[Editor’s note: Taurus announced the new Defender 856 at the 2020 SHOT Show. The new guns are +P rated with a 3″ barrel and a front night sight.]
Taurus USA announced the return of the Model 856 revolver.
While the gun is interesting on its own, I find that it is an even more compelling introduction when it is put head-to-head with the Colt Cobra. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first take a look at what the gun is.
Just the Facts
At its most basic, the Taurus 856 is a 6-shot, compact revolver with a steel frame. It comes in at less than 1.5 pounds unloaded and is chambered for the venerable .38 Special cartridge.
The gun has sights typical to concealed carry revolvers of this size: a fixed front ramp with a trench-style rear that is integral to the frame and top strap.
Taurus uses a set of its own rubber stocks on the gun. I’ve not had a chance to shoot a gun with these grips yet, but they look to be an improvement over some of the grips the company used in the past. The profile looks similar to Pachmayr Compac grips I’ve used occasionally on my Smith & Wesson J-frames.
(Update: Taurus will introduce new frame colors for the 856 at the 2019 SHOT Show.)
Six Shots or Only Five?
When Dirty Harry asked that question, he was talking about the rounds in his 6-shot .44 Magnum. But a lot of cops were asking themselves the same question when that movie was released. Should their backup gun hold six shots, or only five?
While many compact wheel guns use a 5-shot cylinder to decrease the gun’s width, there are a lot of people who are hesitant to give up that extra round of ammunition in their defensive handgun.
Guns like the Colt Cobra battled the 5-shot J-frames from Smith & Wesson for position in the ankle holsters of cops in the 60s and 70s. That single extra round of ammo made the decision easy for a lot of lawmen. A little extra width and weight were a cheap price for 20% more firepower.
With the renewed interest in the compact revolver, companies have expanded their wheelgun offerings in recent years. This includes Colt, that rolled out its updated Cobra in 2017.
Bull vs. Snake
The new Taurus 856 is a direct competitor to the new Cobra. Both are compact, steel-frame revolvers with 6-shot cylinders.
There are differences, of course. Here’s a look at some of their specs:
|Taurus 856||Colt Cobra|
|Caliber||.38 Special||.38 Special|
|Unloaded Weight||22.1 oz||25.0 oz|
|Frame Material||carbon steel or stainless steel||stainless steel|
|Sights||serrated front ramp, fixed trench rear||fiber optic front, fixed trench rear|
|Grip||Taurus branded rubber||Hogue Overmolded|
|Finish||matte blue or matte stainless||matte finish|
While I would prefer the Colt’s fiber optic sight to the Taurus’s serrated ramp, the specs seem to heavily favor the Model 856 when you factor in the final comparison: the price.
The Colt Cobra is more than twice the price of the Taurus 856.
I would never buy a self-defense handgun on price alone. However, the huge price difference is likely to sway many people standing at a gun counter.
For me, the key differences are the ones not listed in the spec chart above. What kind of reliability can I expect out of each gun? How smooth is the trigger? Does the gun feel good in my hand?
Those are things that I can only determine through testing of the guns.
Taurus USA and its parent company have been through some rough years. I don’t know if the bad times are truly behind them, but I do like the guns I’ve seen announced at the SHOT Show this year. The guns expand on the company’s best lines and are interesting enough to bring in new buyers.
The Model 856 seems to be introduced with the same reasoning. It is a known winner and is competing in a popular niche with relatively little direct competition: compact, 6-shot revolvers. With such an inexpensive MSRP, I suspect these guns will be good sellers.
If Taurus quality control can keep these guns in the hands of its customers and out of the repair center, I think this gun can go a long way in restoring trust to the Taurus brand.
Last Update: October 17, 2022
48 replies on “Taurus 856: Return of a Classic Revolver”
I bought a Taurus 856 about a week ago. In reading the owners manual I noticed that Taurus recommends that the revolver be carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. I thought that the use of a transfer bar made it safe to carry with a full cylinder. What am I missing?
Nothing. I also have an 856 (Spurless hammer variant) and I’ve taken it down a couple of times. The firing pin will not engage with the hammer unless the transfer bar is moved into place by the trigger. I’m pretty sure they’re only advocating that to be extra extra extra safe, just in case by some wild coincidence a pebble got in there between the hammer and the pin and you shot yourself. That’s a scenario with an almost zero chance of occurring, provided you at least carry with the hammer down, which is how you should be carrying a revolver to begin with.
I bought a 856UL mid 2019 and have had no problems with it. It shoots as straight as I can. Itâ€™s somewhere on me every day. No complaints. It has done everything Iâ€™ve needed it do.