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Rimfire vs Centerfire Ammunition: What’s the Main Difference?

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Main difference between centerfire and rimfire ammunition.

Centerfire and rimfire are two common words many new shooters might hear but are unfamiliar with. Both are types of ammunition and differ in where the primer is located.

Outside of the primer location, there are many other differences between centerfire and rimfire ammunition. Cost, reliability, power, and range are some important aspects where the two differ. It is important to understand these differences when purchasing or using firearms.

Many people don’t know the differences or may try to use the ammo interchangeably. Understanding the difference between rimfire and centerfire ammunition isn’t exactly the kind of thing shooters like to talk commonly about. However, it’s a good idea to learn the differences.

Let’s go over the differences between centerfire and rimfire ammunition. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each, how they are commonly used, and if one is truly better.

What is the Main Difference Between Centerfire and Rimfire Ammunition?

Difference between rimfire and centerfire ammo graphic.

The main difference between centerfire and rimfire ammunition is pretty simple. Centerfire ammo has the primer in the center, while rimfire doesn’t. The rimfire primer is in the rim of the cartridge.

Primers are what ignite the gunpowder and propel the bullet. When a gun is fired, its firing pin strikes the primer and ignites it with a tiny explosion, thus igniting the powder inside. Once ignited, pressure propels the bullet out of the gun’s barrel.

Centerfire and rimfire primer ignition graphic.

You can easily tell the difference between centerfire and rimfire ammo visually. A centerfire primer is visibly noticeable by the circular shape in the middle of the cartridge. In contrast, rimfire primers are not visible.

Rimfire vs Centerfire Ammunition: Which is better?

Centerfire and rimfire ammunition have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to look at the pros and cons of each and what type of shooting you will be doing before purchasing.

Pros of Centerfire Ammunition

The main advantage of centerfire vs. rimfire ammunition is its ability to fire larger bullets at a higher velocity. Centerfire cartridges are thick and built strong, which allows for greater accuracy, range, and stopping power.

Large caliber centerfire ammo.

Centerfire ammo is also known for its reliability, which is important in self-defense. Centerfire primers are self-contained, and it’s rare for centerfire cartridges to be duds.

Centerfire cartridges have a much higher range of caliber availability than rimfire cartridges. Whereas rimfire ammo is primarily available in .17 and .22 caliber, you can get centerfire ammo at .22 caliber and larger calibers.

Additionally, centerfire cartridges using brass casings allow reloaders (i.e., people who reload their own ammo) to reload multiple times with the same brass. This can be helpful if you’re trying to save on costs.

In contrast, while the most dedicated hand loaders may be able to reload rimfire cartridges, it is impractical for the vast majority of shooters.

Cons of Centerfire Ammunition

While reloading centerfire cartridge cases can be cost-saving, the initial price for buying centerfire ammunition can be costly. Centerfire vs. rimfire ammo is typically more expensive due to the increased complexity in manufacturing and components used.

Some types of centerfire ammo can be difficult to find. Sometimes it’s a matter of supply and demand, but you might struggle to find certain calibers.

You’ll also have to manage more felt recoil with centerfire ammo. Recoil management can be tough for some people, especially inexperienced shooters.

Centerfire ammo is generally bad for small game or “varmint” hunting. While some centerfire ammo is designed for small-game hunting, you have a high chance of doing more damage to your target with centerfire ammo than you’d like.

Applications and Use of Centerfire Ammunition

Centerfire ammunition is typically used in larger caliber firearms. It is also the most common type of ammunition used today.

Swat Unit

Centerfire ammo is a popular choice among law enforcement and military personnel. Many situations these professionals face require ammo with more stopping power and reliability. Similarly, when it comes to home self-defense applications, centerfire ammo is essential.

Centerfire is a go-to for big game hunters. Power, accuracy, and range are vital when big game hunting.

Pros of Rimfire Ammunition

Rimfire ammo is relatively cheap. Making rimfire vs. centerfire ammo is typically much less expensive due to the simpler manufacturing process and components used.

It’s also relatively easy to find rimfire ammo. Since it’s much easier to make, you can typically find the caliber you need in most gun stores.

Due to its lightweight and that it’s easier to find in large quantities, rimfire ammo is good for those who like to buy bulk ammo and keep it in storage.

Coch teaching a new student.

Additionally, rimfire vs. centerfire ammo has far less recoil and noise, making it ideal for smaller shooters or those just starting.

Cons of Rimfire Ammunition

Rimfire ammunition lacks power. Rimfire cartridges need thin walls so that when the firing pin strikes the case it can crush it and ignite the primer. However, this results in rimfire cartridges being low-pressure.

Rimfire vs centerfire ammunition typically travels much slower. This results in rimfire providing less accuracy and stopping power.

You will likely have some duds when you use rimfire ammunition, making it less reliable than centerfire ammunition.

Generally speaking, the casing in a rimfire cartridge can only be used once before being replaced, making it more expensive in the long run versus centerfire ammunition.

Rimfire ammo used brass

While rimfire ammo tends to be easier to get, it’s more commonly used in small-caliber firearms, which can be limiting to some shooters.

Applications and Use of Rimfire Ammunition

Rimfire ammunition is typically used in smaller caliber firearms. As a result, rimfire cartridges are usually available at .17 and .22 caliber.

If you’re a rookie shooter, using rimfire firearms can be helpful. New shooters need to learn the fundamentals and get in a lot of practice to elevate their skill level. Plus, many rookie shooters will start with smaller-size firearms, which rimfire ammo is perfect for.

.22 caliber rimfire pistol

Rimfire ammo can be good if you use a concealed carry gun. Rimfire ammo tends to be lightweight, which makes it easier to carry. While it does have a shorter range and less power, using rimfire ammo can still get you out of a pinch.

Because of its shorter range and lower pressure, many varmint hunters use rimfire ammo as their go-to ammunition.

Rimfire is also the most common ammunition used for plinking (target shooting for fun) and basic target practice.

Other Factors to Consider

Check your local laws before purchasing either type of ammunition, as some types may be restricted in certain areas or during certain instances.

For example, when big or small game hunting in Tennessee, it’s illegal to use rifles and handguns with centerfire ammunition from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.

Why You Shouldn’t Chamber the Wrong Cartridges

You must ensure your firearm is designed to use the type of ammo you choose. Be sure to check your gun’s manual or manufacturer’s website to find out which type of ammunition should be used with it, as many firearms are designed specifically for either rimfire or centerfire ammo.

The type of ammunition you choose is important to avoid damaging your firearm and for safety reasons.

Chambering a round into a pistol

If you chamber a centerfire cartridge in a gun that uses rimfire ammo, you will most likely struggle to get it to fit. If you can’t easily load up a gun, it’s usually a sign something is wrong, as loading the centerfire or rimfire cartridges can be done with little to no effort.

If you manage to incorrectly chamber centerfire or rimfire cartridges, you’ll likely have some bad outcomes.

Damage to Your Firearm

Getting a centerfire or rimfire cartridge placed incorrectly will probably cause the cartridge to get jammed into your gun.

Dislodging a wrong cartridge is hard, and you may be unable to pull it out yourself. This will result in you having to seek a gunsmith to repair your firearm.

Risk of an Explosion

If you were to try and fire your gun with the wrong cartridge, you’d have a high chance of causing a misfire and even an explosion in your gun’s chamber.

When the firing pin strikes the centerfire or rimfire cartridge, it may cause the bullet to detonate in your chamber due to pressure.

This is because the seal between the brass and chamber isn’t correct and allows gases to escape through areas other than the barrel. The resulting explosion can destroy your gun and harm you.

Potential Harm to Others

Finally, a misfire or explosion could seriously injure someone next to you, and the actual bullet might go in a completely different direction than intended. The explosion or the stray bullet can cause serious injury to innocent bystanders.

It’s important to always use the correct type of ammunition when loading and firing your firearm. This can help avoid any potential harm or damage from using the wrong cartridge type.

Final Thoughts on Rimfire vs Centerfire

In short, rimfire and centerfire ammunition have unique areas they excel in. Rimfire is best used for its cost-effectiveness and friendliness to new shooters, while centerfire is useful for shooters seeking more power, reliability, accuracy, and range.

When comparing rimfire vs. centerfire ammunition, there isn’t a clear winner. Rimfire and centerfire ammo have their advantages and disadvantages compared to one another, and they have their unique uses and applications.

Summary of Centerfire Ammo Pros and Cons
  • Ability to fire larger bullets
  • More reliable
  • A higher range of caliber availability
  • Brass can be reloaded multiple times
  • Initial cost is higher than rimfire
  • Some types can be difficult to find
  • More felt recoil
  • Generally bad for varmint hunting
Summary of Rimfire Ammo Pros and Cons
  • Relatively cheap
  • Easy to find
  • Good for those who buy in bulk
  • Less recoil and noise (good for beginners)
  • Lacks power compared to centefire ammo
  • Less velocity
  • Less reliable
  • Generally, brass cannot be reloaded

Even in some applications where one type of ammunition dominates, you can argue the other type of ammunition is perfectly usable. For instance, some big game hunters like using rimfire ammo. They feel it’s more than capable of taking down big game and are more comfortable with it.

You might also keep both types of ammunition for home self-defense and have different scenarios where you’d use one over the other. You might prefer to use centerfire rounds if you hear multiple people intruding, while you might use rimfire rounds if you think you’re dealing with an animal.

No matter which type of ammo you use, the most important thing is to ensure you are always safe when handling firearms. Be sure to use your gun’s correct type of ammunition and read through all safety instructions before shooting or loading your gun. Following these steps can help ensure you can enjoy shooting safely.

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Tactical Hyve Cadre

A group of our cadre members who cannot or do not want to be in the public's eye, often because they are on active duty, but who still want to provide you with vetted information and recommendations.

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