Taurus 5-Shot Revolvers – The Model 85 and More

Dark gray Taurus 85 .38 Special with a black grip on a white background.

When it comes to personal defense, the snubnose revolver is so handy, lightweight, easy to manipulate and simple to operate, it is widely used. Even those who carry a heavier firearm as a matter of course often deploy the snubnose as a backup or hideout. The backup gun may be a lifesaver in the case of a malfunction of the primary. The snubnose handgun must be used by a skilled shooter (meaning someone willing to practice).

Dark gray Taurus 85 .38 Special with a black grip on a white background.
The Taurus 85 is an excellent, all around .38 Special revolver.

The best grip and application of the proper technique is vital for proper application of the snubnose revolver. Since most gun battles occur at short range, the speed into action of the handgun may count for more than absolute accuracy. There is nothing faster into action than a snubnose revolver carried in a properly designed holster.

The Taurus Snubnose

The Taurus revolvers, beginning with the Model 85, are good examples of the breed. They feature a smooth action, good fixed sights, hand-filling grips and a reputation for reliability. The rest is up to the shooter. While small self loaders are presently a fad, I do not wish to bet my life on anything below the .38 Special. The Taurus revolvers I use are chambered for the .38 Special. They will handle the +P loads well. Some of the Taurus revolvers are chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. While the heavy barrel .357 Magnum revolvers with hand-filling rubber grips may best be considered nice shooting, .38 Special revolvers with the option of using the Magnum load are present.

An advantage of the revolver, that cannot be overstated, is the revolver may be pressed against the adversary’s body and the trigger pulled repeatably without the danger of a jam—whereas a self loader would jam after the first shot. The revolver may even be fired through a coat pocket, which I like a lot. The snubnose revolver will never win a combat competition course, but it will save your life if properly used. The snubnose .38 has saved quite a few lives in fights that could have been lost.

When testing a revolver, I leave nothing to chance. Whenever I try a new revolver, I retrain and master the nuances of the sights and trigger action. By carefully paying attention to the front sight and mastering the trigger action, hits may be made with the snubnose revolver far past conversational range. As such, the revolver is well suited to defense against feral dogs, coyote and the like, providing the user is able to effectively use the piece. This means practice.

Black-grip spurless Taurus revolver in a black holser with a American flag simple and the words "American Zombie Hunter" on a white background.
This spurless hammer Taurus revolver is carried in a very neat holster.

Be sure to carry the snubnose .38 in a position that affords good access while maintaining retention. The handgun should never be carried loose. A good pocket holster is essential; a belt holster or an IWB is good when you are able to wear a covering garment.

Types of Snubnose Revolvers

There are three types of snubnose revolvers.

  • There are the conventional revolvers with the double action and a single action feature.
  • There are revolvers with a spurless hammer.
  • There are concealed hammer revolvers.

Revolvers with the exposed hammer and single action capability are the best choice when you make a shot at a reptile or even take small game. Small game with a snubby? I have taken plenty of shots of opportunity—it can be done. The spurless hammer revolver is neat and handy for pocket carry. The concealed hammer revolver is another option. By far the most common and perhaps the most useful of the group is the standard Taurus 85 type revolver with exposed hammer and the capability for single-action shooting.  I have used all three.

The major preference I have with the small Taurus revolvers is that they have the modern pebbled hand-filling composite grips. These grips separate the hand from the frame of the revolver, cushioning the shock of heavy loads. Taurus has designed and executed grips that give the you every advantage. As a bonus, the larger snub .38 grips offer better purchase as you begin to draw the handgun.

When Practicing the Proper Firing Grip.

  1. Heft the handgun in the hand, and take a firm grip. A good test is to hold the handgun increasingly tighter until your hand trembles, then back off.
  2. Carefully align the sights, taking more care for longer distances. Smoothness is important at this point. Speed will build with time, and without smoothness you accomplish nothing.
  3. Press the trigger firmly to the rear, and the trigger breaks as the sear trips.
  4. Maintain control in recoil and align the sights again. The cadence of fire is not set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger again, but by how quickly you are able to align the sights in recoil control.
  5. Keep the cadence of fire set by trigger action. There is the same amount of time spent pressing the trigger and allowing the reset.
  6. Press, reset. You will find that when the trigger is reset, you are ready to fire.
All black Rossi .357 Magnum, barrel pointed to the left, on a white background.
This Rossi .357 Magnum features a heavy barrel, good trigger action and excellent sights. The hand-filling grips allow firing .357 Magnum loads in comfort.

There are larger snubnose revolvers which are much easier to use well, although the same rules apply to mastering the application of techniques to counter the shorter sight radius. I don’t consider these true snubnose handguns but rather short barrel revolvers. The snub .38 is a compact five shooter. When you consider the likely use of such a handgun and the fact that lethal confrontations occur at intimate range most often, sticking a revolver in the opponents belly and pulling the trigger makes sense. Some may state that the belly gun is the ultimate example of a defensive handgun.

Light brown pocket holster with a pink/cream lotus blossom with black grip exposed on a white background.
You need a good pocket holster that allows the shooter to push the revolver off of the holster on drawing. Functional can also be fashionable.

The larger six-shot Rossi revolver is a great defensive revolver as well—although it is a holster gun versus a pocket gun. The Rossi six-shot .357 Magnum is modeled closely after the now out-of-production Colt Detective Special in size. The Rossi features bold sights, a good trigger action, and one of the best designed grips ever fitted to a revolver. It is one of the most overlooked revolvers on the market. It is the ideal size, more accurate than many would believe, and the Rossi revolver fires a fight-stopping cartridge. It isn’t a bear to fire with purpose-designed .357 Magnum defense loads.

Selecting Ammunition for a Snubnose Revolver

I have deployed a number of .38 Special loads over the years, ranging from the old 200-grain Super Police to the Glaser Safety Slug. I recently tested a number of .38 Special loads in my personal Taurus 605. Among the most interesting are those from Buffalo Bore ammunition. I have been favorably impressed by its loadings in the past, and this was no exception.

  • Buffalo Bore loads both standard velocity and +P loads, which is different than the new breed of ultra light .38 Special revolvers.
  • The standard velocity 158-grain lead bullet broke 790 fps. Control was good.
  • The +P version was a surprise, giving a full 970 fps. This is a very powerful load that makes the most of the .38 Special. (Incidentally, this load generates 1075 fps in a four-inch .38.) While recoil was stout, it was not wrist snapping by any means.
  • I think when you practice and invest in the .38 Special as a primary weapon, the Buffalo Bore 158-grain hollow point is a great loading.
  • I also tested the Buffalo Bore 125-grain JHP, using the special Gold Dot short barrel bullet. If you prefer the jacketed hollow point, this is a good loading.
  • I strongly prefer the lead hollow point in the .38 Special, although I have studied incidents in which the JHP has performed in an excellent manner. You pay your money and make the choice; .38 Special loads are better than ever.
3 Copper colored Barnes X bullets, from left to right: bullet, cutaway of the bulleted and spent bullet.
The Barnes X bullet is a good choice for personal defense. This is the bullet used in the Buffalo Bore Tactical line.

Firing the .357 Magnum in a snubnose Magnum can be interesting. Only loads specially designed for short barrel use are usable. As an example, a load designed for hunting normally uses a heavy charge of slow burning powder. This type of powder doesn’t fully burn in the two-inch barrel. Velocity is often less than the .38 Special +P, recoil painful and the bullet does not expand at such low velocity.

The Buffalo Bore Tactical loads solve this problem. The Tactical Load is not a heavy load but especially designed for personal defense. Loaded sensibly lighter than the full power .357 Magnum, this offering is more potent than the .38 Special +P but controllable. The 125-grain Tactical Load is ideal in the snubnose Magnum.

Focus on a navy jacket that is torn where the revolver was fired into a grassy area.
This is the end result of some of our jacket pocket experimentation.

I conducted experiments in firing from a jacket pocket. A great advantage of the concealed hammer .38 is that you can carry the piece in your  jacket pocket and fire quickly if needed. My associate, Lee Berry and I found that the revolver proved to be capable of firing a cylinder of ammunition quickly without any problems. The fabric of the coat did not ignite and this is not something you could do twice from the same jacket—the gaping hole allows the handgun to fall out! At a few feet, the bullet flew true and struck the target. Another advantage of the belly gun is when you are able to fire at contact range. The power of the .38 Special revolver cartridge is greatly enhanced by the rapidly expanding ball of gas that accompanies the bullet—often resulting in a horrific wound. There are specialty loads that make the .38 most versatile. My friends old Hoyt and Ralph often carried bird shot as the first round in their .38s when they were hunting moonshiners and busting whiskey stills. They met more snakes than moonshiners. The Speer .38 Special shot load is a good option.

When all is said in done, the snubnose revolver is a good option for personal defense. For many shooters it is the best compromise available and an option we should not be without.

Have you got a snubnose in your arsenal? If so, which one and what do you like about it? Share your experiences in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (30)

  1. I have two 38spls. One is an older Colt Cobra from the 70s and I wanted my wife to get her conceal carry and promised her a firearm if she did. She did and she became the owner of a Taurus Ultra lite 85. I reload 38 ammo so it is easy and less cost to go to the range and have her practice ( I do as well)..No offense Ladies but if your purse is like my wife’s… I prefer the revolver. Though I taught my wife what to do if a stovepipe or misfire occurs with a least the revolver does not require added actions and the revolver allows her to just keep pulling the trigger if needed.

    We have LEOs in our family and most follow the 7 yard rule/center of mass. She is consistent with that distance and a pie plate sized target. I am sure she will get better but that is adequate to achieve safely. If you want a “100 yard” shot with a 38 snubby… have at it. I am looking at protection, not deer hunting. Both weapons are great… my colt fits perfect and 6 shots waiting. Her 85 fits her hands and works well for her. I also have a Dan Wesson 357 and it feels good with 38spl rounds as well as a 357 Marlin rifle. 38spl is the majority of my reloading and is a great all around caliber. As with most, I have more Auto pistols than revolver… in 380, 9mm, 40SW, 45 GAP and 45ACP in Semi and 38spl/357mag and 22s/lr/magnum revolvers. They all have a special place for me.. the 38 being used the most. I agree… 38spl +P are great out of the 85 so no need for the 357 to be the first pick. Just my opinion. Just practice with what you have.

  2. Pretty sure this is the gun the woman used to kill her two daughters in Texas with. If it helming more than 5 rounds she could have taken her husband too. Maybe buy two of these?

  3. Follow up..
    Have put a few more rounds through the 85 ultralight 38 spcl. At 10 yards the shots are going high… not much and left..again not much. I added bright white to the front sight and it helps in sight placement but any tips here would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I Carry a C9.
    A friend recently purchased a Taurus Model 85 with an aluminum / titanium frame.
    She decided she wants a 380 like my wife’s so after 25 rounds or so through the Taurus 38 special I’ve decided to buy it off her as it truly conceals.
    I get good decent clusters even being new to the snub nose at 9 yards and plan on working out to 15 yards.
    I plan keeping my Hi Point C9 as it shoots well for me to 50′ but it is more of an open carry pistol.

  5. I have owned 5 .38 snubbies. One Charter Arms Undercover, two Colt Detective Specials, one Taurus 85 and a S&W hammerless. The Charter was light enough and dependable, but not as accurate as the others so I let it go. The Colts are well made and finished, but since they are six shooters. making them a bit larger and because they are approaching collector status I rarely carry them. The Taurus 85, though it takes a back seat to my S&W j-frame, is what I would consider a best buy. It is the one I carry the most when working outdoors in harsh dirty conditions. Its price makes it a bit more expendable. Also have a .44
    special Taurus snubbie. Too large and heavy for everyday concealed carry in my way of seeing things. Good house gun though. Two of my snubbies are in .22 l.r. chambering, a Taurus 9 shot and a S&W 8 shot. Avoid the Taurus .22 snubbie. Mine came out of the box a 7 shooter because the firing pin doesn’t make good contact with cartridges in 2 chambers. I’m still putting off sending it in to be at the mercy of Taurus’s lousy (according to reviews I have read) service center. The S&W .22 is a work of art. Accurate & so light that you just WANT to put it in a pocket as a back up. Don’t laugh about the idea of carrying a .22 snubbie. A .22 l.r. out of a snubbie will penetrate more layers of plywood than a hollow point will out of a .22 rifle. Use solids or hollow points in a snubbie. Neither will expand at that velocity. Expect about 8 inches of penetration in ballistic media. A .22 magnum is not worth the extra 100 fps due to extra muzzle flash, blast and expense. Last of all, I have a .357 magnum Ruger SP101 with a 3 inch barrel. It makes an excellent carry gun for certain situations. I practice with all my snubbies at distances from point blank out to 100 yards. Yes, 100 yards. They are that accurate, able to connect with a man sized target at that distance when I do my part. I too carry bird shot as my first round up when I am working outdoors. It is available in every chambering I’ve mentioned here.

    1. 100 yards in a snubby? I have a long way to go!
      I practice generalky at 12-15 yards and figure that will position me well in any necessary confrontation. Nice to know these are capable as I have hesitated on the purchase. This site confirms my desire to pick this one up. Thanks

  6. I have 3 small revolvers, a Taurus CIA platinum and a Taurus 85. The 85 is super wonderful, the CIA is too light for such a big round. I would recommend 38 special in the CIA,

    1. hey paul , the only revolver I own is a Taurus 85ul. It only weighs 17 oz’s. It is actually a pleasure to carry it concealed in a open top belt holster with an untucked shirt or t-shirt. Its quite comforting knowing I have 5 shots of +P ready to be un-leashed if I need it. and I carry a speedloader with 5 more of the same.

    2. Taurus 85’s and the like Taurus revolvers are some of the best snubbies for their cost and dependability. Had mine 10 yrs and about 2-3000 rds through it without a single malfunction of any kind. Love my little .38.

  7. I have a Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 Special Stainless from way back With short Barrell. Used to shoot it alot. Not anymore, just part of my collection. Slight Muzzel blast Problem. Thats not the reason for not shooting it though. Just filed it away 4 a later time.

  8. This is very late to the discussion, but add me to the list of people who like the .327 Federal Magnum. My memories of a .357 are how unpleasant it is to shoot, but the .327 J-Frame with good grips is not unpleasant at all. Mine is 25 oz in steel, compared to a 15-oz J-Frame .38, recoil is just about the same between the two.

    As the .327 looks like 3/4 of the .357 in many ways, that certainly outperforms the .38 and it’s a good round for the J-Frame and similar small revolvers. Nice to be able to shoot 100 ft-lb wadcutters and 500 ft-lb hollow points in the same gun, and the gun functions every time because that is what it was designed to do!

  9. Don’t know about Taurus but have a Charter Arms 5-shot stainless steel in .44 special i bought years ago like most of the others i have. Good, fairly compact, never let me down, but, don’t like the muzzle blast with that puppy. Maybe I’m just a wimp.

  10. The snubbie among my guns is a S&W 19-6 with 2.5″ barrel and smooth Ahrends rosewood target grips. According to the range officer at the indoor range I used to shoot at, it probably had some trigger work done – smoothest trigger out of any of my handguns, in either single or double action. I’m guessing that was done by the first owner, before a second owner who shot gravel through it, because the first inch of the barrel is heavily scarred by … something. It would just surprise me if the same owner had it slicked up only to abuse the hell out of it. Despite the barrel scarring, it’s very accurate out to 10 yards, and still scores at 15. Recoil is manageable even with full-power .357 rounds, although I practice mostly with .38 wad cutters. It’s a great gun and one I’d have no problem carrying with confidence.

  11. @Mike – from everything I’ve read about it tonight it was Ruger who introduced it so they could put more rounds in a revolver. With all the auto high-cap craze, I can see why they did it. I think it is ingenious, because it also empowers CCW designs for belly guns, and I think it would make a smashingly good Cowboy Action lever gun, because you could shoot the ancient S&W 32 Long in it, to qualify for the range. Then switch ammo for hunting and recreational shooting, no to mention it is a good self defense round. Lot more accuracy with lighter bullet, adds up to good penetration and energy to the target. Several good tests I researched online from reputable sources that don’t have an ax to grind, say the bullet expansion in the factory loads they’ve tested show very comparable performance to the .357 Magnum in stopping power. I wonder if the older H&R Magnum would show more accuracy out of a newer pistol or rifle. Marlin’s Quality Control has dropped in later years, so that may explain the poor performance you were experiencing. I love the thought of a lever gun that can shoot so many different types of ammo – completely safely too!

  12. I am probably wrong, but was not Ruger the first to come out with the 327? I have a 32 magnum that fires 32 longs and s & w 32 or 32 shorts. the power is good. the 32 mag. and 32 longs are a great round. they come in a nice verity of grams, and a lot are made by federal. a good carry pistol for a snub nose. not as much recoil. super accurate. pity the poor soles who carried the old H & R 32 short break open. I could not hit a wall 5 feet in front of me with that revolver.

  13. I love taurus snubnose revolvers and revolvers in general.I own a model 856 2in snub i believe its magnesium.What happened to them.With 6 shots and a great price and all the great features of a model 85 ,I just wonder why?

  14. Wow Mountain Man Dean! I need to subscribe to a gun magazine and get caught up on everything, as I didn’t even know Ruger had developed this relatively new cartridge! I assume it is new anyway – I’d never heard of it! That sounds like a perfect cartridge for a lever gun Cowboy Action caliber! I hate buying older weak cartridges, so it would be great to have a more modern one, that took the old traditional 32 long as that is probably closer to a 32-20, which was what almost all cowboys around my local area were using in their Winchester lever rifles, back in the late 1800s in the black powder days! Maybe those are one in the same, I’m not familiar enough with that ammo line. Just goes to show, you can be in guns for 40+ years and still not know nearly everything there is to know about them.

  15. I have a Taurus snub nose in .327 Federal magnum. It has very strong terminal ballistics(way better than a .38) and it holds 6 rounds instead of 5. It packs a pretty good amount of recoil that takes some getting used to and you really need to put in some range time with it but the nice thing is that it shoots .32 long, short and magnum as well as the .327 so you can save some money on the ammo plinking. The wound characteristics are close to a .357 but not quite as powerful but the ammo and gun are way lighter. I have had no problems with mine other than some issues with unburned powder with certain ammo brands but I think that is to be expected with a revolver in this barrel length. I use mine as a backup gun to my Glock model 30 .45 caliber because it’s easier than carrying 3 extra mags. I was never a wheel gun man before this gun but it has stoked an interest in revolvers with me and I would be happy to recommend Taurus for their value and bang for the buck.

  16. My favorite is the S&W 638 (humpback). Is it a spurless or concealed? It’s difficult to cock for single action. Would lighter replacement springs help?

  17. Thanks for posting cree – I’m an old fart, and back in the day we used to sell “air-weights” in 38 special of course; but the +p had just come out, and one of my clients was willing to take the chance on trying this in such a belly gun. It did okay, sort of, but I had to point out to him that just 5 shots impacted the firing pin side of the receiver face, that I couldn’t personally recommend shooting them except in dire personal danger! This customer took the lesson very well, but I didn’t! I was PO-ED to say the least, that the latest metallurgy science would allow this sort of thing. I was just a kid, but I still feel the S&W of that day let the customers down. They should have anticipated that advances in ammo were equal to advances in light weight metals, and posted a warning on all retail boxes to this effect. I’m not generally a safety-sam type, but it soiled my belief in a rock solid corporation that I’d learned to love as a lad.

  18. I have a Smith and Wesson model 442 hammer less I use for pocket carry. It’s ported and handles +p loads.It’s great for up close and personal encounters. For the type of work I do that revolver is the best to suit my needs. I have a physical job and having a holster whether IWB or OWB or belly band just doesn’t work well at all.In the pocket in a De Santis holster keeps it hidden and prevents it from slipping out.I would like to carry a larger caliber gun, maybe the Rossi, but for now I’ll stay with the Smith and Wesson.

  19. I’ll take the .44 special Ultra-Lite thank you very much! Buffalo Bore Tactical? Hmm?! might have to try their Heavy .44 special – but since you can’t shoot that load in a Charter Arms, does anybody know if it is safe for the Taurus Ultra Lite?

  20. I owned a Taurus model 85 which saved my life one cold November morning. I was carrying my snubnosed 38 in a bad neighborhood when some dumb ass tried to rob me, I told him am a truck driver and that was a time X on my wrist not a Rolex. But that made no difference to him. I got stabbed in my rib cage with a 6 inch steak knife. Before he could get a second stab I fired my snobby through my jacket pocket, and scored three hits in his chest cavity. My snubnosed saved my life, because of its small size, but large power. Unfortunately I lost my snubnosed to the police department ( confiscated, through some lame, anti-Second Amendment law. I was told it had to be destroyed after someone was killed with it.{…BULLSHIT !} I loved that gun..) I have not been able to buy a new one yet, ( still the police make me the bad guy for trying to save my own life, lost my CCP, lawyer fees, time, bullshit) but as soon as I’m able I will buy another snubnosed 2 inch barrel revolver. You can bet your life on that, because I did and would again…

  21. Use an S&W 642 (with CZ laser grips) as a truck gun/CCW primary. Do not need the weight or increased capacity of a semi auto.

  22. I sometimes carry my S&W .38 Airweight in a Uncle Mike’s #3 pocket holster. It fits perfectly in my front jeans pocket. This little revolver is designed for use with +P ammo. I have some guns I would consider trading or selling, but not this one.

  23. I have a model 85 Taurus that I purchased new 1/26/94 and have fired about 400 rounds through it. It has the wooden grips on it. It is in perfect condition. But there are problems, and that’s why I never continued to use it. First off Taurus gave you instructions not to use any +P, and only use the weakest load of a LRN only. After firing it the first 100 rounds ALL the screws got loose, and Taurus did send me new ones. They were very prompt in sending me the new screws. After firing it again the same thing happened. So I used Loc-tight, and tried it again. same thing. So now I use my Ruger SP-101 which is by far the best snub I believe on the market. you can put ANYTHING in that with no problem, if you can withstand the recoil. Maybe the new Taurus model 85 are made better, but trust wise I will stick with Ruger.

  24. My first and only carry gun is the SS Model 85. Accuracy is spot-on up to 25 feet with standard loads. Perfectly concealed in a pocket holster. Stiff trigger pull out of the factory though. Lot of gun for the price. Two thumbs up here!

  25. I’ve owned and carried Taurus revolvers since 1995 . Reliable to a fault and accurate. After running 12000 rounds of full house .357 practicing for bowling pin matches, she began to hic-up now and again. Failure to advance. That many full strength rounds is a wee abusive and generally speaking, more than most owners will ever put through a hand gun.

    I sent her to Taurus, presto, two weeks later I had my baby back in perfect working order. They stand behind the life time guarantee,no questions. I was back to 2.5 second runs, much to the dismay of my “red dot race gun” fielding friends.

    Fast and hard hitting in a package you can CARRY. I love my Taurus.

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