More is always better. In this case, a whopping 20 percent more. Taurus has found a way to fit six rounds of .38 Spl. into a snubby revolver that is only minimally bigger than the company's five-shot, small-frame revolver, the Model 85. While the concept of a six-shot snub-nose is not new, Taurus seems to have found previously undiscovered room in the revolver.
At first glance, the Taurus 856 is not much different than its Model 85 mainstay concealed-carry revolver. The 856 is a small-frame, short-barreled revolver with external hammer, permitting single- or double-action fire. The sights are an upgrade from standard snubby sights, pairing a fixed front ramp with a windage-adjustable rear sight blade. While not target sights by any means, they provide some adjustability and a clear sight picture. Grips are the standard Taurus textured black rubber.
The 856 becomes much more interesting once you pick it up. The gun weighs a mere 13.2 ounces empty. The light weight is a result of Taurus' new Hy-Lite magnesium alloy frame. This is the first Taurus revolver using magnesium for frame material. Magnesium is not an "exotic" metal—it's abundant on Earth—but when used in firearms, magnesium alloy is very light and has strength comparable to traditional aluminum alloy. The end result is a lightweight frame that doesn't cost nearly as much as one made with scandium, titanium or other exotic materials. The Hy-Lite 856 weighs almost 4 ounces less than a comparable lightweight aluminum-alloy Taurus revolver, and nearly 8 ounces less than a carbon-steel version.
Open the cylinder of the 856 and it gets even more interesting. If you are accustomed to shooting small snubby revolvers, you have to count the number of charge holes to make sure you are seeing it correctly. Having six rounds in a gun this size is a great advantage. When you are carrying an autoloader with 15 or more rounds, a single extra round may be of marginal value. However, the firepower increase from five to six rounds in a small gun is very significant, particularly if you ever have to engage multiple attackers. An extra round in a wheel gun is a welcome tactical advantage given the limited capacity and the required reloading time.
Since the extra capacity comes without a corresponding increase in the physical dimensions of the gun, it is even more desirable. The capacity increase is the result of widening the cylinder window in the frame a mere fraction of an inch to accommodate the slightly larger cylinder diameter. The difference is minimal and hardly noticeable. For the most part, the Taurus 856 will fit holsters designed for the Taurus 85 or the Smith & Wesson J-frame. I tried a number of different holsters without any real problems. A tightly molded kydex holster may be a bit snug around the cylinder, but will probably work. With a little bit of stretching around the cylinder, any leather snubby holster should work.
The only real drawback to the Hy-Lite 856 is the ammo limitation. Due to the use of lightweight magnesium alloy, the gun is not rated for the higher pressures of .38 Spl. +P. Certainly, many people will debate the need for +P ammo in a short-barreled revolver, so the restraint may be of no concern. However, if your favorite carry loads are +Ps, the 856 in Hy-Lite may not be the right choice.
Shooting the pistol was pleasantly dull. The gun functioned very well with a wide variety of ammo, including the Hornady JHP/XTP premium defensive loads and the Winchester FMJ target loads tested. Accuracy was very good, with the Hornady loads averaging a 1-inch group at a combat realistic 15 feet while shooting single action. A very long and heavy trigger opens up the group when shooting double action. Nevertheless, the 856 can easily hit pie plates at 15 feet while shooting double action if the shooter does his part. The Taurus rubber grips are comfortable and help tame recoil.
The 856 handles well and offers the experienced snubby shooter no surprises. The cylinder release is exceptionally easy to operate and loading was quick and almost effortless. Extraction of fired brass can occasionally be an issue because of the short barrel and correspondingly short ejector rod. A very firm smack on the ejector rod while the gun is oriented with the cylinder straight down is required for reliable extraction. This gun is equipped with the Taurus Security Lock system on the external hammer, which utilizes a key to disable the gun when necessary.
Taurus ships the 856 in a standard cardboard box, with an owners manual and two keys. The company covers all its guns with a Lifetime Repair Policy. Suggested retail for the 856 Hy-Lite is $467. The use of magnesium instead of other exotic metals helps keep the price down considerably, making the 856 an excellent value. Taurus also offers the 856 in stainless and carbon steel at the same price—the weight nearly doubles, but the steel-framed 856 revolvers will accommodate +P loads.
All in all, this Taurus makes for an impressive concealed-carry piece. The added capacity is a distinct advantage and the extremely light weight of the Hy-Lite magnesium alloy frame allows the gun to be easily carried in a pocket, purse, on the belt or in an ankle holster. If you are searching for a quality revolver for concealed carry, the Taurus 856 is well worth your consideration.