Monday, November 3, 2008

REVIEW: Taurus UltraLite Model 85 .38 Special

People love semi-automatic pistols. They can make revolvers look, feel and shoot like a weapon of a long gone era. From what I buy and what I see my friends buying, there was a time when I wondered if anyone still bought revolvers anymore. Well, I own a revolver. And it’s a good one. Actually, it’s a fantastic one!
I bought my first Taurus handgun in 1989 when Mel Gibson and Lethal Weapon made the Beretta 9mm “the cool gun to own”. I couldn’t afford that Beretta so I bought the less expensive, copy-cat Taurus PT-92. Several of my “friends” panned the Taurus saying that they made cheap, knock-off guns and questioned their long-term quality.
For a time I actually felt a little embarrassed that I owned such an “inferior” gun. Well, 19 years later and somewhere between five- and ten-thousand rounds the gun has failed to feed maybe twice, even though at times I’ve fed the old girl some of the cheapest ammo I could find. I’ve changed the recoil spring once and dabbed on some sight paint to brighten the faded white sight dots. So my opinion now is that Taurus makes a quality gun that just happens to be priced for the average guy. 
When it comes to a potentially life-saving self-defense tool, the basic rule of thumb is reliability first. If you’re really going to bet your life on a gun, I personally feel that a reliable .38 Special is a better choice than a problematic .45ACP with a history of failures and jams. So for me, the gun I carry at least five days a week is a reliable Taurus UltraLite Model 85 revolver loaded with .38 Special +P Federal Hydra-Shoks. 
I once heard a great quote, “Revolvers are like forks, you pick them up and they just work”. While that might not be perfectly true, it’s true enough for the point to be effectively made. I went to a local well-stocked gun store and started weighing my options. I wanted unbeatable long-term reliability, minimal weight, easy concealability, enough stopping power to get my butt out of a sling, heaven forbid, and priced under $500. 
After an hour of deliberation, I finally landed on the Taurus UltraLite Model 85. It gave me a nice mix of all the things I was looking for and came in at only $299 (I’ve seen it for $320 in late 2008). The price left me with money in my pocket so I even added a Crimson Trace laser grip for $170. 
The Model 85 is a 5-shot .38 Special that's +P rated and comes in a stainless/alloy version and a blued version. It's sights are very difficult to use as are most snubbie's, but they are not target guns. The laser turns the sights into a back up rather than a primary aiming system.
 Crimson Trace makes two types of snub-nosed revolver grips - a soft rubber four finger version and a hard plastic three finger version. I went with the hard plastic three fingered version for several reasons. First, it most closely matched the size of factory the grip that came on the gun. Second, the hard plastic will not “catch”, “hang”, or “stick to” a pant leg (if ankle carrying) or a shirt like a soft rubber. Third it was about 1/2 of an inch shorter making it easier to conceal. 
I anxiously took the gun to the range and ran 50 rounds though it. The trigger was heavy and not perfectly smooth but other than that, the gun shot well. The Smith and Wesson’s I dry fired in the store had triggers that were much lighter and definitely smoother but with factory installed CT laser grips, they were coming in at $800. That was well over my, and my wife’s, budgeted limit for this purchase. 
The light gun felt great in my hand but the weight in no way gave the +P ammo a heavy kick that you get with a snub nosed .357. 
On my second trip to the range, I tried moving my target stand out to about 25 yards. Big mistake I couldn’t hit a thing. Double action, I was having a difficult time getting bullets to hit the IDPA targets let alone getting one to hit somewhere on the 8” Shoot N-C that I stuck on it. Switching to single action, I started hitting the target with enough regularity that my confidence in the gun immediately sky-rocketed though the confidence in my double action trigger finger bottomed out. 
At ranges that more closely resemble self-defense situations (15 feet or so) the gun is dead on. The Crimson Trace laser makes aiming fast and easy and as long as you pull the trigger smoothly, the bullet hits the target with in an inch or two of the laser dot. I love shooting this gun. I practice shooting isosceles, on handed, weak handed, and from the hip. If the target is 15 feet away, I can effectively hit the target at will, which is a good thing.
After about 600 rounds and another 600 dry fires, the trigger has really smoothed out - a lot! It’s still not a Smith and Wesson but if I had $800 to burn, I’d have bought an Air Light. I don’t have that kind of money to throw around so I went with what I consider the next best thing. A Taurus. 
Carrying, this gun is as comfortable and light as any I’ve every tried. I carry it on my ankle or in a bellyband , some times for 12-14 hours in a day and its barely noticeable. I actually feel naked without it!
- Why did I buy the gun? Concealed carry self defense.
- How long have I owned the gun? Just over a year.
- Would I buy it again if faced with the decision? Absolutely, without a doubt or a moment's hesitation. Period. And I'd add the laser grips again too.
- How have my feeling changed since I bought it? I like it more now than when new. Much more.
- Best and worst? Best is weight and quality. Worst is trigger pull but even that's not bad like it was fresh out of the box.
- Would I recommend the gun? Yes. I think it's a great value and I'd bank my life on it.
In summary, the gun is very easy to carry, light weight, super reliable and with the CT Laser Grips very easy to get on target. If you are looking to get a small frame revolver on working man wages this is definitely a gun to look at. Let your friends tell you how a Smith and Wesson is better. Just smile back at them knowing you own twice as many guns as they do...




40 comments:

  1. what ammo do you recommend for this gun?

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  2. Federal .38 Special +P Hydra-Shok. That's a very effective load.

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  3. i recently bought this same taurus, but the grip is too small/short for my hand. the gun shop told me to go online to find a longer grip. any suggestions ? appreciate it.

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  4. Yes actually. There a several choices. Here are two good brand name options.
    1) Hogue. Great grips. Notice the small, pointed end will accomodate your pinky.

    http://stores.agmdealtime.com/-strse-16580/Hogue-Grips-TAURUS-85/Detail.bok


    2) Crimson Trace. If you want laser grips, I have them on my Model 85, you can get the small polymer ones like I have (same size as the current grips or these bigger ones with pinky extension.

    http://www.crimsontrace.com/Home/Products/Taurus/LG385/tabid/252/Default.aspx

    Thank you for reading. Remember, this site is moving to Firearmfun.net.

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  5. Howdy Kennyard,

    Good to read a great gun review written by an Asian feller.

    Teddy Kajiwara
    Sulphur Springs, TX

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  6. Is there a safety on this gun?

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  7. No safety. Revolvers and DA only semi-auto pistols don't have safeties due to the nature of the trigger action. They don't need them. Now a "cocked and locked" .45 ACP needs a safety. Keep shooting!

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  8. Just saying Thanks for the review I was thinkings about getting one.

    Now I love mine

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  9. Thanks for the review I had a buddy of mine buy this gun and was looking for a review. I just bought S&W .38 airweight and love it.

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  10. Good review. I'm currently considering a snubby, and I keep flipping back and forth between the S&W 638 and the Taurus 85. I'm leaning towards the Model 85, and this review has me leaning even more to the Model 85.

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  11. just got my 85 yesterday-its perfect for its purpose ... "self defense" ... plus it looks bad ass ;-)

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  12. Thanks for the review, I'm thinking about getting one of these.

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  13. Very nice little gun. I am a 1911 nut but even I have one of these little 85UL's. After carrying a 1911 for so long, the Taurus feels like nothing! I carry Speer GolDots +P in mine(I prefer bonded bullets) Thanks for the review. I would definately recomend this gun.

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  14. My wife got an Model 85 from her ex-husband. For some reason I shoot it better than a S+W Model 442. I like it, and have had no issues. Also, have a S+W Model 19 that is supurb but hard to carry.

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  15. I've had one for over a year, have shot about 8 boxes (400 rounds) though it. For me accuracy is not an issue with a snubby, no matter what you pay for a gun with a 2" barrel at defensive distances of less than 15 feet if you can't hit a body you probably don't need to carry a gun. It is more than accurate enough, stone reliable, and the trigger is very satisfactory. For the money you can't go wrong. Even though we rarely shoot single-action at small targets, it is amazingly accurate for a snubby. My wife loves it and has gotten very good with it.

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  16. I just bought an 85 UL and it does have a safety built into the hammer

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  17. I am pretty much sold on the 85. Any cons that you know of regarding the blue finish?

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  18. Blue finish is durable and non-reflective. I like the satin ultralite for the light weight comfort when carrying.

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  19. I own this gun for over a year. I love it for its simplicity. It will never jamb. The initial posterer forgot to mention that the laser grip is ajustable, so after dailing it in @ 15 feet, the round now goes thru the laser pip on the target. You don't have to aim, you can shoot while tying your shoes, whatever, the round goes where the pip is. My wife is a weak woman, and can't pull the double action very well though. I've only fired 200 rounds through the gun, perhaps it gets smoother with more action.

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  20. Kennyard, I have this gun and I am having some problems with it jamming when I shoot. I have shot some cheap practice rounds perfectly fine but my good bullets jam every single time I shoot it. Could it be the bullets crimping and jamming because the gun is so small? any idea at all? I would very much appreciate any help. This is a home self defense gun and jamming is a major problem!!

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  21. Matt,
    These light weight snubbies are known for the bullets jumping the crimp. Many use cast lead bullets for that reason. They hold the crimp better. Another reason may be dirt in the action, but if it works fine when you try it with an empty cylinder, then that's probably not the problem. If you do want to clean it, just remove the three screws holding the cover plate on the right side, remove the cover and spray the action clean with brake cleaner and then re-lube, it may help. Of course Taurus has a lifetime warranty so you could always send it back for them to fix.
    Good Luck!
    Don

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  22. I just bought a beautiful taurus 85 made in 1989 it is all polished stainless and it is not +P rated.. I would really like to be able to carry it with +P ammo will the gun be ok using +P or should I only use standard ammo?? I have heard mixed reviews just looking for an honest answer, some say an all stainless gun is stronger than aluminum gun.. Please help me sort this out thanks..

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  23. I bought a hammerless 2' 85 a year ago and was told that they are not +P rated, I this correct or not?

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  24. i like the gun as cc..it's lite weight, and easily concealable..i have the ultra-lite five shot..paid $150.00 used..one con accuracy after 20 feet..but you shouldn't have to shoot anyone in self defence past that distance..

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  25. I've got the 85MULTI (Titanium ultralite). It's a great little pocket gun. I agree with everything in the review, including the fact that 500+ rounds & dry-fire really smooth out the trigger.

    For the guys with questions about +P: I personally wouldn't use +P in a revolver that's not rated for it. If you aren't sure about your particular gun, you should be able to contact Taurus with your serial number, and the can tell you.

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  26. Do you think painting the forward sight with flourescent paint would be as good a choice as a laser grip? Trying to decide whether to buy a crimson trace.

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  27. I bought an 85 two days ago and took it to the range yesterday. I shot a 6in. group at 6 yds w/out laser sights. The sights are difficult to see, but I plan on adding some paint and possibly a CT grip. Because I have been shooting my S&W sigma 9mm a lot lately, I really like the trigger on this gun. It's much smoother and easier to pull.
    I bought it because I am tired of buying semi-auto's and have always wanted a revolver. The price was right and it felt really good in my hands, despite being left handed. I am very glad I picked this one out of the half dozen I was looking at and hope that it gives me years of enjoyment.

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  28. I bought an 85 ultralite 4mo. ago and didn't get out to the range till the 26th oct. because of health problem,i was shocked and disappointed,in this weapon because i wanted to use it for self defence.I fired my 1st. round and the cly.wouldn't rotate i had to push the cly. release(that too was stuck)and played with it till it came open,closed and the same thing,all 5 rds., i let my grandson try and the same thing again.So only ten rounds and i gave up. I have 2 other Taurus's' a 92 that is flawless and an 8 shot 357 that is also there. I never had any second thoughts of buying this one but now i'm left at what to do.will this work it's way through or should i send it back,any thought's will help. I bought this to carry concealed but will stick with my AMT Back-up for now. Thanks

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    Replies
    1. I had a Taurus 851 snub revolver, and I experienced the same problem...cylinder would occasionally fail to rotate. I sent it back to the factory. They repaired and returned it promptly with a list of repairs.
      Now the gun worked better, BUT...any slight pressure against the cylinder while pulling the trigger could cause the same problem...sometimes even rotating the cylinder backward. I lost confidence in this gun, and sold it.
      Doing some online research, I have found that this problem is somewhat common in Taurus revolvers.

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  29. I have a ultralite ss 85 and have never had any problems with it, I use for conceal carry always.

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  30. I bought an 85 Ultra-lite from the gun show. Checked the timing first, fairly new. Took it to the range run 25 rounds single and double action and it shot very well. it's a little stiff on double but, shot very accurate at 15' ft. filled up 9" pie plate. I am very satisfied with this little lite snubby.

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  31. Great gun and the finish is better than smith and trigger is nearly as good. Price is much better and the warranty cannot be touched by anyone. You wasted however 180$ for the grips, you dont need that crap on a carry gun

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  32. Gun makers use to show quality and workmanship years ago, Taurus use to be somewhat junk while smith and beretta set the standard. That gap has closed over the years, my new 92FS has an awful finish and smith just looks cheap. However my Taurus 85 is almost my nicest firearm short of my old Browing BDA made from beretta in the 1990s. You cant beat the fit and finish of the 1980-1990 guns.

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  33. I just purchased a new ultra lite and like very much in my small collection. With a few small alterations like cutting down the hammer spring in the butt of the gun it sure gives a great smooth trigger wheras before I was pulling TOO HARD and by the time it fired I lost my target.. Great gun and very intimidating. What would be a lite load to use so not much kick as I am setting this one up for my (petite) woman, she loves the gun.

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  34. For a carry gun, you really should have a "hammerless" revolver-if you're gonna have a revolver. One less thing to snag. The SP101 has a "hammerless" model.

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  35. If you use your weapon for your defense. You should use what you want and can make hits with. It's all personal preference. Laser no laser. This round that round. Carry it, shoot it, know how to use it. That being said I do have an 85ul. Never jammed with CTL.

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  36. HEY HOW ARE YOU'LL DOING TODAY IN HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO EVERYONE READING THIS I JUST Purchased my .38 special TAURUS 85 FS PRO T POLYMER I HAVEN'T GOTTEN IT YET NEED FEED BACK ON HOW YOU GUYS LIKE IT SO FAR IF YOU OWN ONE THIS GONNA BE MY FIRST SMALL PISTOL I EVER HAD....

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  37. I've had my 85ul for 8-9 yrs,and I have never had a problem with it. I have put over 2500 rds through it;standard and +P's. Love this little revolver. I have it loaded with 135gr +P GDHPs. At a 20' distance, an attacker would(will) be down with 5 new entry holes in his arse.

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  38. This was a great article that really was really helpful to me and I really can’t wait to learn more from your valuable experience. This was really very interesting to me.

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