Taurus Model 856 Defender And Ultralite

Price And Function Combined
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The Taurus 856 Ultralite series includes the 2" barreled ULs and the 3" barreled UL Defender series.

The Taurus 856 line is derived from the venerable Taurus Model 85, one of the Brazil-based gun company’s most popular revolvers. The M85 itself bears a striking resemblance to certain snubbie Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolvers, likely due in part to a shared joint ownership in the 1970s.

The added -6 in the model number signifies the 856 models are all 6-shot as opposed to the Model 85 being a 5-shot revolver. Taurus has done a fine job of making several attractive versions of the UltraLite with the 2″ barrel and the newer Defender with the 3″ barrel.


This 3" Defender sports a matte stainless steel frame with black rubber Hogue grips.


Prior to the 856 UL, I owned a couple of Taurus revolvers similar in size and features. One was a .22 Magnum with a polished black finish and gold hammer, trigger and cylinder release. It was a very attractive handgun, but the trigger pull in double-action mode was off the scale. For this reason, I let the gun go.

Later I had another Taurus revolver in the same form factor, a .327 Federal Magnum 6-shot revolver. I’m almost ashamed to tell you what happened to this gun but following the trend of gunwriter confessions I’ve seen in our pages lately, I confess to having unknowingly knocked it into a trash can. I only discovered it missing after the trash had been taken to the street and picked up. The Model 856 UL I reviewed is my replacement — only it’s a .38 Special instead of .327 Magnum because Taurus stopped producing .327 Magnum revolvers in the past year or two.

I think it’s a mistake but I’m not privy to their sales numbers. My new one is just as pretty as the first .22 Magnum. The finish is matte black rather than polished but with the gold hammer, trigger and cylinder latch it’s just as attractive. The rubber grip fits my hand well and looks good on the gun. It also does a good job of absorbing recoil.

The 856 UL DA/SA models are rated for +P ammo, making them an excellent choice for personal defense. The snubby weighs 15 oz. and has an overall length of 6.55″ and a height of 4.8″.

The newer Defender came about because some revolver fans wanted a 3″ barrel. It weighs 20 oz. with dimensions almost the same as the snubby except for the length of the barrel. Both guns are 1.41″ wide at the cylinders. The snubby is made of carbon steel in some color schemes and stainless steel in others. They are available in black, silver, burnt orange, azure and rouge or black anodized, oxide or matte with several grip options. If you don’t like the grip, Hogue has others as does Pachmayr.


The Defender’s front sight is highly visible with a tritium dot surrounded by a sea of orange.

See It, Hit It

The Defender models feature a factory-installed post front sight with an integrated tritium vial. The face of the sight surrounding the tritium is bright orange resulting in one of the fastest acquisition front sights I’ve seen on a revolver. The 3" barrel provides a slight increase in muzzle velocity and longer sight radius yet the gun is still short enough for deep concealed carry. The DeSantis pocket holster I got for carrying the 856 UL snubby works just as well for the Defender.

The Defender comes in four standard models, all featuring the ergonomic Hogue rubber grips. These include a stainless-steel frame with matte finish, an ultralight aluminum alloy frame with matte finish, a stainless steel frame with black Tenifer finish and an aluminum alloy frame with hard coat black anodized finish. Because I received my Defender during the Coronavirus lock-down and associated panic gun buying, my choices were limited. I got the stainless steel matte finish with black grips which I promptly swapped out for some checkered gray/black striped Pachmayr 61252 G-10 Tactical Pistol Grips.

The hammer on both guns has a wide, checkered thumb rest and the triggers are smooth and wide. Trigger pull on both guns is just under 12 lbs. double-action and around 6 lbs. single-action. Although the guns are both called UltraLite, they are made from steel and absorb recoil pretty well.


The wide, smooth trigger face on the 856 series is very comfortable.


Taurus also offers the Defender 856 in two upgrade versions featuring special grips and finish treatments. The two-tone model has a stainless-steel matte finish frame and barrel with a black cylinder and aggressively textured VZ grip in matching gray and black. If you like hardwood grips, you can opt for the Tungsten Cerakote model Defender 856 with a stylish Altamont walnut grip.

I’m comfortable carrying the Defender as a primary carry gun at times. I have to say my attitude toward carrying a six-shot revolver for personal protection has mellowed. Because these guns have a transfer bar safety, carrying six rounds in them is safe. A .38 caliber hole equals 9.6mm so it’s plenty of bullet.

All of the major manufacturers make defensive rounds for the .38 Special and I particularly like Speer Gold Dot, Hornady XTP, Hornady Critical Defense and Federal HydraShok. I’m not too fond of shooting +P ammo but the guns are fine with it. While some scoff at the .38 Special for self-defense, if this is the gun you feel comfortable carrying and shooting, then all the talk about bigger, more powerful guns with more ammo is moot.


The checkered, non-slip, wide hammer tab makes shooting the revolvers in single-action mode a breeze.


I shot the 2" UltraLite several times before getting the Defender. It’s not a tack driver, but it doesn’t need to be. I can put all six rounds in a 9" circle from five or six yards firing single- or double-action. Satisfied I could defend myself, I began carrying the 856 UL in a pocket holster primarily as a backup, but occasionally it was the only gun when leaving the house briefly for a foray to the fast-food drive-thru or to visit the grandkids. The 3-incher isn’t much different as far as carrying goes. The orange/tritium front sight on the 856 Defender is easy to pick up with my eyesight. For this reason, I am able to shoot tighter groups using the same ammo as with the snubby. I shot them both with a variety of defensive rounds, one of which was a +P load and one was Hornady’s Critical Defense Lite, which my wife carries in her S&W LadySmith revolver.


Quality Question

Should you be concerned about Taurus quality? In a word, no. Their quality has improved significantly over the last 10 years and poor designs removed from the market. With a brand-new plant in southern Georgia churning out the popular G3 line, Taurus fortunes appear to be on the upswing.

Some gun buyers are wary of the prices Taurus is able to offer for their guns, thinking low price means low quality. The real story behind Taurus’ ability to price their revolvers affordably is their ability to make all their parts and guns in-house in South America where their cost of labor is significantly less than here in the States. I’ve been a long-term owner and user of numerous Taurus products and I’ve never experienced any problems with their guns. Besides, they offer a lifetime warranty.

Either of these Taurus revolvers will make a good option for concealed carry, home defense, stashing in your truck console or for fun shooting at the range. Price on them will run between $350 to $450 depending on the configuration you pick.


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