Taurus 856: Return of a Classic Revolver

[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.

Taurus 856 revolver

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 856Colt Cobra
Caliber.38 Special.38 Special
Barrel Length2″2″
Overall Length6.55″7.2″
Unloaded Weight22.1 oz25.0 oz
Frame Materialcarbon steel or stainless steelstainless steel
Sightsserrated front ramp, fixed trench rearfiber optic front, fixed trench rear
GripTaurus branded rubberHogue Overmolded
Finishmatte blue or matte stainlessmatte 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Taurus 856 Custom
Since this article was written, Taurus introduced multiple versions of the 856 revolver including this model with special VZ Grips.

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

By Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a gun writer, amateur historian and - most importantly - a dad. He's done a lot of silly things in his life, but quitting police work to follow his passion of writing about guns was one of the smartest things he ever did. He founded this site and continues to manage its operation.

48 replies on “Taurus 856: Return of a Classic Revolver”

“The Colt Cobra is more than twice the price of the Taurus 856.”

It is also twice the gun. Period. Taurus is junk.

Hi Shawn,

Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

Taurus has had more than their share of problems in the QC department. Like I said, I would never buy a self-defense gun on price, and the gun would have to prove itself before I would recommend it.


The 856 is a tried and true model. I’m glad to see its making a comeback – I bet they’ll sell a ton. I’ve personally had great luck with Taurus revolvers…I browsed your comments – you don’t have anything positive to say – about anything really. I bet you’re hell and Jesus at a Christmas party! “Taurus is junk” – come stand in front of one of mine then, tough guy AHAHAHAHAHA

I must say the Taurus 85’s I have owned of late have been really nice … Better triggers out of the box than any out of the box newer production S&W J frame I have owned , including the performance center J frame models …From what I have read the 85 is going to be replaced by the 856 …. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Poly 85’s turn into Poly 856 ….
The 856UL is on my short list !

Thinking about a new gun, why do you say Taurus is Junk? Not trying to be a wise ass, but are you stating this on fact or personal opinion? I have been doing research on Taurus and not finding anything that will back it up. I know it is not a Sig, Glock, Ruger, S&W or HK, but my new Malibu is not a Caddy. BMW, Mercedes or Lincoln but a Chevy. But I wouldn’t consider it Junk.


I know your question is directed toward Shawn, but I figured I would chime in.

While I hesitate from making a blanket statement that Taurus is junk, I also would urge caution on selecting a firearm. While I hope Taurus makes quality Model 856 revolvers, the company seems to have an extensive history of inferior quality control and marginal customer service.

For example, I purchased the new Taurus Spectrum a couple of weeks ago for testing. The gun would not function correctly and I’ve now shipped it back to the company for repairs. That was after spending more than an hour on hold waiting to talk to a human in the customer service department.

Previously, I reviewed the Taurus 709 pistol. That gun had issues and the customer service experience was unique – they fixed one problem but broke the sights.

While I had a good experience with the 905 revolver, I again had issues with the customer service folks. I returned the gun to them after the loan period. After a few weeks, I got it back in the mail saying it had been “fixed.” Bizarre.

These are just a few of my personal experiences. The class action lawsuit against them (surrounding guns discharging and injuring people due to alleged mechanical defect) is a fairly well known issue the company is still dealing with. Of course, there are also several videos that have surfaced of Taurus guns firing while “on safe”.

I’m hesitant to call all Taurus guns junk. However, I don’t blame anyone who feels that way either.



Well I can state for a fact that of my experience with Taurus have been great and thay are very far from being junk guns. I’ve got a Taurus 709 Slim 9mm that a hold really tight pattern at 25 steps and I got a Smith & Wesson SD 40 ve that is ABOUT to go back Smith & Wesson for the second time. if it’s not shooting all over the place is shooting low and to the left and iam right hand . I had a Taurus 40 caliber compact never had a problem out of it it don’t matter what gun or Gun Company you buy a gun from sometimes you going to get them that you’re just not a good gun. it’s just the way it is but to call another brand junk but you have to call them all Taurus junk as maybe you had bad luck or got a lemon some gun they all have flaws they’re built by man enough said. I trust my Taurus 9mm over a Smith & Wesson all day long as I just got off the phone with Smith & Wesson in the SD stands for self-defense well if you got a gun that you can’t even hit nobody with not very good self defense and that’s one of your big name companies I’m not calling them junk the gun just got problems .have a GOOD day

This is for Richard V about his Chevy Malibu: your Chevy Malibu is actually a Toyota Camry in drag clothing. You picked a great car!!

Guns: I don’t own a Taurus, but I won’t rule it out because with today’s CNC machining and international standards for quality control all manufacturing is getting better and better.

Cheers! Mike P

If you look back with an unbiased opinion ALL MANUFACTURERS have released lemons and none of them are not experiencing quality control issues. It’s not to judge just Taurus that way. Here is just a few examples of duds released by the so called established companies; the Colt Double Eagle, Smith&Wessons Sigma 380, 9mm and 40 S&W. Have you checked the double actions the new S&Ws lately? They’re not what they used to be. I let go of a Ruger SP101 because after 8 to 10 shots the cylinder would lock up, my 856 shooting the same loads fired nearly 100 rounds with no problem. Am I saying Taurus is the best I’m just judging by my experiences, yours may vary. What I’m saying is what I said in the beginning about lemons and quality control that effects all manufacturers today. So let’s not be selective in remembering who makes a bad gun.

Opinions are like aholes, everybody has one. Taurus will drop you like a rock, just like a Colt. Unless you plan on running 5000 rounds through it, which most people would never do in 100 lifetimes, the Taurus will get the job done.

Interestingly, I have run way more than 5000 rounds through my Taurs 85, including a lot of hot hand loads, and +P.
The gun is now 35 years old. So 35 years of shooting many thousands of rounds, sometimes a thousand a week.
I decided to send it in to Taurus to be freshed up, and to test their warranty. They said they wanted to replace the cylinder, but because of it’s age, and the difficulty of getting a cylinder, they offered to replace the gun, free of charge with the new 856. I decided to take the new gun, though I will miss the 85. I loved that gun.
So, I had a gun that functioned perfectly for 35 years, and had hard use with the hot handloads and +P ammo, and Taurus is replacing it. Thanks Taurus.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for sharing a fantastic story about your model 85. Taurus just announced that they will now back the 856 with a lifetime warranty, so you should be able to get similar service from them in the future.


Taurus is absolutely not junk. In the late 1980’s, they made some stuff that was VERY questionable, but their quality has steadily improved since then. I bought my wife a 586 on 5/7/2020. The trigger is heavy, and long, as it should be on a pocket gun with no safety. I compared the fit and finish on the 586 to a Smith and Wesson model that is very similar, and other than the Taurus being blued and the Smith being stainless, I could tell no difference in the two(the Taurus is available in stainless, my dealer only had one in blued. The Taurus was $249, the Smith was $409, i bought the Taurus). The triggers on most guns nowadays are sprung up to hopefully prevent lawsuits, so new guns now require trigger work to get them to a place that most enthusiasts would call acceptable. Nowadays, all I ask is that a gun have nice fit and finish and not jam up……the Taurus 586 meet my criteria, and the spring kit will be here in 2 days.

Now make it with a Centennial-type frame & dovetails to install night sights & you have a winner!

Self-defense is a subset of combat. Night sights on a self-defense handgun can be useful for a lot of people.

I’m not sure how many people would want them on a hunting handgun, however. I imagine most handgun hunters would prefer better precision than night sights tend to provide (assuming you are aligning the dots, etc.)


Nor did I say that anyone does. I was responding to your comments about the application of night sights on a firearm. In case I was not clear, let me restate:

1. Night sights on a self defense handgun are a good choice for many people.
2. Many, if not most, handgun hunters would not willingly choose to use night sights on a hunting handgun as they tend to be less precise than other sighting options.

My comments in no way suggest that anyone hunt with a short barrel revolver. Rather, I am addressing your statement that night sights are not appropriate for self defense weapons – just “combat or hunting.”

I hope this helps.


Is the only difference between the model 85 and 856 one round of 38 caliber cartridge ?
Taurus must think it will sell.

Where did I say it wouldn’t sell? I was just referring to the only difference in the 85 and 856 was one cartridge.

This would be great for CCW. I still hate that revolvers are more expensive than semi autos. It makes zero sense when they are cheaper to make. Because of this I don’t buy revolvers anymore. Only semi autos.

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