Handguns > Revolver

Anything But Ordinary: The Chiappa Rhino

The new Chiappa Rhino has turned the revolver world upside down.


Samuel Colt patented his revolver during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Through the next century the revolver evolved from a single-action, front-loading blackpowder arm to a cartridge-firing, double-action wheelgun. In my opinion, the revolver reached its pinnacle in the mid-1950s with Colt’s introduction of the Python. Since then, the only notable revolver advancements we’ve seen have been more potent cartridges and higher-capacity cylinders. What could possibly be done to the revolver to make it better, or even different?

Emilio Ghisoni, an Italian firearm designer who once patented, of all things, a recoil-operated, semi-automatic revolver, the Mateba, understood that by lowering the axis of a revolver’s barrel in the hand, recoil and muzzle flip could be greatly reduced. To do this, though, would require positioning the barrel so that the revolver fired from the cylinder’s bottom chamber instead of the top.

Working with Italian competitive shooter Antonio Caduzzo, the team produced a unique revolver that highlighted Ghisoni’s signature bottom-barrel design; however, Ghisoni didn’t live to see it become reality, since he passed away in 2008. But, Caduzzo found another partner, Rino Chiappa, owner of Chiappa Group and Chiappa Firearms. Chiappa Firearms is well-known for its replica arms of notable models from Sharps, Winchester and Colt.

The unconventional revolver, coined the Rhino, was introduced at the 2010 SHOT Show. It drew a crowd, mostly because of its unorthodox appearance, but also because of its distinctive design. The response was similar to that of the Glock pistol’s introduction because the Rhino was such a radical departure from the conventional wisdom that dictated what a handgun had to be.

Redefining The Revolver
The Rhino functions as differently as it looks. The geometry of the design seems off because the trigger is positioned about mid-cylinder and the hammer is directly above—as opposed to forward of—the grip. Revolvers also typically have a curvaceous look to them, and if you compare a Rhino side-by-side with a modern revolver, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 36 Chief’s Special, then it looks, well, prehistoric. With regard to its size, the six-shot Rhino is essentially the same length—about 0.2 inches thicker and 1-inch taller—and 5.5 ounces heavier than the five-shot Model 36.

As for operation, forget the established parameters of the conventional revolver. The only similarity the Rhino shares with the modern double-action revolver is that when the trigger is pulled or the hammer is cocked, its cylinder rotates to line up a chamber with the barrel before the gun is fired. The internal lockwork produces the same result, but in a completely different manner.

The most radical departure from the common revolver is the position of the barrel, which made it impossible for a conventional, exposed hammer to work. This is because the cartridge to be fired resides just above the trigger, not near the top strap and in front of a hammer, as found in traditional revolvers. On the Rhino, what appears to be an exposed hammer is nothing more than a cocking lever. Pulling it to the rear rotates the cylinder, and when it is released, the lever falls forward. It may startle those accustomed to a conventional revolver. The lever, however, just actuates the true hammer buried inside the complex lockwork. The single-action firing mechanism within the Rhino operates like a standard striker-fired semi-automatic handgun; by retracting the cocking lever the striker is pre-loaded—comparable to cycling the slide on a Springfield Armory XD.

When the cocking lever is fully retracted a small red plunger, signifying the handgun is in the single-action mode and ready to fire, is visible near the top, rear of the frame. For double-action operation, the Rhino requires only that the trigger be pulled. One difference, however, between the Rhino and conventional revolvers with hammers it that the progression of the trigger pull cannot be observed.

Ironically, the Rhino is uncocked like conventional revolvers: while maintaining a grip on the cocking lever, pull it rearward while depressing the trigger. Then, ease the cocking lever and the trigger forward together. This reverts the revolver to double-action operation.

To the left of the cocking lever, which is notched to serve as a rear sight, is the cylinder-release latch. Depressing the latch frees the cylinder, similar to how the safety of an M1911 is disengaged. It is easily pushed clear of the frame using a single finger. With the cylinder free the ejector rod is visible at the front of the crane for case or cartridge removal—nothing new here.

The Rhino’s ejector rod, crane, cylinder and barrel are steel; however, the frame, which fully encases the barrel, is aluminum alloy. A one-piece, rubber-like boot-style stock fits over the grip frame, and it is held in place by a single screw at the base. The material is soft, pliable and comfortable, but seems a bit under-engineered compared to the rest of this abnormal revolver.

Two other Rhino characteristics worthy of note are the shape of the trigger and the positioning of the cylinder in relation to the hands. The trigger is wide—almost a half inch, which is comfortable and reduces the perceived effort required to pull it. Because the grip axis is closer to the cylinder, you need to make a mental note to keep the thumb of your non-shooting hand behind the gap between the cylinder and the barrel.

The action of the Rhino was not flawless, but smoother than many modern double-action revolvers. According to my trigger-pull gauge, double-action operation required a 10-pound, 8-ounce pull, and it was about half that when the revolver was fired in the single-action mode. My wife typically has issues with a 10-pound trigger pull, but the Rhino’s wide trigger seemed to help reduce the effort required to work the action.

At The Range
The first round I fired through the Rhino was Hornady’s 110-grain Critical Defense .38 Spl. load. For comparison, in my 19.5-ounce Model 36 S&W Chief’s Special, this load is snappy but controllable. The Rhino’s muzzle rise was imperceptible, and recoil was as comfortable as a handshake. I then used the +P version of the load, which my wife will not shoot out of the Chief’s Special. Neither of us could discern a difference. Remington’s .38 Spl. +P, 125-grain Golden Saber ammunition proved less intense in the Rhino than did the 110-grain, Critical Defense load from the Chief’s Special.

During accuracy testing, I was surprised by how much the lower barrel axis dampened recoil and controlled muzzle flip. Still, I thought full-house, .357 Mag. loads would rock the Rhino. I was wrong. I could feel the bite in the palm of my hand from the Federal 180-grain jacketed hollow-point loads, but muzzle rise was negligible.

Accuracy testing complete, I moved on to shooting the Rhino in a manner more consistent with what the handgun was designed for: self-defense. Starting at the low ready position and using the .38 Spl., 110-grain Critical Defense +P loads, I found that I could keep three shots inside an 8-inch circle at 10 yards in less than two seconds. My best time on this drill with the Chief’s Special was a half-second faster, but with one miss. The real surprise, though, came with the 180-grain, .357 Mag. loads. I put six shots inside an 8-inch circle in 3.1 seconds—a full second faster than I was capable of performing with a Ruger SP 101 in .327 Fed. Mag., or even with a 4-inch S&W Model 10 in .38 Spl. using the 110-grain +P loads.

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22 Responses to Anything But Ordinary: The Chiappa Rhino

Paul Garnett wrote:
April 06, 2014

I have owned my 200DS for a little over a year. Fired well over 800 rounds of .357 in varying loads. (although 128's are the sweet spot). No problems....none. It is a very comfortable carry in the supplied holster (once you finally 'soften' it up. I have the slightly longer heeled walnut grip...it makes a difference. It makes the average combat shooter...better. My wife purchased one for herself, and actually prefers the lighter load .357's over the .38's.

Sal wrote:
March 04, 2014

The trigger mechanism is complicated and one reviewer mentioned how he broke a spring when testing one. My guess is they will have to redesign it when too many are sent back for repairs.

Sue wrote:
September 07, 2013

I don't understand those who think the Rhino is ugly. I think it is the sexiest revolver ever and sexier than most autos. I researched it because it looked cool, but bought it because of its engineering.

Frank wrote:
December 09, 2012

Lark Mason wrote " both the Chiappa Rhino and the Mateba Unica are automatic". This is incorrect. The Mateba Unica 6 was a recoil operated semi-auto revolver. The Chiapa Rhino is not. No part of the Chiappa Rhino action is operated by recoil or gas from the fired rounds 'automatically'. In single action mode, the cocking lever compresses the hammer/striker spring. In double-action mode, the trigger pull alone does that. The Chiappa is not the first low barrel revolver, nor is the DA/SA action revolutionary. It is just unique on the market right now.

Wendy wrote:
November 21, 2012

I went to purchase a semi automatic for defense, I didn't have the strength to work it quickly/properly. The Rhino was a dream, easy to use and the recoil was not bad! Recommend this to any female who needs a revolver for protection!

RAH wrote:
October 27, 2012

I own a Chiappa Rhino 200DS and fire it regularly. It has been a joy when it works. I have only a few issues since mine was replaced, yes replaced, under warranty. It still misfires rounds after about 900 rounds through the gun. Most of the problems are related to DA not single action. During its last repair, I mentioned the types of ammunition I was using, to the technicians and was told that i should try European ammunition as the American primers are more touchy. Is that even likely? I am wondering if the Rhino will be dependable enough for a carry gun in the future. Mine has been repaired 3 times before it was replaced and 3 since. Warranty service has had the gun as much as i have in the last year. Does anyone else have better results? Is it me or the design? RAH

wonderwheel wrote:
September 19, 2012

This is the revolver used by Annie Walker in the TV series Covert Affairs.

Daniel R wrote:
September 06, 2012

I have been researching since i heard about it. the barrels placement is sound in my mind because i can fire my break action 12 ga. one handed, while i wouldn't dare to with

Lark mason wrote:
August 09, 2012

To Shaun the Nosorog AEK 906 is only a double or single action revolver; both the Chiappa Rhino and the Mateba Unica 6 are automatic decreasing the trigger pull. That is why they are called revolutionary.

Shaun wrote:
April 16, 2012

LOVE my Rhino. Accurate, comfortable, and user-friendly. One note: If you own the 4" barrel version, you will have to have a custom holster made. Even Chiappa doesn't make one. I had a canvas shoulder holster I bought for a large S&W that fit it pretty well, but I'm going to have a leathersmith make a hip holster for it.

Stan M wrote:
March 11, 2012

This firearm looks like it's full of innovations that were done just because they were different, not because they improve functionality. I am skeptical of the fact that the decocking process is counter-intuitive for a revolver.

Sal wrote:
January 22, 2012

Sounds like a good idea. However, the smart play is to wait a few years as the inevitable improvements will be made.

Shaun Ludwick wrote:
November 29, 2011

I have been following the progress of the Rhino and have a question.... Why does every article tout the Rhino as "revolutionary" or "ground breaking" while consistently ignoring the Russian AEK-906 and AEK-906-1 revolver developed and built two decades ago? I've also scoured the net for info on the AEK-906 and have found very little in the way of details. Can someone please do an article about the original "revolutionary" revolver and give credit where credit is due?

D.Bloomquist Sr wrote:
November 04, 2011

Where di I purchase one of these and what outlet handles this pistol

Charley wrote:
October 09, 2011

Just bought the 200DS and could not be happier. Very accurate and little if any recoil. My wife has arthritis in her shoot hand and she says the Rhino 200DS is delightfull to shoot. We both could not he happier with the 200DS.

The Doctor wrote:
August 13, 2011

20.Recently purchased the 60DS in black. Shots very well and is easy to control. Recoil is very managable. The 60DS weighs in at just over two pounds, it is lighter than it looks. Have fired about 400 rounds so far with no problems. As much as I like the Rhino, my wife (at 5’4″ and 100 lbs) likes it even more. She can handle the 357 recoil. She likes it so much that she’s taking my 60DS and buying me a nickel-plated 60DS. What’s not to love about that!

Anders wrote:
June 29, 2011

@Shaun Ludwick: The full name of the revolver you mention is Nosorog AEK 906. And "nosorog" means "rhino". Coincidence?

The Skipper wrote:
April 28, 2011

As large and heavy as my Model 64, but without a track record of proven reliability. What is the point? A .357 round, fired from a 2" barrel, is no better than a .38 Special +P. If you need more than a J-frame, just go to either a 9mm or .45 autoloader.

Shaun Ludwick wrote:
April 25, 2011

I have been following the progress of the Rhino and have a question.... Why does every article tout the Rhino as "revolutionary" or "ground breaking" while consistently ignoring the Russian AEK-906 and AEK-906-1 revolver developed and built two decades ago? I've also scoured the net for info on the AEK-906 and have found very little in the way of details. Can someone please do an article about the original "revolutionary" revolver and give credit where credit is due?

Christopher Schultheiss wrote:
April 25, 2011

I purchased a 4 " and 6" Chiappa Rhino and finally got to try out the 4". My personal view of the revolver is 1) I like the unusual appearance that some call "ugly 2) I like innovation (I own 3 Matebas 's 3) The lower barrel alignment makes perfect physical sense however the jury is out as to whether the mechanical complexities will warrant the unusual barrel alignment. 4) Although I can't speak for the actual accuracy because the sight adjustment was off 6" at 25 yds, I didn't have my tool kit with me to adjust the sights. I can say that the grouping was good and I think that ultimately, it will be quite good. 5) I found the recoil and muzzle lift very reasonable for a .357 Mag -certainly much less than a Ruger Redhawk. 6) My wife. a very experienced shooter had difficulty pulling the "hammer" back as she has a bit of Arthritis. 7) Double action function was surprisingly smooth. 8) I felt that the quality of the engineering and manufacturing was very good. Overall In the short term, I am very pleased with the revolver and look forward to shooting it a lot more along with its 6" brother. .

Matt S wrote:
April 24, 2011

If you search for videos on youtube for this revolver you'll see just how controllable the recoil is. It's amazing to witness it! Fast follow up shots like a semi-auto but in a revolver package packing .357 magnum.

Keith wrote:
April 22, 2011

Very intriguing! If I were a revolver buff, I would get one right away, however, I will wait to see that all of the kinks (if any) are worked out first. I do like the idea of low recoil in a revolver. Now that I am thinking about it…I will recommend the Rhino as an option to my students who do not prefer a semi-auto or the recoil of a .38/.357.