The Chiappa Rhino revolver isn’t exactly new, but 10 years after its introduction a surprisingly large number of shooters are completely unaware of how revolutionary the design really is. I blame it on the gun’s unconventional appearance. Its blocky, science-fiction look suggests clumsiness and bucks 180 years of tradition. However, once you’ve shot one, you realize those ungainly lines are immaterial. The Rhino’s aluminum frame and stainless steel cylinder keep it light for fast handling and the gun points well. Most importantly, the Rhino’s unique design and ergonomics make it more controllable, and thus faster shooting, than any normal, barrel-on-top .357 Mag. revolver of comparable size. That’s big talk, but my experience has shown it to be true.
In my research on the Rhino, I learned it was born out of the desire create a superior, concealable, self-defense snub nose revolver in the highly effective .357 Mag. caliber. The caliber was the crux of the problem. In order to be manageable, a .357 Mag. needs to be heavy, have big grips, or ideally both. That doesn’t lend itself to concealed carry. Anyone who has shot a J-frame .357 Mag. (even the 22-ounce stainless steel S&W 640) knows that it’s a painful—and upwardly oriented—experience from shot to shot. Small gun equals big recoil and long target re-acquisition time between shots. I don’t know a lot of people who have the stamina to get much practice in with those abusive little pocket cannons, and that doesn’t lend itself to reliable performance when the chips are down. This was not my experience with the 2-inch-barrel Rhino 200DS snub nose. It’s only 25 ounces and in rapid-fire double-action shooting, I found I could shoot it at least 20 percent faster and also more accurately than the S&W 640.
In fairness, the Rhino 200DS snub nose is a little bigger and easier to hold onto than a J-frame. It’s not a deep concealment gun. It’s closer in size and application to the K-frame S&W Model 19 snub noses that were so popular for concealed carry among plainclothes police officers before 9 mm autoloaders took over the law enforcement market. Just like the S&W Model 19 snub nose, the Rhino 200DS is the concealable revolver you would want to carry if you thought there was a chance you would need a gun. It might be a good thing for Colt and S&W that the Rhino wasn’t invented in the heyday of revolvers.
There are three reasons the Rhino tames felt recoil and stays on target better than conventional revolvers. First, the bore axis is very low because the Rhino fires from the bottom chamber of the cylinder rather than the top. Because the barrel is closer to your hand, recoil has less leverage to use against you in the form of aim-spoiling muzzle flip. Second, the barrel and cylinder are set farther back in the frame, giving the Rhino a bullpup look. This further shortens the leverage that recoil can turn against you. Finally, the rearward raking grip design reduces recoil leverage still more and the soft, thick rubber grip cushions the hand. When firing, the recoil impulse moves straight back more than up-and-back as with a normal revolver. The result is the revolver doesn’t move much when you shoot it, and fast, accurate, follow-up shots are much easier.
It took some very clever engineering to make these basic design changes possible and the Rhino revolvers are unconventional inside as well as outside. For example, the hammer is not really a hammer at all; rather, it’s an external cocking and de-cocking piece that also serves as the rear sight. The actual hammer that hits the firing pin is internal. The cylinder lock-up is rock solid thanks to the use of a ball-detent lock in the crane. The cylinder itself is hexagonal to keep the gun thin and save weight. It is released with a thumb lever next to the faux hammer.
The sights are fixed and easy to see, utilizing a square rear notch and square front sight with a fiber optic insert. The sights were fairly well regulated. The centers of my groups were slightly high and to the left of my point of aim. The trigger is broad and smooth. Double-action pull, though about 10 lbs., feels lighter because of the extra contact surface for your finger. Single-action pull was about 5 lbs. and crisp. My groups with various .357 Mag. loads averaged 3 inches at 25 yards, single action, from a rested hold on the bench. That’s nice for a snub nose.
There were two features on the Rhino that didn’t appeal to me. The first was the cocking indicator, in the form of a day-glow pin that pops up when the pistol is cocked. I didn’t think it was necessary. In double-action firing it jumps up and down as you pull the trigger, and since it is right next to the rear sight, it was a distraction for me.
The second feature that didn’t live up to expectations was the full moon clip. They aren’t needed for loading or ejecting but could have served as an excellent minimalist speedloader it they’d worked properly. When I put the loaded clips in my pocket, inevitably, a bullet or two worked itself off.
All in all, these are very minor critiques, the former maybe peculiar to me, and the latter easily addressed by Chiappa.
Intended for the concealed-carry customer, the Rhino 200DS comes with an excellent formed-leather, two-position belt holster, so it's ready for carry on delivery. It’s a well-designed and well-made firearm, and the price reflects that. MSRP is $1,069 but I’ve seen online retail prices for a bit over $900. A six shot, concealable, .357 Mag. revolver that shoots like a .mild .38 Spl. is the kind of gun you would tend to practice with. That’s good for you and bad for the bad guys. For more information, visit chiappafirearms.com.