Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monday Gunday*: the Chiappa Rhino

*special "late because of guest author Jeff W." edition

Howdy y’all, I’m Jeff and I’m back for another guest spot for Erin’s blog. A while back I wrote about my experience with firing a Mosin-Nagant for the first time, and I have a new gun to talk about today: the Chiappa Rhino 40DS (4” bbl).

I wanted to write this review for a few reasons:
  1. The Rhino is still pretty thin on the ground so I figure anyone looking for one would be interested in another review on them.
  2. Most of the existing reviews are very one sided, either pro or con.
  3. Most of the reviews I've found were for the 20DS (2”bbl).

I first became aware of the Chiappa Rhino after seeing a picture of it on a gun forum, and I really fell in love with its style (or arguably, its lack thereof). I wasn’t familiar with the concept of a low bore axis revolver and I think that’s another thing that really endeared the Rhino to me. Almost immediately after seeing the pictures of this gun I decided I wanted to track one down, and that’s when I came to discover that they’re thin on the ground. Not one gun store in the Oklahoma City metro area had one for me to come see, let alone handle or shoot. I expanded my search to Tulsa and Stillwater and even Lawton (about a 2.5 hour drive), and I couldn’t find one anywhere. So I thought about ordering one online.

Now here’s the thing: I’m generally against this. I want to see/handle/shoot a gun before I buy one. The only exception I’d ever made for this was the aforementioned Mosin, and that was only because it was so cheap; if I hated it I was only out ~$100 and I’ve wasted more on less. But as they weren’t to be had locally for love or money, if I wanted one online was how it was going to have to happen.

As I couldn’t form my own opinions on the gun, I did the next best thing and went to the oracle of our age, Google, and found online reviews, and what I found were either hosannas or damnations, with very little middle ground. People loved the 2”, shooting it in .357 was easy, .38 was easier; or people hated it, the mechanism was overly complex and prone to breakage, and the whole thing was overpriced. One particular horror story about the 40DS breaking and taking 6 weeks to fix through Chiappa customer service was almost enough to put me off the endeavor entirely. All this made me realize how divided the gun community is on certain things that I consider to be pretty minor. Was this something I really wanted to get myself into? I waffled on the decision for a while but when my tax refund came in I decided to just go for it.

I ended up with the 40DS in .357 with the blued barrel. I wanted the stainless version but it was about $100 more and I just didn’t want to pay that much. I found my gun on Gunbroker.com, a site I’d been familiar with but never used before. The seller I found had a very high rating (Gunbroker is basically the eBay of firearms) and the transaction went very smoothly. I had already contacted a shop to handle the FFL transfer, and they’d dealt with Gunbroker before, so they were very helpful. I won my auction on Monday morning, and by Thursday afternoon I had my revolver. I was pretty excited about it.

Let’s talk about these guns for just a moment. They’re milled out of ergal (a type of aluminum alloy commonly used in airplanes) with steel barrels, cylinders and inner workings. When I say inner workings I’m referring to the things that people were complaining about being overly complex; the words "Italian race car" and "Swiss watch" come up when discussing this gun.

And there’s a reason for this concern. These guns are by design and nature very complex. Think about it for a moment: with a low axis barrel, the hammer isn’t in the position that the hammer normally is in on a revolver. If it was, it wouldn’t strike the correct chamber. Instead the hammer is internal. Actually,  it has two internal hammers: one for single action, one for double action.

That spur on the top? Yeah, that’s not the hammer, it’s the “cocking lever.” The Rhino was the final design of Italian gunsmith Emilio Ghisoni (of Mateba Autorevolver infamy) and like darn near everything designed by Italians, over-engineered isn’t the right word, but it's close. "Complex" isn’t far off the mark either.

My Rhino has a 4 inch barrel in .357, with a wood grip and fiber-optic front sight and adjustable rear sights. I guess they offer it with a rubber grip and I’ve heard decent things about that, but I believe that a full sized revolver should have a wooden grip. It’s quite strange-looking, beaver-tailed and thicker at the top. It is connected to the frame of the gun with a hex-nut at the bottom. 

I think this is sort of a neat design. Everyone who got a look at this gun really liked the design (even if they said things like “chunky” or “blocky”), and agreed that this grip was very comfortable. Even my friend J, who has fairly large hands, felt that the gun was comfortable; he had been worried that the grip was going to be a little small for him.

Another neat design element is that the cylinder is actually hexagonal, not round. This means that when you’re carrying the gun it always has a flat surface in contact with your body, which ostensibly makes it slimmer and easier to conceal. While I don’t know about that, I do know it looks cool. The cylinder rotates clockwise instead of the more common counterclockwise. I haven’t discovered a reason behind that yet, but it’s interesting in that it’s yet another nonstandard design element in an already unconventional gun.

But enough about the gun itself. Let’s get to the meat of this: my thoughts on shooting the Rhino.

I haven’t had an opportunity to really put it through the paces I prefer when breaking in a new gun, but I’ve put ~250 rounds through it, both .357 and .38 caliber, with the majority of those being .357, including full house 158 grain japes. I’d like to get another 250 through it because I think that if you’re going to have problems mechanically, they will probably surface within the first 500 rounds. I’m hoping to get the other 250 through in the next couple weeks. However, after 250 rounds I didn’t have a single misfire or failure to fire. I’d heard of this occurring, with the hammer not striking the primer hard enough, but this never happened to any of us out there at the range.

Recoil on this gun is minimal to the point of absurdity. The low bore axis really reduces muzzle flip by having the recoil go straight back into your hand and wrist (instead of at an upward angle), and while it sounds uncomfortable, it's actually very manageable. This also has the advantage of keeping your barrel more in line with your previous shot.

Please note this isn’t my hand. This is just a picture for illustrative purposes.

All of this means that firing full house .357 rounds feels like shooting .38 rounds from a similarly-sized revolver, and .38 rounds are like shooting a .22 (or as J said, "Like shooting BB's"). I fired 158 grain JHPs from this and then from a S&W Model 29, and I could really feel the difference in recoil even in the two very differently-weighted guns.

The things I really like about this gun are ergonomics,design, and lack of recoil. Now let’s talk about something I am sort of indifferent about (the trigger), and then the two things I really don’t like (the cocking lever and the sight picture).

Trigger pull on this gun is very odd. The double action pull is very smooth, but it is long and heavy.  I don’t have any sort of accurate gauge (not owning the equipment), but I’d bet it’s in the 12-14 pound range. The single action pull, by contrast, is incredibly light (probably around 4 pounds) and very, very short.

The two things I don’t care for are the cocking lever and the sight picture (though I expect to get this worked out shortly). The cocking lever (that spur on the top) is used to get the gun into single-action (SA) mode, and it is enormously hard to pull. I can do it with one thumb, but I have to pull the gun WAY off line to do it. I don’t see myself using SA that often, so I’m not terribly worried about it, but it’s crazy heavy.

As for the sight picture, I’m used to image 3 but the Rhino shoots closer to image 1. There were 5 shooters putting the Rhino through its paces, and all of us had difficulties mastering the sight picture on this gun. I’m confident that more time on the range will iron this difficulty out, but currently I am less than happy with the Rhino's sight picture (but again, I’m 99% sure this is user-induced error and will get worked out).

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the Rhino. It’s a pleasure to shoot, it’s got a unique look (although less unique now due to the Total Recall reboot trailer**), and if nothing else, it's a pretty good conversation piece. More than one guy at the range made noises about being able to see a Rhino in his future.

Would I use it as an every-day carry (EDC) gun? I don’t know. Certainly not until I’m used to the sight picture, and holsters for these guns are harder to come by than the guns themselves (except for the 20DS, which ships with a pancake holster). But if I could get a decent holster after I become more comfortable with the sight picture? Maybe. Will I take it to the range and blow stuff up with it? Every chance I get.

** Editor's Note: It should be noted that Jeff is a gun hipster.

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