The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)

Authors Gun Reviews Handguns Jordan Michaels Revolvers
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)

Recommending a revolver to a new shooter isn’t always a great idea, but I get the impulse. There’s something friendly about revolvers. The mysterious black magic of auto-loading handguns can be intimidating to the uninitiated, but wheel guns present a familiar face to newbies, and the analogue design is easy to understand.

Taurus certainly hasn’t ignored their revolver line even as they wheel out new striker-fired offerings. As millions (literally) of prospective new gun owners descended on gun shops around the country this year, Taurus was well-positioned to meet their needs with reasonably priced handguns of both varieties. I’m not privy to sales numbers, but I’d be shocked if the 856 Defender lagged behind any of their other self-defense handguns.

The 856 Defender is the 3-inch-barrel version of the popular 856 line of snub-nosed revolvers. Chambered in .38 Special (+P), the 856 Defender is capable of holding its own in a self-defense situation, and it’s small enough and light enough to carry comfortably. With attractive options between $390 and $450 MSRP, the Defender is a revolver for the everyman and a welcome addition to any wheel gun arsenal.

Click here to check it out on Taurus’s website.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
Shooting the 856 Defender is a blast.


Basic Specs

  • Item Number: 2-85635NSVZ
  • UPC: 7-25327-93389-2
  • Capacity: 6 Rounds
  • Action Type: Double Action / Single Action
  • Firing System: Hammer
  • Front Sight: Night Sight with Orange Outline
  • Rear Sight: Fixed
  • Grip: VZ Black/Gray
  • Cylinders Included: 1


38 Spl +P


  • Frame Size: Small
  • Barrel Length: 3.00 in.
  • Overall Length: 7.50 in.
  • Overall Height: 4.80 in.
  • Overall Width: 1.41 in.
  • Weight: 25.52 oz


  • Extended Ejector Rod
  • Night Sights


Transfer Bar


  • Frame Material: Stainless Steel
  • Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
  • Cylinder Material: Stainless Steel


  • Frame Finish: Matte Stainless
  • Barrel Finish: Matte Stainless
  • Cylinder Finish: Matte Black

Click here to check it out on Taurus’s website.

The .38 Special for Self-Defense

The .38 Special gets a bad rap as a self-defense cartridge mainly because it’s been famously eclipsed by 9mm plastic pistols in virtually every law enforcement agency in the country. It’s sort of like the beauty queen who loses in the final round to Halle Barry. Is she ugly? Not at all. But everyone remembers her as the one who wasn’t quite pretty enough.

Bad metaphors aside, here’s some hard data for you.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The .38 Special is a fine self-defense cartridge, especially when using Hornady’s Critical Defense.

As you can see, the .38 Special is ballistically comparable to the 9mm, and bumping up to a +P load will shrink that gap even further. You might argue that a +P 9mm would reinstate the energy gap, and you’d be right. But the .38 Special is without question in the same ballpark as it’s more popular brother. With self-defense bullets like Hornady’s 110-grain FTX, the .38 Special has more then enough juice to get you out of a self-defense situation in one piece.

Nine-millimeter fans will counter that their favorite handguns can carry quite a few more rounds than anything in .38 Special. The 9mm’s shorter dimensions allow gun engineers to design magazines that hold 8, 15, and even 30 rounds without being too cumbersome. The .38 Special is great for revolvers, but after the advent of the 9mm, manufacturers haven’t bothered to make .38 autoloaders.

That additional capacity is a powerful argument against the .38 Special as a self-defense cartridge, but it’s not airtight. There’s an entire self-defense philosophy based around the idea that most self-defense incidents take place in under three seconds, from three yards away, and in three rounds or less. If you ascribe to that line of thinking, a .38 Special revolver is more than enough to get you home alive.

The Perfect Size

If you adopt the .38 as a viable concealed carry cartridge, you’ll be happy to strap the 856 Defender to your hip. In my opinion, it’s the perfect size for a concealed carry revolver. The barrel is long enough to provide a little additional velocity, but it’s not so long that unholstering feels like drawing a broadsword. It’s also heavy enough to absorb a little recoil but not too heavy that you have to invest in a new pair of suspenders.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Defender is the perfect size for concealed carry, though it is heavier than polymer subcompact handguns.

Here’s a quick weight comparison between the 856 Defender (.38 Special), the ever-popular Springfield Hellcat (9mm), and a Smith & Wesson Model 16 (.357 Magnum).

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)

As you can see, it’s tough for an all-steel revolver to compete with polymer striker-fired handguns, but the 856 Defender offers the same capacity and barrel length as the S&W Model 19 while saving nine ounces of weight. The Model 19 is chambered in a hotter caliber, but I don’t know anyone who argues you need a .357 Magnum for self-defense (not that it wouldn’t be nice…).

Great Selection

The 856 Defender I received is constructed entirely from stainless steel. The barrel and frame are finished in a matte silver while the cylinder is matte black. The gun also comes with VZ black and gray grips and a front night sight with an orange outline.

But as is customary with Taurus firearms, the Defender comes in several different options depending on your needs and preferences.

Both the blacked out and all-silver models are offered with stainless steel and aluminum frames. The aluminum frame—what Taurus calls their “Ultra-Lite” line—lightens the overall weight to only 17.35 ounces. All of these models come with Hogue rubber grips and front night sights.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
This model comes with VZ grips.

The most attractive option, in my opinion, is the tungsten Cerakote model with Altamont wood grips. This Defender model uses Cerakoted tungsten for the frame, barrel, and cylinder, and pairs that finish with a set of beautiful wooden grips. You’ll pay a little more for this model, but all 856 Defenders are priced between $390 and $455 MSRP.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
This is the best looking Defender, in my opinion. It uses Cerakoted tungsten and Altamont wood grips.

At the Range

But you can read the product pages for yourself. You’re here to find out how the 856 Defender shoots.

In a word, great. I admit I’m not a fan of these VZ grips. They’re a little too slick for my liking, and the shape just doesn’t fit well in my hands. But otherwise, the gun is a pleasure to shoot. The .38 Special isn’t a snappy round to begin with, but the 856 does a great job controlling recoil.

The front sight is a super-visible central yellow dot surrounded by a square orange outline. The central dot shines in the dark, and as is common with revolvers (at least, more common than with autoloaders), there is no rear sight. Instead, the frame has been cut with a deep groove that ends with a square notch directly in front of the hammer.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Defender is well-built and easy to use.

This setup works well enough at short distances, but the front sight sits too high to come into perfect alignment with the rear notch. In most notch-and-post sighting systems, the front post appears flush with the rear notch when aimed properly. In this system, doing so would obscure the central yellow dot of the front sight and cock the firearm towards the ground.

As with all guns fitted with iron sights, the Defender takes some getting used to. Since neither the front nor the rear sight is adjustable, users will have to reconcile point of aim with point of impact before making confident shots beyond 10 yards or so.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
To see the full front sight, the sight has to be raised above the rear notch.

The trigger is fine. It’s heavy in double-action (it’s far heavier than my eight-pound trigger gauge could measure), and I admit that my accuracy declined significantly in double-action mode. Shooting in single action, the trigger weight drops down to a consistent 6.5 pounds, and the break is clean without any mushiness or grittiness. (Update: A reader sent me an email and recommended this Reduced Power Spring Kit from Galloway Precision to reduce trigger weight. I haven’t tried it, but for $14 it’s worth a shot.)

Accurate… Enough

The trigger is part of what makes the 856 Defender accurate… enough. Based on my somewhat limited testing (thanks, ammo shortage), the Defender can shoot a ragged hole at 10 yards while the 20-yard groups expand past three inches using a Ransom Multi Cal. Steady Rest. These results weren’t bad at all, and clearly the Defender is accurate enough for the vast majority of hypothetical self-defense situations.

The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
The Everyman’s Revolver: The Taurus 856 Defender Is a Classic Design at a Great Price (Full Review)
Accuracy is more than sufficient at common self-defense distances. This was from 10 yards away.

Whether you can shoot accurately in double-action mode depends on how much you practice. As tempting as it may be to punch tiny holes at 10 yards in single-action, you should dedicate a significant portion of your range time to working on double-action shooting if you plan to carry this firearm for self-defense. You won’t have time to cock the hammer in an emergency, so you should be sure you can put shots on a man-sized target at 5-10 yards in double-action before strapping the Defender to your hip.

Last Shot

The 856 Defender isn’t a perfect revolver, but like many Taurus products, it lives in a nice middle ground between bargain bin and custom Gucci. It’s light (but not too light), well-built, reliable, reasonably priced, and accurate enough to get the job done. It’s the everyman’s revolver, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to carry it.

Click here to check it out on Taurus’s website.

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  • DANIEL BLAKE LUDLOW May 7, 2022, 12:08 am

    A few years ago I purchased my first self-defense worthy revolver, the Taurus 856 2″ model. I fell in love with the gun. The ergonomics are perfect. The size and concealability are bar none to any other handgun I own. I’m actually able to shoot an 856 snub nose just about as well as a 5″ springfield xd. Not as fast as a striker but SO accurate. I love the 856. Anyway when I heard Taurus came out with an 856 Defender I just had to have one immediately and I bought this exact model with VZ Grips. The night sight is far superior for midnight home defense compared to the all black 856 snub. However for me this pistol does not compare to my 856 snub nose in the accuracy Department. I don’t know what the deal is. The trigger pull in double action on my Defender is almost unbearable, it feels like 20 lbs. I have dry fired my snub nose and my Defender side by side and they are not the same trigger pull, not even close. I know that this is where the accuracy is coming into play because the longer Barrel should offer more accuracy but it does not. Basically just wondering if anybody else has had this problem. I don’t know what Taurus did differently with the internals but they do not feel like the same gun that all. I’m considering putting a lower weight spring kit in the defender because I know it can be a great pistol but it is just so effing stiff!!!!!

  • Tod December 20, 2021, 11:30 am

    We had one of these as an inexpensive *truck gun* for a great many years until the truck itself was stolen.

    This, along with 4 other Taurus revolvers allowed us to buy-in to a work-a-day gun that were often used as loaners and spares too.

    Keeps the S&Ws in less abusive situations.

    I can’t begin to guess how many thousands of rounds we, friends and family have put through those 5 revolvers and NEVER missed a beat other than some highly suspect reloads in a ziplock bag.

    I know Taurus often gets a bad rap and I will concede that most of those (FIRST HAND ONLY!) observations are likely accurate – but for us…. NEVER a fault.

  • Michael Bystrzycki December 20, 2021, 4:48 am

    If you’re considering the Taurus 856, do yourself a favor and fondle the Charter Arms “On Duty” revolver. It’s half the weight and has twice the reliability.

    • Big Al 45 December 20, 2021, 10:49 am

      Oh Please!!!
      I have sold tons of Taurus revolvers, rarely had a problem. The one I bought for my now Ex wife was solid, and deadly accurate for a 2″ snub. She could shoot it better than many men.
      I had a lightweight .44 spec. Taurus that was perfect as a backpack gun in the High Country, accurate and deadly.
      Now, I have had issues with C.A. having their shrouds migrate forward off the barrel, and loose cylinder pins, but all these were minor Gunsmith issues.
      But to declare “twice the reliability” ?????
      Exaggeration in a meaningless waste of time post.

      • Jasper March 24, 2022, 5:49 pm

        Why did your wife divorce you?

    • srsquidizen December 20, 2021, 12:45 pm

      Have both and both 100% reliable so far. One reason to look at a Charter Arms is SERVICE. Sent mine in for reason NOT Charter’s fault (bad cartridge squib between cylinder & barrel). Came back fixed NO charge in a week! OTOH sent in a Taurus (a G2 not my 856) due to trigger issue and took 2 months to get it back.

  • Frank Garza October 11, 2021, 11:04 am

    As a 63 year old who has survived neck Microfracture surgery and quadruple Bypass surgery. I like revolvers like these. I’d definately consider purchasing one.

    I currently have a S&W 638(Bodyguard) that I added Hogue grips to that has been a constant companion for several years.

    Being able to load it with 38 special snake shot and kill aggressive poisonous snakes is a nice option to have. I also agree that semi-autos can be too complicated for some women. I have taught many women’s self-defense seminars over the years and I have asked the participants if they carried a firearm and what they carried and I’d estimate over 75% stated they carried a revolver. It’s better to carry something than nothing and it’s pretty easy to teach somebody how to operate a revolver. Especially old former Marines like myself…:)

    One of my older sisters doesn’t really like firearms, but she likes my 638. Even though she’s got weaker hands she can still pull the double action trigger.

    I’m not a fan of people who seem more negative than positive. And it seems that most of those who have negative opinions about revolvers think they carry the ultimate semi-auto(which really doesn’t exist in my opinion and I’ve shot quite a few semi-autos over the years).

    We all get old and are forced to make compromises. A revolver that’s easy to operate and carry is never a bad thing.

    God Bless You and Yours and be safe out there…:)

  • Ej harbet June 28, 2021, 9:07 am

    Neither of my ladies like auto’s. But they love revolvers so I optimized the platform and they’ll do great.
    The 95 grain jhp has the speed to expand and alot more power than most 380s even from a snub and it is controllable for repeated hits.

  • Billy M June 28, 2021, 8:47 am

    I have the Taurus 692. Like the 856 I find it very easy to conceal. To answer one commenter’s question about holsters, Craft Holsters make a very good OWB holster that fits my 692 like a glove and is very concealable (tee shirt with a light fishing shirt over it is comfortable even in south Louisiana summers). If I were to carry a revolver like this, I would load it with +P ammo. I have found Taurus revolvers to be well made, sturdy, and reliable. Only ding against them is the double action trigger pull is quite heavy. Sounds like the 856 would be a good starting gun for someone new to pistols and self defense.

  • DAVID INGRAM June 25, 2021, 1:34 pm

    A good basic revolver in 3″. This might push me into another gun.

  • Grumpy 49 June 25, 2021, 11:16 am

    The 3″ model 856 appears to be the right balance of size and weight for Seniors. With Arthritis in your hands, racking a slide is an issue, and loading a magazine is serious work. YES – I use an ACTION JACK (only in 9mm) and a mag loader, but it does require additional accessories to haul around. Too bad it is so hard to find a holster for a 3″ “J” size revolver. (I have a 3″ S&W model 60, and have yet to find a decent holster for it.) NOTE – The 3″ .357 – S&W model 60 and Charter Arms also fit into the “Window”, but are only 5 shot.

    • DAVID INGRAM June 25, 2021, 1:39 pm

      I wonder what happened to all those Postal Service holsters for 3″ went when they went to autos?

  • Ghost June 22, 2021, 11:58 am

    No reason to want a revolver?

    How about putting a couple of snakeshot rounds up first, then some FMJ or JHP? I don’t think I’d trust any semiauto for that job. And being able to switch from JHP to FMJ rapidly and conveniently when you head into the woods is great. And any decent revolver will have a trigger pull, in DA or SA, that would put most poly semiautos to shame.

    Revolvers have a very viable place.

  • Mikial June 21, 2021, 9:41 pm

    When I buy a revolver it’s because I want a round that isn’t common in pistols, like a .357 or.44 Magnum round. There really isn’t any other reason to want a revolver, outside of the fun nostalgia of the wheel gun. I enjoy revolvers and have owned many, including my first ever handgun which was a Ruger Stainless Security Six. A great gun that I sold to a friend of mine who was a Smoke Jumper in Montana so he would have something powerful on his belt as he jumped in to deal with back country forest fires and the frequently panicked wildlife they created.

  • OldProf49 June 21, 2021, 8:00 pm

    This 856 with 3” barrel looks really good, though I’m not crazy about the black cylinder. It shows the drag line more than a lighter finish. BTW, a drag line used to indicate a mis-timed revolver, but now they come from the factory with a line. Oh well….
    Comparing 38 +P with 9mm is a bit disingenuous. 38+P maximum chamber pressure is +/- 21,000 psi; 9mm is 35,000 (same as 357 magnum). Of course 9mm is going to outperform 38 special.
    Finally, I think all Taurus revolvers have an internal lock. The key slot is on the hammer behind the spur instead of above the cylinder latch. I haven’t read of any malfunctions, but if it can, it probably will sooner or later. However, this OFRG (old fat revolver guy) would still happily carry this 856.

  • Todd. June 21, 2021, 2:51 pm

    I like it.

    I like:
    No lock
    The grip
    Fixed rear sight

    I wonder though, is the cylinder long enough to accommodate .357? It sure looks strong enough.


  • Rodney Kanalos June 21, 2021, 11:30 am

    will purchase it today

  • Steve June 21, 2021, 9:35 am

    Put seven or eight .327FM chambers in it and I’m all over it.

    • Hap Hampson June 28, 2021, 3:32 am

      My purchase of the Taurus snub nosed .327 introduced me the the Federal Magnum cartridge and set me on a search for another gun with a longer barrel. Finally Ruger decided to bring back the .327 in their SP 101 model. They are my favorite revolvers. I wish Taurus would reintroduce their gun with a longer barrel. The Federal .327 is an overlooked cartridge of awesome specs..Compare it’s ballistics with the .357.

      • Steven L Howard December 20, 2021, 10:22 am

        Re: the .327 Federal Magnum. I’ve four of them, three Single Sevens and a Marlin 1894CB reamed to .327 by Ranger Point Precision (thanks, boys). I’m giving my sons and grandsons early inheritance of my gun collection…but I’m keeping the .327s. Sips powder and nibbles lead, carries like a .22, choots like a .38, and hits like a .357. Finally, after all these years (50+) of packing a .22 revolver most times in the woods, The Ideal Trail Gun.

  • Gerald Brickwood June 21, 2021, 8:40 am

    So why not increase the diameter of the cylinder a little bit and make it a 7 or 8 shot moonclip fed 9mm? Or even a 6 round moonclip fed .40 S&W? Or retain the cylinder diameter and offer a 5 shot .40 S&W? I know there’s nothing wrong with the .38 Spec., the FBI proved that with the 158 gr. “FBI load” of yore!

    • dinger89794 June 21, 2021, 1:50 pm

      Or just get it chambered in .357 and then use whichever is at hand..? Not knocking the pistol in and of its self…more an answer to question I had put to rest in my head years ago.

  • C J June 21, 2021, 7:55 am

    I love that gun. Looked at it a few times. Should’ve bought one when I had the chance.
    Good comparison with the other 2 guns. BTW, where did you ever find a 3” model 19?!!

  • James Nye June 21, 2021, 7:01 am

    Well written and covered all important features of the weapon.

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