2020 Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 2
By Dennis Adler
It was a given that the new Chiappa Rhino would be a serious contender for 2020’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year. How serious? About as serious as an African Rhino charging in your direction! Now, I don’t know what that is like but I had a friend back in my Guns & Ammo days who had just such an experience and as many years later as it was when he told me the story the experience was indelibly etched in his memory right down to the smallest detail. It was a photo safari and he told the photographer not to use the motor drive Nikon (they were very noisy back then). But he did, the Rhino heard it, eyesight is awful but hearing is off the charts, and the beast turned in their direction, saw some blurry objects and charged them. Fortunately they were far enough away that the Rhino lost interest after the first 100 feet or so. A close call just the same, so, yeah, the Chiappa Charging Rhino is a serious contender for this year’s top gun title. It might not win but it could come awful close!
Trigger troubles and all
As I noted in my final segment on the Rhino CO2 revolver last month, I have had a lot of experience shooting double action revolvers over the years and many of them had heavy double action triggers. You can usually work your way through that with time and practice, especially if it is a DAO where you don’t have the option of cocking the hammer manually for a single action shot. The Chiappa CO2 Rhino is somewhere in the middle of that with an 11 pound, 11 ounce double action trigger pull and about the same for shooting single action because of the gun’s unique internal design. You are not actually cocking the hammer; you are cocking an internal hammer firing mechanism with a lever that resembles a hammer. On the CO2 model manually cocking the internal hammer does nothing to lighten the trigger pull. It is an average of 11 pounds plus one way or the other. That may well discourage some of you and it did kind of dampen my enthusiasm too, until I made an effort to learn to shoot the Charging Rhino like I would any other revolver with a heavy action. Learning to handle the hard guns makes the easy ones easier.
The one saving grace of the Rhino’s trigger system is a very wide trigger shoe, nearly half an inch wide, that lets you get a lot of trigger finger firmly placed across it, and that helps with managing the heavy single action pull. With some practice it is less burdensome than shooting double action, although the action and cylinder do stage nicely as you pull through on double action. It took about a week to get comfortable with shooting the Rhino single action. In my follow up article I noted that “With the sights adjusted for H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters shooting from 21 feet, and firing single action, I began finding just how much trigger finger was needed for the trigger press. This, of course, depends upon the size of the shooter’s fingers, but for me I found controlling the heavy SA trigger on the Charging Rhino required the entire first joint. With a two-handed hold I was able to keep the gun solidly on target and the short, heavy pull became more controllable with successive shooting sessions. By the end of the weekend I was shooting groups single action just as tight as my best double action targets and getting comfortable with the still heavy but consistent SA pull. The Chiappa was beginning to live up to its promise.” Now, it is time for the Rhino to step into the spotlight and see if it can do as well as the Barra Schofield with the same ammo at the same distance. This is for all the money and the burden is not only on the shooter to do well but the gun to live up to its capability. This is an odd comparison.
Futuristic DA/SA vs. Old West SA
It’s not quite as great a difference as it appears, a classic late 19th century single action revolver, i.e. the Schofield Wells Fargo, squaring off against a 21st century DA/SA revolver with a design that screams “prop from a Science Fiction movie” or at least, “retro-futuristic” (popularly Steampunk), combining a modernistic look with an old design to create something new without abandoning the antiquated characteristics. And again, we are traipsing on the Sci-Fi genre. The Rhino is actually unusual looking because the barrel is superposed, it is on the bottom where the barrel lug should be so it aligns with the lower chamber of the cylinder instead of the top. The trigger is positioned mid-cylinder (further forward than a conventional revolver), and the cylinder itself rather than being round is hexagonal. The Rhino has a saw handle pistol grip (very retro), and to top it off, fiber optic sights. Not quite as strange as the gun from Blade Runner but close. It’s safe to say a Chiappa Rhino, centerfire or CO2, will never be mistaken for any other handgun (except maybe a Mateba, the semi-auto revolver the Rhino design evolved from).
Up to this point, the Rhino has not presented itself as a precision target pistol despite having an elevation and windage adjustable rear sight, but it has proven capable of keeping six rounds around an inch at 21 feet, the same as the Wells Fargo. It’s the tighter groups under an inch that generally are harder to shoot with the Rhino thus far. But there is a lot to adding points beyond just accuracy.
Authenticity of design is also up to 10 points and pretty straightforward. It either is or isn’t authentic. The Rhino is going top score a solid 10 on that count. But there is even a more to it as a CO2 model. The Umarex Colt Peacemaker CO2 models and other Colt designs licensed to Umarex, the Schofield built sold by Barra (copied from a classic 19th century S&W design), even the top notch ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 revolvers, and the Umarex Glock semi-autos, are all “licensed” designs and the originality of the design belongs there. Points for being an air pistol are awarded for how close the airgun is to the centerfire model it is based upon. It’s the same for Umarex S&W models, and for ASG’s new CZ Shadow 2 (another 2020 contender). Only Sig Sauer, Webley and Chiappa can claim true authenticity of design in their CO2 air pistols because they are the originators of the design, even if the air pistols are built for them at a factory in Taiwan. They are built to the original manufacturer’s specifications and sold by the manufacturer under their own name. The Rhino is a Chiappa from the start and is sold as a Chiappa by Chiappa. That puts this gun in a very distinct class of CO2 models.
Handling a Rhino
For a large frame revolver the Rhino is pretty well balanced and the long curved grip, combined with the undercut triggerguard, allows the gun to fit the hand with a firm grasp. The weight of the gun is also low and forward of the triggerguard which makes it a bit front heavy, but also well suited to a two-handed hold which is essential for accuracy.
The Charging Rhino will get authenticity points for its fit and finish, too; it is as unique in the combination of finishes as the rest of the gun for its shape. The requisite manual safety for a CO2 revolver is so unobtrusive, a small selector just behind the base of the hammer, that I can’t even knock off a point for it. Designed as a dual ammo pistol from the start, using pellet-loading cartridges in this smoothbore is expected and it uses the same pellet cartridges as the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 rifled barrel models.
For this Replica Air Pistol of the Year evaluation, I am going to shoot my velocity tests over with H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters, and shoot the accuracy test all single action to make it as fair a comparison with the Schofield Wells Fargo model as possible.
The sights on the Rhino have been as accurately adjusted for the H&N alloy wadcutters as possible (another tweak in elevation and windage from the last shooting tests) and the average velocity with the lightweight pellets has clocked an impressive 465 fps with a high of 488 fps, and a low of 447 fps. My best 6-shot target has a spread of 1.75 inches (one shot pulled high) with a best five shots in 1.125 inches. I also shot a second target with 12 rounds to match the Wells Fargo test with one 6-shot group at 1.062 inches, and the second just to the left at 1.125 inches; a total 12 shot spread of 1.75 inches with a best five shots at 1.0 inches. Close to the Schofield, but even in another universe, the Wells Fargo would still outshoot the Rhino.
Chiappa Charging Rhino
Authenticity 1 to 10 10 (virtually a 1:1 build)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10 9 (trigger design not good as centerfire model)
Ease of use 1 to 10 10 (swing out cylinder, easy CO2 loading)
Performance 1 to 10 9 (less 2 for heavy SA pull, plus 1 for velocity)
Accuracy 1 to 10 8 (best 5 at 1.0 inches)
Field stripping capability bonus 1
Adjustable Sights bonus 1 1
Total points 47