Today, we are going to take a close look at the Taurus Model 85 Ultra Lite while I continue on with more all-metal handgun reviews, as requested by many SurvivalBlog readers. According to Taurus, which offers several versions of this model, the Model 85 is their best-selling handgun. Many people are so caught-up with polymer handguns, especially semiauto handguns, they are overlooking some outstanding firearms still manufactured out of metals.
An Old Dog
For quite some time, I only considered carrying a revolver for self defense. Yep, I’m old school but I’m not too old to be schooled! You can teach an old dog new tricks. For sure, I owned a lot of semiauto handguns early on, to wit, the outstanding Colt 1911A1 as well as the Browning Hi-Power. And when I was younger, much younger, I would sometimes carry either a 1911 or a Hi-Power while working in private law enforcement, working in plain clothes. I could pretty much carry whatever I wanted.
I hate to admit it, but way back in the day I carried the Hi-Power and the 1911 with a round in the chamber and the hammer lowered on that round. That was stupid! However, it didn’t take me long to realize that carrying that way was not only stupid but very slow to bring the gun into action because the hammer had to be cocked before the gun could be fired.
Working Security Night Shift
Still, very early on in my career, I mainly carried a revolver of one sort or another. I may have told this story before, but bear with me. I used to work for an alarm company on the day shift where I installed and serviced alarms. On the night shift, I answered silent alarms, and I arrested hundreds of burglars, too. On the day shift, I only carried a small 5-shot .38 Spl snubby revolver just for those times we were in a bad part of Chicago.
My first evening on the night shift when my very first alarm came in, it was at a large trucking company dock. It was huge– about two blocks long and half a block wide. I verified it was a break-in and alerted the dispatcher, who called the Chicago PD. They rarely answered silent alarms. And when they did, they rarely went into the building to search it. They would “secure the outside” while I went in. Once in a while, I’d spy a young CPD officer who was wearing two guns, and they would go into the building with me.
Going into a huge building at night with no idea where the light switches were was bad enough. But back then, the only flashlight I had was just a piece of junk– a plastic two D-cell job that wasn’t much good for anything. I remember walking around in that huge, dark building with flashlight in one hand and my little 5-shot .38 Spl snubby revolver in the other hand. What was I thinking? The building was so huge that a shot taken at a bad guy could have been a very, very long shot. UGH! I honestly felt way undergunned and pretty much helpless on my own.
A Bigger Revolver Required
The very next morning, after the night shift, I headed out to my favorite gun shop and bought myself a Colt Trooper MK III 4-inch barrel .357 Magnum revolver. I wasn’t going to get caught on the short end of the stick again while searching a huge building all by myself with an itty-bitty snubby revolver.
Back in the day, breaking into a business was considered a forcible felony, and the burglars knew it. More often than not, when caught, they would throw their hands up and beg “Please don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.” I never had to shoot anyone, but I came close a few times when they were armed. I learned many lessons back then, and one is that a single person can not under any circumstances search a building, any building, no matter how big or small by themselves safely. However, I did all the time, nightly, several times per night.
I taught myself some techniques that I’m guessing helped keep me alive, that and the Grace of God! In my “SWAT Battle Tactics” book, I outlined how to properly search a building and a room. Unfortunately, some of the material was changed after I approved the galley copy, and that material is pure BS. Sorry! It’s not my fault!
Taurus Model 85, Ultra-Lite Overview
Let’s get back to a 2-inch barrel .38 Spl snubby revolver, and in this case, the Taurus Model 85, Ultra-Lite. What we have is an alloy frame (aluminum) revolver with an all stainless steel cylinder and barrel. The gun weighs just 17 oz, just slightly over a pound. And, Taurus states you can fire +P .38 Spl ammo in this gun. You can! (I’ll share more on this later.) The Ultra-Light has abbreviated soft rubber grips. You can just barely get your pinky finger under the bottom of the grip, but it’s enough to get a good hold on the gun.
The soft rubber grips really help with the recoil, too. The hammer is stainless steel, and the face of it is smooth, which is nice for double-action work. The gun can be fired single-action by cocking the hammer first, or double-action by just pulling the trigger completely through until it fires. The finish is matte in color, but you can see the difference in color between the stainless steel and aluminum parts. Still, Taurus did a nice job. However, the matte aluminum parts scratch very easily.
Taurus Safety System
We have a transfer bar safety system. The gun won’t/can’t fire until the trigger is pulled completely through. There is no firing pin resting against the hammer. This is a good thing. Taurus also incorporated their “Taurus Security System” into the back of the hammer. When activate, the hammer can not be pulled. The gun can’t be fired. Two keys are supplied, too.
In Towns and the City
Of course, our website is called SurvivalBlog, and many readers believe we only discuss wilderness survival. Such is the not case. I believe much survival will be based in the towns and cities. And survival comes in many different guises, too. Having lived a good part of my life in Chicago, IL, I know first-hand what city survival can consist of. For a lot of years, I carried a .38 Spl 2-inch barrel revolver on some of the jobs I did. A lot of this was plain clothes security or bodyguard work. The reason for the smaller gun is that it was easier to conceal, nothing more. It held no advantages other than being small and lightweight. On my jobs, I did carry a 4-inch barrel .357 Magnum revolver. I wore a suit jacket one size bigger to help conceal the gun. A shoulder holster helped, too.
Purpose of Little Snubby Revolver in .38 Spl
Does a little snubby revolver chambered in only .38 Spl still have a purpose? I believe it does, and I covered this in other articles. Carrying a gun is comforting, not comfortable. Remember that. The bigger the gun, the more uncomfortable it is to carry. There are advantages and disadvantages to carrying a little firearm. First of all, smaller guns are much harder to shoot accurately, and your range is limited. I consider 15 yards a fair distance to be shooting a little gun, really!
I often carried a little .38 Snubby in an ankle holster. It’s very slow to bring the gun into action, but no one ever spotted that concealed gun either. So, that’s an advantage. Later on, I usually carried a full-sized revolver or semiautomatic, and I carried the snubby in an ankle holster as my back-up weapon. Many of us can’t walk around, in the course of our daily chores, carrying a full-sized gun on our hip or in a shoulder holster. We just can’t do it. However, a smaller handgun can be more easily concealed, and you are more likely to carry it instead of the big gun you left at home in your dresser drawer, because it is such a pain to carry all day long.
So, we’re not talking about doing a building clearing, like I did, with a little .38 Spl snubby revolver. Instead, we are talking practical self-defense, defending yourself or a loved one against whatever the deadly threat might be. And, be sure to always carry spare ammo. HKS Speed Loaders are inexpensive at under ten bucks each. So carry one or two with you when packing. It’s sage advice!
We’ve established the fact that a short-barreled handgun is much harder to shoot accurately than a longer barreled handgun. One of the reasons is the short sight radius. And on the Ultra-Lite from Taurus, it has fixed sights that are small. I had to paint the front sight with some orange paint in order to see it. Secondly, a little snubby will “jump” in your hand, with recoil. And, of course you are limited as to how far you can shoot accurately. To be sure, you can hit targets a lot farther downrange than you think you can, if you take your time and are on your game.
.38 Spl Ammo for Testing
I had a great selection of .38 Spl ammo to shoot in the little Taurus. From Buffalo Bore Ammunition, I had their 158-gr Soft Lead SWC hollow core, which is a great round for self-defense. I also had their 125-gr JHP standard velocity, low flash, 110-gr Barnes TAC- XP all-copper hollow point, standard pressure made for short barreled revolvers, 110-gr Barnes TAC-XP +P low flash, made for short barreled revolvers, and their 158-gr Outdoorsman Hard Cast, Keith bullet, +P . From Black Hills Ammuniton , I had their 125-gr JHP +P load, 148-gr Hollow Base Wad Cutter Match load, and their 100-gr Extreme Defense load, which is an awesome load.
Serious accuracy testing was done at 15 yards over a rolled-up sleeping bag, over the hood of my pickup truck. It works for me, so I use it. My accuracy testing was done firing from single-action only. The trigger pull was 5.5 lbs and crisp. I wanted to wring the most accuracy out of the little Taurus. If I did my part, I could get groups slightly over 3-inches. Remember, this is at 15 yards, not 25 yards. This is good enough for head shots. Keep that in mind. The winner in the accuracy department was the Black Hills 148-gr Match load. I figured it would be, and it had the least amount of recoil. I did some double-action shooting from 15 yards at a silhouette target. It was easy to keep all the shots in the kill zone!
Speaking of recoil, in a little snubby .38 Spl revolver that only weighs 17 oz, there is going to be a lot of recoil. Keep that in mind. Some loads were okay, and some were punishing. The Buffalo Bore 158-gr Outdoorsman load was harsh but accurate. It would be a good load on the trail. The Black Hills 125-gr JHP +P also caught my attention with recoil. The Buffalo Bore 110gr Barnes TAC-XP standard pressure load was very nice. I would probably stoke the Taurus with this load for carrying on the streets in the big city. However, you can’t go wrong with any of the JHP or Barnes TAC-XP loads for self-defense. And, when it comes to shooting these little guns, practice is the word. It takes a lot of practice to stay on top of your game with these little guns that “kick” a lot.
I’m sick and tired of seeing clerks in gun shops push light-weight revolvers to little ol’ ladies. They fire a few rounds and bring the gun back. It’s too much recoil for them. So, just because it is a little ol’ lady buying, doesn’t mean you have to sell them a tiny gun that kicks so much. They won’t carry it. Keep that in mind, all you gun shop clerks.
I like the little Taurus. It will fit nicely in my Blackhawk Products ankle holster to back-up my main gun.
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio