The author takes a closer look at the Taurus 856 Defender T.O.R.O., the world's first factory optics-ready revolver.
There’s something about the blending of old and new firearms technology that’s always gotten my motor running. So, when I saw that Taurus had red dot-equipped revolvers at SHOT 2023 I naturally had to take a closer look.
Despite never being much of a revolver guy, and only recently venturing into the world of red dot-equipped handguns, I immediately liked the concept. I mean, why not? Virtually every other style of handgun comes optics-ready these days, so why not revolvers too? It was only a matter of time until someone put the two together, but Taurus happened to be the first with the release of the 605 & Defender 856 T.O.R.O.
The 605 is a 5-shot .357 Magnum and the 856 Defender is a 6-shot .38 Special +P, and I brought in the latter for testing.
Upon its arrival, I was both impressed and somewhat surprised by how simply the company converted its standard 856 Defender into a T.O.R.O. (Taurus Optic Ready Option) variant. Yet, I was left feeling more work could have been done for the concept to truly be perfectly executed.
The Heart Of The Bull
As mentioned, there really isn’t much difference between a Taurus 856 Defender and the new 856 Defender T.O.R.O. model. The standard Defender variant is just a Taurus 856 but with a longer, 3-inch barrel and larger rubber grips.
For the T.O.R.O. version, the company merely taps and dies the top of the frame twice to accept an adaptor plate and throws the relevant hardware in the box. It also comes with the smaller, standard-sized 856 rubber grips. Besides that, the two guns are identical, and without an optic installed the iron sights work just as good on either version.
As far as the rest of the gun goes, there isn’t a ton to say. The matte black finish may not be very pretty, but it does seem to be very durable and functional. The cylinder latch was initially quite stiff and took some effort to swing the cylinder out, but it loosened up after some use and would likely continue doing so. Outside of the ability to add an optic, it’s the same old Taurus 856.
On The Range
While the double-action trigger was on the long and heavy side, I thought that the single-action trigger was actually quite nice. It’s not the lightest I’ve ever felt, but it was very crisp. In double-action, the trigger is easy to stage, but the long pull results in an equally long reset. While it’s somewhat endemic to DA/SA revolvers, I did notice that when trying to shoot very fast it was easier than normal to lock the trigger after pulling on a false reset. Plenty of other revolvers have this quirk, however, so it’s just something to be aware of and factor into your training.
The compact rubber grips that come with the gun work fine, but they’re obviously designed to be more concealable than comfortable. Unless you specifically are looking at an 856 T.O.R.O. for carry, I would definitely put larger grips on this for the range or home defense.
My final small complaint with the 856 itself is regarding the hand ejector. While the revolver ejected spent cartridges with about the same consistency as others that I’ve shot (most of the shells most of the time, but it’s not rare for one or two to get stuck), the ejector rod itself got frozen in the downward position more than once. I don’t believe that I was hitting it too aggressively, but it still needed an encouraging pinch before the spring could return it to its original position. This would likely fix itself after more of a break-in period or with some lube on the rod, but that’s certainly not something you want to happen while reloading in an emergency.
While the optic is mounted pretty high in relation to the bore, at least compared to automatic pistols, some of the revolver’s innate qualities compensate for it. Many shooters feel revolvers point more naturally than automatics, and the red dot helped highlight this phenomenon. I’ve shot most major automatic handgun styles equipped with red dots, and for me, it was easier to acquire the dot with the 856 T.O.R.O. than with any of them.
When I put a red dot on my Makarov (Gun Digest Volume 40, Issue 3), it took some practice to quickly find the dot from a draw. With the Taurus, I could instantly and consistently find it every time. Since one of the arguments against putting red dots on handguns is the learning curve associated with using them, this is a big point in favor of the optics-ready Taurus. I feel that just about anyone, regardless of their experience level, could pick one of these up and start making accurate hits with relative ease.
Another benefit of the red dot revolver concept is the fact that there is no slide for the optic to reciprocate on. With red dot-equipped automatics, the optic moves with every shot, only adding to the challenge of reacquiring a sight picture while firing. Because revolvers have no slide, it allows the red dot to remain in place which in turn facilitates faster follow-up shots. As long as you can learn how to properly manage the recoil, it’s possible to keep the dot visible in the window throughout an entire string of shots.
Despite not being a frequent revolver shooter, the first time I took the 856 T.O.R.O. to the range with a red dot I was clearing plate racks faster than usual. It’s a slick combination.
When it comes to the T.O.R.O. side of the 856, I see both pros and cons regarding how Taurus accomplished it. Firstly, despite being simple, the system is well-made. Installing the plate and optic was incredibly easy and everything was still tight and secure by the end of the review. All the screws and tools needed to install the plate are included in the box, and once mounted, it’s ready to accept any micro red dot with a Holosun K or compatible footprint. I put on one of Bushnell’s new RXC-200 sights.
While the simple design does allow Taurus to only charge $16 more for the T.O.R.O. version, in my view, it also resulted in the company taking some shortcuts. While it undoubtedly would have resulted in a higher price tag as well, with more effort, I’m confident that Taurus could have mounted the red dot a little lower. As it stands, there is zero material removed from the top of the frame and the plate itself is about 4mm thick. It doesn’t sound like much, but if the optic sat just a few millimeters lower, the front sight would only need to be a few millimeters taller for co-witnessing to be possible.
Some don’t think co-witnessing is a big deal, but I appreciate having the option to, so the fact it’s impossible with the 856 T.O.R.O. was disappointing. The benefit of Taurus’ method is that without an optic installed, the factory iron sights still work, but who buys a red dot revolver to shoot with irons? For what’s being touted as the world’s first red dot revolver, I would have preferred it if Taurus fully committed to the concept.
The way that it is, the installation of a red dot already makes the front sight unusable. To co-witness, one would have to replace it with a comically tall front sight (not a great idea for a carry gun), so removing it entirely may be a better idea. It’s pinned in place at least, so this is possible to do if desired.
Who Exactly Is The Taurus 856 T.O.R.O. For?
Considering that it appears to have been designed as a carry gun, I’m a little confused about who exactly the 856 T.O.R.O. is for. Most people who carry a gun today choose an automatic. Those who still opt for a wheelgun generally do so primarily for one of two reasons in my experience: compact size or familiarity. Those who appreciate just how small a snub-nose .38 can be in a pocket likely won’t want a 3-inch gun with an optic mounted on top. Those who are intimately familiar with shooting revolvers are almost certainly also accustomed to using iron sights, so most won’t be too interested in the addition of a red dot.
While I’m sure there are some excited to carry one, frankly, I feel that the T.O.R.O. concept would have been better applied to some of the other revolvers in Taurus’ lineup. The company offers several larger revolvers in various calibers intended for different applications, ranging from .44 Magnum woods guns to .22 LR target revolvers and other .38 Special/.357 Magnum models with larger grips that are easier to shoot. Whether you wanted a bear-defense/hunting revolver, a range plinker or a nightstand gun, all seem like better potential hosts for a red dot than a concealed carry revolver… at least to me.
When it comes to carrying an 856 T.O.R.O., holsters are supposedly in development, but at the time of writing no official models are yet available to the public. If Taurus wanted to push this as a carry gun, I feel that the holsters should have been ready to go at launch.
In total, I put around 200 rounds of PPU 158-gr semi-wadcutters through the 856 T.O.R.O. and didn’t experience any malfunctions. Any issues outlined earlier in this review were minor, would likely be solved by more break-in time or lube and are somewhat expected of a sub-$500 revolver. Overall, I was impressed with the gun. At its heart it’s still a no-frills .38 Special Taurus, but it makes for a better-than-expected red dot host and does so very affordably.
Regardless of how many people may actually be interested in carrying one, the Taurus Defender 856 T.O.R.O. is a sleek little package that worked exactly as intended. For those who enjoy shooting revolvers and are open to the idea of red dots on handguns, it’s definitely worth checking out.
TAURUS DEFENDER 856 T.O.R.O. Specs:
- Chambering: .38 Special +P
- Barrel Length: 3 Inches
- Finish: Matte Black or Stainless Steel
- Grips: Compact Rubber
- Weight (Unloaded): 23.5 Ounces
- Length: 7.5 Inches
- Height: 4.8 Inches
- Capacity: 6
- MSRP: $445.99 (Black) ; $460.99 (Stainless)
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