Taurus 857: The One More Shot Revolver

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Firearms, Reviews

Among the most interesting of the introductions at the 2018 SHOT Show was the Taurus 856 revolver. The revolver illustrated—the 857—is even newer, and at present, a bit difficult to obtain. In this day of 8-shot N frame revolvers and 7-shot GP 100-sized handguns, the Taurus 857 is big news in a real way. Those carrying the snubnose .38 revolver now have a truly compact design that carries six, rather than five, cartridges.

Taurus 857 revolver black left profile

With its matte black finish and laser engraved scrollwork, the Taurus is far from being unattractive.

Five cartridges is cutting it slim in a defensive encounter. Six seems to be a magic number we are more comfortable with. It is the old debate of a J frame .38 versus the Colt 6-shot Detective Special. The 856 revolver shoots more like a 5-shot J frame than a 6-shot Colt, but it holds six cartridges. This is good to have! The 856 is a steel frame revolver. The 857 is an aluminum frame revolver. The 856 is compact enough and rides light, but the 857 rides even lighter. Either one would be an exceptional 6-shot double action revolver with exposed hammer chambered for the popular .38 Special cartridge.

The revolver features a ramp front sight and well-designed fixed sight in the top strap. The action is smooth enough to be mastered by those who practice. The double-action press allows a trained shooter to make good hits to 10 yards or so. The single-action trigger breaks at 4 pounds (or a little less), and is quite crisp. The grips are very well designed.

The most important design feature of the grips is that the rubber grips are offset from the frame in a manner that prevents the metal frame from contacting the hand during recoil. This is pretty important. Checkering on the sides and backstrap of the grips is well done. There is a slight shelf or finger rest on each side of the grip that guides the finger to the trigger on one side and may act as a thumbrest on the other. The design of the grip seems to raise the bore axis and allows good leverage when firing.

When the .38 Special 5-shot was first introduced, it was often referred to as a .38 on the .32 frame. This was correct. When introduced, the I frame Smith and Wesson was chambered for the .32 Smith and Wesson Long and held six shots. Later, the .38 Smith and Wesson versions introduced held five shots.

The J frame, with its lengthened chamber and wider frame window, chambered the powerful .38 Special cartridge. Modern technology, applied to a 1890s design, now allows six shots in the J frame envelope. The revolver handles and shoots like a J frame, but holds an additional shot. Let’s look at the Taurus 856 and 857 closely.

Taurus Model 856 and 857
Capacity Six shots
Caliber .38 Special
Action Double action and single action
Barrel length 2 inches
Overall Length 6.5 inches
Height 4.8 inches
Width 1.5 inches
Weight 856, 22 ounces, 857, 12.5 ounces

On the firing line, I began with the Federal Match 148-grain Wadcutter. This is a superbly accurate target load. In the Taurus, the primary advantage is low recoil. I fired a box to familiarize myself with the revolver. This isn’t the smoothest double-action trigger on the market, but it is consistent and allowed good hits to seven yards. It took more concentration to make double action hits at 10 yards.

Lyman Pachmayr Speedloader blue top

Lyman’s new Pachmayr Speedloader worked well.

The wide smooth trigger works well for good leverage. With the single-action mode of fire, center hits on man-sized targets were possible at a long 25 yards. However, this is a stunt with the snub nose .38. At close range, the revolver is accurate enough to hit a reptile or rodent and dispatch it, which makes it a good boat or hiking gun. (Postscript – after firing over 200 cartridges in the course of a couple of weeks, I have grooved into the piece and found that by staging the trigger, bringing it back just short of the hammer breaking, taking a good sight picture, and dropping the hammer, accuracy was much improved over the first outing.)

In other words, this piece is as accurate as any 5-shot, two-inch barrel revolver. I also fired two potent personal defense loads. The Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok +P is powerful, expands well, and offers good penetration. This load is a handful in the Ultra Lite revolver. While controllable and comfortable due to the rubber stocks, muzzle flip was pronounced. A specialized load that offers good control, and expands well, is the Federal 130-grain HST. I would load either, but the HST is probably the better purpose-designed choice for snub nose revolvers.

I used the Blackhawk! all leather IWB and pocket holster with the Taurus 857. Frankly, it was stretch for these J frame holsters. After a break-in period, I had them working well with good speed, but they would have been too loose to use with the 5-shot Taurus 85, as an example. The Taurus 857 is a lightweight .38 and might be a live saver in the right situation. In any case, peace of mind comes cheap with this revolver.

Are you a fan of Taurus revolvers? Would you prefer the Model 856 or Model 857? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (21)

  • Ernie

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    I purchased new a steel Taurus 856 snub nose revolver a few years back. It was also a 6 shot .38. It was later discontinued. Never could find out why. Never had a problem with the one I own. I wonder if this a revamped version of the previous 856?

    Reply

  • GunMedic

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    The velocity is pretty low from a snub, Federal lists 690fps for the Gold Medal wadcutter from a full sized gun, so figure you’re getting right at 120ft/lbs. From the same site, the 110gr PDHS is over 200ft/lbs and designed to perform from snubs. Again from Federal, if you go to the 129gr +P, you approach 220ft/lbs.

    Reply

  • RICHARD JOHNSON

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    A) 2″ Snubbies are notoriously hard to shoot. A 2.5, 2.75,3.0 inch barrel would be a great improvement.
    B) Is the steel frame version rated for +P?
    C) A screw near the top of the frame to allow a hammer shroud like the Detective Special used to have would be a great idea.

    Reply

  • Tom Bigford

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    I have 2 Taurii. A 2 inch snubby model 605 and a 4 inch model 66 (i think) I like them both. The snubby is SS and a bit heavy, but that means you can shoot 357 in it. The 4 in is to heavy for CC but fine for open carry. Great to shoot. 5 or six rounds is fine in 357 Mag. I never feel under gunned…

    Reply

  • Karl

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    If I were looking for a snubby,I’d go with the following:
    -bobbed hammer[not completely hammerless,but less likely to snag in one’s pocket and still usable in single action
    -large bore e.g.45Colt,45ACP or 44 Special
    -bright,large tritium front sight
    -hopefully left hand friendly
    The larger bore would to some extent eliminate the necessity of expansion
    Does anyone still remember the factory multiple round ball loads?Those -might-still be an oprion.But only if they are factory ammo-the litigation climate is too onerous to risk using a handload
    -perhaps a Magsafe or Glaser round in the noted calibers is also an option??

    Reply

  • J

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    Taurus 817 weighed 21 ounces and offered 7 rounds of .38 Special. Can’t find one.

    Reply

  • Mike

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    Thank you for your response. Is the reason why the 856 or 857 won’t fit a tightly fitted holster because of the Taurus cylinder?

    Reply

    • rkc

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      Yes the 6 shot cylinder is incrementally wider than the j frame 5 shot

      Reply

  • Mike

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    Will an 856 or 857 fit in a regular J-frame holster? I was looking at purchasing the 856 (hadn’t heard about the 857 until this article) but was concerned about it fitting in my holsters for my S&W 442 or 637 pistols as well as the holster that I have for my Taurus 85.

    Reply

    • RKC

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      A high quality tightly molded J frame holster will not fit the 856

      A holster with more give such as the Galco Walk About or Stow and Go will work well

      Reply

  • HW Stone

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    I swear this looks like a reincarnation of the Liberty Chief, which, I admit, was not a bad gun in terms of “last ditch” work.

    I am going to disagree with two points in the article: One, that five shots is lacking for a small revolver. Five rounds of .38 Special out of two inch barrel is lacking perhaps, because of the need for multiple rapid hits, a nearly impossible feat in last ditch response. On the other hand, five rounds of .44 Special hollow point out of my Charter Bulldog does not leave me wishing I had more. Why? I’ve had it and used it for over forty years, and as a revolver it only got put to the test once. I was helping with some fencing, a wild hog decided it did not like these uppity humans, and charged. Everyone else could run faster than men, and did, so the first round of .44 Special into the hog took it down, and when it squirmed a second round ended the episode.

    I admit, I would have rather had a full size 1911, but then, one hog, two rounds, three more just in case seems like a real life minimal standard I can accept.

    The second disagreement is with the barrel length. For some reason “two inches so you can hide it” is a horrible trade off because a three inch barrel– and yes, both Smith & Wesson and Colt offered them way back when– the three inch barrel provides a huge increase in both accuracy and effective bullet action.

    Three inch is not really a big problem for carry, but it is a huge increase in effective defense.

    I own that old Bulldog, I own a Liberty Chief (a two inch), and I own a three inch Cobra, and I am very, very familiar with the class of weapon, but for “Hell froze over and the Devil’s coming across the lake on ice skates” the 45 acp Colt is first on the line.

    If you just want a revolver, look at larger calibers and/or longer barrels. After all, you are talking about your life, and maybe the lives of your loved ones.

    Reply

  • Karl

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    I would wonder whether just using full wadcutters in this[or other]snubby revolver[s] would be as effective as a jhp??Expansion is probably minimal and muzzleblast in a confined area is significant.
    Just how large is the grip-for those of us with large hands,it is an issue.

    Reply

    • HW Stone

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      Karl– The biggest problem is that wadcutter is normally loaded soft for accuracy and turns into a very ineffective load in two inch barrels. Atomic Ammunition loaded a .38 special Plus load with a wadcutter loaded backwards.

      However, it might be the loudest round I have ever fired from the Liberty Chief. Try the different loads on a few gallon milk jugs full of water and find your own comfort point.

      Reply

    • Karl

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      If the [factory] wadcutter tumbles in flesh,wouldn’t that be as effective as a jhp?
      Yes I remember decades ago handloading hollow based wadcutters backwards,but for carry[anti-human]defense I stick with factory ammunition.I also remember the original Hydrashok 125gr-it had a huge opening. My preferred load in a 4″GP!00 is the 38Spec+P 158gr lhp,followed by speedloaders of 357Mag 158gr jhp

      Reply

    • HW Stone

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      It is not a case of tumbling, the wadcutter is straight tracking on impact, and at a higher velocity, effective at stopping hostile threats, such as a couple of angry dogs trying to chew on your leg.

      The problem is two inch barrel velocity. Same round out of a three inch barrel was dramatically greater impact.

      Reply

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