Throwback Thursday: Review — Chiappa Rhino .357 Magnum Revolver

I have considerable experience with European revolvers — from the Nagant to the Webley. They are different in appearance and function. Personally, I have always preferred Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Ruger revolvers. That is, until I fired the Chiappa Rhino. The Rhino will give one an excuse to pause and reexamine any perceptions you may have concerning revolvers.

The Rhino is easily the most advanced revolver in the world. I obtained mine based on simple curiosity. I vastly underrated the Rhino, made a stumble or two learning to use it properly, and found a rugged, reliable, and very accurate revolver.

Chiappa Rhino Features

The revolver looks out of the norm to say the least. At first glance, you would think it would have odd or quirky handling. It doesn’t. This is an ergonomic revolver. The primary difference between the Chiappa Rhino and other revolvers is the barrel. The barrel rides low at the bottom of the cylinder. The design is intended to lower recoil. It accomplishes this goal neatly.

The Chiappa Rhino is a double-action handgun with a six-shot cylinder chambered in .357 Magnum. The Rhino is offered in a 9mm version as well. The revolver features bright fiber-optic sights and a ventilated rib. The cylinder is constructed with flats that give it a unique appearance.

The revolver has both double-action and single-action options. The hammer is actually a cocking lever. The cocking hammer may be brought to the rear so the revolver may be fired in single-action. After cocking the revolver, the cocking lever falls forward. To decock the revolver, bring the cocking lever to the rear again. This engages the internal hammer. The hammer may be lowered by pressing the trigger as you control the cocking lever — that looks like a hammer. There is a bright red cocking indicator to alert you that the hammer/firing pin is in the single-action mode.

Cocking lever on the Chiappa Rhino
That’s a fake hammer, it is only a cocking lever. The cylinder release is quite ergonomic.

The trigger doesn’t quite come straight back but leverages to the rear and up. The result is a very controllable trigger. Don’t try to stage the trigger by pressing it to the rear and then holding steady as you align the sights. Pull the smooth, efficient trigger straight through.

The cylinder release is high on the rear of the receiver. There is no cylinder release as intuitive as this one. The crane fits the frame well and the ejector rod ensures clearance of spent cases. There are lighting flashes on the frame to help a short finger reach the trigger. No need in my case. My hands are average and my fingers are average to shorter than average. The revolver simply fits most hand sizes very well.

One thing that turns shooters off from a revolver is poor cartridge ejection. Fortunately, cartridge case ejection was positive with the Rhino.

Operation and Handling

The grip, at first, seemed odd simply because it is so different. Most revolver grips swell in the wrong place for hand fit. This is the reason why the Hogue MonoGrip is so popular. The MonoGrip is an ideal replacement for poorly designed factory grips. The Chiappa Rhino grip fits the hand perfectly.

It is common for a shooter to suffer heeling when firing powerful revolvers. This occurs when the hand rides up the grip while firing a revolver. This cannot occur with the Rhino, as there is a positive stop designed into the grip frame and handle. The upper portion of the wooden grip flares slightly to stabilize the hand.

Bob Campbell shooting the Chiappa Rhino .357 magnum revolver
In full recoil, the muzzle rise was modest.

Accuracy and Reliability

Firing tests began with a mix of .38 Special loads. Most were Remington UMC FMJ economy loads. The revolver was easy to control and homed in on target easily. The combination of a good trigger and excellent sights made for excellent combat results. I did not pull right or left, as is common when acclimating to a new revolver. I controlled the revolver and punched out the X-ring. 

I never fired the revolver with .38 Special loads in the single-action mode; it was too much fun firing double-action out to 25 yards. I was able to ring the steel plate at 25 yards on demand. The revolver simply handles like a dream. The barrel cylinder gap was tight. However, it was a bit odd to experience the occasional flash from the bottom, instead of near the top, of the frame.

I read a review by an internet pundit in which he reported his Chiappa ‘skipped a cylinder.’ He loaded five rounds and left the first chamber up empty to practice his double-action press, then he would fire five rounds. I do the same. He reported that the cylinder that should have been empty fired, and then later he snapped on an empty chamber. He concluded the Rhino skipped a chamber. What he did — I am certain — is set the chambers up as if this were an old-style revolver that revolved to a conventional top-mounted barrel.

TruGlo’s Sight Line laser mounted on a Picatinny rail
TruGlo’s Sight Line laser is compact but offers excellent utility for personal defense.

Every handgun has individual traits, and you must get the process down pat before you begin. The Chiappa Rhino was fired with full-power .357 Magnum loads, mostly the Remington 125-grain SJHP, a 1,440 fps load, and the Federal 180-grain JHP. Recoil was light, very light for a magnum. It felt much like a .38 Special +P. Flash and blast were there, but recoil was more modest and straight back. Even though this is a new revolver in my hands, I have never fired a fast double-action group with as much confidence as when firing the Chiappa Rhino. It is a world of difference compared to conventional revolvers.

I settled down and broke out the MTM Caseguard K-Zone shooting rest for accuracy work. This rest is useful for most rifles and pistols, and a great aid in eliminating most human error. I loaded the revolver with Winchester 158-grain JHP loads. These are probably the most common 50-yard deer load, and they do a decent job.

The fiber optic sight picture on the Chiappa Rhino revolver
The sight picture on the Rhino features fiber optics that make for high hit probability.

I reluctantly sacrificed five rounds of Winchester 145-grain Silvertip as well. This is a great all-around defense and hunting load with a good balance of expansion and penetration — although you would be better served with a heavier load for large deer. I rocked the single-action trigger back and lined the sights up at a long 25 yards.

The five-shot group with the 158-grain JHP went into 2.6 inches. The second was a more pleasing 2.2 inches. The Silvertip went into 2.4 inches. This is definitely a superior revolver with excellent accuracy potential.

Carrying the Rhino

Packing the Chiappa Rhino became a question after the successful shooting trail. I used a floppy fabric holster for range work. I ordered the 1791 Gunleather large size, universal belt slide. Universal sometimes means a poor fit, but not in this case. This affordable, supple, leather holster is a well-designed belt slide and is offered in several sizes. The holster is useful as an inside-the-waistband holster or as an outside-the-waistband holster on the belt. For day-to-day use, it suits me well. I have enough confidence in the Chiappa Rhino to retire some of my field guns and deploy this revolver.

As for home defense, if you prefer a revolver, this is quite a handgun with high hit probability and relatively modest recoil. The Chiappa also features a rail for mounting combat lights or lasers. I was slow to give the Rhino a fair shake, but once I fired the beast, it became one of my favorite revolvers.

Chiappa Rhino atop a blue silhouette target with bullet holes
The author found the Chiappa Rhino to be a simple joy to use and fire.

Chiappa Rhino 50DS

Type Double-action revolver
Caliber .357 Magnum/.38 Special
Overall length 9.1 inches
Barrel length 5 inches
Capacity 6 shots
Weight 32 ounces

Note: The Chiappa revolver cylinder is cut for moon clips. This allows positive ejection and makes for much faster speed loads. However, the supplied clips were worthless. They did not hold the cartridges stiffly enough for use, so I could not manage to load the cylinder with the supplied moon clips. Ordering a set of moon clips from TK Products solved that issue. The supplied clips were actually intended for firing 9mm cartridges in the Chiappa, giving the piece greater versatility.

It does not look like other revolvers, but the performance more than makes up for the looks. Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts about the Chiappa Rhino in the comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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