Fans of firearms like discussing the topic almost as much as using them. That’s very fair given how much material there is for discussion.
However, even with all this talk, the question of whether rimfire vs centerfire ammunition is superior is one that is rarely brought up. To be clear, we mean “not so often discussed” because most seasoned gun enthusiasts don’t bother with idle chatter about bullets. To them, it’s more interesting to discuss such topics as gun calibers, specific firearm models, and shooting facilities.
But for those new to the firearm space, knowing the difference between rimfire and centerfire bullets can really help your overall experience. We figured it would be helpful for some of our readers, who could be novice shooters, to be aware of the distinction.
This article serves as a sort of manual in which we outline the nature of rimfire and centerfire ammunition, their respective uses, and our recommendation as to which is ideal. The data shown here is provided with the goal that it will be useful.
Quick Rundown of Cartridges
To kick things off, it’s important you have a quick understanding how rounds (or more technically, cartridges) work.
You can break a cartridge down into 4 unique parts:
- The Case
- The Primer
- The Propellant
- The Bullet
This is the metal sheath which holds everything together. It will hold the primer, propellant, and the bullet.
Basically, think of it as the container.
This part is what ignites the propellant after being hit by the firing pin.
This is the material which ignites itself.
This is the projectile which ejects after the propellant is ignited.
If you want to go deeper, make sure to checkout out our full guide about bullets and their calibers.
Differences Between Rimfire and Centerfire Ammunition
Ammunition is classified as either rimfire or centerfire based on the method used to ignite the primer compound inside the cartridge.
You have to understand that the basic mechanism behind the discharge of any modern cartridge of ammunition is the same. When the bullet is ready to leave the barrel, the firing pin hits the primer, causing a tiny explosion that ignites the gunpowder.
Centerfire and rimfire cartridges can be differentiated by the method by which their primers are ignited.
What is Rimfire Ammo?
The best way to tell if a cartridge is rimfire is actually from the appearance.
With a rimfire cartridge you can expect to see a flat casing without a visible cartridge.
How Do Rimfire Rounds Work?
Primers for rimfire ammunition are hidden inside the cartridge’s rim, making them invisible to the naked eye.
Priming compound is evenly distributed inside the rims of the rimfire cartridge’s hollow case during production. The bullet is then positioned on top and crimped into place before the propellant (either black gunpowder or smokeless powder) is added.
It is the pressure created when the firing pin meets the rim of the cartridge that ignites the priming compound whenever you pull the trigger. It’s the spark that sets off the powder, which in turn sends the bullet hurtling down the gun’s bore.
What is Centerfire Ammo?
With centerfire ammunition, you’ll notice a small circular primer within the cartridge walls that is visible.
And as the name suggests, it’s located in the center of the cartridge base.
How Does A Centerfire Round Work?
Primers in centerfire ammunition are metal disks that can be removed from the shells before firing. Inserting the primer into a groove at the cartridge’s bottom serves to keep it in place by friction.
In order to discharge a centerfire round, the firing pin must make contact with the primer located at the cartridge’s base, and to ensure a uniform burn, the cartridge is struck in its center.
Rimfire vs Centerfire: Which One Works Better?
The key advantage is described by its name: centerfire. To ensure a uniform burn, the cartridge is struck in its center.
Depending on where the primer bead is located, the powder in a rimfire round may ignite more quickly on one side than the other.
This inefficient burning significantly decreases the amount of gunpowder you can put into a round.
The increased robustness of the cartridge casings is another welcome development. The rimfire’s design issue is that the cartridge must be struck on its edge in order to discharge.
As a result, you have to put a thinner material on the cartridge wall so that the strike can spark the primer bead. When aiming for the center, this is not required. The base includes a primer that can be removed for cleaning.
As a result, the cartridge walls can be made as thick as desired, accommodating more propellant and larger projectiles.
However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be good uses for rimfire cartridges. Here’s a quick look at some of the benefits.
Pros Of A Rimfire Cartridge
Availability – Many different manufacturers make rimfire rifles in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and styles. Whether you’re looking for a rimfire pistol or rifle for target practice or a conversion kit for your military-style firearm, you’ll find something to suit your needs.
Price – In comparison to centerfire ammunition, rimfire rounds are more affordable. Costing only a fraction as much as centerfire ammunition, rimfire ammunition allows you to fire off dozens of rounds without breaking the bank.
Recoil – The rimfire ammunition is very low-impact. Because there is almost little recoil, it is great for use when instructing younger shooters or when engaging targets at greater distances.
Cons Of A Rimfire Cartridge
Malfunctions – Even when using premium ammunition, most rimfire ammo hav a failure to fire rate of 1%-2%. Because the primer material is “spun” at the base of the casing, it does not always make complete contact with the rim. Although rimfire is ideal for target practice and small game hunting, we wouldn’t rely on it in a life or death situation.
Non-Reloadable – There is no way to reuse rimfire ammunition because the primer mixture is built into the case and also the rim is bent upon firing.
Small Calibers Only – The calibers of rimfire ammunition are normally limited to.17 and.22, limiting your shooting options.
Pros Of A Centerfire Cartridge
Reliability – Among modern firearms, centerfire ammunition is renowned for its rock-solid dependability. Due to the high quality and quantity of primer composition in both normal and magnum primers, centerfire cartridge failure is extremely uncommon.
Calibers – From .22 to 50 BMG, centerfire cartridges are available in a wide range of sizes. Centerfire cartridges can be used for a wide variety of purposes. When compared to rimfire cartridges, centerfire ones are significantly thicker and more durable. This paves the way for significantly higher pressure loadings, which in turn leads to increased velocity (in terms of feet per second) and increased effective range.
Cons Of A Centerfire Cartridge
Price – Centerfire ammo is inherently more costly than rimfire ammunition. Even though centerfire cartridge casings can be reused, the cost per shot is still more than it would be with a rimfire cartridge. This is due to the manufacturing process for centerfire cartridges.
Recoil – Having a gun that is easy to use is essential for training, especially for younger shooters. Greater recoil is to be expected with centerfire cartridges because their pressures are higher.
Most Common Calibers of Rimfire Ammunition
Small game hunting is traditionally a rimfire affair.
Due to their low cost per bullet and lack of recoil, these firearms are best used for small game such as rabbits and squirrels. A rimfire is the best choice for simple meat-gathering tasks.
.22 LR (Long Rifle) – One of the most (if not THE most) common round. This is the most widely distributed cartridge and is employed mostly for plinking or target practice.
.17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) – Very popular for small game hunting (especially varmint).
.22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire) – This cartridge is well-liked by varmint shooters and target shooters because to its flat shooting performance.
Most Common Calibers of Centerfire Ammunition
Basically, every major caliber type utilizes centerfire.
Here are the most common based on sale volume:
.223 Remington – In the United States, .223 ammunition is widely used. These rifle rounds are commonly used in an AR-15 because of their high velocity and low recoil.
.308 Winchester – When hunting medium to large animals, the .308 Winchester is still a popular option. White-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, and even black bears frequent it. Hunters have also used it successfully on elk and moose, and it has been introduced to Africa for hunting antelope, duiker, eland, and more.
.30-06 Springfield – The .30-06 Springfield is a time-honored cartridge that has served the military since its introduction in 1906. It has aged magnificently and become even more potent with the development of new bullets and powders. It’s a cheap round that’s readily accessible from the majority of well-known rifle manufacturers, and there are more than 100 different bullet/brand combinations available in a wide range of weights.
.30-30 Winchester – The.30-30 Winchester is a medium- and large-game hunting cartridge that performs best at moderate to close ranges. It has been effective in killing a wide variety of animals, including deer and hogs.