By Aiden Pheil
As a millennial gun owner, the length and breadth of my life experience with firearms is polymer. The GLOCK 19 is our generation’s 1911; after all Tupac sure wasn’t bustin’ any of John Browning’s designs. If somebody my age says they “prefer revolvers,” check their closet for skinny jeans and their fridge for a case of PBR. I don’t prefer revolvers. They’re cool, sure, but you’ll never catch me arguing the superiority of a wheelgun. More reliable? Maybe, but if a GLOCK 19 jams . . .
it’ll probably be ten rounds into a magazine that holds the equivalent of three fully loaded revolvers. But if you can’t get it done with five, you can’t get it done with 15, right? Tell that to the guy who shrugged off 22 shots of .40 S&W before expiring…minutes after the last shot. Well then it’s all about placement, you say.
If I am ever in a defensive gun use I will consider myself blessed by the almighty Jerry Miculek if I hit my target even once. The only factor under your control is the weapon you bring with you, and last time I checked, 15 chances was more than 5. Somebody with a calculator may want to check that.
I still wanted a revolver though, just for the experience and to diversify my caliber portfolio. I’ll be honest; a big part of my decision to buy the Taurus Model 85 was price, coming in at $305 for the Stainless Ultra-Lite model. I disregarded the usual advice of “save up another hundred and get the Smith & Wesson 637/642” because I’m a huge narcissist this wasn’t meant to be a heavy use shooter or a carry piece. It might turn out that way though.
Let’s start with the packaging and presentation, which matters to the more vainglorious firearms enthusiasts, or millennials weaned on video game collector’s editions. Most rifles come in a cardboard box just to keep all the parts together and protected during shipping. Handguns, if you’re lucky, come in a nondescript plastic hard case, like power tools. In fact that’s the best comparison I can make: when in their respective cases, my Ruger P345 is almost indistinguishable from my Ryobi (side note: is it any wonder guys like power drills so much?).
If most handguns are packaged like tools, the Taurus 85 is packaged like a smart phone. It comes in a clean, colorful box with Taurus’ AGGRESSIVELY millennial slogan smeared on the side. I mean seriously, do even a fraction of a percent of those who use Keep Calm and Etc. in their daily parlance even know who Margaret Thatcher IS!? [Historical note: this World War II era slogan returned to prominence after the death of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher due to use on social media by the British, and was then co-opted by people even younger than me everywhere else.]
I will say I like the idea behind the slogan, other gun manufacturers sometimes seem embarrassed about the prospect of their firearms being carried defensively, whether as a concession to the anti-gun lobby, or for liability reasons. The lion’s share of Taurus’ line-up is carry guns, so I’m glad they’re owning it.
Inside the box, the modern, minimalist, cheap presentation continues. A GLOCK comes with a ream worth of paper in manuals and flyers, a proof-of-life empty casing in a hermetically sealed manila envelope, a spare magazine, a loading tool, and some cleaning tools. The Taurus 85 comes wrapped in a silky drawstring bag, with keys for the absurd Taurus Security System I’ll never use, and a Carry On decal to put on the back of your MacBook.
The GLOCK comes with paperwork. The Taurus 85 comes with a sticker.
It works though, when inspecting my Ruger P345 at my LGS prior to accepting delivery, I opened the case, frowned, and nodded in the most matter of fact way I could muster. When I opened the Taurus 85 it was Christmas, and I was 10 years old. If I’d said anything, it would have been “This looks great!” with each word an octave higher than the last, and my voice cracking noticeably on “great.”
The Taurus 85 Ultra-Lite has an alloy frame, allowing it to shed 4 oz from the steel framed model. It has an exposed hammer, though Taurus does make an otherwise identical with a shrouded hammer called the 850. Given the mixed track record Taurus has on The Forums, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the gun looks slick, with an excellent satin finish and no errant tool marks. The checkering on the cylinder latch, ejector rod, and hammer is sharp and clean and provides excellent traction. I don’t have a black (ultra dark blue?) model to compare it to, but I’m willing to bet cash money the stainless looks better. If there’s something wrong with the Taurus 85, you can’t tell by looking.
Strangely, Taurus has updated the rubber grips on the 85 more recently than they’ve updated their website. The website shows the older rubber grips, as does almost every picture of it I can find on the internet. They weren’t bad looking grips, and you can still buy them for 10 bucks on Taurus’ webstore, but the new ones are a definite improvement. I have hands capable of an octave plus three, and I can still get all of my fingers comfortably on the grip. They have the added benefit of looking hella sweet, with a charging Taurus bull outline on an otherwise unbroken pattern of rubber, instead of the old Taurus medallion. A shrouded ejector rod gives the Taurus 85 a bit of menace, and visual balance. Aesthetically, I’d put The Taurus 85 on par with the Smith & Wesson 637, and give it the edge over the Ruger LCR. Polymer is not a good look for a revolver.
Aside from fears about cosmetic imperfections, I was also wary about build quality. Luckily (should I even have to say luckily?) my Taurus 85 locks up tight out of the box, with an almost imperceptible amount of cylinder wobble, and a stable double action trigger pull. At first the trigger clicked loudly through the stages, but after the first 50 round box of target ammo and some dry firing, it smoothed out leaving only a slight grittiness. My big ol’ hands force me to pull the trigger with the joint of my finger, and not the pad, but most normal people won’t have that problem.
The finish didn’t fare as well as the trigger. I’m a fan of Fobus paddle holsters, so I bought one for the Taurus 85. It was a tight fit, even for a Fobus holster, though that loosened up with a few practice draws. Each draw was accompanied with shavings of holster-plastic stuck to the trigger guard.
Unfortunately the smooth matte finish on the Taurus 85’s barrel also loosened up, and fell off. You can see the scuff marks on the right side of the barrel shroud, where the revolver rubs against the holster, and a thin scratch on the left side where it scraped against something during a draw. I was able to cause this damage in five minutes with a plastic holster, so I can only imagine what a year’s worth of carry and use might do.
I’m not too broken up about it because of the price point, and because the Taurus 85 is a utility gun and shouldn’t be confused for a safe queen.
I’m not an experienced revolver shooter (stop the presses), but my double action shooting seemed to go pretty well. If accuracy is what you need, single action is the way to go, but shooting fast double action is the best indicator of defensive performance. Bench resting a snubnose revolver is like putting your Prius on the dyno; you know the results are going to be disappointing, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
The basic fixed sights are silver on silver, and my crummy eyeballs have a hard time getting the front blade into focus. If you were desperate to use the Taurus 85 for target shooting, you could apply some paint to the blade, but why bother? A carry revolver is a contact distance weapon, and the Taurus 85 is as accurate as it needs to be. I was hitting the target, and happy about it.
The Taurus 85 is compatible with HKS model 36 speedloaders, but the angle of approach is obstructed by the rubber grips. You can still get it in there, it just isn’t as speedy as the name of the device would have you believe. I also tried loading from Tuff Quick Strips, which are easier to carry but not as quick, though still an improvement over loose rounds in every conceivable way. They also clear the rubber better than the speed-loader.
What the Taurus 85 represents is value. Not as cheap or chancy as a Charter Arms, and not as shiny and spendy as a Smith & Wesson. The Taurus 85 is a good choice for a first revolver, or an only revolver. The question remains: will it last? I think it will. I may have used too many qualifiers when describing the fit and finish of the Taurus Model 85. If I knew nothing about Taurus products I would be delighted, but the crushing weight of history is conspicuous on my shoulders every time I try to praise the gun.
Ultimately the shopworn advice of “save up a hundred more for X gun” doesn’t pass the logic test. I’m a gun collector of inexpensive tastes, and a BIG appetite. With the extra $100+ I would have to spend on a Ruger or Smith & Wesson, I can keep building up my collection of quirky Saturday night specials, and the Wonder Nines my demographic is actually interested in.
Would I carry the Taurus 85? Absolutely. “But wait, I thought you said you’d only carry a high capacity 9, like the late warrior poet Tupac?” Yes I did say that. But I was wrong.
Specifications: Taurus Model 85SS2ULFS (from Taurus’ website, may not reflect the new grip design)
Caliber: .38 Special +P
Barrel Length: 2″
Overall Length: 6.5″
Height: 4.28″ (from Taurus’ website, my measurement with the new grips is 4.75”)
MSRP: $386.36 (that’s oddly specific, but street price in my area is $305, or $350 for the 850 “CIA” shrouded hammer model)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Style, Fit & Finish: * * * *
Smooth, clean satin finish with no tool marks and good looking grips (on the new model anyway). Classic snub-nose lines, but not gorgeous. Finish is prone to scuffs and scratches.
Accuracy: * * *
Perfectly cromulent, especially for a snub-nose. The sights are rudimentary, but they’re sharp and on-target.
Carry: * * * *
Can be wedged into a pocket, but in a nice holster it evaporates beneath an overshirt. The Taurus 85 is an enduring design so just about everybody makes a holster for it. Cylinder width makes it tougher to conceal than a comparable semi-automatic, but that’s to be expected for the type.
Ergonomics: * * *
Maybe it’s the new rubber grips, or maybe it’s because I’m gigantic, but I found recoil perfectly manageable with target and +P defensive loads. I didn’t find myself missing the extra 4 oz. of the steel-framed model. The trigger isn’t world class, but it smoothes out quickly.
Reliability: * * * * *
Unsubstantiated bullshit warning: to hear the internet tell it, Taurus doesn’t always have the best track record. The 85 feels solid out of the box and has been completely reliable so far, but only time and a few dozen boxes of +P will tell if it holds up.
Customize This: * * *
Taurus offers a wide range of wooden grips on their webstore, and they still sell the older style rubber grip (if you prefer it). You can also get a full range of wood and rubber grips from Hogue. Lasers are also available from Crimson Trace and Laserlyte.
Overall: * * * *
In terms of quality alone, I don’t think the Taurus 85 quite stands up against the Ruger LCR or a Smith & Wesson 637. In terms of value, Taurus knocked it out of the park. The Taurus 85 is just plain nice; I have no complaints and it cost barely more than a Kel-Tec. It may not be packaged like a tool, but it does the job like one, and at this price you don’t have to be afraid to ruin it. Taurus’ reputation is the Sword of Damocles over your head, but it’s been up there so long, is it ever really going to fall? I’ll let you know if it does, and if I’m still alive.