TESTED: The Taurus 856 Executive Grade .38 Special By: Mike Detty


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In an age of high-capacity micro-compact, striker-fired polymer 9mms, many would assume that double-action revolvers are obsolete. Some might even think they are completely irrelevant for concealed carry and personal defense today. And they’re very wrong! Short-barreled, double-action revolvers, like the Taurus 856 Executive Grade .38 Special, as seen at the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous, are the original point-and-shoot guns. Their simplicity and ease of manipulation make them as popular today as they were when most law enforcement agencies were armed with revolvers.

The Taurus 856 Executive Grade .38 Special

Even old police trade-in revolvers, while rode hard and put away wet, are commanding ridiculously high prices. Likewise, custom revolver smiths struggle to keep up with the demand for actions jobs, new sights, and refinishing. For many concealed carriers, the revolver is their preferred choice for a defensive weapon.

The company just released an enhanced version of their popular Taurus Defender 856 .38 Special revolver—the Executive Grade 856. The medium-sized, six-shot revolver features all stainless-steel construction and an added degree of fit, finish, and polish.

According to Taurus sources, the Executive Grade double-action-only gun is assembled in its own area, where specially trained technicians lavish the revolver with an extra degree of attention. Executive models are laboriously hand polished and then given a smooth, even, and non-reflective satin finish.

Adding a splash of color to it are the deluxe Altamont walnut grips that look great and accommodate speed loaders. They also possess checkering that’s not so coarse as to catch on layered clothing concealment like grips with aggressive texturing.

Taurus supplies the 856 Executive Grade with deluxe Altamont walnut grips.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

Extra Custom Touches

But the extra attention given to the Executive Grade 856 isn’t just designed to make the gun look prettier. Taurus technicians also perform a handful of modifications usually performed by custom revolver smiths for savvy wheelgun customers.

For instance, each chamber of the cylinder is chamfered for unhindered speed reloads. Taurus also removes the Executive Grade’s hammer spur and eliminates the single-action mode from the action, making it double-action-only. And for comfortable double-action shooting, the trigger face is polished smooth, and its outer edges are rounded.

Taurus removed the 856 Executive Grade's hammer spur and eliminated its single-action mode for concealed carry. Both make it a better carry gun.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

The revolver’s internal components are also given an added degree of polish and fitment. When I first received my Executive Grade 856, I guessed the double-action trigger pull to be between 7 and 8 pounds. So, it was a big surprise when my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge read 11 pounds.

“This can’t be right,” I thought and tried it with my old mechanical trigger pull gauge. It too read 11 pounds. I’m certain that the low-mass hammer has a lot to do with this. Smooth is the operative word here, without stacking. And the trigger has a firm reset, and that is a big help with fast follow-up shots.

The Taurus 856 Barrel

Taurus outfits this revolver with a 3-inch barrel, and I could write an entire article on this barrel length and how it positively affects gun balance, sight radius, and concealability.

For a defensive revolver, the 3-inch barrel is my top choice, and I’m not alone in this regard. Last November, Gunsite hosted The Pat Rogers Memorial Revolver Round Up, and I noted quite a few dedicated revolver guys also choose this barrel length. Smith & Wesson produced a number of .38 and .357s with this barrel length. But collectors have snapped these guns up, and prices are prohibitive.

The pinned blued ramp front sight works in conjunction with a fixed rear sight.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

Others, like me, buy a 4-inch barrel and have it cut to a 3-inch length by capable revolver smiths like Dave Fink. Colt is now offering the King Cobra and Python with 3-inch barrels, and sales are brisk.

The 856’s barrel appears to be machined from one-piece stainless bar stock and possesses an integral top rib and ejector rod shroud. It gives the gun a sleek, all-business profile. Additionally, the weight of the barrel gives the model 856 a beautiful balance that helps the gun point naturally.

Frame Size and Operation

Taurus spec’s the 856’s frame size as small, though. I initially thought it was comparable to an S&W K-frame size. A few minutes with calipers determined that every aspect of the Taurus frame and cylinder were just slightly smaller than my K-frame S&W M10. Not by much.

In fact, I used my Barranti Concealed Carry Revolver (CCR) holster, bought for my 3-inch S&W K-frame guns, to do some draw-and-fire practice. I’m not in favor of advocating using holsters with guns not designed to fit, but in the case of the Taurus Executive Grade 856, fit was close enough for these exercises.

Although I wouldn’t advise it for real-life carry as the retention was not adequate. That being said, Doc Barranti would be happy to make a CCR for your Taurus 856 with a glove-like fit.

There is a spring-loaded crane detent-lock for front-end lock up rather than the S&W style lock up at the front of the ejector rod. Cylinder lock-up is tight with negligible side-to-side play, and no end shake. The cylinder rotates counterclockwise, just like an S&W revolver.

The Taurus 856 features a fixed rear sight.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

Taurus pins a blued ramp front sight into the barrel’s top rib, coupled with a fixed rear sight. I didn’t find this style of sight to be a hindrance during testing. But I know from experience that my 63-year-old eyes see a Patridge-style sight easier. Especially if it possesses a brass or gold bead. I’m hoping that Taurus will offer a bead and/or tritium dot front sight in the near future.

Change of Protocol

Normally for 3-inch revolvers and pistols, I’ll test them for accuracy at 15 yards because of their short sight radius. But the Taurus 856 is a DAO revolver, and I knew the long trigger pull would affect my ability to shoot it as accurately as a revolver in single-action mode.

Because of this, I set my target at 10 yards. I readily acknowledge the gun is more accurate than what I recorded.

Shooting Impressions

Even though the distance was only 10 yards, I have to say I am impressed by the Executive Grade 856’s accuracy. The average group for the five loads tested was just over an inch. Doubletap’s 148-grain target wadcutter produced the best five-shot group, which measured just .81 inches!

One of the more interesting things I learned at the Pat Roger’s Memorial Round Up is that expansion of handgun bullets from short barrels is usually non-existent. Because of abbreviated barrel length, lower velocities rarely give the bullet the speed needed to expand. Even magnum and +P loads fail miserably.

Rather than run flinch-inducing, hand throbbing monster loads through the defensive revolver, in-the-know experts run 148-grain wadcutters, which give excellent penetration and can punch through the skull.

Both the cylinder release and grips are designed to accommodate speedloaders. The author found his Pachmayr S&W K-frame speedloaders worked just fine with the Taurus wheelgun.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

I have shelved the hot .38 Special loads and carry a cylinder of Doubletap’s 148-grain wadcutter ammunition. My speedloader is loaded with semi-wadcutter ammo, only because it is easier to do a speed reload with them as opposed to flush-cased wadcutters.

I set up my MGM BC C-Zone steel target at 15 yards. It mimics a USPSA paper target with the “D” zone removed. Using mostly wadcutter ammunition, I found it easy to place quick double-taps on the steel. Its smooth trigger pull allowed me to keep my sights on the target all the way through its pull. Likewise, the firm reset made the second shot quick and easy.

The 856's monolithic barrel and ejector rod shroud made it easy to bench rest for accuracy.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

The hardwood grips fit my hand well yet are trim and short enough for effective concealed carry. I was able to fire the 856 comfortably without having to compromise my shooting grip.

Both the cylinder latch and grips are cut to accommodate speed loaders. Correspondingly, I found my S&W “K” frame speed loaders worked just fine with the Taurus 856.

Final Notes

Taurus’ newest offering provides shooters with a dead-nuts reliable revolver that packs plenty of accuracy and boasts features we normally only see on custom revolvers. It should be a welcome addition to any revolver aficionados’ collection. And Taurus ships the gun in a TSA-approved Pelican Vault hardcase.

The author firing the Taurus 856.
(Photo by Alex Landeen)

To differentiate the Executive Grade gun from standard 856s, Taurus engraves the right-side plate with the stylized Taurus bull and horns silhouette ringed by a double circle with the legend “Executive Grade.”

With a suggested retail price of just $689, the Executive Grade 856 provides plenty of custom features and performance at a production gun price.

For more information, visit TaurusUSA.com.

Performance results.

Taurus Executive Grade 856 Specs

Caliber: .38 Special +P
Barrel: 3 inches
Overall Length: 7.5 inches
Weight: 25 ounces (empty)
Grips: Altamont walnut
Sights: Pinned ramp front, fixed rear
Action: DOA
Finish: Hand-polished satin
Capacity: 6
MSRP: $689

The Taurus 856 Executive Grade .38 Special.
Photo by Alex Landeen (Photo by Alex Landeen)

This article was originally published in the Personal Defense World August/September 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email subscriptions@athlonmediagroup.com.

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