When Worlds Collide, Red Dots On Revolvers

Taurus Defender 856 TORO
Taurus Defender 856 TORO. – a slick little package! All photos by the author.

Through the articles I’ve written, it should be obvious that I am old-school. I like revolvers, and I own a few. Guns like the Taurus Defender 856 TORO satisfy my need for old-school reliability in a revolver with new-school performance upgrades like a red dot.

Taurus (whose first gun was a revolver manufactured in Brazil in 1941) is known to be an innovator in firearms. Revolver popularity among concealed carriers has risen steadily over the past few years, as has red dot usage. Some of their engineers must have had a brainstorm.

TAURUS DEFENDER 856 TORO Revolver

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Taurus-branded Viridian sightTaurus-branded Viridian sight
The Viridian RFX11 is branded with the Bull.

On January 13th of 2023, they announced they were introducing two revolvers cut for a red dot sight. That, in itself, was pretty amazing. I know there have been other revolvers fitted with red dots, but this was the first time such guns have entered mainstream production to the best of my knowledge. The engineering alone would have been pretty involved. Weakening a revolver top strap by drilling holes in it is not conducive to long revolver life if done wrong.

Sure, there have been scopes mounted on revolvers for decades, but not so much other optics. (My 1982 S&W 629 with the long barrel even included scope mounts). So, on that particular January 13th, the handgun shooting world took note. One of the two models introduced was their 3-inch, 5-shot .357 Magum – the 605. I’ve reviewed both it and its Executive Grade version and found them to be solid performers.

The other model, the one I have before me, is their 6-shot .38 snubby, the Taurus Defender 856 T.O.R.O. In case you were wondering, T.O.R.O. is Taurus-the-Bull’s clever way of saying a gun is optics-ready… Taurus Optics Ready Option. I’ll bet the PR person got a raise when he or she came up with that!

Based on their popular 5-shot .38 snubby – the 5-shot model 85 – the Defender 856 adds one more chamber. It brings the .38 belly gun up by its bootstraps from 5 shots to 6 — just like a Colt. The Defender 856 also includes a couple of aesthetic touches and a three-inch barrel, not a two-inch. It was only a matter of time before this popular, 6-shot model was updated. Who knew that the update would be for red dot sight capability? Intriguing, for sure!

But…

However, not all is schnapps und Weiner schnitzel with this change. One kick that rears its ugly head is pocket carry (or lack of that ability) because of that large chunk of sight sitting on the top strap. A major advantage that two- and three-inch snubbies have had for over a century is that they hide so well. I’ve carried a S&W 638 or a Taurus 85 in a pocket holster many times over the years. Put a red dot on the 856 and it’s like shoving your size-12 foot into a size-10 boot. It doesn’t go in a pocket so easily.

Something that can make that a non-issue is sticking the gun in a belt holster. Ankle holsters are OK, too, if you’re careful. Given my un-svelte physique, appendix carry is out for me but skinnier shooters might be able to do that. The advantage of fast sight acquisition over the usual topstrap-trench-and-front-post snub nose sighting system probably outweighs the carry considerations… you would figure it out, for sure.

At least added gun weight shouldn’t be much of a deal… many red dot sights only add a couple of ounces or so to the overall gun weight.

Photo Gallery

Taurus Defender 856 TORO sightsTaurus Defender 856 TORO sights
Typical snubby sights. These are wide enough to be useful.

These pics might help answer some questions, such as “How did they engineer the mounting plate to fit in the gutter?” The answer is, that they didn’t. The gutter has two threaded screw holes, one in front of the other. The screws are visible in the photo below. This is an interesting way to mount a revolver optic, just about the only way. If you don’t like the front sight, it’s pinned and you can replace it.

Taurus Defender 856 TORO- mounting plateTaurus Defender 856 TORO- mounting plate
Taurus Defender 856 TORO mounting plate for red dot.
Taurus Defender 856 TORO- right sideTaurus Defender 856 TORO- right side
Here’s a mug shot of the Defender 856 T.O.R.O.
Taurus Defender 856 TORO-cyl-lockupTaurus Defender 856 TORO-cyl-lockup
This little extra lock (arrow) helps keep the cylinder in place.
Taurus Defender 856 TORO- cyl-rearTaurus Defender 856 TORO- cyl-rear
The cylinder’s ratchet with its accompanying six chambers.
Taurus Defender 856 TORO- muzzleTaurus Defender 856 TORO- muzzle
The business end.
Taurus Defender 856 TORO- front sightTaurus Defender 856 TORO- front sight
The ramp front sight. The rear is a simple trough.
Taurus Defender 856 TORO- gripTaurus Defender 856 TORO- grip
Speaking of the grip… it is one of the best rubber grips I’ve used on a handgun. I was able to get a hard grip on the revolver, and it was comfortable.
Taurus 856 TORO sight pictureTaurus 856 TORO sight picture
The sight picture with both optic and iron sghts.

Specs

Here are the specs, from the Taurus Defender 856 TORO site.

  • CALIBER.                              .38 Special +P
  • FRAME SIZE                         Small
  • BARREL LENGTH                 3 In.
  • OVERALL LENGTH               7.5 In.
  • OVERALL HEIGHT                4.8 In.
  • OVERALL WIDTH                  1.4 In.
  • OVERALL WEIGHT.               23.5 Oz. (Unloaded)
  • TWIST RATE                          1:16.5 in RH twist
  • GROOVES                               6
  • CAPACITY                              6
  • FRAME MATERIAL                Stainless Steel
  • FRAME FINISH                      Matte Black
  • CYLINDER MATERIAL           Stainless Steel
  • CYLINDER FINISH                 Matte Black
  • BARREL MATERIAL               Stainless Steel
  • BARREL FINISH                     Matte Black
  • SAFETY                                  Transfer Bar
  • FRONT SIGHT                        Replaceable Front Sight
  • REAR SIGHT                           Fixed
  • ACTION TYPE                        DA/SA

How Does It Shoot?

Taurus Defender 856 TOROTaurus Defender 856 TORO
The green dot really distinguishes this revolver on the shooting bench!

The advantage of a red/green dot sight on a short-barreled handgun should be obvious… you don’t need to try to line up the rear sight, front sight, and target to get off an accurate shot. Short barrels and clunky sights make it difficult to get good groups – for most of us, anyway.

The red/green dot negates all this. Once zeroed, place the dot on the aiming point and press the trigger. Everything is in one plane – no separate elements to align. I am stating the obvious, as anyone who has ever used a dot sight will attest. (A quick note about zeroing your dot… make sure the mounting plate is tight on the gun, and your sight is tight on the plate. Believe me, it will save a lot of aggravation).

After waiting for the Viridian RFX11 green dot to arrive from Taurus and mounting it on the gun, I put targets up at 20 yards in my backyard range and shot several targets with a small variety of .38 ammo. Here are the results. I tried three different .38 Special loads: Winchester Target & Practice 130-grain (targets not shown); Fiocchi 158-grain JHP; Fiocchi 125-grain +P JHP. As always, new owners of this (or any) gun would do well to try many loads to find the best performers for the specific gun. I shot what I had on hand… given more time and resources, the results might have been different.

In terms of the trigger, it was sufficient for the task. I grabbed my Lyman digital gauge and found that the DA pull averaged 8 lbs, 9 oz. Single-action, it averaged 4 lbs, 13 oz. It worked fine for its intended purpose and was not gritty or overly long. It was altogether a decent trigger for a carry revolver.

I will show two targets, because the third brand of ammo, the Winchester load,  just didn’t work out… it was more of a pattern than a group.

Fiocchi 158 grain JHP

Fiocchi 158gr targetFiocchi 158gr target
This group was not bad but was very low on the target.

This 158-grain load put some of its shots on the target below the one I was shooting at. It shot that low. My Garmin Xero C1 Pro chronograph clocked it at only 746 fps, so maybe that has something to do with its impact point. If you were locked into similar ammo, it might pay to replace the front sight with something shorter. Since it’s pinned, that’s not a deal. (Or, you can use my usual redneck sight-reducing method that consists of a file and cold-blue. But… you’d better be sure that’s all you’re going to shoot!).

It’s tough to get a true idea of the size of this particular group since it’s on two different targets but you get the idea, This load would work OK for practice, taking into account the elevation adjustment needed.

Fiocchi 125-grain +P

Fiocchi 125-gr +P targetFiocchi 125-gr +P target
This defense load is what I’d carry in this revolver.

This 125-grain load is surely what I’d carry in this gun, of the three. It shot a decent group, a little high and right, but that could be fixed. I could feel the difference in recoil… this load felt more like some lighter .357 loads I shoot in my 3-inch Charter Arms Mag Pug. Velocity was clocked at 969 fps, with a standard deviation of only 12.2. That speaks to its accuracy, for sure. Again, this is what I’d carry in this gun, of the three loads tested.

Summing Up

The .38 snubby has not gone away, nor will it ever. It is simply too useful and easy to use. Six rounds of +P .38 Special will rattle someone’s cage, especially if those shots are centered with the help of a red or green dot sight.

I recently saw the old sci-fi movie “When Worlds Collide”. I thought that title was appropriate for this review of an optic-capable revolver because, in many shooters’ minds, those two items live in separate worlds. So, unlike having little green men from Mars, we have a little green dot from Viridian. Agree or not, you might want to check the Taurus Defender 856 TORO out. You get the simplicity and ease of use of a 6-shot +P carry revolver coupled with current, effective sighting technology. In essence, you get a variation of the Reece’s Cup of the handgun world… “you got green dot on my revolver!”. How can gun folks not like that?


About Mike Hardesty

With experience spanning over 45 years, Mike Hardesty has long enjoyed shooting and reloading. An inveterate reloader, he casts bullets and reloads for a diverse array of firearms, each handled with long-practiced precision. Living in rural Indiana, his homestead boasts a personal 100-yard range where he shares his love for guns to his four sons, their wives, and eleven grandchildren. As a recognized author, his writings have been featured in notable platforms like Sniper Country, Bear Creek Arsenal Blog, Pew Pew Tactical, TTAG, Dillon Precision’s Blue Press, and Gun Made, revealing his ongoing passion for firearms at the age of 72.

Mike HardestyMike Hardesty

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When Worlds Collide, Red Dots On Revolvers is written by Mike Hardesty for www.ammoland.com

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