When Steve Jobs and Apple introduced the iPod to the world, it was an instant success. Yes, it could hold most people’s entire music library, and it was very hip looking. But there was one factor that truly beat out all others in contributing to the MP3 player’s meteoric rise — simplicity. The user interface was a simple click wheel, and an individual could pick up a new iPod and intuitively use it without ever having to read the instructions.

In the world of firearms, the revolver is the iPod equivalent. They are intuitive, simple to load and operate (even for novices), and are very reliable. There are no safeties to fumble with, magazines to seat properly, decocking levers to learn how to use, or magazine disconnects to worry about.

Recognizing this, manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Taurus continue manufacturing new models to accommodate the needs of the ever-growing concealed-carry market. The two we received for this edition of “Tale of the Tape” are S&W M&P Bodyguard 38 and Taurus 856, which were both announced just prior to this year’s annual NRA show.

The Contenders

Both new models are purpose-built for generally the same tasks — concealed carry and home defense. Both revolvers are chambered in .38 Special and can handle +P loads as well. But, despite their matte black appearances, that’s about where the similarities end. Each one has its own unique characteristics that stand in contrast to the other, and these differences can be either a positive or negative depending your perspective.

Taurus 856

The Taurus 856 is a small-framed steel revolver that is a step up in size from the Model 85. This allows it to carry six rounds instead of just five. It weighs in at 22 ounces unloaded, which can help soak up the recoil of snappier rounds. However, the extra size and weight might make it a little inconvenient for someone looking for a weapon with a smaller footprint and less weight for easier concealment.

The Taurus 856 is also a traditional double-action/single-action (DA/SA) design with an external hammer. You can cock the hammer for more precise shot placement with a lighter trigger pull, but you also must recognize the possibility of the hammer snagging on clothing during the draw. Also, the practice of cocking the hammer in a defensive scenario has the potential for legal ramifications in the case of an accidental discharge or a prosecutor’s assertion of a negligent discharge due to a “hair trigger.”

Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 38

On the other hand, the Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 38 weighs just 14.2 ounces thanks to its upper aluminum alloy frame and polymer grip. The Bodyguard also comes with a stainless-steel barrel insert that some people claim is more accurate, but the jury’s still out on that one. Your own mileage may vary. The Bodyguard’s main advantage, since it only carries five rounds, is its size and light weight, making it very easy to carry all day without getting in your way.

Conversely, the Bodyguard has a double-action-only (DAO) system. Since there is no hammer to cock, the user must go through the heavier DA trigger pull for every shot. This requires steady hands and lots of practice to stay on target. The upside is there is an additional layer of safety with the heavier trigger and no hammer to snag during a draw.

Also, the Bodyguard can be fired from within a jacket pocket since there is no hammer to be impeded by surrounding material. This means you can keep your hand on the weapon without anyone being the wiser.

First Impressions

Going to the range and putting these little shooters through the paces gave me a better understanding of what each offered in terms of features and performance. To keep the playing field as level as possible, I shot both only in DA mode.

Both revolvers utilize an integral sear sight channel that is less than ideal. However, these budget-priced handguns are intended to be used within close proximity to a target. This is a good thing, as the black front sights on these guns are next to useless in low light. The front sight on the Taurus is also integral, while the Bodyguard’s front sight is pinned in place. This means you can replace it with a more visible alternative.

Despite the Bodyguard’s smaller size, it actually felt more comfortable to hold. There is a relief cut behind the triggerguard that is significantly deeper than that on the 856. This allows for a higher grip more in line with the barrel and a shorter reach to the trigger. Again, this could be a pro or con depending on your hand size.

Trigger & Accuracy

The DA trigger pull on each revolver was pretty standard. The 856 had a pull weight of 10.25 pounds, while the Bodyguard’s was 9.51 pounds. Though heavier, the trigger pull on the Taurus 856 actually felt much smoother. I could feel a little bit of stuff happening inside the Bodyguard’s mechanism that detracted a bit from the pull.

Both revolvers held their own when it came to accuracy. I tested them with Winchester’s 130-grain FMJs and Speer’s 135-grain +P Gold Dot hollow points. Shooting off-hand at 7 yards, I was able to consistently get groups under 1.5 inches with each despite the lackluster sights. The Taurus had the edge in the accuracy department, with its best group coming in at under an inch at 7 yards.

Even though the Bodyguard is 35-percent lighter than the Taurus, I was surprised how pleasant it was to shoot, especially with the snappier +P Speer loads. I didn’t get any type of sharp or stinging sensation while shooting it. However, it was a little harder to control because of the thinner and narrower grip.

The Verdict

As always, there are no absolutes. The best choice is going to come down to each user’s particular circumstances. Do you want the extra round and recoil-dampening heft of the Taurus or the light weight and easier concealment of the S&W? Neither is the wrong answer, and it’s always great to have options. Either way, both products will serve you well provided you pick the right tool for the right job and circumstance.

Despite the use of 19th century technology, revolvers are here to stay. And thankfully there are still companies providing quality products that are simple and easy to use. In terms of personal and home defense, the Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 38 and Taurus 856 will both provide reliable service at a price that is tough to beat.

S&W M&P Bodyguard 38

  • Caliber: .38 Special
  • Barrel: 1.88”
  • OA Length: 6.6”
  • Weight: 14.2 ozs. (empty)
  • Grip: Polymer
  • Sights: Fixed
  • Action: DAO
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 5
  • MSRP: $385

For more information about the M&P Bodyguard 38, visit

Taurus 856

  • Caliber: .38 Special
  • Barrel: 2”
  • OA Length: 6.55”
  • Weight: 22 ozs. (empty)
  • Grip: Rubber
  • Sights: Fixed
  • Action: DA/SA
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 5
  • MSRP: $329

For more information about the Taurus 856, visit

This article was originally published in Combat Handguns November/December 2018. To order a copy, please visit

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