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”

I bought a new Taurus 856 UL that has a cylinder that holds 6 rounds and the revolver weighs about the same as the Smith 637 and is just as accurate and can also utilize +P ammo and loaded with +P Underwood ammo the old .38spcl sure can cause some severe tissue damage.
Also one must remember that when attacked there are often no witnesses and in these peculiar times it might be the best course of action to just “walk away” and to play it safe one might consider removing the firearm unfortunately used from the planet or at least from where it could possibly be found and one could more easily afford the loss of said firearm if using the comparatively less expensive Taurus. It sounds cold but then again the situation was not of the defenders making.

I bought a new 856 yesterday from Rural King for $269.99. Brought it home, inspected it and cleaned it. It had no cosmetic problems that I could find so I took it out to the back yard and shot it. It has a very nice and easy to pull double action trigger. I also find it more accurate for me than most other snub noses. I am very pleased with it but I have only shot about 1/2 box of ammo through it. I also have an older (2002) DAO only 605 that is very well built.

my dad had a Rossi .38 in the 80’s when I was a teenager, so buying this Taurus 856 a few days ago ($270) was a no-brainer. it’s basically the same gun, and fun to shoot. wish it came in blued, but settled for the matte black. makes a great BUG, and I might go back to buy another.

I carried a Taurus 85 UL for 20 years as a backup on an ankle holster. I qualified with it quarterly so it has had considerable use. I would not hesitate to carry it now that I am retired. It has some holster wear but functions perfectly.
I also have a Taurus 82 three inch revolver that has served me well.
I recently bought a Taurus 856 UL and found it to be a quality firearm, especially for the price point. The trigger is a bit heavy but I’m certain with use and practice it will get better. If not a 5 minute Wolf spring change will do the trick. I don’t care for the factory grip and will be replacing it with some type of a three finger wooden boot grip. That said it is still functional. It’s simply my personal preference.
I have never had to send one back for repair so I can’t comment on the process.
Don’t be afraid of a Taurus. As with any gun, take it to the range and shoot it. Work any bugs out before depending on it to save your life

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