Skip to main content

Taurus 856 Defender Ultra-Lite Revolver Review

The Taurus 856 Defender Ultra-Lite revolver features a useful night sight, doesn't weigh much and is easier to shoot than a two-inch snubby.

About a year ago, I reviewed the 856 Ultra-Lite—a successor to the Model 85 with six shots instead of five—and came away impressed by the inexpensive but good-shooting snubnose revolver. Recently, Taurus came out with a three-inch version, the Defender, and it is equally impressive.

This particular model is an aluminum-framed Ultra-Lite, one of two such guns in the sixgun 856 Defender lineup. These weigh 17.5 ounces, half of what the four all-steel models weigh. Overall length is 7.5 inches, and the width across the fluted steel cylinder is 1.4 inches.

I think the most outstanding feature on the 856 Defender is the front sight. While the rear is simply a gutter milled into the backstrap, the front is a day/night sight, which is not something you expect to find on a revolver with a suggested retail just north of $400. It’s an AmeriGlo, marked “H3 FJ,” for which I could find no details on AmeriGlo’s site. But no matter. It features a bright orange stripe into which a small tritium vial is set. It’s a sight that’s very quick to pick up in any lighting condition. It is pinned in place.

Taurus-856-Defender
The 856 Defender comes with a day/night sight from AmeriGlo: a tritium vial set in a broad, bright orange stripe. It’s a good, highly visible setup.

The three-inch barrel is of one piece and fully shrouded. The muzzle sports a slight crown to protect the rifling. It, the crane and the cylinder are matte stainless.


When I posted a range photo of the 856 Defender Ultra-Lite on Facebook, one visitor commented that I must’ve shot the gun really hot because the cylinder was discolored. While some of what he noticed was simply fouling, the gun’s appearance was also due in part to the fact that the steel parts are slightly darker than the anodized finish on the aluminum frame. It’s not quite two-tone, but I think it gives the gun a unique look.


The right side of the frame features the Taurus bull logo and “Taurus Int’l Mfg Miami, FL-USA” along with the serial and model numbers. The left side is stamped “Ultra-Lite” and “Taurus Armas Made in Brazil.”

The cylinder release is nice and big, and it’s serrated so your thumb won’t slip. The exposed hammer’s spur is likewise serrated.

The rubber grips come from Hogue. They have a pebbled texture, finger grooves and a dish at the top where your firing-hand thumb rests. They’re not full wraparounds, so a thin strip of the frame’s backstrap is exposed.

Taurus-856-Defender
The Ultra-Lite version is constructed with an aluminum frame, and the revolver has a nicely shaped and textured grip from Hogue.

I actually prefer this in handguns that don’t have a lot of recoil because the lack of extra material at the back makes the grip a bit smaller. Even though I have medium-size hands, I almost always find that slimmer, smaller grips shoot better for me.


The trigger is what you’d expect. The double-action pull is relatively smooth, with typical stacking, and it breaks at nine pounds, 14 ounces on average. The single-action pull has a wee bit of creep and grit, and it breaks at three pounds, seven ounces.

I own one revolver with a three-inch barrel, a Ruger GP100 in .44 Special, and I’ve come to appreciate this barrel length. The extra inch of sighting radius over a snubby is a big advantage to my astigmatic eyes. Shooting with bifocals is hell, as some of you know.

The longer tube gives just a bit more weight out front, which tames muzzle rise a bit. The 856 Defender is chambered to .38 Special +P, and I found +P loads to be nicely controllable even though it’s such a light gun.


While the Black Hills HoneyBadger ammunition wasn’t the most accurate of the four loads I tested from the bench, it sure was the nicest to shoot because its light 100-grain bullets don’t generate a lot of recoil, making fast follow-up shots no problem. And from what I’ve read, this bullet design, with its fluted “fins” produces excellent terminal performance.

I thought the gun shot great from the bench. While it’s not apples to apples because I didn’t test the same ammo in both guns, but the longer Defender outdid the standard 856 by about a half-inch on average. And regardless of what ammo I fed it, the Defender acquitted itself really well in defensive-type drills.

Taurus-856-Defender
The longer barrel makes the gun easier to shoot well, and with light-bullet loads like the Black Hills HoneyBadger, you can deliver six good shots quickly if needed.

The beauty of the snubnose revolver is that it makes a great carry gun for those who prefer revolvers. Yes, the Defender has a longer three-inch barrel, but unless you’re carrying it in a pocket—in a proper pocket holster, of course—the extra length isn’t going to affect concealability. Because it’s a lightweight aluminum frame, you’re bearing hardly any burden in terms of weight.

In the final analysis, I think the 856 Defender has a lot going for it. It has that useful night sight, it doesn’t weigh much, and it’s easier to shoot than a two-inch snubby. Couple that with its $425 suggested retail price, which will bring mid-to-high $300s at dealers, and you’ve got a dependable, shootable and affordable concealed-carry revolver.

Taurus 856 Defender Ultra-Lite Specs

  • Type: Single-action/double-action centerfire revolver
  • Caliber: .38 Special +P
  • Capacity: 6
  • Barrel: 3 in.
  • OAL/Height/Width: 7.5/5.0/1.4 in.
  • Weight: 17.5 oz.
  • Construction: Matte stainless barrel, cylinder, crane; anodized aluminum frame
  • Sights: Gutter rear, AmeriGlo day/night front
  • Trigger: Double action, 9 lb. 14 oz.; single action, 3 lb. 7 oz. (measured)
  • Safety: Transfer bar
  • Price: $425
  • Manufacturer: Taurus, TaurusUSA.com

Taurus 856 Defender Ultra-Lite Accuracy Results

Taurus-856-Defender
Notes: Accuracy results are averages of four five-shot groups at 15 yards from an MTM Case-Gard pistol rest. Velocities are averages of 20 shots measured on a Pro Chrono chronograph 10 feet from the muzzle. Abbreviations: JHP, jacketed hollowpoint; LRN, lead roundnose

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Handgun Basics

Handgun Basics

SIG Academy's Hana Bilodeau joins Rich and Jim to discuss the essential skills all handgunners should master.

Dealing with Subcompacts

Dealing with Subcompacts

Jim and Rich cover the benefits and the challenges presented by very small pistols.

Performance Center M&P Shield M2.0

Performance Center M&P Shield M2.0

From Smith & Wesson, the M&P Shield M2.0 is a great option for a carry gun with optics option.

Going To The Range

Going To The Range

Jim and Scott show you how to make each trip to the shooting range a quality experience.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Ruger SR1911 is offered in two versions, an all-stainless in .45 ACP (model # 6762) and a two-tone aluminum-framed model in 9mm (model # 6758). This review by James Tarr will focus on the 9mm.Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style 9mm Review 1911

Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style 9mm Review

James Tarr - May 01, 2019

The Ruger SR1911 is offered in two versions, an all-stainless in .45 ACP (model # 6762) and a...

The new Ruger-57 looks to put a charge into the 5.7x28mm pistol market—and you know you want one.Ruger 57 Pistol Review Reviews

Ruger 57 Pistol Review

James Tarr - June 05, 2020

The new Ruger-57 looks to put a charge into the 5.7x28mm pistol market—and you know you want...

Kahr Arms officially broke ground on their new headquarters in Blooming Grove Township, in PikeKahr Arms Breaks Ground on New Pennsylvania HQ Industry

Kahr Arms Breaks Ground on New Pennsylvania HQ

Handguns Online Staff - June 04, 2014

Kahr Arms officially broke ground on their new headquarters in Blooming Grove Township, in Pike

Small, compact semi-auto pistols are popular with concealed-carry firearm buyers, and these two models – the KelTec PF9 9mm and the Ruger LCP II .22LR – are no exceptions. They are effective for personal protection but only if you put in the time to practice.Compact Carry Pistols Are Effective With Practice Training

Compact Carry Pistols Are Effective With Practice

Handguns Staff - August 14, 2020

Small, compact semi-auto pistols are popular with concealed-carry firearm buyers, and these...

See More Trending Articles

More Reviews

The Ruger PC Charger is a short, sweet 9mm pistol.Ruger PC Charger Review Reviews

Ruger PC Charger Review

James Tarr - December 04, 2020

The Ruger PC Charger is a short, sweet 9mm pistol.

The Mossberg MC2c gives you a reliable, concealable, shootable, made-in-America pistol with steel sights, all-stainless-steel construction, good ergonomics and double-digit capacity. All for a price lower than most of its competitors.Mossberg MC2c Review Reviews

Mossberg MC2c Review

James Tarr - May 06, 2020

The Mossberg MC2c gives you a reliable, concealable, shootable, made-in-America pistol with...

Springfield's popular Saint Victor .308 is now available as a pistol, putting a ton of power in a small platform.Springfield Armory Saint Victor .308 Pistol Review Reviews

Springfield Armory Saint Victor .308 Pistol Review

James Tarr - April 28, 2020

Springfield's popular Saint Victor .308 is now available as a pistol, putting a ton of power...

Rock Island Armory's XT 22 Magnum is affordable to shoot, reliable and accurate.Rock Island Armory XT 22 Magnum Review Reviews

Rock Island Armory XT 22 Magnum Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - October 02, 2020

Rock Island Armory's XT 22 Magnum is affordable to shoot, reliable and accurate.

See More Reviews

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now