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A Look at the Taurus 856 Ultralite

July 6, 2023
Mike Sampson

In my May 7 article on “Friends, Firearms and History,” I described a friend’s search for a .38 Special snubby for CCW.

He sold his Winchester model 97 and Marlin 336 to help fund the purchase. He really liked my Colt Detective Special, but a used price on what I found was pushing $900 and a no-go. He began looking for a lightweight, six-rounder with exposed hammer and in +P.

Lots of revolver choices, but he wanted a price point below $350. That limited things. He and I shared ideas on what might work. After considerable research, he opted for a Taurus 856 Ultralite in black anodized finish and a two-inch barrel.

Founded in 1939 in Brazil, Forjas Taurus, probably better known as Taurus International or just Taurus, the company’s first revolver appeared in 1941. Export to the USA began in 1968. Similarities between Taurus and Smith & Wesson developed out of business deals.

Taurus currently builds revolvers and semis in multiple calibers ranging from .22LR through .500 S&W Magnum. For a good read on this snubby 856 and some history, see .

My friend’s trip to a nearby Cabella’s/Bass Pro produced the revolver at the desired price point. I’d recommended he look at a Versacarry revolver holster. He did and after fitting the holster, off to the range we went. I’d never fired a Taurus revolver, so I knew our range time would be productive.

With sensitive hearing and his hesitation to visit any range, I recommended my friend use foam ear plugs along with muffs. He was ready with that combination, which worked well.

At the nearby indoor range, we shared a lane and set a silhouette target at five, then seven yards. With his new snubby and being new to any revolver, my friend shot six rounds of Winchester 130-grain FMJ ammo he bought with the revolver. I did the same.

We then switched to some ammo I had on hand. That included Black Hills 148-grain hollow-base wadcutter, 158-grain Prvi Partisan lead round nose, 125-grain +P Black Hills jacketed hollow point (JHP), and 158-grain HSM JHP.

We both shot single action and double action to get a feel for function and handling. Overall, the 148-grain rounds grouped the tightest as I had seen when evaluating that round and the 125-grain JHP for Gun Talk.

The 856 is small with an aluminum frame and weighs only 16 ounces empty. For comparison, my old Detective Special comes in at 21 ounces. Fit and finish on the 856 says quality.

I was surprised and pleased how light the little Taurus felt, and how well it handled the loadings we fed it.  The trigger felt good and double-action pull was not as heavy as I had expected. The Black Hills JHP +P load definitely had more felt recoil, but quite manageable.

I’m not in the market for another snubby, and the 856 is too small for me. It definitely is lightweight on the belt and easy to conceal.

For a new wheelgun owner, my friend soon was putting most rounds within four inches with shrinking groups. There were similar results at seven yards. Most of mine fell within a smaller pattern, but I shoot revolvers regularly. Not bad at all for a lightweight snubby with simple sights.

The range owner came in during our session and he is familiar with the 856 and likes it. My friend has larger hands than do I, and the grips felt small to him, as they did to me. We talked about after-market grips. The range owner suggested Taurus wooden grips to increase grip circumference and palm swell. I suggested looking at Hogue grips too as I have put them on several handguns.

I can say my first experience with a Taurus revolver was good. For my friend to get into revolver CCW, he got the 856 and a nice all-leather outside-the-waistband Versacarry holster for less than $400. Not a bad deal and a good choice for his needs and plans.

If budget is guiding your revolver every-day-carry (EDC) choices, take a look at the Taurus line. You can get into a semiauto for fewer dollars perhaps, but my friend wanted a revolver. He earlier had a semi fail to feed at the range, so that “triggered” his desire for a wheelgun.

I still lean on a .38 snubby as my EDC, so perhaps I did coax my friend.

Now he needs range time and he’s looking at online ammo choices and pricing. Another good plan. The 856 is rated for +P, so that’s the defensive ammo to use if the need arises. I’ll also be interested in his decision on replacement grips for a better gun-to-hand marriage.

To help my friend down the road to Stay safe, be prepared, I handed him the remainder of the 50-round box of Black Hills 125-grain JHPs. ~ Mike

Mike Sampson
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states and internationally. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.

He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master’s degree emphasizing adult education and communications.

While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One-Shot Antelope Hunt for three years, and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts. He also worked as an outfitter’s guide.

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