There’s a lot that’s innovative and interesting about the Chiappa Firearms Rhino, but the main feature of this revolutionary revolver design, now approaching its 10th year of production, is that the barrel is mounted low, in the 6 o’clock position, rather than the normal 12 o’clock high position. Its unconventional looks have landed it roles in science fiction movies (for instance, Suicide Squad, Ghost in the Machine), and its performance has earned it a growing niche in the self-defense market.
I’ve been shooting S&W snubnosed revolvers a long time. Although the Rhino 200DS intrigued me, it would have to be a lot better than my old, familiar J frame .38 Special to make it worthwhile for me to kick aside decades of muscle memory.
As it turns out, it is that good—but don’t sell your little J frame just yet. The Rhino will outshoot it all day long, especially in rapid-fire double-action mode, but the Rhino can’t beat the J frame in compactness and concealability. Dimensionally, the Rhino is comparable to a snubnose S&W Model 19, a “K” frame .357 Magnum once very popular with law enforcement and other professions for which sudden lethal force encounters were a reasonable expectation. If you are in similar circumstances and prefer the reliability of a revolver, you should try out the Rhino.
Why The Rhino Tames Recoil So Well
There are three design factors that make the Rhino superior to a conventional revolver in rapid double-action shooting.
First, the barrel is closer to the centerline of the forearm. Second, the overall length of the gun in front of the trigger finger is less, because the cylinder sits farther back in the frame. Both of these factors reduce muzzle flip dramatically. Think of the gun in your hand as a lever, and you’ll understand why this is. The longer (higher) the lever, the more leverage (muzzle flip).
The third factor is the Rhino’s straight, rearward-slanting beavertail grip which fills the whole palm of the hand and dissipates recoil evenly across it. The beavertail anchors the pistol in the web of your hand so it won’t climb up the frame in rapid-fire shooting.
The grip on my 200DS test gun was the small model, intended for concealment and made of comfortable soft rubber. Full-power .357 Magnum loads were pleasant to shoot and really do feel like .38 Specials. The recoil is there, but it’s directed straight back into your forearm and cushioned by the soft grip.
I took the rubber grip off and tried shooting the Rhino by grasping the bare metal frame. The .357 Magnum recoil stung my hand, but not as badly as a steel S&W J-frame 649 .357 Magnum snubnose. I could still shoot the Rhino effectively in rapid-double action, even without the grip. This test demonstrated how important the grip material and shape are for comfortable shooting.
From the bench, rested, at 25 yards, the Rhino proved quite accurate with 125- and 130-grain JHP .357 Magnum loads. Average groups were around 3 inches in single-action fire, although point of impact was about 4 inches left of, and 1 inch above, the point of aim at that range.
The Rhino’s 1:19-inch-twist barrel did not like the .38 Special +P loads I tested as much: Group size swelled. At 25 yards, they were certainly adequate for hitting the chest of an assailant but not for precise targeting. Realistically, if you want to shoot .38s, you might as well stick with a J frame. The Rhino was born for .357 Magnum. Its purpose is to end the fight in your favor. You should let it do its job.
Ideal For The New Self-defense Buyer
Most concealed-carry license holders who are not shooting hobbyists never practice enough to develop reliable proficiency with their defensive handguns. The Rhino’s potent caliber and easy handling in fast double-action fire make it a great choice for these people.
What might the typical untrained and unpracticed shooter do in a life-or-death encounter? Probably, they would panic, point the gun at the center of the target and pull the trigger as fast as they could. I might do exactly the same thing, and I’ve been shooting for 40 years.
What kind of advantage could the Rhino give me in those terrifying circumstances? I conceived a test to find out.
I compared the aluminum Rhino 200DS snubnose to a stainless steel J frame S&W 649 snubnose—the latter with small, hardplastic Crimson Trace laser grips. I set a plain, white, mansized silhoutte target up at 7 yards, pointed center mass and fired double action as fast as I could without using the sights at all. An assistant timed me. I shot Fiocchi 158-grain .357 Magnum JHP ammunition.
By this time, I had put about 100 rounds through the Rhino and was comfortable with its operation and the proper grip. You’ll notice the front of the trigger guard is sloped like a Mauser HSc. In the Rhino’s case, this isn’t about asthetics. Chiappa did that so you can’t grip the front of the trigger guard with your off hand. Remember: The Rhino’s cylinder is a lot farther back than on a conventional revolver. You need to keep your fingers away from the cylinder gap so you don’t get burned. A wraparound two-hand grip worked best for me.
I shot the heavier steel J frame first as a control, and it bucked violently and painfully in my hand with every shot, climbing way off target under recoil and exposing the top of the barrel and frame. Pulling it back down to a point at which I thought I could hit the center mass of my target again was obviously slowing down my follow-up shoots. Average time to fire five shots was 1.94 seconds, and average group size was 19 inches. By comparison, I was able to empty the Rhino’s six-shot cylinder in an average of 1.8 seconds, with an average group size of 12.5 inches. All shots were lethal hits. That’s 0.3 second per shot—about 23 percent faster than the J frame … and more accurate, too.
The double-action trigger pull is a little heavier than on the S&W, but it is smooth, and the wide trigger face makes it seem lighter. It’s right where it should be for a carry gun. Singleaction pull is crisp and light. In addition, lighter trigger options are available for competition.
“The rear sight of the ultra-modern snubnose 200ds is a notch cut into the top of the hammer— reminiscent of 19th-century cap-and-ball colts.”
The rear sight of the ultra-modern snubnose 200DS is a notch cut into the top of the hammer—reminiscent of 19th-century cap-and-ball Colts. It had very little side-to-side wiggle, so I doubt it hurt accuracy.
The hammer doesn’t move during firing either, because it really isn’t a hammer at all; rather, it is an external cocking piece. This is critically important to know for safety. You can’t tell if the pistol is cocked by hammer position as you can on a typical revolver. Always note the position of the trigger and the cocking indicator, a red plastic pin that pops up from the left rear of the frame. The latter takes a little getting used to, because it pops up and down when you fire double action. It’s just to the left of your sight picture and can be distracting.
The longer-barreled Rhinos have adjustable rear sights, but all share the same bright, easy-to-pick-up, fiber-optic front sight. An XS Sight Systems tritium Big Dot front sight would be perfect on the 200DS, because it would give it night sight capability. Additionally, it is virtually indestructible.
Chiappa Firearms approached the cylinder timing, lockup and loading in uncommon ways. The timing pins are pressed in the cylinder, instead of part of the ejector. Both the pins and the hand that pushes them are hardened. In theory, they should be highly resistant to wear. The cylinder is released with a thumb lever next to the hammer on the left of the frame, and the crane is solidly locked in place by a ball detent lock. The cylinder, itself, is hexagonal to make the Rhino slimmer to carry.
Although the Rhino operates fine without them, it comes with three ultra-thin full moon clips for speed loading and clip unloader.
Unfortunately, I found that they didn’t hold the ammo I tested securely enough to be relied on. One or two rounds would fall off the clip while it was in my pocket and sometimes just when I picked it up off the bench. The clip might work better with other brands, but I would prefer it to hold the rounds snuggly, even if it meant they had to be semi-disposable. A defensive revolver needs a means of fast reloading to partially overcome the handicap of its comparatively small ammunition capacity.
Plated in brushed nickel, the 200DS comes ready for concealed-carry duty in a plastic storage case with an excellent formed-leather, outside-the-pants concealment belt holster, a quality trigger guard lock and the aforementioned semi-useful moon clips.
Actual retail is in the $800 to $950 range online. It’s a quality, if novel-looking, product; but the Rhino is not a novelty. It looks weird to the contemporary eye—but so did Sam Colt’s first Patterson revolvers in 1849 and John Browning’s first autoloaders 50 years after that.
The Rhino is a serious defensive and competition revolver; and more importantly, it is the leading edge of the future of revolvers.
|Velocity (fps)||Avg. Group (Inches)||
Sm. Group (Inches)
|Winchester 125-grain .357 Magnum SUPER X JHP||
|Federal Premium 130-grain 357 Magnum HYDRO-SHOK LOW RECOIL JHP||
|Winchester 125-grain .38 Special +P SUPER X JHP||
|Federal Premium 130-grain .38 Special +P HST JHP||
Action: Double-action revolver
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Capacity: Six rounds
Barrel Length: 2 inches
Weight: 25 ounces (unloaded)
Length: 6.5 inches
Sights: Fixed; fiber-optic front; square notch rear (in hammer)
Trigger Pull: 10 pounds, double action; 5 pounds, single action
Frame: 7075T6 aluminum (Ergal) alloy
Stocks: Small, black rubber
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.