Taurus 856 Review: Revolver Option for CCW

by Travis Pike

January 11, 2024



The Taurus lineup is undergoing some major changes as of late, and they are seemingly getting rid of their old reputation for affordable guns with the occasional questionable quality. Guns like the Taurus 856 Defender have even shown a willingness to innovate. Today, we are taking this compact revolver for a spin to see how the new Taurus stands. 

Taurus 856 Specs

  • Caliber .38 Special
  • Action DA/SA
  • Capacity 6
  • Front Sight Ramp
  • Rear Sight Fixed
  • Barrel Length 3 in
  • Overall Length 7.5 in
  • Frame Stainless Steel
  • Weight 24 oz

The New Bull

Revolvers have always dominated the Taurus lineup with a smattering of automatics. In my experience, the Taurus revolvers have been flawed. Everyone I’ve ever had had an issue. A part broke, it was out of time, the hammer wouldn’t cock into single action, and more. Most of my experience with their automatics has been perfectly fine. Taking a dive into the 856 Defender felt like a risk, but in the last year or so, it’s like Taurus has stepped up. 

The 856 Defender is a new revolver from an old line. Taurus’s most famous line of revolvers is the Model 85 series. The Model 85 were snub nose, super compact revolvers that held five shots of .38 Special. It’s been part of their lineup forever, and a great many have been sold. The gun has been around forever and was the quintessential concealed-carry revolver.

Five shots are great, but wouldn’t six be better? Taurus found a way to squeeze an extra round into the chamber without adding any noticeable size or weight to the gun. The 856 has essentially taken over as Taurus’s micro revolver. However, Taurus didn’t stop there. 

The new Defender lineup takes the Model 856 and makes a few subtle changes. First, they stretched the barrel to three inches. Three inches gives a longer sight radius more velocity and cuts down a bit on recoil, muzzle rise, and concussion. It’s a little bigger, but it’s a worthwhile addition. 

Next, they actually equipped the gun with a full-length ejector rod. This makes clearing the empty cases out of the gun very easy to do. It’s a smart move, and Taurus could have just left the standard shorter 856 ejector rod in the gun. 

Other than that, the 856 Defender isn’t a lot different from the standard Model 856. It still has small grips and a compact frame. It’s no pocket revolver, but it offers you an excellent compact revolver that’s easy to tote and more capable than a snub nose. 

Taurus 856 Features

Taurus Defender 856 Features
1 Pinned Front Sight

Pinned front sight can be changed out if desired.

2 Full Length Extractor

The updated to a full length extractor makes clearing the spent brass out of the cylinders quickly.

3 Six Shot Capacity

Increasing the capacity from 5 to 6 is a nice touch.

4 Exposed Hammer

The exposed hammer allows you to shoot the gun in single or double action.

5 Rubber Grips

The rubber grips, while thin, do help you hang on to the revolver.

Models and Variations of the Taurus 856

The Taurus Defender 856 is available in either black or Stainless Steel finish and with either a 2 or 3 inch barrel. Some of the 2 inch models have the hammer concealed for less snags. The most interesting option is the T.O.R.O. variant, which is an optics ready revolver

Taurus 856 Review – The New Six Gun 

Taurus 856 Hand

I like revolvers, but they aren’t the guns I carry daily. I’m not super adept with a revolver, and when I got the Defender, I decided to change that. With the gun and a buttload of ammo, I went to the range and started learning how to six-gun. My ammo of choice is some 125-grain FMJs. I hit the field. 

As a defensive revolver, it’s most likely to be fired in double mode, so most of my shooting was in double action. I practiced at 15 yards and then began working my way back further and further. My target was a ten-inch gong. The Defender features a fixed front sight with a rear trench as the rear sight. It’s Spartan but usable. 

In double action, I could go as far back as 25 yards and hit the gong most of the time. I’d argue it averaged out to about four hits out of every full cylinder. The double-action trigger isn’t bad. It’s very smooth but quite heavy. 

For a stock revolver trigger on a budget revolver, it’s impressive, but it doesn’t stand up to a Performance Center trigger. When I cocked the gun into single action, the trigger got shorter and lighter, and I was able to hit that gong six for six the vast majority of the time. 

Taurus 856 Side

Time and Speed 

For self-defense shooting, the Defender is pretty easy to use. Using a B-8 target at ten yards, I was able to put two rounds into the black from a low ready in about 1.5 seconds. Keep in mind I’m an amateur with a revolver, and I’m betting I can get this a lot closer to a second. That extra inch of the barrel really helps keep the gun down and on target. It avoids what I call concussion shock that some people get the first time they fire a revolver with a sub-2-inch barrel. 

The longer barrel really aids in making the gun easier to shoot. It comes back to a perfect sight picture between shots. Squeezing off two or three quick rounds accurately won’t be tough at typical defensive ranges. 

The Defender doesn’t buck upward much, but it does buck rearward a good bit. That thin, hard rubber grip is a bit blade-like. It slams backward into your hand and will get tiring. I might be overselling this because I shot this thing a lot in a short period. Five hundred rounds through the gun left my hand a bit bruised. 

Working the Gun 

The ergonomics are pretty standard revolver stuff. The grips are well-textured and stick in the hand. I can’t complain about how they stick to the hand, but as mentioned, they are thin, don’t have a lot of room to grip, and do give you a punch in the hand. The cylinder releases in the S&W style. That full-length ejector rod does a great job of sending empties to the ground quickly and efficiently. 

One benefit of the thinner grips is they do allow you to work in a speed loader easily for quick reloads. Some smaller guns just don’t have the room between the cylinder and the grips, and that causes some fitment issues. The Taurus 856 Defender handles fairly well, and there are no major complaints. Outside of the full-length ejector rod, it doesn’t do anything different from most revolvers. 

My biggest worry was reliability. How does the gun handle after putting tons of ammo downrange? I felt impressed and relieved. I don’t want a gun not to work, and lord knows I’d be mad if I had a broken gun and a pile of .38 Special. The 856 Defender had zero reliability issues. As it got dirty, shells became a little stickier in the gun, and the 856 Defender’s trigger declined as carbon-coated the inside of the gun. An all purpose brush and some gun oil cleaned it right up. 

Taurus 856 Hero 2

856 Defender Pros and Cons 

  • Low muzzle rise
  • Easy to eject cases
  • Accurate
  • Hits the hand hard

Report Card


From a performance perfective, the Defender works very well. The one big downside is the recoil into your hand caused by those compact, easy-to-conceal grips.


Not one problem. The gun goes bang, runs brilliantly, and keeps ticking. It’s still solid even after an ammo can’s worth of abuse.


The ergonomics aren’t necessarily mind-blowing, but they are very solid. The cylinder release and the ejector rod are nice. Thin grips are the only real problem.


I suck with revolvers and could still make the steel ring. The little Defender’s longer barrel certainly makes it a solid shooting little gun. I can do a bit better with something like P365 XL, but I feel confident with the 856 Defender.


Like most Taurus revolvers, the 856 Defender is quite affordable. In fact, it might be the most affordable defensive revolver on the market.

Taurus Defender 856 Final Grade

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Taurus 856 Range Pack

Here are some items we think you will want when you take the Taurus 856 to the range:

  • Eye Protection: Keep your eyes protected by picking out one of our best shooting glasses.
  • Hearing Protection: With a short barrel, hearing protection is going to be important to have on hand.
  • Gun Cleaning Kit: Keeping a gun cleaning kit in your range bag will make maintenance quick and easy.
  • First Aid Kit – A good first aid kit is something you will want to have with you, not just for range trips.

Taurus 856 Gun Deals

Upgrades and Accessories for the Taurus 856

For your Taurus 856 we are suggesting a good holster, as with all handguns. We also think a good speed loader will help you feed your revolver faster while some upgraded grips may be more comfortable for extended range sessions.

Upgrades and Accessories for the Taurus 856

Tulster Rath IWB Holster
  • Modern polymer design
  • Can be modified with various attachments
  • Adjustable retention
Buy on Amazon
Replacement Grips

VZ Grips

VZ Grips
  • Wider grips
  • Made from G10
  • Round bottom design
Buy on Amazon
HKS Speedloader Series A
  • Six rounds
  • Twist to release
  • No cartridge jiggle
Buy on Amazon
Taurus 856 Hero Patch

Ammo for the Taurus 856

Here is some ammo that worked out well for us in our Taurus 856 Defender:

Range Rounds

Speer Lawman 38 Special Ammo

Speer Lawman .38 Special 125 Gr FMJs

Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.67

Self Defense Rounds

Hornady Critical Defense

Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special 110 Gr FTX

Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.93
Firearms Depot $1.06
Guns.com $1.15
Sportsman’s Guide $1.19
Brownells $1.24

Other Revolvers to Check Out

The Taurus 856 Defender made the top of our list for best CCW revolvers, but in its T.O.R.O. variant.

1 Taurus Defender 856 T.O.R.O.

Taurus Defender 856 T.O.R.O. Featured Image

Taurus Defender 856 T.O.R.O.

A red dot ready wheel gun chambered in 38 Special with a 6 round capacity.

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  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value A+

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How to Care for Your Revolver

This video will show you how to clean your Taurus 856 Defender.

Here are some links to the manufacturers website and user manual.


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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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