One of the more overlooked pistols on the market today is the Tanfoglio Witness imported by European American Arms. It has long been trusted by competitors in the various action pistol disciplines, especially IPSC, and it is based on the proven CZ-75 design. The Witness is available in a variety of calibers from .22lr through 10mm, in steel and polymer frames, several finishes, and with a selection of frame size and slide and barrel lengths. This article will focus particularly on the polymer frame standard model Witness in 10mm.
Options in current production 10mm handguns are sparse. Apart from the Witness, the only other options in current production are the Glock 20 and 29 as well as various 1911s that come in and out of production with the seasons. One of the most attractive features of the Witness is its price. The standard model polymer frame can be had for under $450, brand new.
In 10mm, it holds 14+1 rounds and the frame feels a bit slimmer than the G20SF, which is a not insubstantial feat. 10mm is a long cartridge to shoehorn into a pistol’s grip so one might reasonably expect the grip to feel awkward in the hand. It is large, to be sure, but the contours are pleasant and there is no superfluous material at the front or back of the grip to unnecessarily lengthen it. The grip has an aggressive texture as well that helps to maintain a solid purchase, even with wet hands. That is an especially important feature in the 10mm version. The 10mm cartridge is one of the most powerful that is seen in an auto pistol.
10mm is ballistically similar to .357 magnum, but the wider diameter means lower sectional density, which generally results in less penetration and slightly greater tissue damage with bullets of the same weight and design. As powerful as the 10mm is though, the real strength of the cartridge is in its versatility. A person can load a few magazines with a 165 gr JHP at about 1,300 fps for personal defense and load another magazine with a 135 gr JHP at 1,500 fps for varmint or small game hunting and another with a 220 gr hard cast bullet at 1,200 fps for large animal defense or big game hunting. The Witness can fill several very different roles simply by changing magazines.
In addition to the versatility that the 10mm cartridge offers, the Witness offers even more versatility in its ability to easily change between calibers. Witness pistols come in .22lr, 9mm Parabellum, .38 Super, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm. They also are available in a number of finishes, frame sizes, and barrel and slide lengths. There are even more refined versions such as the “Elite” series, which feature hand fitted parts and semi-custom triggers or other more premium features.
Most of the parts are interchangeable. This virtually endless variation means that there is a version for nearly any need a person could have for a handgun. The .45 ACP pistol will accept a 10mm barrel, slide, and magazine. The 10mm pistol can be converted into .40 S&W with just a barrel and recoil spring change. Any caliber slide will fit on any caliber frame, so long as they are both of the new style. A few years back, Tanfoglio made one frame size for 9mm and a larger frame size for .38 Super, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm. All currently manufactured pistols use the same frame size, though. As convenient as it is for anyone to be able to convert a pistol from 9mm to .45 to .22lr, this feature will be of special interest to those who are required to list by serial number each pistol they own or plan to carry on their firearm owner’s ID card or concealed handgun permit.
The CZ-75 design on which the Witness is based is a solid foundation, featuring a low bore axis and a true DA/SA, or double action/single action, trigger. Double action means that the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer, while single action means that the hammer is only released by the trigger. For a pistol to have both action types simply means that if the hammer starts in the down position, pressing the trigger will cock the hammer and then release it and if the hammer has already been cocked, pressing the trigger simply releases the hammer. The double action trigger stroke is very long and heavy, a feature that many prefer for safety. The single action trigger stroke is short and light.
On the standard model, the DA trigger stroke is smooth enough to allow for reasonably accurate shooting but there is a noticeable click as the hammer passes the half cock notch.. The single action trigger has some slight creep and the break is not as crisp as it could be but there is little take up and also little over travel. Perhaps more importantly, the reset is short and positive, providing an audible click as well as a clearly obvious tactile indication that the sear has reset. While the trigger on the standard model is not particularly refined, it is no great impediment to defensive shooting and the triggers on the more expensive variants in the series such as the Elite, Match, or Hunter versions are much nicer.
One of the more striking features of the CZ-75 and the Witness is the unusual design of the slide. While most automatic pistols ride atop the frame on rails that fit in grooves on the inside of the slide, the CZ-75 and the Witness has a slide that rides inside the frame on rails that fit grooves along the outside of the slide. This results in a clean, unique look. The slide does have less real estate for grasping, and that does have a slight effect on the ease of slide manipulation, but after one grows accustomed to the difference, it is not a real handicap.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the design of the slide is that it results in a much lower bore axis than more traditional designs. That means that the barrel is situated lower in the frame, more directly in line with the shooter’s hand and forearm. There is less leverage for recoil to torque the pistol upward and the gun exhibits less muzzle flip. This does nothing to reduce the amount of force transmitted to the shooter, but the perceived recoil is lower and it takes less time to get the pistol back on target.
The Witness may be carried with the hammer fully cocked, or with great care, the hammer may be lowered by holding it while pulling the trigger so that it may be carried with the hammer down or in half cock. The manufacturer recommends that the pistol not be carried with the hammer fully down. The safety can be engaged while the hammer is in any position and it also prevents the hammer moving backward. That means that if the pistol were kept with the hammer down or at half cock and with an empty chamber, the slide could not be withdrawn to chamber a round until the safety was disengaged. The slide can still be withdrawn enough to visually check whether the chamber is loaded, though.
The magazine release is located right where any red blooded American would expect it and is positive. The safety also operates in the direction to which many of us have become accustomed, with down being fire and up being safe. The slide stop protrudes far enough to activate easily, if you are inclined to use that method to reload your pistol.
One peculiarity of this pistol is that the slide stop has enough mass that when the magazine is inserted with gusto, the slide stop is nudged “down” by its inertia, releasing the slide and chambering a round. This may or may not be considered a feature, but it is interesting. In testing, the behavior was perfectly consistent. It actually takes conscious effort to insert the magazine slowly enough to not automatically release the slide. The trigger is curved sharply, which may be unfamiliar for some shooters, but is appropriate to a pistol with a double action mechanism. It is also serrated, though, which is a feature consistent with a gun that is expected to be fired mostly in single action.
Disassembly of the Witness should be fairly intuitive for anyone familiar with the Browning style of automatic pistols. After unloading the pistol, the slide is withdrawn slightly and the slide stop pin is pressed from the right side of the pistol, then the slide stop can be pulled out of the frame. Next, the slide assembly is removed by sliding it off the front of the frame. Then the recoil spring and guide rod can be removed by tipping up and pulling out to the rear, and finally the barrel can be removed in the same manner.
Reassembly is the reverse, of course, with the final step being that the slide stop pin is inserted after aligning the hole in the frame with the cam slot under the barrel while keeping the barrel in its locked position in the slide.
Internally the Witness, like the CZ-75 after which it was modeled, is an interesting blend of 1911-esque features such as the locking lugs atop the barrel and the firing pin stop, and design elements that were entirely original to the CZ-75 such as the innovative slide design mentioned above.
Few manufacturers offer stock holster models for the Witness and even fewer production holsters are available for polymer framed Witness pistols. For open carry, the author had a custom Kydex holster made by Jason at TCB Firearms in Queen Creek, AZ (http://www.tcbfirearms.com/holsters.html). He offers a variety of style and color choices and will often make minor changes to the design at no extra charge. He uses very thick Kydex, which results in strong retention and a tough as nails holster that will hold up for years. The Alpha model shown cost $75. He has molds for many of the more common pistols in stock but if he does not have a pistol in stock, you can ship your handgun to him for him to make a custom holster to fit your specific handgun. He does not charge extra for this service and federal law does not require you to use a licensed dealer to receive return shipment of a firearm you already own, though your state laws may differ.
For concealed carry, the author purchased an Alien Gear inside the waistband hybrid holster. Hybrid holsters are typically constructed of a wide leather piece which has a Kydex shell affixed to it. The wide leather piece distributes the weight and pressure nicely, making the hybrid design the most comfortable way to carry inside the waistband.
The Alien Gear product is not as polished as similar products from Crossbreed or Comp-Tac but the price can’t be beat. The base model costs $30, less than half the price of the holsters sold by their competitors. Additionally, the outer Kydex shell can be replaced with another shell fitting a different handgun. They sell additional shells for $10 and will allow you to trade one outer shell for a shell fitting a different model of handgun at any time for no charge. They have a 30 day money back warranty as well as a lifetime replacement warranty.
They say you get what you pay for and with the Witness you can pay for what you want to get. Whatever it is that you want from a pistol, the Witness likely has a model to fit that need. Whether you want a simple, affordable carry piece or a nearly custom competition pistol, the Witness is a solid, dependable choice at a fair price.
Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan. Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.
Photo credit – Andrew Betts