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”

I now have 3 Taurus revolvers, a 605, 617, and 627. After purchasing the 605, I liked it so much that I sold a Smith & Wesson and Ruger to buy the other two. The 617 is now my daily carry, the 605 my nightstand weapon, and the 627 my woods gun. Taurus has had their problems, but they currently make fine revolvers with the best double action triggers on the market.

The author hits the nail on the head in his end statement “If Taurus can keep these out of the repair center…”A human body needs all of its parts working together to function. So to a company.Taurus has the worst repair center I have ever dealt with. I sent in a gun for warranty work and it took them six months to send me back my gun (now rusty)without repairing it and no excuse why it took them so long to do nothing.It needed a centerpin which I ended up fitting myself due to the companies total incompetence. This is not a unique case it is unfortunately the rule. (R.I.P. Taurus you were once a great gun maker )

I am new to Taurus and have shot some guns but really not smart on guns. I bought the Judge and love the feel but my wife can’t pull the trigger. I was thinking of the Taurus 856 for her. She has never shot a gun and I was wondering about the trigger if it is easy to pull? Also I don’t understand the single/double, does that mean you can just pull the trigger or have the option to pull the hammer back? Thanks, Steven

Hi Steven,

Thanks for reading my article and taking the time to post your comments and questions.

The terms double action and single action refer to the specific mechanical processes that allow a gun to fire. In the interests in keeping things simple, a double action gun often has a longer, heavier pull than a single action gun. Some guns are double action only (DAO) or single action only, while others transition to single action after the first double action shot has been fired.

Many, but not all, modern revolvers like the Taurus 856 are double action guns. However, by cocking the hammer it does make the gun’s next trigger pull single action. Some revolvers do not allow for the hammer to be cocked, and many semi-automatic pistols do not have external hammers that can be cocked either.

There is a good chance that the 856 trigger will be similar to that of your Judge revolver.

In general, some of the easiest kinds of guns for a new shooter to learn on are striker-fired, semi-automatic pistols such as the Glock or Smith & Wesson M&P. The triggers tend to be easy to manipulate while the ergonomics of the guns make for relatively easy shooting.

If your wife is interested in owning a handgun, I would suggest locating a quality firearms instructor in your area. A good instructor will have a variety of handguns – semi-automatic and revolvers – that she can try. Once she has shot a few different firearms, she will quickly be able to determine what she likes and shoots best.

I hope this helps. Feel free to post any additional questions if you think I might be able to help.


Thank you for your time. I was also looking at the S&W 638 but I want to be sure it is a DAO.

The Smith & Wesson 638 is a nice gun. Like the Taurus, it is also a double action, but not double action only, gun since the shrouded hammer is also able to be cocked into a single action position.

A Smith & Wesson 642 is a good example of a DAO gun. It has an internal hammer that is not able to be cocked by the shooter. I’ve owned a 642 since the mid-90s and like it a lot. It is not, however, a beginner’s gun due to the recoil, heavy trigger, etc. If this is for your spouse, I’d recommend letting her shoot it before spending the money on one.

Another good DAO gun to consider is the Ruger LCR. I find the Ruger LCR is a great handgun for carry with a smooth trigger and good ergonomics. I prefer the look of the S&W 642, but the LCR is a solid workhorse that is every bit as reliable and the Smith. While it shares the same general drawbacks of any small revolver when it comes to recoil, noise, etc it might be worth taking a look at.


I have many handguns, revolvers and autos. SIG, Ruger, S&W, Colt, H&K and a lone Rossi M65 38 Spl. with a 3″ barrel that has many thousands of rounds through it and is my favorite plinking pistol. That is why I decided to purchase an M856, the price was a benefit and the little pistol has the best trigger of any of them except my Python. I do carry it and it’s in rotation with my Walther PPS and Ruger SP 101 depending on the time of year, clothing and destination. Great quality, fun to shoot and +P rated it’s what I drop in my pocket the most often. As for the sights, they’re fine and besides I live in NY so if I’m taking the time to aim my shots most likely I’m going to jail because my life wasn’t really in danger and I had time and space to retreat. In all a great little pistol that I can highly recommend and do enjoy.

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