Gun Review: Chiappa Firearms Rhino

What’s new about the Chiappa Rhino .357 Magnum revolver? Everything. Forget everything you ever thought you knew about magnum revolvers, or snubnose revolvers, or handgun recoil, or concealable stopping power. If Chiappa can iron-out a few wrinkles in its execution (ergonomics, anyone?), the Rhino could be to conventional revolvers what HMS Dreadnought was to capital ships. Even the Ruger LCR already seems quaintly backward by comparison . . .

TTAG’ers already know that the Rhino’s a small six-shot .357 Magnum with a funky design that puts the barrel at the bottom of the cylinder, instead of the top. Some lucky TTAG’ers got to shoot it at The American Firearms School last month. This lucky scribe got to shoot it yesterday. I think it just might change everything in the revolver world. Did I already say that? It’s worth repeating then.

The Rhio conceals nearly as well as a snubnose .38 Special. It spits out death and destruction like a full-size .357 Magnum service revolver. And it recoils like, well, nothing. I’ve never shot a centerfire pistol that recoils so gently, except maybe my old 6” Taurus Model 66 firing .38 special target loads. Try concealing that. Or stopping an attacker with a .38 caliber lead trashcan poking along at 750 fps.

The Rhino also offers outstanding inherent accuracy—if you can sidestep its ergonomic shortcomings. For instance, if you dab the front sight with Sight Bright and fire it single-action, pretty soon you’ll be rewarded with groups like this:

Except for that one flyer at the top of the X-ring, it just doesn’t get any better than this. In Single Action (SA) mode, the Rhino consistently grouped under 2”, and the sights were perfectly regulated for full-power 125-grain .357s. In fact, the Rhino was more accurate in SA fire than our reference .357, a 4” L-frame Smith & Wesson 686. Yep: the 25-ounce alloy-framed Rhino with inferior sights and a 2-inch barrel was more accurate than the 41-ounce forged stainless S&W with better sights, a bigger grip and a 4” barrel.

Here’s the best group from the 686 [top target]:

Cocking the Rhino’s external hammer is actually fairly difficult; the hammer is small and smooth and the mainspring is extremely strong. We gave up on SA shooting and fired the Rhino a few times using a deliberate, slow, ‘staged’ DA pull. (Just the kind of action that Chiappa president Ron Norton told us not to do.). It actually worked fairly well, although it was neither fun nor practical. The groups opened up to about 4”, and stayed reasonably centered at the point of aim.

Slow shooting is for paper targets and tin cans, however, and the 2” Rhino is meant for concealed carry. So how does it shoot when seconds count? Very quickly; here it is with full-power 125-grain .357s. Muzzle climb? Gone. Target?  Shredded.

And here’s our reference .357, a 4” Model 686, with the same loads. Wayne isn’t going for speed with this group, but it does show the difference in muzzle climb. The 686 was considerably more difficult to shoot quickly, due to the increased recoil.

But as we sped things up, some ergonomic problems started to make themselves felt and the Rhino’s groups opened up.  Our 2” SA groups spread out to 4” or even 6” when we switched to quick DA shooting, and they started to move downward from the point of aim.

This is partly due to the design of the gun, and partly due to our own erroneous technique. The Rhino’s trigger pull is not straight back, as with conventional revolvers; it is back and slightly upward. Look at the angle of the finger groove in the frame for reference. When you pull back on the trigger (inconsistent and very heavy, at least 15 pounds) it levers the muzzle downward.

Then combine this effect with my own instinct to muscle a big pistol down from recoil and back onto the target. This is probably a bad shooting technique, but when I’m shooting a big pistol quickly it’s what I tend to do.It seems to work with conventional pistols, but with the Rhino it’s just not needed because muzzle climb is nearly nonexistent.

Yanking the trigger thusly, I tended to group low and stay low:

My friend Wayne, however, started perfectly centered on the target and then walked his successive shots downward and off the paper:

This is basically the reverse of what an untrained shooter does with a conventional pistol under the recoil of rapid firing, as the muzzle climbs higher and higher with successive shots.  But that’s what you are when you pick up a Rhino for the first time: a noob, with some bad habits to unlearn.

We’d tried to borrow a conventional snubnose .357 (a S&W Model 60) to test against the Rhino, but had to settle for a .38 Taurus snubby instead. I was amazed that the Rhino kicked less with .357 loads than the steel-framed .38 snubby kicked with standard 158-grain FMJs. Watch for yourself:

Conclusions:

Our test gun is pinpoint accurate and built like a brick shithouse. We couldn’t duplicate RF’s accuracy problems, possibly because I have long pianist’s fingers and Wayne is simply a giant.

Reliability was 100% through over 200 rounds fired. (We had planned for a longer shooting day, but the weather went from bad to worse and we bugged out when the drizzle turned into steady rain.) It even ejected long .357 cases with authority, which is extremely unusual for a concealable .357.

The Rhino lives up to its hype. It carries almost as lightly as a steel J-frame although it’s a bit chunkier, and it shoots with the ballistic authority and the accuracy (almost) of a service revolver. And it does all of this with almost no recoil.

It sounds too good to be true, and it almost is. The ergonomics are pretty awkward, and if there’s a single deal-breaker it’s got to be the DA trigger. It’s probably the stiffest I’ve ever worked, and it’s got two or three distinct stages before it stacks up even harder and finally breaks. This trigger pull renders the gun’s outstanding inherent accuracy all but inaccessible for defensive shooting.

And that’s a pity. Such an inherently accurate and mild-shooting gun virtually screams for a smooth DA trigger, even if it’s heavy. The Rhino punches well above its weight, and if Chiappa can smooth out the trigger pull, this will be a gun that truly does it all. Accuracy, ballistics, firepower, concealability and mild recoil. All in one package. If the Rhino is a success, the future might hold a 5-shot .44 Magnum snubnose, that recoils less than an all-steel 1911 and hits like a .30-30.

The Rhino’s unconventional geometry puts it decades ahead of conventional revolvers. The best of the rest, like the S&W 686 and the Taurus .38, are superior executions of an inferior and obsolete design. If Chiappa can get the Rhino just right, and at the right price point, it will eat them alive.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: .357 Magnum
Barrel: 2 inches
Overall Length: 6 inches
Weight (unloaded): 25 ounces
Grips: Rubberized black synthetic
Sights: Black ramp front, fixed black hammer notch rear
Action: DA/SA revolver
Finish: Anodized alloy
Capacity: 6
Price: $795

RATINGS (Out of Five):

Style * *
Brutal Klingon aesthetics make it cool but still don’t make it pretty.  I don’t care.

Ergonomics * *
Low-visibility sights and an inconsistent 15-pound trigger almost cancel the juicy goodness of this recoilless hand cannon.  Nothing feels right *until* it goes bang, and then it all feels perfect.

Reliability * * * *
This pistol is rock-solid, but subtract a star because it doesn’t have a production track record.  That will probably change.

Overall Rating * * *
Challenging trigger and ergonomics keep it from redefining what a concealment pistol is capable of.  It’s only a trigger pull away from greatness.