It seems the deeper we get into this century, the less people care about revolvers. It’s almost as if they have become a forgotten platform. Suffice it to say the gun owners of this generation are missing out. After all, the day Samuel Colt submitted his revolving gun (American patent 138) — Feb. 25, 1836, for those who don’t know when to celebrate — the world of firearms manufacturing began to improve. Not by inches, but by leaps and bounds. Yes, there were decades of advances before that moment in 1836, but it’s still a day well worth marking on the firearms history calendar.
Taurus is working hard to keep the design and manufacturing of revolvers alive and well. The company has made plenty of appealing wheelguns, some of which are ideal for hunting and others for self-defense. The Taurus 856, however, is meant not just for general self-defense but for concealed carry in particular.
Now here’s the question: Should you carry one for self-defense? As a die-hard semi-automatic concealed carrier, I hesitated to answer. So I decided to put it to the test by carrying the 856.
The Nitty Gritty Details
At first glance, the Taurus 856 is an unassuming little gun. My review gun was matte black and small enough that it was clear my long-fingered hands would engulf it. When I picked it up though, I was pleasantly surprised by the feel of the soft rubber grips. I happily discovered that the angle of the grip felt comfortable rather than awkward. The pistol has an overall weight of 22.1 ounces empty and remains light — even with a fully loaded six-shot cylinder.
The 856 is machined well. Unlike guns of a similar price point, its cylinder is not loose. The cylinder release functioned reliably without sticking or catching. The frame, cylinder and barrel of my test gun were all carbon steel, but the revolver is also available in stainless. During dry fire, each chamber lined up properly with the barrel while remaining secure on the pin, and there does not appear to be a change in the cylinder gap as the cylinder rotates. The hammer is smooth with no sharp edges — an important detail on any revolver. Bottom line? The Taurus 856 might be affordably priced, but it’s machined to good standards.
The handgun is chambered in .38 Special and is +P rated. At the range, it ate a variety of ammunition, including Hornady Critical Defense 110-grain FTX, Remington Wheelgun 158-grain round-nose, SIG Sauer Elite Performance 125-grain FMJs and Inceptor 77-grain ARX. Firing offhand, the best five-shot group at 7 yards was 0.771 inches with the Hornady. At 10 yards, offhand, it nailed a five-shot group of 0.702 inches with the Inceptor. It sure seemed to like those frangibles.
Through 600 rounds and two different shooters, the 856 cycled reliably with no failures of any kind. But if you’re thinking revolvers can’t have failures, you’re wrong. They may fail less than semi-automatics, but fail they can — and do. Believing your gun is infallible because it’s a revolver could get you into trouble someday. When a revolver does fail, it requires an experienced gunsmith; your personal workbench won’t cut it.
The 856 is a double-action/single-action gun, so you’d better be capable of accurately firing double-action. Practicing with your gun only in single-action would be a serious mistake — and one you’ll regret if you’re ever forced to defend your life. For this reason, a smooth double-action pull is preferable. My Lyman Digital Trigger Gauge measured the double-action trigger pull at an average of 9 pounds, 3 ounces and the single-action pull at 3 pounds, 8 ounces. The pull itself does have some grit and stacking ahead of the break. It is neither an ideal trigger nor a bad one in my book.
Assuming you’re using a proper grip — thumbs-down with thumbprint pressed over thumbnail — your trigger finger becomes the focus. It’s possible you’ll need a bit more finger on this gun’s trigger than you would on, say, a Glock. Avoid wrapping your finger around the trigger, but do consider using a bit more finger than the typical first-pad placement. This can give you better leverage for greater control and an even, precise pull.
As with any trigger press, you want to pull straight back without disturbing your sights. Dry-fire drills are a fantastic way to hone this skill. Do not “ride the reset” like you might with a Glock. Do not alter your grip pressure while shooting at all. Maintain an even, firm grip throughout. Do not lose your patience. Double-action triggers take time to master.
Coming back to the question at hand: Can you use a revolver as your daily carry? Of course you can. There are a number of experienced shooters out there carrying five-, six- and seven-shot revolvers at this very moment.
Stepping my tests up a notch, I holstered the 856 and ran some drills. I used the Galco Combat Master for outside-the-waistband work and the CrossBreed Freedom Carry for inside the waistband.
My choice of drills was the MAG-40 qualification and the Dot Torture Test. Through both drills, I discovered that the pistol holds its own, performing above its price point. I also discovered that I need to spend more time running revolvers from the holster.
My drawstroke and accuracy improved with time though, and the pistol itself performed fine. The results were as expected from a revolver with a 2-inch barrel: It’s most accurate at distances under 7 yards but still nails an 8-inch target consistently out to 15 yards. When I decided to stretch it out to 25 yards, the group was scattered far beyond my liking, even firing from the bench. The groups remained on paper, but I’d prefer them not be larger than my wide-spread hand. While I didn’t clear Dot Torture with the 856, I was happy with its accuracy.
Speedloaders may seem intuitive and basic, but as with any tool, they still require practice to use without hesitation or fumbling. Consider the adrenaline dump you would experience during an attack. Now imagine needing to use a new-to-you tool with shaking hands and a racing heart. Get the picture? Good. Get some training.
Coming back to the question at hand: Can you use a revolver as your daily carry? Of course you can. There are a number of experienced shooters out there carrying five-, six- and seven-shot revolvers at this very moment. My personal preference is to use a small revolver, such as the Taurus 856, as a BUG (backup gun). That said, there are times when you’re forced to be in a non-permissive environment, and you need a gun well-suited to deep concealment. This little revolver excels at that.
Carried IWB with the CrossBreed Freedom Carry, the 856 all but disappeared under my shirt. The shape of the grip and lack of sharp edges gives revolvers an edge over the sharper, blunt outlines of most semi-autos. With an overall height of 4.8 inches, an overall length of 6.55 inches and a width of 1.41 inches, the Taurus is a reasonably small revolver. That’s approximately 1 inch shorter than a Glock 19 in height and length, give or take. Combine that inch with the gun’s curves and slimmer profile, and you have an ideal carry gun.
It’s not so tiny you cannot grip it properly and not so large it bulges noticeably beneath your shirt. You don’t have to carry IWB either. Using the Galco Combat Master, I simply needed an untucked shirt or sweatshirt long and loose enough to obscure the holstered gun.
The Taurus 856 was easily concealed and comfortable to carry. The grip didn’t dig into my waist like several others do, and it was well-positioned for a fast, smooth draw. On days I used it as my main carry, I slipped a speedloader into my pocket. Having a reload available while carrying a six-shot revolver is important, wouldn’t you say? (Guess what: It’s equally important with your six-round-capacity Glock 43.)
I use cylindrical speedloaders and speed strips depending on the gun and my pockets, but whichever method you choose, you need to train on it. Speedloaders may seem intuitive and basic, but as with any tool, they still require practice to use without hesitation or fumbling. Consider the adrenaline dump you would experience during an attack. Now imagine needing to use a new-to-you tool with shaking hands and a racing heart. Get the picture? Good. Get some training.
I’ve been pleased with the overall performance of the Taurus 856. It outdid my initial expectations. Its MSRP is currently set at $329, making it one of the better guns at this price point. As a general rule, I do not use any gun this size as my main carry — I prefer greater capacity and a somewhat larger frame — but it certainly works as a principal sidearm. It also fulfills deep concealment needs quite admirably and proved itself to be accurate and reliable. Most importantly, if you choose to carry a DA/SA revolver in any capacity, train double-action, learn to use a speedloader or speed strips, and carry a reload.
If you’re not yet in the scene, why not try something like the Taurus 856 as your potential gateway revolver? A whole new world of guns awaits.