ONE UP REVOLVER
THE NEW TAURUS UL 856 MARKS THE RETURN OF THE COMPANY’S SIX-SHOT REVOLVER, NOW WITH A LIGHTWEIGHT FRAME
The new Taurus UL 856 marks the return of the company’s six-shot revolver, now with a lightweight frame.
By Bob Campbell
While some handguns are trendy or perhaps even flashy, the snub-nose .38 Special revolver has been providing good protection for more than 70 years.
Despite its age, new models of this old reliable weapon are continually being introduced. One of these is the new Taurus Ultralight 856 (UL 856), a lightweight version of the company’s old 856 steel wheelgun. And unlike many handguns this size, this one has a six-shot cylinder.
While I have carried a steel-frame .45 for many years, I have also relied on the snub .38 five-shooter of J-frame size as a backup and occasionally as a primary arm.
When making a run to the grocery store at the last minute or working in the yard, a light, handy revolver seems a good fit. I do not rely upon any caliber below .38 Special, and the cartridge has a decent track record with high performance ammunition.
While those experienced in personal defense realize that the first two or three shots count for the most in interpersonal combat, we realize as well that five shots is cutting it short in a defensive encounter, particularly if confronted with multiple assailants. The six-shot Colt Detective Special offered an additional round of capacity over the five-shot Smith & Wesson J-frame. Easy to shoot well and smooth in operation, the Detective Special .38 was a good belt gun, but not the pocket gun the J-frame is. The handier J-frame is in production, the Detective Special isn’t, although the lightweight Colt Cobra is.
Some years ago, Taurus Firearms introduced its version of the J-frame revolver, the Taurus 85. The Model 85 was and still is a good value for its modest price. The Taurus 85 is still a five-shooter, however.
THE UL 856
Taurus also had developed the 856, a steel six-shot revolver now discontinued. The new UL 856 maintains the six-shot capacity while building the gun on a lightweight aluminum frame. The new cylinder is slightly larger than the Model 85, but only slightly so. The cylinder measures 1.4 across versus 1.34 for my Smith & Wesson five-shot Bodyguard.
The appearance of the Model 856 series handgun is so similar to the Model 85, most realize the handgun is a six-shooter only after close examination. While the cylinder is larger, the frame itself isn’t. The UL 856 tilts the scales at a listed 15.7 ounces. The frame is laser engraved “Ultra-Lite.” My test gun came with a dark matte finish, but the revolver is available with a matte stainless-steel finish as well. The ejector rod is shrouded, a good feature that protects the relatively thin ejector rod and the barrel is a heavy type.
The front sight is a simple serrated ramp type and the rear sight is a groove in the top of the receiver.
The hammer is exposed and nicely serrated for easy cocking. The trigger face is wide.
The grips are among the best features of the handgun. The synthetic grips are well designed for recoil control. The design keeps the hand out of contact with the metal frame of the revolver. They are nicely textured for adhesion and abrasion and the rear of the grip gives a little during firing. There is a slight shelf on each side of the grips to guide or rest the forefinger. The grips will not need replacement with aftermarket types.
The grips differ from my J-frame revolvers, although they’re similar in size to those on my J-frame 649 and perhaps larger than the custom grips on the SW 442. They are small grips for concealed carry and some with large hands may find the small finger doesn’t have a place to go. That’s OK because the grips are intended for recoil control and they did that job well.
As for fit and function, the action, the
“THE SYNTHETIC GRIPS ARE WELL DESIGNED FOR RECOIL CONTROL. THE DESIGN KEEPS THE HAND OUT OF CONTACT WITH THE METAL FRAME OF THE REVOLVER.”
trigger, the hand and the bolt stop seem well aligned. When the hammer is down after firing, the cylinder exhibits a tight lockup. The Taurus key lock security system is not used with this revolver. It would be poor tactics to rely on unlocking the gun if you needed it and I do not miss this feature.
I placed the Taurus in a Blackhawk! pocket holster and found that it was a tight fit. Here is the deal on the pocket holster and most IWB holsters for the 856: For most uses, a Colt Detective Special holster will work. A holster intended for the J-frame, if not tightly boned, will work too. But once the slightly larger 856 cylinder has broken in the holster, it may be loose if you want to use it later with a five-shot J-frame. I am certain many makers will be up to speed soon with the 856.
I elected to dry fire the piece and practice the draw before heading to the firing range. When drawing from a pocket holster, you must be certain to blade the hand inside. If you move the hand in and get a grip while the revolver is in the pocket the draw will be difficult. You may also run the thumb over the exposed hammer to be certain the draw is snag free. I found the revolver as fast on the draw as any.
The trigger press is the typical long double-action trigger press at perhaps 14 pounds. It wasn’t very smooth, but with 100 dry cycles and some lubrication it smoothed some. This isn’t as smooth an action as a $600 revolver, no use to kid yourself, but it is smooth enough to do good work to 7 yards and a bit beyond for those that practice.
I took the Taurus to the range with several types of ammunition and speedloaders. I had on hand the
Black Hills Ammunition 158-grain cowboy load, the Black Hills Ammunition 100-grain Honey Badger, the Winchester 125 grain Silvertip +P, and a handload consisting of the Hornady XTP and enough Titegroup powder for 895 feet per second. The grips fit the hand well and helped in double-action fire, predictably, it took a few cylinders of ammunition to get the feel and hang of the revolver at 7 yards. The front sight that had been visible in my study during dry fire tended to disappear against a black target. It needs a dab of red paint.
Firing the low recoil, 750-fps cowboy load, the revolver was pleasant enough. The bullets landed an inch and a half above the point of aim, a good setting for a combat gun. After firing 50 rounds, I found the piece performed well enough for close range personal defense.
The Honey Badger load generated more recoil with its 100-grain bullet at 956 fps, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I fired a tight group of 2 inches at 10
“THE BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION 100-GRAIN HONEY BADGER CUTS FLESH AND PENETRATES TO AN OPTIMUM DEPTH, PROVIDING GOOD WOUND BALLISTICS.”
yards using the single action trigger. Next, 20 rounds of the Silvertip 125-grain bullets at 960 fps generated stout recoil in the small revolver. It is controllable and certainly anything worth shooting is worth hitting hard. The Hornady XTP handload generated enough accuracy to make a good training load. The revolver handled this mix of ammunition well. Cartridge extraction was never sticky and the piece indexed properly with every trigger press.
The revolver isn’t the smoothest I have tested, but then its suggested retail price is just more than $300. I purchased mine at retail in a local shop for less than that. The combination of a 20 percent increase in ammunition capacity over the standard J-frame revolver is appealing, yet the piece comes with very little in the way of extra bulk. The sights are good examples of revolver sights once the front sight is painted to improve visibility. The grips are an aid in controlling recoil compared to other small revolvers. The Taurus UL 856 makes the grade for personal defense. CC
“THE TAURUS UL 856 MAKES THE GRADE FOR PERSONAL DEFENSE.”
The six-shot Taurus UL 856 (upper left) compares favorably in size to a five-shot S&W 442 and S&W Shield.
A high grade is given to these recoil absorbing grips.The hand doesn’t meet the steel frame on firing.
Our Taurus .38 Special showed wear on the finish after a couple of weeks of use. Note wide trigger. We liked the control the trigger gave during firing.
Blackhawk!’s pocket holster is well made of good material. A little break in was needed with the 856’s wider cylinder.
This is a load of Winchester Silvertips in the new Lyman Speedloader. The extra round could be a life saver.
Note the 856 UL’s fairly heavy barrel.