Taurus 5-Shot Revolvers – The Model 85 and More

Dark gray Taurus 85 .38 Special with a black grip on a white background.

When it comes to personal defense, the snubnose revolver is so handy, lightweight, easy to manipulate and simple to operate, it is widely used. Even those who carry a heavier firearm as a matter of course often deploy the snubnose as a backup or hideout. The backup gun may be a lifesaver in the case of a malfunction of the primary. The snubnose handgun must be used by a skilled shooter (meaning someone willing to practice).

Dark gray Taurus 85 .38 Special with a black grip on a white background.
The Taurus 85 is an excellent, all around .38 Special revolver.

The best grip and application of the proper technique is vital for proper application of the snubnose revolver. Since most gun battles occur at short range, the speed into action of the handgun may count for more than absolute accuracy. There is nothing faster into action than a snubnose revolver carried in a properly designed holster.

The Taurus Snubnose

The Taurus revolvers, beginning with the Model 85, are good examples of the breed. They feature a smooth action, good fixed sights, hand-filling grips and a reputation for reliability. The rest is up to the shooter. While small self loaders are presently a fad, I do not wish to bet my life on anything below the .38 Special. The Taurus revolvers I use are chambered for the .38 Special. They will handle the +P loads well. Some of the Taurus revolvers are chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. While the heavy barrel .357 Magnum revolvers with hand-filling rubber grips may best be considered nice shooting, .38 Special revolvers with the option of using the Magnum load are present.

An advantage of the revolver, that cannot be overstated, is the revolver may be pressed against the adversary’s body and the trigger pulled repeatably without the danger of a jam—whereas a self loader would jam after the first shot. The revolver may even be fired through a coat pocket, which I like a lot. The snubnose revolver will never win a combat competition course, but it will save your life if properly used. The snubnose .38 has saved quite a few lives in fights that could have been lost.

When testing a revolver, I leave nothing to chance. Whenever I try a new revolver, I retrain and master the nuances of the sights and trigger action. By carefully paying attention to the front sight and mastering the trigger action, hits may be made with the snubnose revolver far past conversational range. As such, the revolver is well suited to defense against feral dogs, coyote and the like, providing the user is able to effectively use the piece. This means practice.

Black-grip spurless Taurus revolver in a black holser with a American flag simple and the words "American Zombie Hunter" on a white background.
This spurless hammer Taurus revolver is carried in a very neat holster.

Be sure to carry the snubnose .38 in a position that affords good access while maintaining retention. The handgun should never be carried loose. A good pocket holster is essential; a belt holster or an IWB is good when you are able to wear a covering garment.

Types of Snubnose Revolvers

There are three types of snubnose revolvers.

  • There are the conventional revolvers with the double action and a single action feature.
  • There are revolvers with a spurless hammer.
  • There are concealed hammer revolvers.

Revolvers with the exposed hammer and single action capability are the best choice when you make a shot at a reptile or even take small game. Small game with a snubby? I have taken plenty of shots of opportunity—it can be done. The spurless hammer revolver is neat and handy for pocket carry. The concealed hammer revolver is another option. By far the most common and perhaps the most useful of the group is the standard Taurus 85 type revolver with exposed hammer and the capability for single-action shooting.  I have used all three.

The major preference I have with the small Taurus revolvers is that they have the modern pebbled hand-filling composite grips. These grips separate the hand from the frame of the revolver, cushioning the shock of heavy loads. Taurus has designed and executed grips that give the you every advantage. As a bonus, the larger snub .38 grips offer better purchase as you begin to draw the handgun.

When Practicing the Proper Firing Grip.

  1. Heft the handgun in the hand, and take a firm grip. A good test is to hold the handgun increasingly tighter until your hand trembles, then back off.
  2. Carefully align the sights, taking more care for longer distances. Smoothness is important at this point. Speed will build with time, and without smoothness you accomplish nothing.
  3. Press the trigger firmly to the rear, and the trigger breaks as the sear trips.
  4. Maintain control in recoil and align the sights again. The cadence of fire is not set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger again, but by how quickly you are able to align the sights in recoil control.
  5. Keep the cadence of fire set by trigger action. There is the same amount of time spent pressing the trigger and allowing the reset.
  6. Press, reset. You will find that when the trigger is reset, you are ready to fire.
All black Rossi .357 Magnum, barrel pointed to the left, on a white background.
This Rossi .357 Magnum features a heavy barrel, good trigger action and excellent sights. The hand-filling grips allow firing .357 Magnum loads in comfort.

There are larger snubnose revolvers which are much easier to use well, although the same rules apply to mastering the application of techniques to counter the shorter sight radius. I don’t consider these true snubnose handguns but rather short barrel revolvers. The snub .38 is a compact five shooter. When you consider the likely use of such a handgun and the fact that lethal confrontations occur at intimate range most often, sticking a revolver in the opponents belly and pulling the trigger makes sense. Some may state that the belly gun is the ultimate example of a defensive handgun.

Light brown pocket holster with a pink/cream lotus blossom with black grip exposed on a white background.
You need a good pocket holster that allows the shooter to push the revolver off of the holster on drawing. Functional can also be fashionable.

The larger six-shot Rossi revolver is a great defensive revolver as well—although it is a holster gun versus a pocket gun. The Rossi six-shot .357 Magnum is modeled closely after the now out-of-production Colt Detective Special in size. The Rossi features bold sights, a good trigger action, and one of the best designed grips ever fitted to a revolver. It is one of the most overlooked revolvers on the market. It is the ideal size, more accurate than many would believe, and the Rossi revolver fires a fight-stopping cartridge. It isn’t a bear to fire with purpose-designed .357 Magnum defense loads.

Selecting Ammunition for a Snubnose Revolver

I have deployed a number of .38 Special loads over the years, ranging from the old 200-grain Super Police to the Glaser Safety Slug. I recently tested a number of .38 Special loads in my personal Taurus 605. Among the most interesting are those from Buffalo Bore ammunition. I have been favorably impressed by its loadings in the past, and this was no exception.

  • Buffalo Bore loads both standard velocity and +P loads, which is different than the new breed of ultra light .38 Special revolvers.
  • The standard velocity 158-grain lead bullet broke 790 fps. Control was good.
  • The +P version was a surprise, giving a full 970 fps. This is a very powerful load that makes the most of the .38 Special. (Incidentally, this load generates 1075 fps in a four-inch .38.) While recoil was stout, it was not wrist snapping by any means.
  • I think when you practice and invest in the .38 Special as a primary weapon, the Buffalo Bore 158-grain hollow point is a great loading.
  • I also tested the Buffalo Bore 125-grain JHP, using the special Gold Dot short barrel bullet. If you prefer the jacketed hollow point, this is a good loading.
  • I strongly prefer the lead hollow point in the .38 Special, although I have studied incidents in which the JHP has performed in an excellent manner. You pay your money and make the choice; .38 Special loads are better than ever.
3 Copper colored Barnes X bullets, from left to right: bullet, cutaway of the bulleted and spent bullet.
The Barnes X bullet is a good choice for personal defense. This is the bullet used in the Buffalo Bore Tactical line.

Firing the .357 Magnum in a snubnose Magnum can be interesting. Only loads specially designed for short barrel use are usable. As an example, a load designed for hunting normally uses a heavy charge of slow burning powder. This type of powder doesn’t fully burn in the two-inch barrel. Velocity is often less than the .38 Special +P, recoil painful and the bullet does not expand at such low velocity.

The Buffalo Bore Tactical loads solve this problem. The Tactical Load is not a heavy load but especially designed for personal defense. Loaded sensibly lighter than the full power .357 Magnum, this offering is more potent than the .38 Special +P but controllable. The 125-grain Tactical Load is ideal in the snubnose Magnum.

Focus on a navy jacket that is torn where the revolver was fired into a grassy area.
This is the end result of some of our jacket pocket experimentation.

I conducted experiments in firing from a jacket pocket. A great advantage of the concealed hammer .38 is that you can carry the piece in your  jacket pocket and fire quickly if needed. My associate, Lee Berry and I found that the revolver proved to be capable of firing a cylinder of ammunition quickly without any problems. The fabric of the coat did not ignite and this is not something you could do twice from the same jacket—the gaping hole allows the handgun to fall out! At a few feet, the bullet flew true and struck the target. Another advantage of the belly gun is when you are able to fire at contact range. The power of the .38 Special revolver cartridge is greatly enhanced by the rapidly expanding ball of gas that accompanies the bullet—often resulting in a horrific wound. There are specialty loads that make the .38 most versatile. My friends old Hoyt and Ralph often carried bird shot as the first round in their .38s when they were hunting moonshiners and busting whiskey stills. They met more snakes than moonshiners. The Speer .38 Special shot load is a good option.

When all is said in done, the snubnose revolver is a good option for personal defense. For many shooters it is the best compromise available and an option we should not be without.

Have you got a snubnose in your arsenal? If so, which one and what do you like about it? Share your experiences in the comment section.


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Comments (30)

  1. I have two 38spls. One is an older Colt Cobra from the 70s and I wanted my wife to get her conceal carry and promised her a firearm if she did. She did and she became the owner of a Taurus Ultra lite 85. I reload 38 ammo so it is easy and less cost to go to the range and have her practice ( I do as well)..No offense Ladies but if your purse is like my wife’s… I prefer the revolver. Though I taught my wife what to do if a stovepipe or misfire occurs with a least the revolver does not require added actions and the revolver allows her to just keep pulling the trigger if needed.

    We have LEOs in our family and most follow the 7 yard rule/center of mass. She is consistent with that distance and a pie plate sized target. I am sure she will get better but that is adequate to achieve safely. If you want a “100 yard” shot with a 38 snubby… have at it. I am looking at protection, not deer hunting. Both weapons are great… my colt fits perfect and 6 shots waiting. Her 85 fits her hands and works well for her. I also have a Dan Wesson 357 and it feels good with 38spl rounds as well as a 357 Marlin rifle. 38spl is the majority of my reloading and is a great all around caliber. As with most, I have more Auto pistols than revolver… in 380, 9mm, 40SW, 45 GAP and 45ACP in Semi and 38spl/357mag and 22s/lr/magnum revolvers. They all have a special place for me.. the 38 being used the most. I agree… 38spl +P are great out of the 85 so no need for the 357 to be the first pick. Just my opinion. Just practice with what you have.

  2. Pretty sure this is the gun the woman used to kill her two daughters in Texas with. If it helming more than 5 rounds she could have taken her husband too. Maybe buy two of these?

  3. Follow up..
    Have put a few more rounds through the 85 ultralight 38 spcl. At 10 yards the shots are going high… not much and left..again not much. I added bright white to the front sight and it helps in sight placement but any tips here would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I Carry a C9.
    A friend recently purchased a Taurus Model 85 with an aluminum / titanium frame.
    She decided she wants a 380 like my wife’s so after 25 rounds or so through the Taurus 38 special I’ve decided to buy it off her as it truly conceals.
    I get good decent clusters even being new to the snub nose at 9 yards and plan on working out to 15 yards.
    I plan keeping my Hi Point C9 as it shoots well for me to 50′ but it is more of an open carry pistol.

  5. I have owned 5 .38 snubbies. One Charter Arms Undercover, two Colt Detective Specials, one Taurus 85 and a S&W hammerless. The Charter was light enough and dependable, but not as accurate as the others so I let it go. The Colts are well made and finished, but since they are six shooters. making them a bit larger and because they are approaching collector status I rarely carry them. The Taurus 85, though it takes a back seat to my S&W j-frame, is what I would consider a best buy. It is the one I carry the most when working outdoors in harsh dirty conditions. Its price makes it a bit more expendable. Also have a .44
    special Taurus snubbie. Too large and heavy for everyday concealed carry in my way of seeing things. Good house gun though. Two of my snubbies are in .22 l.r. chambering, a Taurus 9 shot and a S&W 8 shot. Avoid the Taurus .22 snubbie. Mine came out of the box a 7 shooter because the firing pin doesn’t make good contact with cartridges in 2 chambers. I’m still putting off sending it in to be at the mercy of Taurus’s lousy (according to reviews I have read) service center. The S&W .22 is a work of art. Accurate & so light that you just WANT to put it in a pocket as a back up. Don’t laugh about the idea of carrying a .22 snubbie. A .22 l.r. out of a snubbie will penetrate more layers of plywood than a hollow point will out of a .22 rifle. Use solids or hollow points in a snubbie. Neither will expand at that velocity. Expect about 8 inches of penetration in ballistic media. A .22 magnum is not worth the extra 100 fps due to extra muzzle flash, blast and expense. Last of all, I have a .357 magnum Ruger SP101 with a 3 inch barrel. It makes an excellent carry gun for certain situations. I practice with all my snubbies at distances from point blank out to 100 yards. Yes, 100 yards. They are that accurate, able to connect with a man sized target at that distance when I do my part. I too carry bird shot as my first round up when I am working outdoors. It is available in every chambering I’ve mentioned here.

    1. 100 yards in a snubby? I have a long way to go!
      I practice generalky at 12-15 yards and figure that will position me well in any necessary confrontation. Nice to know these are capable as I have hesitated on the purchase. This site confirms my desire to pick this one up. Thanks

  6. I have 3 small revolvers, a Taurus CIA platinum and a Taurus 85. The 85 is super wonderful, the CIA is too light for such a big round. I would recommend 38 special in the CIA,

    1. hey paul , the only revolver I own is a Taurus 85ul. It only weighs 17 oz’s. It is actually a pleasure to carry it concealed in a open top belt holster with an untucked shirt or t-shirt. Its quite comforting knowing I have 5 shots of +P ready to be un-leashed if I need it. and I carry a speedloader with 5 more of the same.

    2. Taurus 85’s and the like Taurus revolvers are some of the best snubbies for their cost and dependability. Had mine 10 yrs and about 2-3000 rds through it without a single malfunction of any kind. Love my little .38.

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