December 16, 2022
Winds of change are blowing at Taurus and that’s going to be a good thing for shooters. The Executive Grade series is the brainchild of Bret Vorhees, CEO of Taurus since 2020. With the introduction of the Executive Grade 856, Vorhees is intent on changing potential customers’ perceptions about the brand, as well as the perception of passionate users who may not have considered a Taurus product previously.
Vorhees came to the company after a successful stint at with Walther Arms. You could say that he understands what it takes to give shooters an elevated experience. Not sure what that means? Here’s an example: You’re at the airport waiting in line for a $7 cup of lukewarm coffee; you look over at the Sky Lounge and see first-class passengers trying to decide between a café latte and champagne. They are having an “elevated experience.” Ostensibly, they’re doing the same thing as you. Realistically, they are having a much better experience while waiting to board the same airplane. The Executive Grade 856 is like that. It’s the same tried-and-true six-shot, 3-inch .38 Special — but better.
Before getting on with the gun, let’s consider some of the new-and-improved processes that Taurus has installed to ensure the Executive Grade’s owner feels, well, “elevated.” The first step was to dedicate separate assembly and inspection areas for the Executive Grade, which are manned by a dedicated group of the most experienced product specialists. Regardless of the gun company you’re a fan of, assembly and quality control are huge concerns surrounding a product before it reaches a dealer. Engineering usually has the gun figured out, and multi-axis CNC machines hold insane tolerances. Modern raw materials — even steel — are superior by every metric than older formulas. It’s often the human who is the weak link in a production chain. Human beings cost money and take time to train, something that most companies have to financially balance. While the assemblers and fitters in the Executive Grade department are not traditional gunsmiths, they are trained and thoroughly vetted. They know what they’re doing and take pride in their work.
The assembly room is separate from the main floor and the workflow is engineered to take advantage of the assembler’s higher skill level. There are numerous trained eyes working on a gun.
Inside A Vault
I took delivery of an 856 Executive Grade for this review. They definitely let you know that you’ve got a different kind of Taurus, which was evident when it arrived in an unmarked Pelican Vault pistol case. The Pelican Vault V100, typically $50, is one that you can travel with. Inside the case is foam that was die-cut for the Executive Grade 856. (Dear Taurus: There is room for a pair of speedloaders.) Making this experience a little different, was a black envelope with a nice note from Vorhees along with the expected manuals. I’d been “promoted.” (Much to my wife’s dismay, it was to a new gun and not a promotion at work.) The note was a nice touch.
Removing the 856 from the case, I immediately noticed its subtle details. Taurus 856 revolvers typically come with either a 2- or 3-inch barrel. The Executive Grade 856 is the only 3-incher with a bobbed hammer. In all but the deepest concealment roles, a 3-inch barrel is preferable than a 2-incher. It balances the gun better and provides a little more velocity for the .38 to work. The bobbed hammer renders it DAO, but that’s how many believe fighting revolvers are meant to be shot. No serious student of gunfighting with a revolver thumb-cocks the hammer. It takes up valuable time in a fight, and if you end up not needing to shoot you now must thumb-down the hammer on a live cartridge while adrenaline courses through your veins. That’s a recipe for a negligent discharge.
Picking the revolver up, I found it to be as balanced as it looked. The Altamont walnut stocks were perfectly sized for shooting, and are beautiful. They are set off by the finish of the revolver, which is a nicely done satin-stainless throughout. Taurus notes that the finish is hand-polished, and it practically glows with its warm silver sheen. Upon opening the cylinder, I saw that the chambers had been chamfered, another nice touch that is evidence of Taurus’ attention to detail. Opening the cylinder was done using the push-forward-style cylinder release latch. It operated smoothly and was gracefully beveled.
The ejector rod indicated that there was no binding, and the ejector star settled back into place every time. Closing the cylinder and testing the lock-up, I was very pleased; there was very little movement. The fitment of the hand into the cylinder notch is an improvement from what I’ve seen with other Taurus revolvers. I did notice that the cylinder notch leads were steep and short, but that’s somewhat common with small-frame revolvers.
The trigger was very smooth, albeit heavy. The parts are obviously well fit, but my trigger gauge tapped out at 13 pounds; I’d guess the 856 to be about a pound heavier than that even, so that’s a complaint from me.
The trigger was easy to stage, leaving about a 4-pound “wall” to pull through before the hammer fell; and the wall evidenced a little bit of creep. There was some stacking, too, as the trigger moved through its arc, but overall, the trigger was still an improvement when compared to other DAO triggers I’ve recently shot.
My second issue is with the sights. In my opinion, they are a bit of a missed opportunity. The pinned front is plain black and serrated, and the rear is a square notch milled into the topstrap. I understand that even “executive” guns need to meet a price point, but I think that Taurus should have taken a cue from other manufacturers and worked in either an adjustable rear or a dovetailed rear with a better notch. Likewise, the front should be either Taurus’ already available orange night sight (made by Ameriglo) or a simple bead to keep it classy. Even in good light, the black ramped sights were a limiting factor for me when shooting for accuracy.
At The Range
With regard to its size features, Taurus nailed the “executive” concept when specifying its first handgun for this line. The 856 was built for defensive engagements out to about 12 yards. Under those conditions, the heavy trigger and rudimentary sights didn’t seem to slow me down.
Shooting steel was fun, with the gun gobbling up more than 300 rounds of mixed .38 Special in standard and +P loadings. Ejection was smooth and there were no light strikes. The gun did jump around a bit under the recoil of the +P rounds, which required some grip adjustment.
The two aforementioned issues, the sights and trigger, did hurt the 856 during Guns & Ammo’s 25-yard accuracy test. I really believe that the gun, with its 3-inch barrel, crowned muzzle and tight lock-up could be capable of better accuracy, but I’m not a Ransom Rest. Four-inch groups were the norm and the fixed sights produced hits that were about an inch low at 25, just at the base of the black bullseye. Windage was centered, which is good because there’s no adjusting that.
In total, the Executive Grade 856 is a good revolver that sets Taurus up to do great things. It’s not perfect, but I realize that it needs to meet a price point. At $689 retail, it has is no real competition within $100 of MSRP. If I were to keep it, I might explore changing its mainspring to lower the trigger-pull weight, and I’d install Taurus’ front orange night sight. Otherwise, I have no qualms about betting my life on this gun — and that’s a decision I don’t make lightly.
Taurus Executive Grade 856
- Type: Revolver, double action
- Cartridge: .38 Special (+P)
- Capacity: 6 rds.
- Barrel: 3 in.
- Overall length: 7.5 in.
- Width: 1.41 in.
- Height: 4.8 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 9 oz.
- Finish: Satin stainless steel, hand polished
- Stocks: Altamont, walnut
- Sights: Integral notch (rear); serrated ramp, fixed (front)
- Trigger: DOA, 12+ lbs. (tested)
- MSRP: $689
- Manufacturer: Taurus, 229-235-4020, taurususa.com
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