What Is The Main Difference Between Centerfire And Rimfire Ammunition?

Ever wondered what the difference between rimfire and centerfire ammo is? Well, you might not be the first. The rimfire cartridge is most associated with the .22 LR, whereas the centerfire ammunition is almost any hunting cartridge you can think of. But what exactly are the differences, and which is best for what use case? This article will explore the ins and outs of both centerfire and rimfire ammunition. 

Difference Between Centerfire And Rimfire

explain the difference between centerfire and rimfire ammo

Centerfire ammunition might be the ammo you are familiar with. The primer is located at the center of the casing base. If the primer is not present, then a circular hole will be featured. The .223 Remington is a popular centerfire round.

Rimfire ammo is a specific bullet type that has a primer located inside the cartridge’s rim. Usually, it cannot be seen from the outside, and the base will typically be a flat surface – only having the manufacturer and caliber engraved.

Centerfire Ammunition Explained

Centerfire ammo can be typically described as a cartridge with a long case, a copper or lead bullet, and a distinct rim at the base with a recessed primer. These types of cartridges are commonly used in rifles, shotguns, and handguns.


The location of the circular primer makes it ideal for effective firing pin strikes. This allows the primer chemicals to react and make the propellant have a larger explosion that burns more uniformly. The larger explosion makes it ideal for shooting larger-sized bullets, as is the case with larger calibers.

This design allows for high accuracy at longer distances and the ability to shoot large game. Take our comparison of 25-06 vs 30-06 rounds of Centerfire rounds as an example of high power rounds. Centerfire cartridges are reloadable, which can save you money in the long term.

Rimfire Ammunition Explained

picture showing what rimfire ammo is

Rimfire cartridges are the ammunition most commonly associated with the .22 LR and .17. These cartridges are limited to low-pressure loads and, thus, distances within 100 yards. The case is normally considerably smaller than a centerfire cartridge, especially when comparing rifle calibers. A rimfire round cannot be reloaded – luckily, they are very cheap.

How Does A Gun Fire?

When you pull a gun’s trigger, the firing pin strikes the primer. This action causes the primer compound, usually chemical, to react and produce a tiny explosion and heat. The mini-explosion and heat cause the gunpowder to ignite. The production of gasses from the ignition causes a considerable build-up of pressure, allowing the .22 bullet to fire forward out of the gun.

This entire process happens in a couple of split-seconds.

What Calibers Are Rimfire vs Centerfire?

Rimfire calibers are not as abundant as centerfire calibers. The most notable rimfire calibers are the .22 Long Rifle (LR), .22 Short, and the relatively new .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR).

Many centerfire calibers are available, from straight-walled cartridges like the 350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster. To bottleneck cartridges, like the .223 and 30-06 – both venerable cartridges. More common centerfire cartridges include the 6.5 Grendel, .270 Win, .244 Win, and the highly decorated, .45-70.

Which Can Be Reloaded: Centerfire vs Rimfire?

As already mentioned, a centerfire round is the only type of cartridge that can be reloaded. This is primarily due to a rimfire cartridge having its primer inside and is inaccessible to be replaced. A centerfire cartridge’s primer can be easily removed and replaced, given you have the appropriate reloading tools.

Who Is Centerfire Ammunition Best For?

A centerfire cartridge is designed to withstand higher pressure loads due to its thicker cartridge walls and other structural enhancements, like primer location. Therefore it has the ability to shoot a larger and heavier bullet with a higher velocity. We know that how fast do bullets travel largely depends on weight. This makes centerfire rounds ideal for long-range target practice or hunting anything larger than a fowl.

Who Is Rimfire Ammunition Best For?

Rimfire ammunition, like the 17 WSM & 223 Rem, is ideal for anyone who likes shooting for the fun of it. This could mean you love shooting targets at close range, such as with plinking. Or you are fond of small game hunting, like fowl, hyraxes, and even coyotes at close range with the .17 HMR.

Rimfire ammunition is much cheaper than centerfire ammunition, allowing you to shoot much more rounds for the same cost. The rimfire platform consists traditionally of smaller calibers. Therefore, it has considerably less recoil for those who do not like a kick in the shoulder.

The cheap cost and low felt recoil make rimfire ammunition ideal for hunting vermin.

Are They Interchangeable?

These two ammunition types are not interchangeable and should never be attempted to place a rimfire cartridge into a centerfire firearm or vice versa. The round can get stuck or, worse, cause damage to your chambering action. For example, do not fire a 10mm vs 357 mag round in a rimfire firearm!

Note: Most centerfire calibers are products of the 20th and 21st centuries, anything older than that might be a rimfire. It is important to research what type of ammunition your gun takes before attempting to chamber a round.

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Pros and Cons

Centerfire ammunition


  • Reloadable
  • Much more powerful – ideal for medium and big game hunting
  • Higher accuracy
  • Product of modern ingenuity – Rifle parts and ammo more abundantly found


  • Expensive
  • Higher recoil

Rimfire ammunition


  • Rimfire firearms produce low recoil
  • Cheap ammo
  • Small caliber – Vermin and Small game hunting


  • Known to have reliability issues
  • Not reloadable

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better centerfire or rimfire?

Both rimfire and centerfire ammunition have their use cases. Centerfire ammunition is better for home defense, military applications, overall hunting medium and big-sized game, and long-range shooting. Rimfire ammunition is ideal for plinking, vermin and small game hunting, as well as shooting for fun.

Is .22 a centerfire or rimfire?

A .22 is a rimfire cartridge because it was designed in the 1800s - a period when only rimfire rounds were manufactured.

What is the point of rimfire?

A rimfire round is a low-cost, low-recoil round that is excellent for training novice shooters or vermin hunting.

What are the disadvantages of rimfire?

The main disadvantages of rimfire ammunition is it has limited range, reliability issues, rounds are not reloadable, and they are not powerful enough for medium-sized game.

Why is rimfire so dirty?

The priming compound contains an abrasive component that accumulates in the barrel in addition to the carbon from the gunpowder. Removing this abrasive compound can be difficult and can considerably affect your accuracy.

How lethal is a 22-hollow point?

A .22 hollow point is very lethal and should never be shot at people except in a self-defense situation. You should also not use it on medium-sized game as it lacks the foot-per-pound energy to deliver a lethal blow.

Final Thoughts

Both the rimfire and centerfire cartridges are great fun to shoot with. Yet both have very different primer placement and, thus, use cases – you won’t go shooting a moose with a .22 LR or for that matter with a centerfire handgun. So if you are in the market for a new rifle caliber, it is important to know the use cases of the centerfire and rimfire cartridges. As always, happy hunting!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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