The Taurus 856 Defender TORO: A New Kind of Revolver

— Travis PikeCADRE Dispatch

A standard can be good, and when something becomes the standard, there is a reason. It’s why every new semi-auto handgun seems to follow the Glock striker-fired, double-stack pattern, with various sizes. It’s a standard that works.

Sometimes, breaking away from the standard can also be good, and that’s exactly what the Taurus 856 Defender TORO does.

856 defender toro profile
The Defender isn’t your standard compact revolver

So, what is the standard for a concealed-carry revolver? It’s probably a five-shot weapon with a compact frame and a barrel between 1.87 and 2 inches long. It’s got small grips and a trench rear sight with a fixed front sight. That’s been a standard ever since the Fitz Special graced us with the first true deep-carry revolver.

The Taurus 856 Defender TORO breaks from that standard in several ways, and it’s spelled out in the name of the gun.

  • The 856 is a new model of the classic Taurus Model 85, but Taurus found a way to shove an extra round into the gun and make it a six-shot cylinder.
  • The Defender series, which extends to a few different revolvers, takes the barrel out to three inches.
  • TORO is the acronym for Taurus Optics Ready Option.

The Taurus 856 Defender still uses a compact frame with a compact grip. It’s still very much a concealed-carry revolver. However, it’s certainly not the standard.

The Taurus 856 Defender TORO: A New Kind of Revolver

Concealed carry revolvers are making a bit of a comeback. It turns out we are all a little sick of the striker-fired micro-compact.

As revolvers become cool again, we’ll certainly see more and more modern features make their way to revolvers.

Optic Ready

Mounting a red dot on a revolver isn’t new, and competitors have been doing it for a very long time. However, what’s new is the TORO method, which is a defensive and carry-oriented revolver.

optic on revolver
Optics on revolvers, what’s next?

The top strap of the 856 Defender TORO comes with two threaded slots. You use these slots to cement a plate onto the revolver. The plate mounts your optic and is cut for the RMSc pattern optics.

I mounted a 3 Tactix MPRD 2 to my Taurus. At the 2023 SHOT Show, I noted that this was the optic they were using, and I had one, so it was a match made in heaven.

Riton 3 Tactix MPRD 2 optic on Taurus 856 Defender TORO
The 856 Defender mounts optics easily.

Mounting an optic to a revolver places it relatively high on the gun. It’s just the nature of the beast. The downside to this design is that, apparently, some optics run out of elevation before you can get the gun zeroed. According to some research, that tends to happen with Holosun optics.

Optics like the Riton, as well as examples from Shield and Swampfox, haven’t presented that issue. Luckily, if you have a Holosun, there are shims that can fix the issue by slightly changing the mounting angle.

More Features

It’s easy to get absorbed by the TORO mounting system, but there is a whole revolver wrapped around it. The Tarusu 856 Defender TORO comes together to be a pretty awesome revolver.

With the three-inch barrel, we get a full-length ejector rod. Taurus could have just used the same design on their snub nose 856 but went with the more ergonomic and intuitive option for reloads. The barrel has a full-length underlug.

ejector rod on revolver
The full-length ejector is a nice touch.

If you don’t like optics, then the front sight is a black ramp that’s pinned instead of being a solid part of the barrel. A pinned sight is a sight that can be changed, and that’s an option.

The rear sight is that dreaded trench that I really suck at shooting with. Luckily, I like the optic.

grips on the Taurus 856 Defender TORO
The grips are small and brutal, but they work

The Taurus 856 Defender TORO uses standard revolver ergonomics. It’s got a S&W-style cylinder release. The grip is super small and what you’d expect from a snub-nose revolver. An exposed hammer finishes it all off.

To The Range

Right off the bat, the optic makes things different.

I’m very used to finding the red dot on an automatic handgun, but it took a lot of practice to get used to finding the dot with the revolver from the draw. I would often aim high when I drew the revolver and had to dip the gun to find the dot.

It took a lot of practice to get the gun on target with the dot, but eventually, I figured it out.

aiming revolver with red dot
The Defender’s 3-inch barrel makes it a softer shooter than most concealed-carry revolvers.

I am not a six-shooter by any means, but with the red dot, I was able to put all six rounds into the black of a B8 target at 25 yards in double action.

Mind you, this took some practice. I had to learn how to really get a good grip on the small grip of the gun. My hands are 2XL, and the small grip presented an interesting challenge.

A Challenge

I like a challenge, so I had fun watching my groups consistently shrink daily as I practiced with the gun. The trigger started out kind of rough and stiff, but after a mix of dry fire and live fire, it smoothed up and got better. The trigger isn’t Ruger LCR nice, but it is easily on par with stock S&W revolvers.

Taurus Defender 856 TORO
It’s the perfect companion for my mini safe.

The gun isn’t light. At over 23 ounces, it’s no air weight, which helps with recoil and makes the gun mostly pleasant to shoot.

The thinnish rubber grips did beat my hands up a bit. After a long day of shooting, there was a small bruise on my palm. Honestly, though, the ammo might have had something to do with that. I probably went through 250 125-grain Speer Lawmen rounds in one day. Those aren’t the softest shooting rounds.

Going Fast

After getting somewhat acquainted with the gun, I practiced going fast.

I started with ready-up drills, meaning I went from the low ready to on target as fast as I could. At 10 yards, I could land an A-zone shot in about a second — sometimes fractionally more, and sometimes fractionally less.

shooting 856 defender toro
I’m no six-gunner, but I’m getting solid with the 856 Defender.

I practiced my Bill Drills with the Taurus 856 Defender and was able to trim my time down to three seconds with the revolver.

I know I can do better, but my somewhat amateur revolver handling will need to improve. You notice pretty quickly that the lack of a reciprocating slide makes finding and tracking the dot between shots easy.

3-inch barrel on taurus 856
The 3-inch barrel adds velocity, increases control, and extends the iron sight radius.

I also practiced some reload drills. Speed loaders designed to work with the Colt Detective Specials work great, and so do K frame reloaders. I’d stick to the Safariland Comp 2 speed loaders. They are small enough not to get caught between the frame and the cylinder of the gun.

Final Shots

When it came to going fast and being more defensive-oriented, the Taurus 856 Defender TORO performed like a champ. It proved to be accurate and reliable, and the red dot made it very easy to shoot. Seeing my skills grow with a six-gun was satisfying, and I greatly enjoyed my time with the Taurus 856 Defender TORO.

Now, when is the next revolver class I can get into…

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