This pocket-friendly revolver may be the easy answer to the everyday carry blues

by Lou Patrick

By today’s ballistic standards, the .38 Special cartridge is often seen as lacking in the terminal energy department. In fact, many defense professionals see this round positioned towards the bottom threshold of what is considered acceptable for neutralizing a human target.

The .38 Special +P loads were developed to increase downrange effectiveness. While the +P loads do offer a ballistic performance boost, they come at a price. Felt recoil increases (although modestly) and the cartridge should only be fired in guns that are rated for the .38 Special +P load. The increase in performance offered by the +P load isn’t much to brag about, though, as the terminal energy typically falls between the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger. Being relatively anemic in the ballistic department compared to the 9mm or .357 Magnum, why even consider a .38 Special revolver for personal defense?

The easy answer is personal defense is not always about ballistics. I doubt that any “bad guy” who is staring down the barrel of your .38 Special will think, “It’s only a .38.”

Not going to happen. Statistics show that many times, the bad guy will flee once he knows his intended victim is armed.

Regardless of ballistic performance, people tend to shy away from being shot. Personal defense statistics also reveal that these encounters happen at very close range — usually within 6 to 12 feet. If shots are fired, it often amounts to only 1 to 3 rounds.

Rather than fretting over ballistics or magazine capacity, the most important aspect of a carry gun is always having it on you, accessible in an instant, and easy to operate. From this perspective, the Taurus 856 Ultra-Lite chambered in .38 Special +P fits all these criteria perfectly.

When it comes to carrying a handgun every day, everywhere you go, the first thing to consider is size. Eventually, a larger, heavier handgun will be left at home as it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to carry for many people. At 25 ounces and about the size of my hand, I find the 2-inch barrel Taurus 856 Ultra-Lite perfectly comfortable in my right front pants pocket.

Operation of the revolver is simplicity personified. Push forward on the thumb piece. With your index finger or your opposite hand, push the cylinder from the right to left and the cylinder will swing out for loading. Once loaded, push the cylinder to the right, locking it into the frame.

The Taurus 856 is a double-action-only revolver, with the spurless hammer negating the ability to cock the revolver prior to firing. Once loaded, all that is needed to fire the revolver is to squeeze the trigger. There are no external safeties to manipulate and the spurless hammer is one less item to snag on something as you bring the revolver into service. The revolver will fire with each pull of the trigger until all six rounds have been expended.

The double action trigger pull is long and somewhat heavy, but easy to overcome and shoot accurately with a little practice. We must keep in mind the intended use of this handgun — close quarter defense. The long trigger pull will serve as an aide to eliminate unintentional discharges during an extremely stressful situation and quell any possible courtroom “hair trigger” discussions.

Personal defense statistics show that a six-round-capacity handgun delivers ample ammunition to extract yourself from a bad situation. That should also be our goal: to get out of a bad situation, preferably without firing a shot. At 6 to 12 feet, the rather pedestrian ballistics of the .38 Special cartridge will be of little concern. On the plus side, this cartridge has minimal felt recoil, allowing you to more easily stay on target for follow up shots if needed.

The 856 grip is comfortable in my hand. The size and shape of the frame fits well in my right front pants pocket with the grip ideally placed for quick, easy access. I also have a Glock G43, which is a subcompact semi-auto pistol chambered in 9mm. When comparing the size of the two handguns, the 856 is slightly larger, although due to the difference in the shape of the two frames, I find that the 856 is more comfortable to carry and easier to “draw” from my pants pocket.

The front sight is serrated to minimize glare and the ramped shape provides for a snag-free draw.


The rear sight is a notch cut into the frame. This rugged, snag-free design is as trouble-free as it gets. It is also all that is needed when you consider the intended close-range use of this handgun.

On the range, the 856 Ultra-Lite functioned flawlessly, was accurate, and proved fun to shoot.

When  selecting a personal defense firearm, especially one that you intend to carry daily, there are many factors to consider. Key among them is physical ability. Some people have no trouble firing a semi-auto loader yet have great difficulty manipulating the slide or loading the magazine. I have yet to meet someone who could shoot their revolver but could not load it. The rugged construction and simple operation of the revolver make it a good choice for an EDC gun for people of all ages and ability. The quality of the Taurus 856 Ultra-Lite matched with an MSRP comfortably under $400 is tough to beat.

Taurus 856 Ultra-Lite Revolver Specifications (as tested)

  • Chamber: .38 Special +P
  • Capacity: 6 rounds
  • Action Type: double action only
  • Safety: transfer bar
  • Front sight: serrated ramp
  • Rear Sight: fixed
  • Barrel Length:00 Inches
  • Overall Length:55 Inches
  • Overall Height:80 Inches
  • Overall Width:41 Inches
  • Weight: 25 oz.
  • Frame: aluminum
  • Barrel, Cylinder: carbon steel
  • Finish: matte black
  • MSRP: $376.05

Lou is a U.S. Army veteran, graduate of Pennsylvania Gunsmith School, and is a National Institute for Metalworking Skills certified machinist. A lifelong shooting and hunting enthusiast, he has operated his own gunsmithing business and worked as a gunsmith for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, GA. Lou has co-authored several instructional books on firearm building and is in agreement with Colonel Whelen that, “Only accurate rifles are interesting.”

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