. The only thing I’d do to this pistol would be to have a pistolsmith who knows these guns do a careful action job to smooth out the DA stroke, and make the SA crisp, with no creep or drag. This might fix with more shooting, but I honestly don’t know since we only put about 400 rounds through it. At a full list price of $1,126, it’s a remarkable value, and you’d need to spend a good deal more than that to get a 1911 offering many of these features. And you’d still not have the DA/SA feature if that’s important to you.
Witness Elite Limited
Think of this one as a sort of “Witness Gold Custom” — light. It’s got all the bells and whistles of the zoop-deluxe top-end unlimited model, without the barrel porting and compensated upper and fancy aluminum grips. It doesn’t come with the rail mount, although the frame is drilled and tapped if you want to go that route. Our model is in .40 S&W, although, like the Stock II, it’s available in 9mm, .45 ACP and 10mm.
It’s a single-action-only model, with bigger ambi-safety than the Elite Stock II. The left safety also has a thumb-guard to keep your thumb from rubbing against the slide as it runs. Other details mirror the Stock II, including the squared-off triggerguard, nicely checkered wooden grips and adjustable sights. I have medium-sized hands and found while the grip on both of these models was big, I could actually handle the guns well, mostly due to the beautifully designed grip profile (very much like a Hi-Power) and aggressive checkering.
Trigger pull (SA only, remember) measured right at 3.5 pounds, but honestly felt lighter. I guessed it to be more like 2.75 or 3, so was a bit surprised. It did have a tad bit of creep prior to let-off, but reset was sure and it might “shoot-in” with a bit of use. As with the Stock II, ergonomics were great, function perfect and accuracy tended to hover closer to the 1″ mark with the same Black Hills ammo. I think this was mostly due to the better trigger since the other mechanicals are the same.
The huge mag well is cleverly designed, the big safeties are easy to use and the enhanced mag release is easy to find and manipulate. If this fits your game, I doubt you could match it for over-the-counter “ready to go” bells and whistles. At around $1,344 at full retail, this is an solid pistol for the money. Screw-on a red-dot mount and you could compete with the big boys in any category you like. Once again, I’m impressed.
Witness Elite Gold Custom
This is the real deal, with everything anyone would ever need to compete at the highest levels of world-class competition. Our test gun came with a red-dot rail mount and a “gas pedal” on the left side to rest your forward thumb (if you shoot in the “thumbs-forward” mode). That little touch works well, and I found the thumb pressure helps to keep muzzle flip down. There’s also a cocking handle so you can operate the slide while optics are installed.
Speaking of muzzle flip — there isn’t any with this gun. Our sample is in .45 ACP (also available in .40 S&W, 9mm and .38 Super) so I expected a bit of recoil. Even though they were heavy guns, I was surprised how snappy of the recoil of the .40s were in the Stock and Limited models, so thought the Custom would be similar. I had forgotten about those ports and comp. Called a “V-12” by some competitors, the two rows of six holes (six on each side of the slide top), in conjunction with the comp, kill virtually any muzzle flip and recoil. This honestly felt like I was shooting a very soft-shooting 9mm — or even less. I changed back and forth between the other models and the Custom and kept grinning. If you have someone recoil sensitive, let them shoot your Custom and I promise they’ll grin too.
I have an 8-plate rack in my back-yard and confess I must have burned up 300 rounds just blasting away at it enjoying how the muzzle simply tracked from one plate to the other, with virtually no disturbance. Watch out Leatham … I’m coming after you now. Ha!
A nice touch, and something really helping to contribute to the controllability of this model are the slender aluminum grip panels replacing the standard wood ones. They change the whole feel of the grip profile, and allow even guys like me with smaller hands to get a solid grip. If I owned a Stock or Limited, the first thing I’d do is install a set of these grips. They are truly game-changing.
Accuracy was startling. I expected the Elite Gold Custom to shoot well, but what it delivered was actually stunning. I mounted a Burris FastFire III red-dot sight to the supplied rail mount, screwed everything down tight and took a zeroing shot at 25 yards. A bit of windage and elevation tweaking had me dead-on fast.
The Burris was easy to mount, easy to zero and is even 100-percent water-proof. It’s light and takes up hardly any space, yet offers an easy-to-find dot if you’re working fast. The dot on our test model is a 4 MOA dot, which is good for fast work, but I think we could have managed even better groups with a smaller dot. I’m going to find a suitable scope with crosshairs and wring the Custom out for accuracy at 100 yards, just to see what it can do. This model might easily do double-duty as a 100-yard hunting handgun.
After zeroing at 25, I shot a few factory loads but settled on the AYSM 185 Barnes TAC-XP HP. Maybe there is something about Barnes bullets and the Tanfoglio design, but the Gold Custom shot it like hell’s-afire. I literally got one-ragged-hole groups at 25 from a rest. It was amazing to see the first round hit the bull, then the hole merely get a bit bigger as I finished a 5-round magazine.
I moved things to 50 and scrounged around until I found a target pretty much matching the diameter of the red dot at 50 yards. That helped to make aiming more precise. Turning down the glow of the dot also helped to define it more clearly. And even being hampered with the dot sight, 1.5″ (or so) groups at 50 yards were easy to shoot. That kind of grouping at 50 yards is usually very hard for me to hold, even if the gun I’m testing is capable of it. But the essentially zero recoil, good trigger and machine-like accuracy of the Gold Custom honestly made it easy, as long as I manipulated the trigger well.
I’m honestly not sure, but everything points to this being a 1″ gun at 50 yards with the right ammo and maybe a cross-hair sight. I can hardly wait to see about 100 yards with good optics. As it is, I was able to hit my 100-yard 18″ gong 100 percent of the time from a rest. Aim, press, bang, clang. Again and again. It’s eminently satisfying — and addictive — to have this sort of accuracy and comfortable shooting at-hand. I just wanted to keep shooting this gun all day.
Overall, I put about 600 rounds of all sorts of .45 ACP through it. Accuracy never faltered (it held tight groups with anything I fed it, with some loads as standouts), and it ran like a top. I squirted some oil on it once or twice, and I’ll tell you the ports made a bit of a mess with carbon fouling — but it ran … and ran … and ran. What’s all this cost? How about $2,145 at full retail list price. So, for that money, you put a red-dot sight on it and then go compete against anybody, in any competition in the world where a gun like this is used. No years waiting for a custom pistolsmith to do their magic, no scrounging for parts, no wondering if it’s all going to work once it’s together — it’s a done deal once you simply buy it over the counter. And that’s sensational, if you ask me.
The Point Is?
The more I thought about this series the more I liked the idea of them. For about the cost of one high-end custom 1911, you could have three pistols essentially “custom” made for certain competitions. Another thing is you could certainly use the Stock and Limited for home defense or even carry if you liked, doing double-duty with them. Maybe one in 9mm, one in .38 Super and one in .45 ACP? Or how about the Stock in .40 as a competition/carry/defensive pistol, a Limited in 10mm as a hunting handgun (also doing double-duty as a defensive auto) and an Elite Gold Custom in your favorite caliber for no-holds-barred competition (and you could likely squeek a bit of handgun hunting in with it too!). EAA can also supply “uppers” of the various models so you could actually upgrade your existing model to something else. They are drop-on conversions.
I’m a strong proponent of using “families” of products from a single manufacturer. Whether it’s reloading components, tools, optics or even holsters, not only are products from a single maker designed to work together, it’s also easier to become familiar with how the “family” operates, making transitions easy.
In this case, these three models from Tanfoglio have shown me they are sound designs, well-executed, showing careful attention to fit, finish and details, and they proved to be completely reliable. The fact you can transition from one to another without pause is an added benefit.
Consider my eyes having now been officially opened to this surprising company, and their enticing handgun designs. It’s going to be very hard to send the Elite Gold Custom back to EAA!
By Roy Huntington
Photos By Chuck Pittman
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/eaa, (321) 639-4842
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