Among the most interesting of the introductions at the 2018 SHOT Show was the Taurus 856 revolver. The revolver illustrated—the 857—is even newer, and at present, a bit difficult to obtain. In this day of 8-shot N frame revolvers and 7-shot GP 100-sized handguns, the Taurus 857 is big news in a real way. Those carrying the snubnose .38 revolver now have a truly compact design that carries six, rather than five, cartridges.
Five cartridges is cutting it slim in a defensive encounter. Six seems to be a magic number we are more comfortable with. It is the old debate of a J frame .38 versus the Colt 6-shot Detective Special. The 856 revolver shoots more like a 5-shot J frame than a 6-shot Colt, but it holds six cartridges. This is good to have! The 856 is a steel frame revolver. The 857 is an aluminum frame revolver. The 856 is compact enough and rides light, but the 857 rides even lighter. Either one would be an exceptional 6-shot double action revolver with exposed hammer chambered for the popular .38 Special cartridge.
The revolver features a ramp front sight and well-designed fixed sight in the top strap. The action is smooth enough to be mastered by those who practice. The double-action press allows a trained shooter to make good hits to 10 yards or so. The single-action trigger breaks at 4 pounds (or a little less), and is quite crisp. The grips are very well designed.
The most important design feature of the grips is that the rubber grips are offset from the frame in a manner that prevents the metal frame from contacting the hand during recoil. This is pretty important. Checkering on the sides and backstrap of the grips is well done. There is a slight shelf or finger rest on each side of the grip that guides the finger to the trigger on one side and may act as a thumbrest on the other. The design of the grip seems to raise the bore axis and allows good leverage when firing.
When the .38 Special 5-shot was first introduced, it was often referred to as a .38 on the .32 frame. This was correct. When introduced, the I frame Smith and Wesson was chambered for the .32 Smith and Wesson Long and held six shots. Later, the .38 Smith and Wesson versions introduced held five shots.
The J frame, with its lengthened chamber and wider frame window, chambered the powerful .38 Special cartridge. Modern technology, applied to a 1890s design, now allows six shots in the J frame envelope. The revolver handles and shoots like a J frame, but holds an additional shot. Let’s look at the Taurus 856 and 857 closely.
|Taurus Model 856 and 857|
|Action||Double action and single action|
|Barrel length||2 inches|
|Overall Length||6.5 inches|
|Weight||856, 22 ounces, 857, 12.5 ounces|
On the firing line, I began with the Federal Match 148-grain Wadcutter. This is a superbly accurate target load. In the Taurus, the primary advantage is low recoil. I fired a box to familiarize myself with the revolver. This isn’t the smoothest double-action trigger on the market, but it is consistent and allowed good hits to seven yards. It took more concentration to make double action hits at 10 yards.
The wide smooth trigger works well for good leverage. With the single-action mode of fire, center hits on man-sized targets were possible at a long 25 yards. However, this is a stunt with the snub nose .38. At close range, the revolver is accurate enough to hit a reptile or rodent and dispatch it, which makes it a good boat or hiking gun. (Postscript – after firing over 200 cartridges in the course of a couple of weeks, I have grooved into the piece and found that by staging the trigger, bringing it back just short of the hammer breaking, taking a good sight picture, and dropping the hammer, accuracy was much improved over the first outing.)
In other words, this piece is as accurate as any 5-shot, two-inch barrel revolver. I also fired two potent personal defense loads. The Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok +P is powerful, expands well, and offers good penetration. This load is a handful in the Ultra Lite revolver. While controllable and comfortable due to the rubber stocks, muzzle flip was pronounced. A specialized load that offers good control, and expands well, is the Federal 130-grain HST. I would load either, but the HST is probably the better purpose-designed choice for snub nose revolvers.
I used the Blackhawk! all leather IWB and pocket holster with the Taurus 857. Frankly, it was stretch for these J frame holsters. After a break-in period, I had them working well with good speed, but they would have been too loose to use with the 5-shot Taurus 85, as an example. The Taurus 857 is a lightweight .38 and might be a live saver in the right situation. In any case, peace of mind comes cheap with this revolver.