The Taurus 856 Defender TORO: A Little Bull

I’ve slowly been getting into the world of revolvers. It’s because of SHOT Show, primarily because of Taurus and Rossi. Rossi brought out some sweet commercials and a new series of revolvers, and Taurus introduced three revolvers that caught my eye. The 856 Executive Grade was interesting and cool, but what really caught my eye was the 856 Defender TORO and the 605 Defender TORO.

Taurus made a big step forward for defensive revolvers and added optic integration. They weren’t the first to put an optic on a revolver, but they are seemingly the first to do so while aiming at the concealed carry and defensive market. Plus, what also gained my attention was the fact the 856 Defender seemed to be the perfect defensive revolver in my admittedly amateur revolver shooter hands.

The Perfect Defensive Revolver (for Me)

I am not a revolver guy yet. I’ve only recently dived into the world of wheelguns and found it to be a welcome change from the modern polymer frame striker-fired pistol. Sometimes you just need to branch out. Try something new and accept a challenge — that’s what revolvers are to me.

I’ve owned a Ruger LCR 9mm forever, and it’s a fine gun, but it’s basically a pocket pistol. It’s good for defensive use, but it’s also somewhat tough to shoot. To me, it always seemed like a slightly longer barrel would be perfect. This would reduce recoil and muzzle rise, improve velocity, and be a bit easier to handle.

856 defender in hand
It’s not a snub nose, but it’s plenty compact.

Additionally, I prefer a 9mm or .38 Special for my small revolvers. I also like six shots over five. With all that in mind, the Taurus 856 Defender seemed to fit all these exacting specifications I had, and then when they introduced the TORO model with red dot compatibility, I was hooked.

The 856 Defender model offers a 3-inch barrel, six-round capacity, and a .38 Special chambering. It’s still that snub nose frame size, just stretched a bit. This gun is still easy to conceal but offers an easier handling option.

856 keeps a low profile
The 856 keeps a low profile for concealed carry.

Optics On

Adding a dot made things better all around. A dot on a revolver makes a lot of sense, at least to me. Typical defensive revolver sights kind of suck, and dots are faster and more accurate with most shooters. On top of that, the top of a revolver doesn’t move, unlike the red dot on an automatic. That makes it easy and quick to track and get back on target.

The 856 Defender TORO uses an optional optic plate that mounts to the top strap of the revolver. Without the plate, it is admittedly a standard revolver. Toss the plate on the top strap and then the optic on the plate, and you’re good to go. The optic footprint is the Shield RMSc or Holosun K footprint.

taurus defender in window
The Taurus Defender series feature 3-inch barrels.

This opens you up to a ton of different sighting options. This includes the Holosun 507K and 407K series, as well as the new EPS Carry. The EPS Carry would be a great option for a defensive revolver with its enclosed emitter design. Speaking of sighting options, the front sight is pinned in place instead of milled. You could replace the iron sight if you so choose with a higher visibility sight if you so choose.

Once I had the optic mounted on my 856 Defense TORO, I grabbed a box of .38 Special and went to the range.

At the Range

It took me more shots than I’d like to admit to get the optic zeroed. The optic wasn’t the issue, I was. I had to get a bigger target to find out where I was hitting, and it turns out I had to drive the elevation a good bit because I was hitting so high. Once I figured that out, I was still being inconsistent. This is due to my own lack of experience with a revolver, especially an optics-ready revolver.

I eventually broke out a table and used my range bag as a rest, dialing the group into tight enough to create palm-sized groups at 20 yards. I admittedly learned a lot about revolver shooting in this zeroing experience. The revolver tended to be quite accurate.

shooting the taurus 856 defender
The 856 left my hand a little sore after all my shooting.

The 856 Defense TORO trigger isn’t bad and is fairly standard for a stock double-action trigger. The 856 Executive Grade has a much nicer trigger, so I know Taurus can do it. However, the 856 Defender is admittedly a very affordable revolver, and it doesn’t get the executive-grade treatment. Even so, it’s adequate and punches above its weight class when you look at revolvers that cost $200-$300 more with similar triggers.

Still, with good focus, I could make a three-inch group firing double action from a rested position. I’m sure an experienced revolver shooter would smoke me. The gun can certainly shoot better than that and better than me. I even stretched my legs to 25 yards and landed every shot into the chest of a target while firing unsupported single action only.

Going Bang

My ammo of choice was some Speer Lawman FMJs. I got 500 rounds for this revolver, and it gobbled them. At some points, it would get too hot to hold. Reliability was never a problem, and the gun chewed through the ammo like I go through tacos. Also, like I go through tacos, it got messy.

I realized the trigger would start to feel worse, and an internet search told me I needed to clean the thing. A little lube and an AP brush on the external moving parts cleared it right up. Shooting a revolver has been a learning experience for me. It’s also been an exercise.

man shooting revolver
The 856 Defender is quite accurate and easy shooting.

The grips of the gun are very small, no different than the grips you’d find on a snub nose revolver. They are designed for concealed carry. As such, they don’t quite fit perfectly into my bear paws. I made it work, but I feel like I could have shot faster and straighter with bigger grips. I might just replace them. However, replacing them might create a concealment issue.

The grips are quite hard and stiff. After reaching into the hundreds of rounds fired, in terms of ammo consumption, my hand was beaten and even slightly bruised. The hard grips do their damage, but let’s be fair, going through that many rounds in a short period of time isn’t exactly representative of a normal defensive encounter.

Taking Off

After a few hundred rounds, I fired some more defensively oriented drills. As a beginner, I stuck to beginner drills. I fired some double taps and failure to stop drills and quickly improved my speed on the trigger. Getting used to slapping the front of the trigger guard was an interesting challenge. However, within 10 yards, I could drill a threat with a failure to stop drill in about 2.25 seconds with a very well-aimed headshot.

ejecting shells
The full-length ejection rod is a nice touch.

That’s not fast for a pro or experienced shooter, but for an amateur, it’s not bad, especially when I started closer to three seconds and drilled it down to 2.25 in a day. That’s a testament to how easy the gun is to control and how it is fairly beginner-friendly, especially compared to a snub-nose gun.

The 856 Defender TORO model with a mounted red dot is seemingly a great option for new revolver shooters. It’s just right in terms of size, at least for me. Now I just need some of the big holster makers to accommodate the optics-ready 856, and we’ll be good to go!

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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