Rimfire vs Centerfire: Which is Better for You?

by Dave Chesson

April 22, 2019



Alright, it’s time to get back to basics with Rimfire vs Centerfire!

This centuries old discussion doesn’t seem to pop up much any more, but it’s still important that you know the difference. Each has its own pros and cons that make them completely viable for separate purposes.

In this article, you will learn:

So, let’s not waste anymore time and jump right into it.

What’s the Difference Between Rimfire and Centerfire Cartridges?

Rimfire vs. Centerfire. What’s the difference?

That answer all lies within the primer arrangement and firing mechanism.

Take a look at these two cartridges. Can you spot the major differences?

See that circular eye in the center of the cartridge on the left? That’s how you can tell centerfire ammunition apart from rimfire ammunition.

Centerfire cartridges take their name from the physical position of where the firing pin strikes the cartridge to ignite the primer.

Now, these are both spent cartridges–meaning they have already been fired. You can tell by the firing pin indentations left on both. Notice where those indents are though. On the centerfire cartridge, the firing pin struck dead center leaving behind that familiar little dimple. Next, check out the rimfire cartridge. The firing pin has left its mark on the 5 o’clock position of the cartridge rim.

When it comes to rimfire cartridges, they’re pretty clean cut and dry. Firing pin strikes the rim which ignites the primer and propellant thus firing the bullet. But when it comes to centerfire… there are two major options.

  • Centerfire Boxer Primer
    • Boxer Primers only have a single flash hole for ignition purposes.
  • Centerfire Berdan Primer
    • Berdan Primers have two flash holes for ignition purposes.

Let’s check out both centerfire and the rimfire options in action.

A Brief History and Explanation of Rimfire and Centerfire

Now, that you know the differences between Centerfire and Rimfire cartridges… Which one is actually the superior ammunition?

Well, they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The Pros and Cons of Rimfire Cartridges

While most rimfire cartridges aren’t considered “premium ammunition”, they do hold some distinct advantages over centerfire.

Pros of Rimfire Cartridges

They’re cheap.

Rimfire cartridges are much cheaper than centerfire ammunition. And the reason for this is manufacturing cost. It is much more cost effective to create a thin-walled cartridge with a flattened bottom. With lower costs to the manufacturer, the savings are then passed along to the consumer–you.

Ideal for Training

Rimfire makes for great ammunition for beginning marksmen. Because of the lower costs and less materials needed to produce, rimfire ammunition is limited to lower calibers. But that’s ok. A smaller size firearm is great for training beginning shooters due to the lower recoil experienced when firing.

Cons of Rimfire Cartridges

Limited to Small Calibers

As stated before, the construction is limited to smaller firearms. Those with larger caliber firearms are not able to take advantage of the savings given when purchasing ammunition.


Those into reloading their own ammunition will find themselves out of luck with rimfire cartridges. Reloading isn’t possible due to the primer itself being at the bottom edge of the cartridge. Once it’s been fired, it’s officially done. But this is easily offset by the low cost of purchasing rimfire ammo.

Reliability Issues

There is always a greater chance of malfunction when it comes to firing small caliber ammunition. This is due to the manufacturing process–more specifically during the attachment of the primer to the cartridge base. Every now and then, the base distribution is not always perfect. Expect a dud or two when purchasing a box.

Long Distance Shooting Concerns

Due to the lightweight nature of most rimfire ammo, they are not recommend for distance shooting. The longer the distance the bullet has to travel… the more effect outside factors will play into accuracy.

The Pros and Cons of Centerfire Ammunition

Just like rimfire ammo, centerfire cartridges have their own set of positives and negatives.

Pros of Centerfire Cartridges

Centerfire ammo can be supported by all sizes of firearms.

Whereas rimfire can only support smaller calibers, centerfire ammunition can be fitted into all sizes. Making it perfect for every situation from big game hunting to home defense.

It is extremely reliable.

If you are looking for ammunition that will guarantee top functionality, look no further than centerfire cartridges. Because the primer mechanism used in centerfire ammo is normally softer than the cartridge case, this guarantees a smooth transfer of kinetic energy from firing pin to primer.


Centerfire ammo is reloadable. Due to the primer being set above the cartridge base, centerfire ammunition casings are not rendered useless after firing. This gives centerfire ammo a huge advantage over rimfire.

More Accurate at Longer Distances

Centerfire cartridges often carry heavier projectiles. This allows for a more accurate shot at longer distances.

The Major Downfall of Centerfire Ammunition

Centerfire ammunition can be claimed as a superior cartridge style in many respects with one glaring exception.


Centerfire can often outprice rimfire shots many times over. If you’re looking for an expensive trip to the range, centerfire ammo can definitely do that for you.

Rimfire Vs Centerfire Scopes

Did you know that there are different scopes available for rimfire-using firearms?

This has to do with the distance in which you fire rimfire ammo. As explained above, rimfire cartridges are primarily used for short distance shooting. This can pose an issue when sighting through a standard (centerfire) scope.

Rimfire scopes are normally parallax adjusted to 50 yards/meters while Centerfire scopes are adjusted to double that. This can become very critical when shooting short distances or for competition.

Rimfire Vs Centerfire: Which is Better?

While I would love to give you a clear cut answer on the best choice, I can’t.

But here’s what I can say… If you’re looking for the best ammunition for home defense and hunting larger game, it’s centerfire hands down. The reliability, accuracy, and ability to be reloaded makes centerfire ammo my preferred cartridges of choice.

However, I got to give credit to rimfire. If you’re a learning shooter, hunting vermin, or looking to spend some time at the range, rimfire is a great ammunition. It won’t break your bank and can help you to learn the feeling of recoil before moving on to larger caliber firearms.


Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.8 / 5. Vote count: 586

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

About Dave Chesson

Dave Chesson is prior Navy with a specialty in international arms dealing for the US government across multiple countries. Having traveled the world and abided by ATF and ITAR, Roy has a unique background in legal as well as practical capabilities of weapons deployment and use.

Recent Posts