Taurus 856: Return of a Classic Revolver

Taurus 856 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.

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
capacity6 rounds6 rounds
actiondouble action/single actiondouble action/single action
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 style rearfiber optic front, fixed trench style 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.

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.

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”

As for reliability and quality goes, I have a Rossi model 82 4″ that I have run several thousand rounds through on top of whatever Peruvian law enforcement officer put through it, yup it was a police turn in from……well, Peru with a lanyard ring and everything. I ceracoated the revolver and it remains dead on accurate….better than my abilities and has never had any issues. I also have a Rossi 971 from back when those revolvers were offered in 2.5″ configuration, in stainless and of course with the adjustable sights that 971 revolves still come with though they have eliminated the snubbie line and I dont even think they are available in stainless any longer. Of course Rossi is now owned by Taurus.
The only problem I have had with any Taurus handgun was an early issue 1911 which I had hell with and sent to Taurus twice to fix operational problems and sold it when it returned from its second trip. I hear later issued 1911’s by Taurus work fine but cannot personally attest to it. Save money, for a self defense withing 10-15 yard revolver these Rossi or Taurus handguns cannot be beat and are at least as accurate and reliable as their much more expensive Ruger or Smith or especially Colt counterparts.

Hi Casey,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with some classic Rossi revolvers. I’ve met several people who love their pre-Taurus guns and are not likely to give them up.

Regarding self-defense, I’m not worried about the price as much as I am with reliability. I’m willing to pay extra for a gun that has proved to be reliable. Of course, I’m not someone who is foolish enough to think that the most expensive pistol is the most reliable one either.

That said, I hope Taurus gets its act together and starts making guns I can count on. My new Spectrum that I bought this year is a dog – even after a return trip to the company to be fixed. It’s too bad, as I like the feel of the gun. Maybe someday they will get it worked out.


Does anyone know how the new, reintroduced Taurus 856 compares to the original Taurus 856 steel model and the 856 in magnesium?

I have both revolvers, a classic Colt Cobra (1972) and a new Taurus 856UL. Both revolvers will get the job done and I take both to the range with me. However, I carry the Taurus every day, while the Colt stays home in the gun safe. Why? Because if i need to defend myself, I don’t want my classic Colt Cobra to be rusting away in an evidence room until I get it back. The lower cost Taurus 856UL is, basically, my “throw down”. LOL … just saying.

In 18 years my Taurus revolver has run thousands and thousands of rounds. Zero defects, zero problems.

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