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Taurus Defender 856 .38 Special Revolver Review

The two-tone .38 Special Taurus Defender 856 double-action revolver is cool; here's why.

Taurus Defender 856 .38 Special Revolver Review

.38 Special Taurus Defender 856 double-action revolver (Shooting Times photo)

The Taurus Defender 856 double-action revolver looks good and handles well. It’s ergonomic, accurate, and fun to shoot, and it is rated to handle +P ammunition.

The Defender 856 has a 3.0-inch, stainless-steel barrel with a full-length underlug, and “38 SPL” is stamped on the underside of the underlug. The muzzle has a recessed crown, and the front sight is pinned to the barrel. (More about the sight later.) The top of the barrel is smooth.

The cylinder is also stainless steel and is finished in matte black. It holds six rounds of ammunition. The cylinder rotates counterclockwise when the cocking mechanism is operated, and the design uses a coil mainspring, a frame-mounted firing pin, and a transfer-bar safety mechanism.

The frame is stainless steel. The top of the frame is grooved with a traditional-style fixed rear sight, and the butt of the grip frame is rounded. As you can see from the photos, the barrel and frame are finished in matte stainless steel, whereas the cylinder, cylinder release thumbpiece, ejector rod, sideplate screws, hammer, trigger, and front sight are matte black. (The Defender also is offered in an all-black version, and Taurus has several other 856 models with 2.0-inch barrels.)

The hammerspur is checkered, and it measures 0.35 inch wide. The trigger is smooth and measures 0.35 inch wide.

The finger-groove grips are gray/black VZ G10 Cyclone Operator II. They wrap completely around the butt of the grip frame, have a distinctive texture, and are quite handfilling. Grip circumference is 5.0 inches.

Overall, the revolver measures 7.5 inches long, 4.8 inches high, and 1.41 inches thick. It weighs 25.5 ounces unloaded.

.38 Special Taurus Defender 856 double-action revolver
The .38 Special +P double-action Defender 856 has a 3.0-inch, full-lug barrel; VZ G10 textured grips; a fixed-groove rear sight; and a tritium-dot front sight. (Shooting Times photo)

In single-action operation mode, the trigger pull averaged 6.25 pounds over a series of six measurements with an RCBS trigger pull scale. In double-action mode, the trigger pull averaged 13.5 pounds. During a slow, methodical double-action pull, just before the pull completes its full cycle, there is a sort of “stop.” It’s not a hard stop, but it allows the shooter to stage the trigger if so desired. I like that aspect because it allows more precise shooting. Of course, the “stop” is hardly noticeable during fast double-action pulls, which one might employ in a life-threatening situation.

As you can see from the shooting-results chart, the Defender 856 produced very good accuracy at 25 yards with five different .38 Special factory loads. With loads ranging from 110-grain JHPs and FTXs through 125-grain JHP +Ps and 130-grain FMJs to 148-grain WCs, the revolver produced five-shot group averages between 2.04 inches and 3.23 inches. Overall average for all loads was 2.90 inches. The tightest single five-shot group measured 1.88 inches, and it came with the Black Hills 148-grain WC match ammo. I always test that load in every .38 Special revolver I evaluate even if the gun is intended for self-defense.

I have to point out that the tritium dot in the AmeriGlo front sight is positioned low enough on the orange face of the post to make it almost entirely blocked by the frame when the top of the front sight is lined up with the top of the grooved rear sight during precision shooting. The tritium dot is great for defensive point-shooting, and during my speed-shooting drills on close-range targets, the setup performed well, but if I were going to keep this revolver, I would file down the top of the steel front post so that the tritium dot is centered in the groove when the top of the post lines up with the top of rear sight channel.

Other than that, I have no complaints with the Defender 856. In fact, I like it a lot. Its function is smooth; the gun is reliable and rugged; and like I said before, it is ergonomic, accurate, and fun to shoot.


Defender 856 Specs

  • TYPE: Double-action revolver
  • CALIBER: .38 Special +P
  • BARREL: 3.0 in.
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 7.5 in.
  • WIDTH: 1.41 in.
  • HEIGHT: 4.8 in.
  • WEIGHT, EMPTY: 25.5 oz.
  • GRIPS: VZ G10
  • FINISH: Matte stainless frame and barrel; matte black cylinder, ejector rod, cylinder release, hammer, trigger
  • SIGHTS: Fixed-groove rear, AmeriGlo orange-outline tritium front
  • TRIGGER: 6.25-lb. single-action pull (as tested), 13.5-lb. double-action pull (as tested)
  • SAFETY: Transfer bar
  • MSRP: $477
.38 Special Taurus Defender 856 double-action revolver

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