aiming taurus 856 revolver
For a revolver with a two-inch barrel, the author found the Taurus 856 surprisingly accurate.Brian McCombie

Semi-automatic pistols have overwhelmingly captured the concealed carry and self-defense market. With dozens of reliable, accurate and affordable semi-autos available than ever before, what gun lover could complain? There is one downside to this semi-auto dominance, though. Relatively few people thinking about a concealed carry/self-defense handgun even consider the alternative: a revolver. Case in point, the new Taurus 856 revolver, a lightweight and handy little six-shooter that’s as easy to carry as most smaller .380 Autos, but is chambered for the more powerful .38 Special loads. I used the Taurus 856 during numerous range sessions, with a variety of ammunition brands. I was a little skeptical about what this small revolver could do—until I shot it, that is. The Taurus 856 isn’t Dirty Harry’s huge .44 Magnum revolver able to make long-distance shots and, if needed, pretty much total a truck. But for what the small revolver is made to do—carry light and handy, and accurately put rounds into a target at self-defense ranges—the Taurus 856 is a great option for new shooters and veteran concealed carriers alike.

taurus 856 revolver backstrap
Rubber ridges along the handgun’s backstrap helped provide a solid grip and blunted the recoil.Brian McCombie

I put over 350 rounds of .38 Spl. Through the Taurus 856 and didn’t experience a single failure of any kind. Using the revolver in single- or double-action, every round went off smoothly; the empty brass popped out easily with a quick push of the ejector rod, as it should, and the rubber side-panel grips and the rubber ridges along the backstrap did a nice job of controlling the 856’s recoil.

The sights are small. Tiny, even. Which is the norm for a .38 Spl. snub-nose with a two-inch barrel. After I got familiar with the gun, I tried to use only the front sight to get on target. Many self-defense instructors teach you to put the front sight on your target and fire, especially for close-in encounters where speed is required. That didn’t work very well with the Taurus 856. My shots consistently landed about six-inches low when I used front sight only.

taurus 856 front and rear sights
The front and rear sights on the Taurus 856 are very small—but quite functional at close ranges.Brian McCombie

But, when I used both front and rear sights? I was impressed. Now, I was shooting close-in self-defense scenarios, with five yards as my shooting distance. Yet, when shooting double-action, I consistently pegged five-shot groups of two-inches and under at five-yards.

taurus 856 revolver five shot group
Author’s best five shot group, at five yards, measured just .608-inches with Hornady Critical Defense self-defense ammunition. Shots were taken standing and offhand.Brian McCombie

For accuracy testing, I used three brands of ammunition: Hornady Critical Defense .38 Spl. with a 110-grian FTX bullet; Remington Wheelgun .38 Spl. and a 158-grain round-nose bullet; and Sig Sauer’s Elite Performance .38 Spl., firing a 125-grain full-metal jacket bullet.

taurus 856 handgun and sig sauer ammo
At seven yards, the Taurus 856 and Sig Sauer .38 Spl. Ammunition were right on target.Brian McCombie

As noted, two-inch groups were no problem at five yards with all three brands of ammunition. But I was a little surprised at how tight I could drill five shots, in double action, no less. My best five-shot groups were .608-inches with the Hornady Critical Defense and, close second, .633-inches with the Sig Sauer Elite Performance.

Double-action is tougher to shoot well and accurately than single action given the longer, harder trigger pull in double action versus single and given the fact that you have to keep the gun on target while the cylinder rotates and the hammer is cocked. My initial shots firing double-action left holes all over my targets. With a little practice, I got much better.

My Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge measured the trigger pull weight at an average of 9.3 pounds in double action. When using the Taurus 856 in single action, the pull went down to a mere 3.8 pounds.

taurus 856 revolver in .38 spl
The Taurus 856 revolver in .38 Spl. Small, accurate and easy to carry.Brian McCombie

And how do the .38 Spl. loads match up to the popular .380 Auto loads? For comparison purposes, I used the ballistics charts at Ballsitics101.com for both .380 Auto and 38 Spl.

First, I compared my Hornady Critical Defense load in .38 Spl. to its Hornady Critical Defense counterpart in .380 Auto. Both use the Hornady FTX bullet, designed with a red FLEX Tip to aid expansion. The 90-grain FTX in .380 Auto produces 200-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, while the 110-grain FTX in .38 Spl. leaves the muzzle with 249-ft.lbs. of energy.

Neither rounds are exactly heavy artillery. Consider, Hornady’s 9MM Critical Defense provides 271-ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle, while Dirty Harry’s .44 Mag. cannon launches a Hornady FTX bullet with a staggering 993 ft.lbs!

Still, the .38 Spl. Critical Defense rounds supply 25-percent more energy at the muzzle than their .380 Auto cousin.

Comparing other loads, I found that other .38 Spl. self-defense rounds average between 30 to 50 extra ft lbs. of energy versus similar .380 Auto loads, with the .38 Spl. loads pushing bullets 15 to 30 grains heavier. Of course, you also need to factor in that most .380 Auto pistols also hold one to two more rounds versus the six rounds for the 856.

galco combat master holster
Galco’s Combat Master Belt Holster OWB fit the author’s body type the best of the two OWB holsters he tried out for daily concealed carry.Brian McCombie

I tried out the Taurus 856 for my daily concealed carry and found it was easy to keep hidden and that it rode comfortably on my body. I used three holsters: Crossbreed Holster’s Freedom-Carry, an inside-waist-band holster; Crossbreed’s SnapSlide holster, an outside-waist-band (OWB) holster; and Galco Gunleather’s Combat Master Belt Holster, an OWB made to fit a variety of .38 snubbies.

taurus 856 freedom carry iwb holster
The Freedom-Carry IWB holster, from Crossbreed, was made specifically to fit the Taurus 856 revolver.Brian McCombie

Crossbreed actually made the Freedom-Carry and SnapSide specifically for the Taurus 856, and both worked well. I preferred the Freedom-Carry as I am used to inside-the-waist-band carry. For OWB, the Galco Combat Master was a more comfortable for my body type than the SnapSide.

My Taurus 856 was matte black with the barrel, cylinder and frame made of carbon steel. Taurus also has a stainless-steel version of the 856 available with an MSRP of $20.00 more that the carbon steel model.

For actual street prices? A web search for the Taurus 856 revealed that gun shop prices for the carbon steel 856 ranged between $260 and $280. For that price, I don't know where you're going to find a better little revolver.

Taurus 856 Revolver |SPECS:

Caliber:  .38 Special
Capacity:  6-shot
Action Type:  DA/SA
Barrel Length:  2”
Weight:  22.10 oz.
Overall Length:  6.55”
Overall Height:  4.8”
Width:  1.41”
Material: Carbon Steel Cylinder, Frame and Barrel.
Finish: Black Matte 
Sights:  Serrated Ramp Front/Fixed Rear
Firing System:  Spurred Hammer
Grip:  Soft Rubber
MSRP:  $329