In practice, the main difference is simple: one is bigger than the other. There are a lot of other differences as well, but that’s the “main” one. Since there’s a lot more to the story, we’ll go over all of it in this article.
Knowing the difference between the two types of ammunition can make a big difference in your shooting experience, and is helpful knowledge to boot. In this article, we’ll explore the primary difference between centerfire and rimfire ammo, which type of ammo is better, how each type works, and more. Read on to learn more about the differences between rimfire and centerfire ammunition.
What Is the Primary Difference Between Centerfire and Rimfire Ammunition?
The primary difference between the two types of ammunition is how they are ignited. Centerfire ammunition makes use of a firing pin to strike a primer; it is located at the center of the base of the cartridge case. On the other hand, rimfire ammunition makes use of uses a firing pin to strike off of an internal rim at the base of the cartridge.
Rimfire cartridges have the primer embedded within the rim of the cartridges, while in a centerfire cartridge the primer is actually a separate piece that sits inside the base of the casing. The two different form factors don’t really compete with one another at all – in fact I’m not aware of a single caliber or cartridge that is available in both rimfire and centerfire versions.
Rather, it’s best to think of them each as masters of their respective universes!
Which Type of Ammunition Is Better: Centerfire or Rimfire?
The answer to this question varies depending on the application. Generally speaking, centerfire ammunition is more powerful and reliable than rimfire ammunition. Centerfire cartridges also have a longer shelf life than rimfire cartridges due to their sealed primers, which keeps moisture out.
That said, rimfire cartridges tend to be less expensive than centerfire cartridges and are well-suited for short-range shooting applications. Rimfires are also much less intimidating to shoot, and can be fantastic for teaching or learning shooting fundamentals before moving on to something larger.
How Centerfire Ammo Works
Centerfire ammo has a primer located in the center of the base of the cartridge case that is struck by a firing pin when you pull the trigger on your firearm. The primer pops, which ignites the powder in the casing, which then uses expanding gas to push the projectile out the end of the barrel.
There are two main types of primers used for centerfire ammunition: Boxer-primed and Berdan-primed.
A Boxer-primed cartridge uses a single lead styphnate compound that is inserted into a primer pocket at the center of the cartridge case base. The primer is then struck by a firing pin when you pull the trigger on your firearm, causing it to ignite and send hot gasses down through the barrel, propelling the bullet forward.
Technically, boxer-primed cartridges are more susceptible to slamfiring than Berdan cartridges, because the Berdan method recesses the primer a tiny amount, but it’s not like slamfiring is a frequent occurrence even with Boxer-primed ammo.
A Berdan-primed cartridge uses two separate lead styphnate compounds that are placed into two (or more) separate primer pockets located at opposite sides of the base of the cartridge case. When you pull the trigger on your firearm, both primers are struck simultaneously, igniting the powder in the casing.
The main advantage that Berdan-primed ammo has over Boxer is that it’s simpler (and therefore cheaper) to manufacture. That’s why despite being shipped halfway across the world, Russian ammo is still so much cheaper to buy than most American brands.
Other than that, the two methods of centerfire priming are basically interchangeable.
Pros of Centerfire Ammo
Centerfire priming becomes a necessity once you want to have a larger and more powerful round. I don’t know the exact math on it, but somewhere between .22 LR and .223 Remington, rimfire simply doesn’t work and centerfire needs to take over. Because of this, you can think of centerfire ammo as having a few distinct advantages over rimfire:
- First, centerfire cartridges will (almost) always have higher velocities than rimfire cartridges due to their larger powder charge and more powerful primer compounds. This means that they have greater accuracy at longer ranges than rimfire cartridges.
- There are rimfire rounds that have higher muzzle velocities than some handgun rounds like 9mm (e.g. .17 HMR), but these are exceptions, not the rule
- Next, since centerfire primers are sealed in place with lacquer or enamel paint, they have a longer shelf life than rimfire cartridges since moisture cannot penetrate them as easily.
- Last, since centerfire cartridges use a larger amount of propellant powder than rimfire cartridges do, they will always have more stopping power than their rimfire counterparts.
Cons of Centerfire Ammo
- One downside of using centerfire ammo is that it tends to be more expensive than rimfire ammo due to its larger components and increased power output.
- Not only that, but even Berdan centerfire ammo is more difficult to manufacture than rimfire, so no matter what you’ll always be paying a premium for shooting a larger round.
- Finally, while rimfires are more prone to misfires, boxer-primed ammo is more prone to slamfires (when the first round in the chamber fires because the primer was accidentally hit as the bolt moves into place)
How Rimfire Ammo Works
Rimfires use an internal rim located at the base of the case, which is struck by a firing pin when you pull the trigger on your firearm. When struck by a firing pin, this internal rim ignites the powder, which then sends all hell down the case and eventually the rest of the barrel.
Unlike Berdan centerfires, which use multiple separate lead styphnate compounds as primers, all types of rimfires use only one compound as their primer material which is inserted into an internal cavity at the base of their cartridge cases during manufacturing processes.
- Rimfires tend to be less expensive than their centerfired counterparts due to their simpler design and fewer components involved in production processes.
- Some rimfire cartridges can give you both high velocities and flat trajectories out past 100 yards, making them more versatile than some centerfire cartridges.
- Finally, rimfires are just better suited to small game hunting where you don’t need all those foot-pounds of stopping power and expensive ammo.
- Stopping power is a notable disadvantage. Rimfires tend to be less powerful than their corresponding centerfired counterparts due to their smaller powder charges and shorter barrel lengths which limit how much powder can actually be burned during firing cycles. Combine that with utterly tiny projectiles, and rimfire becomes just about the worst choice for home defense or concealed carry.
- Supposedly rimfire cartridges also have a shorter shelf life than centerfire cartridges, though I’ve seen plenty of old rimfire ammo shoot well enough to make me question that assertion.
- Even the best rimfire cartridge won’t be effective past a couple hundred yards. If you want to get the attention of anything further out than that, you’ll need something larger than anything rimfire has to offer.
Why Should You Use Centerfire Ammunition?
Centerfire ammunition is widely used in hunting, target shooting, and self-defense applications. It is considered to be the most reliable type of ammunition because its design allows for more consistent performance and accuracy than rimfire. Since centerfire cartridges are reloadable where rimfires are not, it makes them a great choice for those who shoot a lot and are interested in reloading.
Essentially, you should use centerfire ammunition when you need more stopping power or to shoot further out than a rimfire cartridge would allow you to do.
If you want to get out past 200 yards, you will definitely need to use a centerfire cartridge to do so. Since rimfire only really works for small loads, you just can’t launch a projectile with enough momentum to fight friction, gravity, wind, and who-knows-what-else as it travels through the air.
Even if/when you can get a rimfired bullet out past 200 yards, compensating for the drop well enough to hit a target becomes much more difficult. Even a .22LR could still be lethal as far out as a mile, but good luck arcing the bullet accurately enough to hit anything at that range.
Why Should You Use Rimfire Ammunition?
Rimfire ammunition is widely available, relatively inexpensive and offers a variety of calibers to choose from. Rimfire ammunition is also easier to handle and load, making it a great choice for first-time shooters. Honestly, rimfire is the best world to play in when you’re trying to learn or teach the fundamentals of shooting.
The softer recoil is less frightening, each round is so much cheaper than a centerfire cartridge, and it’s quiet enough that you can easily get away with the little foam earplugs for ear protection. I would say the two places where rimfire shines are teaching/learning and close-range varmint hunting.
In pretty much any other situation, though, I’d recommend going with a larger centerfire round.
No, muzzleloaders use black powder instead of smokeless powders used in modern firearms. It’s possible there exists somewhere in the world a muzzleloader that uses smokeless powder and modern cartridges, but I’ve never seen one and I’m not sure how it would work.
It is rimfire. There is no such thing as a .22 centerfire cartridge. Ok, technically rounds like the .223 Remington and .224 Valkyrie could be considered “.22 cal”, but if your rifle shoots .22LR or anything remotely similar to it, then it is definitely a rimfire.
The back of a rifle is commonly referred to as the buttstock or simply the butt. This is the part of the gun that rests against the shooter’s shoulder when firing and helps provide stability when aiming. It may also have a recoil pad to absorb some of the shock of firing. The buttstock could be made of wood, plastic, fiberglass, or metal.
As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s natural to compare rimfire and centerfire rounds, but it actually doesn’t make a ton of sense in most cases. Usually you’ll be selecting which round to use by how it performs in the type of situation you want to use it in: whether it’s rimfire or centerfire really only matters if you want to be able to reload the ammo after you shoot it.
The two types aren’t competitors, so don’t worry about it too much. Rimfires are smaller cartridges that will have less stopping power and usually a shorter effective range than centerfire cartridges, because centerfire works better for larger rounds while rimfire works better for smaller rounds.
That’s really all there is to it.