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What Is The Difference Between Centerfire And Rimfire Ammunition

Centerfire VS Rimfire: What’s The Difference Between The Two

When it comes to guns, you cannot run away from ammunition. When it comes to ammunition, you also may need to spend time figuring out the right kind of ammunition for yourself. There are two types of ammunition generally, centerfire and rimfire. What are the differences? What is the difference between centerfire and rimfire ammunition?

The biggest difference between centerfire and rimfire ammunition is the position of the primer in the ammunition. Rimfire ammunition has its primer around the edge (rim) of the base. In contrast, centerfire ammunition has its primer in the center of the base. They also differ in performance, price, and reloadability.

This pose explores the difference between centerfire and rimfire ammunition. We look at whether they are interchangeable and if one is better than the other. 

How Ammunition Works With Guns

Pressing the trigger on your gun releases the spring that holds back the firing pin. The pin strikes the primer at the cartridge, causing a spark that ignites the gunpowder inside the cartridge. The rapidly expanding gas pushes the bullet out from the gun towards the target.

Before we start talking about ammunition types, it may be a good idea to understand how ammunition works, especially when fired inside a gun.

Modern ammunition usually uses a pin to activate the cartridge to generate fire. The process starts with a cartridge being inserted into the firing chamber. 

At this point, you usually cock your gun to ensure that they are nicely primed to shoot. A cocked gun would have its firing pin pushed back and loaded on a spring. The gun is now ready to shoot. 

The spring’s force is released when you squeeze the trigger, resulting in the firing pin hitting the cartridge’s primer. The strike causes some spark, which then causes the gunpowder inside the cartridge to explode.

During the explosion, the gas inside the gun expands rapidly, pushing the bullet out from the barrel. This results in the bullet leaving the gun and going towards the target. The rapid exit of the bullet also produces the ‘bang’ sound.

Some modern guns will also recycle some of the gas generated, and channel it towards the cartridge. In most cases, the gas pushes against the cartridge, causing it to be ejected from the gun. This motion empties the firing chamber.

If the gun is self-reloading, the spring inside the magazine may push another cartridge into the firing chamber, ready to fire another round. This process repeats until all cartridges are fired and ejected out. 

There is no automatic cartridge ejection in a more traditional rifle nor auto-reloading. You need to lift the bolt and pull back the gun’s bolt. This usually manually ejects the shot cartridge and loads a new cartridge in place. You then push the bolt forward and in. This places the cartridge in the firing chamber, ready to be shot. 

What Is A Centerfire Ammunition?

Centerfire ammunition is unique in that the primer is located at the center of the base of the casing. The primer is also a separate component from the casing, meaning it can be replaced, and the whole cartridge may be reused. It is the de-facto cartridge type used in most firearms today.

Centerfire ammunition is a type of metallic firearm cartridge. In centerfire ammunition, the primer is located at the casing’s center or base. The centerfire primer is commonly a separate component placed into a recessed cavity. This cavity is also known as the primer pocket. 

This makes centerfire ammunition reloadable. This helps to make centerfire ammunition more popular with many firearm enthusiasts. 

Centerfire cartridges have also become the de-facto ammunition, replacing the rimfire variety in almost all cartridge sizes. Only the smaller guns, such as those that fire .17, .2, or .22 caliber, still use rimfire cartridges mainly. 

What Is A Rimfire Ammunition?

Rimfire ammunition differs from centerfire ammunition. The primer is located around or at the edge of the case. The rim is also protruding out at the base of the casing. Rimfire cartridges are much less popular than centerfire cartridges, with their uses now mainly with smaller caliber guns.

Rimfire ammunition has a unique shape, where the base of the cartridge seems to protrude. That is where the primer of the cartridge is at. As such, you can easily distinguish a centerfire from a rimfire cartridge.

When fired, the gun’s firing pin strikes and crushes the rim against the edge of the barrel breech, causing sparks that ignite the gunpowder. 

Rimfire ammunition may be more popular in the olden days, but in modern firearms, they are rarely used, with industry and shooters prefer centerfire cartridges. You may still see rimfire ammunition being used with older guns or smaller caliber guns such as .17, .2, or .22 caliber. 

What Is The Difference Between Centerfire And Rimfire Ammunition?

Centerfire and Rimfire ammunition differ in many aspects, such as primer position, price, reliability, power, engineering, reloadability, and popularity. As a result, Both cartridges may have their own pros and cons and may be suitable for different situations. 



Centerfire Cartridges

Rimfire Cartridges

Primer Position

Center of the base of cartridge

Around the edge of the base of cartridge





More reliable than rimfire cartridges

Less reliable than centerfire cartridges


More expensive



Produces recoil

Produces no to little recoil





Stronger power

Less powerful


More popular

Popular only with smaller caliber firearms.

There is a reason why centerfire and rimfire ammunition exists. They have different properties and may have differences in their performance. Each cartridge type has pros and cons and may suit different uses and situations.

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Primer Position

Both centerfire and rimfire cartridges have their primaries at the base of the case. The difference is that centerfire cartridges usually have their primer as the center. At the same time, rimfire ammunition places the primer at the edge or rim of the cartridge. 

This results in a difference in the firing mechanism, in which the firing pin strikes the primer differently. Due to this, you may not use the cartridges interchangeably in a firearm.


Centerfire cartridges are more complex in construction than rimfire cartridges. This is because the primers are built into the cartridge. The primer is usually placed in a recessed pit at the center of the base of the cartridge. As a result, producing centerfire cartridges tend to consume more time and effort.

If you compare this to rimfire cartridges, the rimfire cartridge is more simple in its construction. The primer is made as a rim around the base of the cartridge. This means there is no recessed primer, and the cartridge contains only gunpowder and a bullet. 


You may think rimfire cartridges’ simpler construction may make them more reliable. However, surprisingly, centerfire cartridges are more reliable. However, it doesn’t mean rimfire cartridges will misfire and become dud, but you may see it as a centerfire cartridge that may be stored longer and still perform reliably.

This may be due to how the primer is separated from the gunpowder and embedded inside the casing. This means the primer is less exposed to the environment, which may slow its deterioration.


Centerfire cartridges may be more complex in engineering and take more materials to produce. As a result, when you compare centerfire cartridges and rimfire cartridges of a similar caliber, centerfire cartridges may be more expensive. 

However, despite paying more, you may not be wasting money, as you are likely to have more reliable and longer-lasting ammunition. 


Recoil is the gun’s counterforce as the bullet is pushed out from the barrel. As the bullet leaves the barrel, another force may be pushing against your shoulder and hands. This may not be comfortable for all shooters. 

One of the best things about rimfire cartridges that still makes them relevant with my shooters is their lack of recoil. Recoil is almost certainly with centerfire ammunition unless the firearm is uniquely built to reduce recoil.

If you fire a rimfire cartridge, you may relax more, as your gun will have less pushback to your shoulder and hands. This also makes rimfire ammunition a better option for new shooters. 


Reliability means you can reuse the shell casing by refilling it with gunpowder and fitting in a new set of bullets and primer. Centerfire ammunition is generally reloadable, while rimfire ammunition is not.

The reason is simple. The centerfire cartridge’s primer is separated from the gunpowder. This means you can custom fit a new primer once the previous primer has been used. You can refill the casing with new gunpowder and mount the case with a new bullet. 

The key is to ensure that the casing has not been deformed. This may happen due to the high heat, and the casing may drop hard after being ejected from the firearm.


Centerfire ammunition generally has more power than rimfire ammunition. This is because centerfire ammunition tends to be at a larger caliber. This means the casing may be able to carry more gunpowder, which increases the explosion. 

These larger caliber cartridges may also carry a larger and heavier bullet. If you apply the law of physics, heavier objects tend to carry more force when in motion. This means the power projection of centerfire cartridges may be much higher.


Generally, centerfire ammunition is much more popular than rimfire ammunition. 

Centerfire ammunition has replaced rimfire cartridges on all firearms, except small caliber rifles and pistols. .17, .20, .22 caliber ammunition may still be mainly rimfire.

This is likely caused by the ability of centerfire cartridges. It can project larger stopping power, which may interest rifle owners more. It also is more reliable, meaning owners of automatic weapons may also want centerfire cartridges with their firearms. 

Can You Use Centerfire And Rimfire Ammunition Interchangeably?

Generally, you cannot use centerfire and rimfire ammunition interchangeably. This is because the cartridges are built differently and are fired on with different types of the firing pin. Firearms are generally made to either fire only centerfire or rimfire cartridges only. Check your user guide for the ammunition types your firearm fires.

Both centerfire and rimfire cartridges are usually fired using a firing pin. When you pull your firearm’s trigger, the pin strikes the primer, generating sparks that cause the gunpowder to ignite, pushing bullets from your gun barrel to your target. 

The difference is the mechanism in which the primer is struck. For centerfire cartridges, the firing pin strikes directly at the center of the base of the cartridge, where the primer is. 

The firing pin crushes one part of the primer rim for rimfire ammunition, collapsing it. This results in sparks that then ignite the gunpowder. 

This means guns may either come with a firing mechanism that shoots centerfire cartridges or rimfire cartridges. It also means that you may not use these two types of cartridges interchangeably. 

If you try to fire rimfire ammunition with a firearm that fires centerfire, you are more than likely to jam the gun. At worst, you may also damage the firing chamber and the firing pin, requiring a visit to a gunsmith. 

When you shop for a gun or fire a new firearm for the first time, you may want to check what type of ammunition it fires. Most modern guns generally fire centerfire ammunition, while older, classic guns may fire rimfire. Check with the gunmaker to be sure. 

When Should You Use Centerfire Ammunition?

Centerfire ammunition may be better if you are working with modern firearms. It is also good to seek reliability, stronger stopping power, and longer-distance shooting. Experienced shooters may also enjoy centerfire ammunition better, as they can handle recoil better. 

In general, centerfire ammunition may be a better choice if you:

Want To Shoot Longer Distances

In general, centerfire ammunition tends to be in larger calibers and may carry more gunpowder and a larger and heavier bullet. When fired, you will get a larger ignition inside since you have more gunpowder. 

The bullet will be channeled out with a larger push, and the larger, heavier bullet may be able to fly further. The heavier bullet may also be more stable in flight, which may be more accurate. 

This is one of the reasons why centerfire ammunition is a favorite with hunters, sharpshooters, or military and law enforcement.

Want To Have A Reliable Firing Experience

Say you do not shoot your guns regularly, probably using them for occasional hunting trips in the summer. You may also be the kind that visits a gun range once in a few months. 

In this case, you may not be using your ammunition regularly, so you are more likely to keep your ammunition stored for a long time. This means you may want to consider rimfire cartridges. 

Centerfire cartridges may be more reliable as the primer is built inside the cartridge, meaning it is not exposed to the environment as much as rimfire cartridges. One major reason cartridges fail is that the primer deteriorates, usually due to exposure to moisture. By using centerfire cartridges, you spare yourself this problem.

Want More Stopping Power

Stopping power refers to the force with which the bullet hits the target. The larger the stopping power, the more likely it is able to stop the target’s movement. 

Stopping power is important for hunters, and the military, as they must ensure the prey animal does not run too far away after being shot. Soldiers also want to be able to stop their enemy as they charge or run toward them. 

Centerfire ammunition tends to be in larger calibers and may carry more gunpowder and a larger and heavier bullet. This results in bullets flying out in larger force and generating larger stopping power. 

Shoot Modern Firearms

If you shoot modern firearms, you want to use centerfire ammunition. This is because most modern firearms are built to shoot centerfire ammunition, meaning you are less likely to use any rimfire ammunition. 

However, if your modern firearms are of a smaller caliber, they may likely use rimfire ammunition. It may be helpful to check and confirm this before you purchase the firearm.

Can Handle Recoil

Despite the positives and strengths of centerfire ammunition, you may need to be able to deal with the recoil it generates. Unlike rimfire ammunition, centerfire cartridges are known to generate recoil, which may make firing accurately difficult. 

As a result, centerfire cartridges may be preferred by experienced shooters who have experience and can deal with recoil comfortably. 

When Should You Use Rimfire Ammunition?

Rimfire generally suits beginner shooters or shooters with less strength that may not be able to handle recoil well. Rimfire ammunition may also suit shooters who prefer short to mid-range shooting and places accuracy more than power; this ammunition also works better with older guns. 

New Shooters

In general, newer, inexperienced shooters may lack the ability to control their guns well. This means they may not be suitable to fire larger caliber ammunition since the power may be too much for them to handle.

These larger caliber cartridges also tend to be centerfire in construction and may also have strong recoil.

This means they may be better off starting with smaller caliber, rimfire ammunition. This is because this ammunition may be less powerful, and rimfire cartridges also feature none if small amounts of recoil.

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Less Strong Shooters

Powerful guns generate powerful recoil and may be heavy. As such, shooters who are weaker or may not have the physical capability to handle larger caliber guns should consider rimfire ammunition.

Rimfire ammunition tends to come in a smaller caliber and features little to no recoil. This may help these weaker shooters shoot well and safely handle their firearms.

Firing Older Guns

Generally, older, classic guns tend to fire using rimfire ammunition. As centerfire ammunition was still not popular at the time. If you have a classic firearm handed down as a family heirloom, chances are you will need rimfire cartridges. 

When in doubt. Always check online for information about the types of ammunition your classic gun fires. You can also visit a gunsmith and have the firearm checked to confirm this. Plus, it is usually a good idea to have a gunsmith check the fitness of your classic firearm before you fire them.

Prefers Accuracy Over Power

If you prefer accuracy over power when shooting, you may be better off with rimfire ammunition. The reason is that rimfire ammunition tends to come in a smaller caliber, meaning it would be easier to fire. 

Rimfire ammunition also generates little to no recoil, meaning you should be able to shoot more accurately with it than centerfire ammunition.

Want To Keep Budget Low

If you prefer to keep your firearm hobby costs in check, you may be better off with rimfire ammunition. This is because rimfire ammunition is cheaper and may contribute to more long-term savings than if you use centerfire cartridges.

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