I got the chance to shoot one of the new Taurus 856 Executive Grade revolvers early this last spring. Since those first few cylinders, I’ve been looking forward to this review and I was not disappointed. The Taurus 856 Executive Grade is my favorite wheel gun of the year.
With the 856 Executive Grade, Taurus has released a revolver that’ isn’t made for the MORE POWER! crowd. They aren’t impressing anybody with a teeny tiny, hard-to-shoot format. There aren’t 7 rounds in an oversized cylinder. Instead, the Executive Grade is a revolver nerd’s wheel gun. Six shots, lightweight, and it’s not a snubby. It’s actually enjoyable to shoot and double action only.
And it’s pretty.
Take a look at that finish. It’s a brushed satin finish that’s done right. The finish is buttery smooth, without lines or “grains” still showing in the steel.
I love my Ruger wheel guns, but they could take a lesson from Taurus here. The 856 is classic and classy. There isn’t a machine mark to be found. (Colt, did you notice that?)
Note that the finish is continued throughout the surfaces of the gun. Swing open the cylinder and inspect the crane recesses and all the metal surrounding the interior of the frame. You’ll find the same hand polishing as the rest of the gun. I like my S&W revolvers too, but this level of detail eludes them. It looks like Taurus is passing out one lesson after another.
Beyond just the firearm itself, Taurus absolutely nailed the presentation of this gun. It comes in a simple but high quality Pelican Vault case that’s lockable and suitable for airline travel. The gun doesn’t just sit on top of the foam, the foam is custom-cut for the revolver. This isn’t something you’d expect on a gun that sells for less than $600.
The 856 is inexpensive because it’s made by Taurus of Brazil.
Taurus doesn’t have a reputation for making bad guns. Taurus has a reputation of making a few bad guns right next to a bunch of good guns, and you never knew which one you’re going to get.
Simply put, their reputation has been tarnished by a perceived lack of quality control. We’ve heard for the last couple of years that Taurus was developing a program to correct their quality control issues. Enter the Executive Grade.
Part of the marketing hype for these guns is that they’re made in a separate part of the factory, with machines and employees specifically dedicated to these guns.
Sure, that adds to a bit of exclusivity. Taurus originally said they could only make about 20 of these guns a day. But the real value is that this smaller team, focused on consistently producing a higher quality firearm, can then go back out to the main factory at some point and further the culture and capability for quality throughout the company. Taurus is, in effect, developing a large bench of employees with the skills and attitude to lead the entire company forward.
The added benefit is that you get a pretty friggin’ great gun.
You can see that quality in the critical dimensions of the gun. The cylinder throats measured to .357″ and one measured a very tight .358″, using a minus pin gauge set. The cylinder gap is .003″ and the cylinder end shake measured .003″ as well. The minor bore diameter measured .347″.
Those measurements remained the same after the shooting was done for this review, and they make for a tight, well-made revolver that maximizes the power of the cartridge while maintaining perfect reliability.
The trigger on the 856 Executive Grade is every bit as good as a new Smith & Wesson. Using a Lyman digital trigger scale, I made five pulls on the double action only trigger. They measured 11 lbs. 12.0 oz., 11 lbs 12.2 oz., 11 lbs. 12.0 oz., 11 lbs. 13.0 oz., and 11 lbs. 12.4 oz. That’s right, a total of 1 oz. for an extreme spread.
Sadly, that consistency didn’t remain by the end of the review. By the time all was said and done, hundreds of trigger pulls later, there was all of 3 oz. difference between five pulls, but those pulls now average at 11 lbs., 8oz.
Interestingly enough, you can actually see where some of that 4 oz.+ of weight went by the tiny drag mark on the side of the trigger. You’ll need to look closely.
The trigger shoe itself is wide enough, curved and smooth, and just a bit inside the width of the trigger guard. With bare hands, that trigger guard is perfect. Don’t expect to get winter gloves in there, though.
Taurus didn’t set out to make an 856 in .357 Magnum. That’s a good thing. I love a magnum wheel gun as much as the next man, but the 856 Executive Grade is perfect in its dimensions, exactly as it is.
The Executive Grade in .38Spl +P comes in one barrel length only…3″ with a full underlug. For a daily concealed carry revolver in .38Spl, it’s ideal. There’s barely enough sight radius to actually use the sights, enough mass up front to keep the muzzle down, and the minimum amount of weight to make the gun enjoyable to shoot while carrying like it’s nothing all day long.
The 856 Executive Grade features a serrated black slant front sight and a fixed gutter rear. The rear channel has been done very well, wide enough to show just a bit of light on either side of the front sigh and since the entire gun is a satin finish, there’s no glare to diminish the sight picture.
The fact that there’s no rear sight poking up means there’s no chance of it getting caught on the draw, much less unintentionally maladjusted. Also note in the view above the basic geometry of the sight means that the squared rear is almost always in shadow, further enhancing the view of the front sight.
Although the rear is just about perfect, that dark ramp front sight leaves something to be desired. It tends to disappear on a dark target. A brass bead, fiber optic rod, or bright dot would be preferable. Fortunately, it’s easy to replace and the Taurus website has an inexpensive alternative. Or you can use a dab of model paint.
There’s a bit of incongruity to the 856 Executive Grade, and that’s the grip. Usually, when we see a 3″ barrel, gutter sights, and a bobbed hammer or hammerless revolver, we expect to see an abbreviated and rounded grip. Those are the types of grips that hide well in a pocket, tuck easily into a waistband, and don’t bother the ankle when carried inside a boot.
The 856 Executive Grade, however, sports a square butt full grip that allows for even size large hands to get a full three fingers under the trigger guard. The checkered walnut features a full palm swell on both sides and feels a lot more like a target style grip than those more common to conceal carry revolvers.
I like the grip exactly as it is. Yes, you will give up a bit of concealability, but you gain so much control in single-hand shooting, not to mention how much easier it is to get a good grip on the revolver quickly when drawing from concealment in the first place.
The geometry and quality of the grip is great, but the wood-to-metal fit is just okay. All around the gun, the grips come together very well without any portions raised above the others. It’s at the top of the back of the grip where there’s a sizable gap between the wood and the grip frame. There’s no functional detriment here, it just doesn’t look as good as the rest of the gun.
Also note that what holds wood firmly to the grip frame, other than the single screw, are the tops and bottoms of the grip frame and the pins in the wood, not the entire grip frame fitting snugly into the wood itself. If this were a heavier recoiling gun, I’d have a concern here. Chambered as it is, you’re extremely unlikely to ever experience a problem.
For those of you who are wheel gun nerds, you’ve probably got a question. Small frame revolvers with full thickness grips have a consistent challenge…shell casing clearance. This is one of the benefits 9mm revolvers have over .38Spl chambered guns, because the 9x19mm case is shorter, they always clear the grip.
As the 856 Executive Grade is chambered in .38Spl, the one case may get caught up on the grip when you attempt to eject your spent empties, especially if you’re in the habit of just turning up the gun or lightly tapping the ejector.
In the first place, that’s a bad habit. Watch any of the old school revolver shooters, especially the guys who were cops and competitors both. You’ll note that they turn the gun muzzle up and smack the crap out of the ejector to get rid of those cases with authority. This proper practice cleared the empties on the 856 Executive grade every single time.
Although clearing cases may not be a real issue, speed loading is. I just don’t see any speed loader getting behind that grip at an angle that actually works quickly. Single loading with the speed strip in your pocket is the only way to go on this gun. If the grip isn’t to your liking, additional grips can be found on the Taurus website.
I struggled a bit getting the 856 Executive Grade to produce groups under 3″ at 25 yards. When firing off a bag, the best group from a commercial self defense round was the Hornady Critical Defense .38Spl +P round averaging 3.1″ five-round groups over four shot strings.
The worst commercial self defense round was the Federal Premium HST Micro bullet, printing a full inch larger. The Hornady Critical Defense Light and the Federal Premium 129gr Hydra Shock JHP +P round landed between the two. Of course, all shooting was done in double action.
I shot the vast majority of the rounds for this review with my own home-rolled 158gr #2 alloy bullet pushed over 2.8 of Clays. I’ve got thousands of these made up. That round printed right there with the Hornady Critical Defense round at 3.1″ on average. It was also a pleasant round to shoot, with minimal recoil, acceptable accuracy and just enough authority.
Because of the slow reloads, I usually only put 300 rounds through a revolver for a review. I easily passed the 500 mark on this gun. How many more than that, I don’t really know, but now I’ve got five empty plastic cases of 100, plus all the commercial rounds. It took me a solid month to shoot all that, but I enjoyed every bit of it. The 856 was lubed prior to shooting and never cleaned or lubed again for the entire review until it was time for more photos.
There were no reliability issues with the revolver. It fired with commercial ammo and with reloads that included CCI and Federal primers. No cartridge failed to easily slip into the chamfered chambers, and as long as I gave the plunger a solid push, no cartridge failed to eject.
The Executive Grade shares compatibility with much of the already established 856 revolver line. The paper manual, as well as the online version, includes a detailed parts list and holsters, sights, grips and more can be found on the Taurus website.
The Taurus 856 Executive Grade is a great-shooting, good-looking, easy-to-carry wheel gun. It’s a DAO revolver in the right size, in the right caliber. Taurus has successfully made an understated statement gun, something that’s often lost in today’s market. The fact that Taurus made the Executive Grade at such a low price point is icing on the cake. This is a great revolver.
Specifications: Taurus 856 Executive Grade
Caliber: 38 Special +P
Capacity: 6 rounds
Action: double action only
Front Sight: serrated, removable
Rear Sight: fixed gutter
Grip: Altamont walnut checkered
Barrel Length: 3 in.
Overall Length: 7.50 in.
Overall Height: 4.80 in.
Overall Width: 1.41 in.
Weight: 25 oz.
Frame, Barrel, Cylinder Material: stainless steel
Finish: satin brushed stainless-steel
MSRP: $689 (Found online for $520-$550)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
If this gun said Smith & Wesson on the side, you’d expect to pay $1,000 or more for this level of finish. Inside and out, Taurus got “everyday elegant” right.
Customization * * * *
Since the Executive Grade is built on a well-established line, there are already lot of parts and accessories available for it from Taurus and the aftermarket as well.
Accuracy * * * ½
Maybe a bit better than average. You’ll have no problem fitting rounds inside a 19″ target at 25 yards standing with this DAO gun, but this isn’t a target revolver.
Reliability * * * * *
Overall * * * * ½
The Taurus 856 Executive Grade is a wheel gunner’s wheel gun at a price you would have expected to pay 20 years ago. This one’s not going back. I already told Taurus to send me the invoice as the 856 Executive Grade will replace my current S&W backup carry piece. Half a star removed for okay, but not amazing precision…and it hurt to give this revolver anything less than a perfect score.
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