Revolvers remain popular for personal defense for many reasons. The revolver is simple to load, fire, and handle. A revolver will function with light loads and heavy loads without changing the springs. A revolver will come up firing, even after long periods of storage because the springs are at rest when the revolver is loaded. A revolver can feature a smooth double-action trigger that helps fight flinch. We wanted to test revolvers in 38 Special for home defense and economy. We elected to test two large-frame and two small-frame revolvers that would fire easy-on-the-hands 38 Specials. As a bonus, some would also chamber 357 Magnums and, surprisingly, one accepted 9mm Luger rounds. Our test guns were as follows:
European American Armory’s (EAA) Windicator 770133 357 Magnum, $394, is a European idea of a revolver that comes off well. The cylinder features six chambers bored for the 357 Magnum. The barrel is marked 38 Special and just below, 357 Magnum. The revolver is a conventional double action with single-action capability. The cylinder is opened for loading and unloading by pressing a cylinder latch forward. Three of the four revolvers in the test operate in this manner.
Rock Island Armory’s Model 206 51283 38 Special, $240, is a small-frame revolver that comes in a couple of variations. The blued M206 Spurless 51280 and matte-nickel-finished Spurless M206 lack the exterior hammer of our test gun, but all three have channel frame-cut rear sights. Similar to our test gun, the M200 51261 is likewise chambered in 38 Special but has a 4-inch semi-shrouded barrel. When you put together the price of the EAA Windicator and the Rock Island M206, you have about the price of a new Glock. That isn’t bad economy having two 38 Special handguns at the ready for less than $600.
The Taurus Defender 856 2-85639NS 38 Special +P, $306, is a small-frame 38 Special +P revolver with a six-shot cylinder and a 3-inch barrel. Our test handgun was made of matte stainless steel with Hogue grips, but the line is available in several versions. The Ultra-Lite models come in stainless-steel (2-85639ULNS) and black-anodized (2-85631ULNS) finishes. Three other steel-frame revolvers are the matte black with Hogue grips (2-85631NS), matte-stainless with VZ Grips’ panels (2-85635NSVZ), and tungsten Cerakote with Altamont wood grips (2-8563CNS).
The Taurus Tracker 692 Multi-Caliber Revolver 2692031, $487, chambers and fires 38 Special, 357 Magnum, and 9mm Luger rounds. We should note that stainless-steel versions of our test gun were available for $543. The matte-finish-blued revolver is more in keeping with our economy theme. Like in the other revolvers, the Tracker 692 is a double-action mechanism with a swing-out cylinder, exposed hammer, and single-action capability. The 692 features a seven-shot cylinder. This is a nice upgrade in a relatively compact revolver. The grips, barrel, and frame are slightly smaller than the popular Taurus 66, another seven-shot 357 Magnum.
During the test, we fired four 38 Special loads in all four revolvers. These included a handload with the MattsBullets.com 178-grain SWC loaded to 850 fps average. This is a +P load that is well suited to outdoors use and practice for those using +P personal defense loads. We fired 50 rounds in offhand combat firing, including firing at multiple targets as quickly as possible. While economical, this load also tested recoil control and comfort better than a light target load. In accuracy testing off the benchrest, we used three loads. These included the Remington 158-grain SWCHP +P, the Black Hills Ammunition 158-grain RNL Cowboy Load, and the Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain +P.
For bench accuracy testing and velocity compilations, we also tested a full-power 357 Magnum loading in the Tracker and Windicator revolvers, the Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain JHP. For combat shooting, we added the Remington HTP 357 Magnum 125-grain SJHP, a milder 1200 fps Magnum load, to give breadth to the test in the two Magnums. Also in the Tracker, we fired a 9mm load, the Remington HTP 124-grain JHP, off the bench. We fired 20 of each of the magnum loads in each revolver and 20 9mm loads in the Taurus 692.
The revolvers tested were all reliable with no obvious defects. For home defense, all were accurate enough. Here’s what we thought about these handguns in more detail.
Gun Tests Grade: A- (BEST BUY)
The sensation of the Taurus Defender 856 is that it is a six-shot version of the J-frame 85 in which Taurus changed the lockwork and cylinder to make a six-shot hideout revolver, compared to the common five-shot revolver. The cylinder is 1.4 inches wide versus 1.3 inches for the five-shot version. That isn’t difficult to conceal at all. While small-frame revolvers are good for pocket carry, they are more difficult to use than larger-frame revolvers. A shorter sight radius and grips limit accuracy, which are trade-offs for concealed carry.
|Action||Double- or single-action revolver|
|Overall Length||7.5 in.|
|Overall Height||4.8 in.|
|Maximum Width (Cylinder)||1.4 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||23.5 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||28.0 oz.|
|Barrel||3.0 in. long, matte stainless steel|
|Frame||Matte stainless steel|
|Cylinder||Matte stainless steel|
|Front Strap Height||2.5 in.|
|Rear Strap Height||3.6 in.|
|Grips||Hogue rubber, pebble grain|
|Grip Thickness (Max)||1.2 in.|
|Grip Circumference (Max)||5.0 in.|
|Front Sight||Tritium, orange post|
|Rear Sight||Topstrap groove|
|Sight Radius||4.55 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Single Action||7.1 lbs.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Double Action||11.75 lbs.|
|Trigger Span Single Action||2.5 in.|
|Trigger Span Double Action||3.11 in.|
The Defender 856 is intended as a superior home-defense revolver compared to a 2-inch-barrel snubby. The barrel is a 3-inch heavy barrel. The grips are Hogue rubber grips. The result is an attractive revolver that handles well. At 25 ounces, the Defender isn’t too heavy for concealed carry.
The 856 Defender has features we liked and none we did not. The action is a modified Smith & Wesson with transfer bar. The trigger face and action are smooth. The single-action trigger is the heaviest of the test at 7 pounds. The cylinder release is a modern type not likely to skin the knuckle when firing +P loads. The revolver locks by an indent on the crane rather than a spring-loaded detent in a barrel underlug. We like the balance of the heavy barrel. An excellent feature is the tritium front sight, which has a day-glow orange dot surrounding the night sight.
On the firing line, the revolver gave good results. As may be expected, recoil was greater than the heavier Taurus 692 or Windicator. Just the same, we were able to make fast repeat shots. The sights are good, the best of the test for fixed sights. The Taurus 692’s orange front sight and nice adjustable sights were superior, but when concealed carry is factored in, the advantage of non-snag fixed sights is real. The Taurus 856 is a good shooter in its weight class. Results were superior to the Rock Island, largely due to the Taurus Defender’s superior sights. +P loads in the Defender slammed us after 50 rounds, but the revolver performed well. Firing for accuracy, the Defender’s sights gave an advantage, while the heavy 7-pound single-action trigger did not. The single-action trigger was the revolver’s only demerit, pushing it down a half grade. Some shooters may never fire the revolver single action.
We tested the night sights in a dark room with no windows. In this environment, the single bead was visible. The rater testing the sights would aim the unloaded handgun and then quickly turn the light on to confirm alignment. To properly see the front bead, he found he raised the sight above the rear notch. On the firing line, duplicating this point of aim, the point of impact with 158-grain loads would be 2 inches high at 7 yards. Verify and commit this to memory if you deploy this revolver for home defense. The revolver was properly sighted in for 158-grain loads. Other weights struck to the left and slightly high.
Our Team Said: We found the Taurus Defender 856 to be the better of the two small-frame revolvers based on features. For an extra $60 or so, you get its stainless-steel construction, properly fitting Hogue grips, and a night sight. The Defender is well suited to home defense. We would buy this revolver.
357 Magnum Range Data
|Black Hills 125-grain JHP||Taurus Tracker 692||EAA Windicator|
|Average Velocity||1409 fps||1433 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||551 ft.-lbs.||570 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.75 in.||2.4 in.|
|Average Group||2.0 in.||3.0 in.|
9mm Luger Range Data
|Remington HTP 124-grain JHP||Taurus Tracker 692|
|Average Velocity||1121 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||346 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.9 in.|
|Average Group||2.6 in.|
38 Special Range Data
|Remington 158-grain SWCHP +P||Taurus Tracker 692||EAA Windicator||Rock Island Armory 206||Taurus Defender 856|
|Average Velocity||870 fps||855 fps||804 fps||846 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||266 ft.-lbs.||256 ft.-lbs.||227 ft.-lbs.||251 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.1 in.||2.25 in.||3.7 in.||3.0 in.|
|Average Group||2.6 in.||2.7 in.||4.5 in.||3.2 in.|
|Black Hills Cowboy 158-grain RNL||Taurus Tracker 692||EAA Windicator||Rock Island Armory 206||Taurus Defender 856|
|Average Velocity||799 fps||812 fps||690 fps||760 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||224 ft.-lbs.||231 ft.-lbs.||167 ft.-lbs.||203 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.75 in.||2.45 in.||3.25 in.||3.3 in.|
|Average Group||2.2 in.||3.1 in.||4.0 in.||3.8 in.|
|Black Hills Cowboy 158-grain RNL||Taurus Tracker 692||EAA Windicator||Rock Island Armory 206||Taurus Defender 856|
|Average Velocity||960 fps||975 fps||860 fps||901 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||256 ft.-lbs.||264 ft.-lbs.||205 ft.-lbs.||225 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.8 in.||2.0 in.||3.6 in.||2.6 in.|
|Average Group||2.4 in.||2.65 in.||4.4 in.||3.2 in.|
Value Guide: 39 Special/375 Magnum Revolver Rankings
|Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP4WTS 357 Magnum, $1300||Jan. 2021||A||Pricey, but the new Python is a winner, even if it isn’t an exact clone of the original Python.|
|Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP6WTS 357 Magnum, $1800||Jan. 2021||A||We really liked the trigger and found the revolver to be quite accurate.|
|Colt Python (1980) 357 Magnum, ~$2500||Jan. 2021||A||The trigger is superb and the royal-blue finish is brilliant. The aftermarket Hogue grip helps reduce felt recoil.|
|Colt Python (1964) 357 Magnum, $1800||Jan. 2021||A-||It provided good performance and accuracy. This is a shooter and perhaps is a candidate for restoration.|
|Colt King Cobra KCOBRA-SB3BB 357 Magnum, $838||May. 2020||A||The revolver offers good performance with the 3-inch barrel and is well made. Carrying it takes a bit of effort.|
|Rock Island Armory AL3.0 357 Magnum, $504||May. 2020||A-||There was a lot to like, price, accuracy, shooting comfort. Not a beautiful revolver for sure.|
|Rossi Model 971 VRC 357 Magnum, $295||May. 2020||B||A great trigger, and the porting helped keep us on target. But the accuracy was less than stellar.|
|Taurus Model 66 2-660041 357 Magnum, $371||Oct. 2019||A||Well suited to personal defense and home defense. Good field gun for protection against animals.|
|Taurus 608 Matte Stainless 2-608049 357 Magnum, $548||Oct. 2019||A-||It is a big gun. Just the same, the size and eight-shot capacity made it ideal for home defense.|
|Smith & Wesson M27 Classic 150339 357 Magnum, $909||Oct. 2019||B-||The grips are not the best design for handling magnum loads. Trigger action was the big problem, very heavy.|
|Ruger GP100 KGP-141 357 Magnum, $500||Sept. 2018||A||The stainless-steel GP100 performs in all categories: accuracy, smoothness, control, and velocity.|
|S&W M66 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, $420||Sept. 2018||B+||Stainless steel, smooth action, and a round-butt configuration seldom seen on the Combat Magnum.|
|Ruger GP100 GP-141 357 Magnum, $480||Sept. 2018||B+||The blued GP100 doesn’t perform on par with the stainless, and the stainless is easier to maintain.|
|S&W M19 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, $800||Sept. 2018||B||Came with a display case and a knife with matching serial number — pretty neat, but also pricey.|
|Taurus Model 66 357 Magnum, $325||Sept. 2018||B-||The barrel length of 6 inches did not generate greater velocity. Current-production version is 2-660069.|
|Ruger LCRx Model 5460 357 Magnum, $669||Apr. 2018||A-||Decent accuracy and made concealed carry uncomplicated. It transmitted a lot of recoil to the shooter’s hand.|
|Kimber K6s Model CDP 357 Magnum, $1155||Apr. 2018||B+||The K6s has a smooth, consistent trigger pull, a small grip for easy conceal carry, and offers six shots. Pricey.|
|Colt Cobra COBRA-SM2FO 38 Special, $699||Apr. 2018||B||Good trigger pull in double action and good sights, which made it easy and accurate to shoot.|
|Ruger Security Six 357 Mag., $430-$450||Jul. 2017||B+||Had good accuracy with user-friendly sights; recoil was mild due to its bulk.|
|Colt Lawman Mk III 357 Mag., $450-$525||Jul. 2017||B||A full-size revolver, so it is less concealable. Offered pleasant recoil. Double-action pull was too heavy.|
|Smith & Wesson M649 357 Magnum, $500-$530||Jun. 2017||A||The 649 was lightweight, thin, and concealable. Even with 357 Magnum loads, recoil was tolerable.|