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In an industry interview after retiring last year from a long and distinguished career with Taurus, that company’s departing leader Bob Morrison commented that he tried to bring out something new and different every year.  This past year, he certainly succeeded with the Taurus Protector Polymermer.

Taurus has been making their counterpart of the S&W J-frame revolver for many years. Until the coming of their fabulously popular Judge, in .45 Colt/.410 shotshell chambering, Taurus’ most popular line had been their Model 85 series of five-shot .38 Special snubbies.

Savvy marketing man and gun guy that he’s been as long as I’ve known him, I suspect Bob Morrison picked up on the popularity of ultra-light .357 Mags from other makers, and realized that the big complaint customers had with those guns was their absolutely vicious recoil with full power loads.

Gun Details

That would explain the format of the Polymer .357 Mag snub from Taurus’ Protector series.  A little bigger than pocket size, the weight is comfortably over a pound: 19.75 ounces, to be precise, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.  In something of a homage to another industry success story, the Ruger LCR, Taurus makes extensive use of polymer on the Protector models.

Almost 20 ounces absorbs recoil a heck of a lot better than, say, the 11 ounces of Smith & Wesson’s lightest .357, the Model 340 PD.  To further cushion kick, the Polymer comes with Taurus’ famously recoil-absorbing Ribber grips.  Yes, they make it a bit big for pocket or ankle carry.

However, this is a gun that will be at home in belt or shoulder holster. While its resemblance to the Ruger LCR is the first thing that catches your eye, the second gun the Protector Polymer put me in mind of was the S&W Model 12.  Introduced in the early 1950s as the Military & Police Airweight and given its numerical sobriquet a few years later, the Model 12 was an alloy-framed K-frame revolver, with a six-shot .38 Special cylinder. It had a full-length grip-frame, buyer’s choice of round or square butt, and could be had with 2-inch or 4-inch barrel.

With aluminum frame and steel cylinder, the Model 12 weighed 18 ounces. Gun-wise cops of the time, restricted to .38s for both on and off duty, appreciated the Model 12 as a plainclothes gun. It normally rode in a shoulder rig, or a holster on or in the belt.  If you had offered those old cops a gun the same size and shape, with one round less cartridge capacity but chambered for the powerful .357 Mag, I expect a bunch of them would have taken you up on it.

Of course, that gun would be the Protector Polymermer .357.  Roughly the same size as the snub-nose K-frame? Check.  Grip long enough to hang onto with all your fingers? Check. Five-shot cylinder? Yup.  Chambered for .357 Mag?  The Protector Polymermer most definitely is.  Similar weight? This new Taurus is only an ounce and three quarters heavier than the old S&W.

 

Shooting Impressions

I passed this gun around to several fellow shooters, most of them cops and all owners of small, powerful revolvers for backup or “light carry.”  What impressed most at first was how light this Taurus .357 felt for its size.

The cylinder latch is not the usual S&W style found on Taurus revolvers. It’s rectangular, extremely flat, and blended into the heavy-duty recoil shield that rises from the frame behind the cylinder.  In fact, it’s so well blended there that it took extra effort to open the cylinder.  I found it slow enough to operate that it literally slowed down the whole reloading process.

So did the fact that an HKS speedloader full of .357 Mags gave me the devil’s own time before it dumped its payload into the five chambers.  The problem turned out to be the Ribber grips, which were hitting the drum of the speedloader and taking it off angle.  With the one-piece grip removed, the HKS dropped the five .357 rounds into the cylinder smooth as glass.  If this gun belonged to me, I’d simply pop open my C60 knife and give the left side of the Ribber a  “Spyderco grip trim.”  Since the gun belonged to Taurus instead of me, I didn’t, and through the test we all loaded the Protector Pro one or two cartridges at a time, the old fashioned way.

Truth to tell, when I carry a snub revolver it’s generally as backup, so my spare ammunition for it is usually in a flat little Bianchi Speed Strip, which worked fine with this revolver. The speedloader incompatibility is not a slam on Taurus: we’ve seen it over the years on Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Ruger, too.  All eventually caught on and fitted their guns with speedloader-compatible grips. I’m sure Taurus will soon, too.

The gun comes out of the box in traditional double-action firing mode. The hammer rides within a built-in shroud a’ la’ the old S&W Bodyguard, introduced in the 1950s and still selling right along, and copied as an option within Taurus’ own line of all-metal .38 and .357 snubbies. On those guns, only a little “cocking button” protrudes from the slot in the shroud for the shooter’s thumb to draw back and cock the gun to single action mode.

On the Protector Polymermer, curiously enough, the “cocking button” is more of a conventional, checkered hammer spur, and it rises high enough out of the shrouding slot to be easy for the thumb to catch.  This also makes it easier to uncock the revolver if the shot does not have to be fired.

However, it also protrudes enough that it can conceivably snag coming out of a pocket. I don’t think that’s terribly likely – I had to pretty much make it happen in testing – but the point is, I could make it happen, and that’s never been true of Taurus’ all-metal small-frames with this styling, nor the original S&W Bodyguard.

The sights were better than snubbies used to have. Big front, big rear.  Both are molded from polymer, the rear notch rising out of the polymer topstrap and shielded by it, and the front being part of a polymer sleeve for what appears to be a stainless steel barrel.  The polymer makes them look gray instead of black, but a saving grace is a fiber optic front sight. It’s red, and not the brightest of its kind I’ve seen, but it does catch the eye well enough, even on gray days.

I found an interesting dimensional problem with that. With the top edge of the front sight level with the top edges of the rear, in the conventional marksman’s post-in-notch sight picture, it was easy enough to stay on an 8-inch diameter steel plate at 15 to 20 paces.  However, when the shooter tried to focus on the glowing red orb of the fiber optic up front, the shots tended to go high.  The reason was easy to figure out: with the conventional sight picture, the bottom edge of the red “dot” was buried in the trough of the rear sight notch. When the shooter wanted to “see the red thing on the target,” that raised the sight…and the shots went high.  We found ourselves using a 6 o’clock sight picture if we wanted to hit with our focus on the fiber optic red ball instead of on the silhouette of a conventional sight picture.

I tested the trigger pull on a Lyman digital gauge.  In single-action, the average weight of pull was 4.1 pounds.  Perceptible trigger backlash was insignificant. Double-action was heavy. How heavy? I honestly can’t tell you: the Lyman gauge tops out at 12 pounds or so, and every reading said “over…over…over.”  That left several experienced revolver shooters to make educated guesses as to double-action pull weight. I would have guessed about 16 pounds.  I heard as low as 14 and as high as 20 ventured by other shooters who tried the Protector Polymermer.

Magnum Recoil

That said, though, it was a reasonably smooth pull.  If the shooter kept a hard, crush grip to stabilize the pound-and-a-quarter gun against the many pounds of double-action pull weight, he or she was able to get their hits on the 8-inch gong at 20 paces. And, given the recoil with Magnum loads, a hard grip is what you want with this revolver, anyway.

Recoil was, as you might expect, snappy.  One shooter, unprepared for it with a relaxed grip, felt his support hand separate from his firing hand when he dropped the Protector Pro’s hammer on a full house .357 load for the first time. However, he just tightened up, and proceeded to get his hits thereafter.

Bear in mind that when S&W brought out the first .357 Mag in 1935, that gun’s weight was in the 40-ounce range, even with the shortest (3.5-inch) barrel available for it. When that .44-framed S&W .357 Mag was the only gun available in the caliber in the year 1950, famed firearms authority Bob Nichols wrote that year in his classic book The Secrets of Double-Action Shooting, “This.357 Mag is a lot of gun for any man to hold; and it’s too much gun for the average man.”

Now, when Nichols wrote those words in 1950, we didn’t have those wonderfully recoil-absorbent Ribber grips…but the Protector Polymer is still less than half the weight of the heavy framed S&W Nichols was talking about 60-some years ago.  And, make no mistake about this: It kicks!

How bad? Recoil is a subjective thing. Several testers uttered “Ow!” or even, “God-damn!” when their first magnum round went downrange from the test sample. However, everyone finished at least five shots, and most finished more.  All I can say is, I soon had an empty 100-round value-pack of Remington-UMC 125-grain full power .357, and the guys were scrounging for more ammunition. Some felt five were enough; some didn’t.  By contrast, I’ve seen several people fire one shot from an 11-ounce .357 and say, “Thank you, that’s enough.”

Between the magnum recoil and the heavy trigger pull, I don’t think this is a gun for the person who doesn’t have strong hands and substantial recoil tolerance. However, with .38 Special, it’s pretty much a pussycat.

Reliability was a 100-percent.  With ultra-light magnums of any make, and with lower priced guns in particular, you’re always on the lookout for breakage or failure. There were no malfunctions of any kind. Firing pin indents were deep and well centered. The gun never misfired with any of the ammunition fed it, magnum primers notwithstanding.  While the ejector rod was too short to push out even .38 Special casings, let alone the longer spent .357 brass, that’s par for the course with most any gun with a very short barrel, which necessitates a very short ejector rod.  However, the chambers had been cleanly machined and polished, and a hard slap to the ejector rod generally cleared all the spent casings right out.

Snubbie Accuracy

I went to the 25-yard bench with the Protector Polymer, a Matrix rest, and exemplars of three popular loads suitable to the .357. Because of the unusually heavy double action pull, accuracy testing was performed single action.

Since the introduction of the .357 Mag in 1935, shooters have taken advantage of its ability to shoot the light, accurate .38 Special wadcutter target load.  Some credentialed experts have also recommended this round for self-defense, particularly out of light, short barrel guns and especially for recoil sensitive shooters.  The mild report and “kick” build confidence, and the theory is that its flat-across bullet configuration will cut a larger permanent cavity than a round-nose projectile, or a hollow point that fails to open with its velocity diminished by a short barrel.

The exemplar load I chose for .38 wadcutter was 148-grain Black Hills Blue, the color code distinguishing it as commercially remanufactured ammunition.  It was from a proven lot that I’d used the year before to win overall at a PPC match.  However, the gun I used for that was a 6-inch barrel longslide Colt conversion made by the late, great Jim Clark, Senior. Wadcutters in 2-inch barrels like that of the test Taurus has been known to keyhole a little bit, which doesn’t help accuracy. That was the case with the Protector Polymer: nothing went through the target sideways, but a couple of the hits showed evidence of slight keyholing. That instability may have accounted for the largest group the test revolver delivered that day, 5.85 inches.  However, the best three of those hits were in a more promising 2.25-inch cluster. (The measurement of the best three of five tends to factor out unnoticed shooter error, and give a better idea of what the given gun and load are mechanically capable of delivering for accuracy.)

For scores of years, the load people put in their .38 Specials for serious business was 158-grain round nose lead. This bullet configuration tended to punch through and through flesh like an ice pick, earning a reputation as an impotent manstopper.  It was always accurate, though. The load I chose to represent the genre was Winchester brand. By the time of this test, I had used it in four shoots, winning a PPC service revolver match and stock service revolver class at a local IDPA match and placing second overall at an IDPA state championship and seventh at the IDPA World shoot.  The Winchester stuff had delivered ample accuracy, and with the test Taurus it shot a 3.75-inch group.  Four of those five shots were in 2.05 inches center-to-center, and the best three were exactly an inch tighter: 1.05 inches.  That told me the Protector Polymer did indeed have potential in the accuracy department.

Of course, the whole point of the Protector Polymer being chambered for .357 Mag is so it can deliver raw power.  No defensive .357 Mag load has earned a more stellar reputation for stopping hostilities than the 125-grain hollow point loaded to velocities of 1,400 to 1,450 feet per second (fps) when fired from a 4-inch barrel. While velocity drops off significantly in barrels shorter than four inches, decades of gunfights involving detectives, off-duty cops, and armed citizens with snub-nose .357s have shown that this load is no slouch even when fired from shorter barrels.  The round I chose was one of those that earned the 125-grain Mag its reputation, the Remington with scalloped semi-jacket.  One-shot that went high extended the five-shot group to 4.75 inches.  However, the other four were in a cluster less than half that size, 2.05 inches to be exact.  The best three were under 2 inches, 1.70 inches apart.

The Protector Polymer does not give the excellent sight picture of, say, a Taurus PT1911 .45 pistol. This didn’t help the grouping.  The wadcutters had tended to go a little high…the 158-grain round nose lead had been spot on for elevation but grouped a little left…and the Magnum loads had gone a bit high left from point of aim. Still, all were centered well enough that if it been a police qualification shoot, every shot would have clustered in the maximum five-point zone of the silhouette target.

Final Notes

The Protector Polymer shot well. It’s value priced, and it’s a suitable candidate to fill the role the S&W Model 12 once held: a hand-filling revolver that’s very light and comfortable for all-day carry on the hip.  Even if you load it with .38 Specials, the .357 chambering gives you the option of “Magnum Force” later.  During the “ammunition drought” that followed the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, I noticed that .38 Special was among the first ammunition to disappear from the retail shelves, but often, shops would have a few boxes of .357 still in stock. It’s one more reason why .357 Mag is such a versatile, useful chambering.

Gun snobs love to bash the Taurus, but I gotta tell ya, this one passed the test in every respect.

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