The Chiappa Rhino revolver is a unique firearm that broke the mold of conventional double-action revolver design when it premiered in 2010. Unlike a standard revolver with a top mounted barrel the Rhino’s barrel is mounted on the bottom of the frame in an effort to reduce muzzle flip.
The Rhino is the brainchild of designer Emilio Ghisoni, creator of the now out-of-production Mateba “auto-revolver.” The Mateba also featured a bottom-mounted barrel along with a system that used the recoil forces to rotate the cylinder and cock the hammer instead of relying on spring power for those functions. The Mateba was produced for a few years but never saw much commercial success before being discontinued.
With the Rhino Ghisoni ditched the “automatic revolver” concept in favor of a (somewhat) more traditional action, but retained the position of the barrel at the bottom of the frame. Ghisoni died before the Rhino was finished but his partner, Antonio Caduzzo, teamed with Rino Chiappa, owner of Chiappa Firearms, to finalize and bring the revolver to market. The result is a line of revolvers that includes guns in a variety of calibers, barrel lengths and finishes.
The position of the barrel at the bottom of the frame and the fact that the Rhino fires from the bottom chamber of the cylinder required a redesign of the traditional double-action revolver lockwork. Instead of a traditional exposed hammer, the Rhino uses an internal hammer to set off the cartridges. Although there is what appears to be a hammer at the normal location of the back of the frame, it is not an actual hammer, but instead acts as a cocking piece to allow the shooter to manually cock the revolver for single-action fire. When the action is cocked a red cocking indicator is raised on the top of the frame. The Rhino can also be fired in double-action mode. When the trigger is pulled in double-action mode the cylinder rotates but the hammer does not move.
Another interesting feature is the characteristic flat cylinder, which reduces the overall physical envelope of the gun. The unusual cylinder release on the left side of the frame and is reminiscent of a frame-mounted safety in a semi-pistol. When the cylinder release is pushed down the cylinder is unlocked and can be pushed out of the frame.
I recently got a chance to handle and fire a Rhino revolver for the first time and compare it head-to-head with a conventional S&W revolver. The gun I test-fired was the version chambered in .357 Magnum designed for concealed carry that featured a 2” barrel, rubber grips and a black finish. The version I tested did include the external cocking-mechanism and could be fired both double-action and single-action. I understand a double-action only variant is also available, but I do not see that model listed on the Chiappa website.
I fired the Rhino at a large social gathering with many other shooters at a commercial range. Unfortunately, although I was able to spot hits and get a general idea of accuracy, I was not able to bench rest the revolver, retrieve my targets to measure my groups exactly, or fire past 15 yards.
The firing was done with a mixed assortment of .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads. I would fire one or two cylinders full of any specific load through the Rhino and then immediately fire six shots of that same load through my own 3” S&W Model 65 revolver. This gave me a rough comparison of how the unique Rhino design stacked up against a traditional revolver. Although the difference in barrel length should be noted, it was not as significant as the difference would have been between a 2” Rhino and a 4” S&W.
My general impression of the Rhino was positive. It was fun to shoot, seemed as accurate as my S&W at the same distance, and demonstrated no functional problems in my brief range test.
The double-action trigger felt heavier than the DA trigger in my S&W, but was smooth, and not excessively heavy for a double-action “service revolver.” The single-action trigger was considerably lighter but still felt a bit heavier then the SA trigger on my Smith. I flat out didn’t like the cylinder release and preferred the traditional release on the Model 65. That might speak more to my preferences than any actual design considerations though. I did have a few cases fail to eject cleanly with the Rhino until I started to apply more force to the ejector rod at which point the problem went away.
The first .38 Special load I tried was the Winchester 130 gr FMJ. This is a rather mild load with low recoil that tends to shoot a bit low in every gun I’ve tried. The Rhino was no different as felt recoil was very mild. There was very little, if any, difference in felt recoil between the Rhino and my S&W Model 65 with this load. (The S&W does have a 1” longer barrel though). The impacts were about 2” below the point of aim with both guns.
I also put two cylinders of Federal .38 Special 158 gr +P LSWCHP through the Rhino and then six rounds of the same ammo through the Model 65. This is when I was first able to notice a difference between the recoil impulse of the Rhino and the S&W. Because the bottom mounted barrel puts the shooter’s hand more directly behind the barrel the recoil was more of a “straight push back” instead of a “muzzle flip.” I can’t quantify the subjective feeling any more except to say it there was a noticeable difference.
The real difference became apparent when firing the .357 Magnum loads. The two loads I had available were Winchester White Box 110 gr JHP and Federal Golden Saber 125 gr JHP. These are both examples of “mid range” Magnum loads instead of the full-power “barn burners” also available in this caliber.
In both cases there seemed to be less muzzle flip with the Rhino than with the S&W. However, in both cases, there also seemed to be a bit more muzzle blast and noise with the Rhino. I believe this is due to the Rhino having a 2” barrel while the S&W had a 3” barrel. Although the Rhino’s design redirected the recoil, and reduced muzzle flip, the “sting” of the recoil from the Magnums was still noticeable, even with the rubber grips. I’d be reluctant to fire full power .357 Magnum loads from the 2” Rhino.
Since I only tried the Rhino once I can’t speak to long-term reliability or durability. The owner reported that he’d had the Rhino “about a year” and that he’d fired mainly .38 Special rounds through it with no issues. In 2011 Shelley Rae, over at Gun Nuts Media, reported problems with Rhino Revolvers used as rental guns at a gun store where she worked. The other reports I’ve seen by owners online have generally been positive.
In any event, the Chiappa Rhino is an interesting revolver that shows there is room for innovation even in a design as old as the double-action revolver.