Rimfire vs Centerfire Cartridges: How to Choose

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Guns have played an important part in the evolution of warfare across the globe. Apart from being highly dangerous, these are a modern engineering marvel.

There are people who devote their entire lives to guns and ammunition. The idea of owning a gun can be alluring and fascinating.

However, there are certain things one must keep in mind before purchasing one. Choosing between different types of ammunition, priming compound, level of recoil, and different caliber weapons can be draining.

Aspiring gun owners [1] and shooters are often faced with the dilemma of choosing between the two most popular cartridge types – a rimfire vs centerfire cartridge. Both are designed for specific uses and meant for certain occasions.

In this article, we dive into the differences between the two. If you are also wondering which one would be best suited for you, read on.

Rimfire vs Centerfire Cartridges

How Guns Shoot

To understand the difference between rimfire vs centerfire, we must first understand how a gun works.

We first start with the difference between a cartridge and a bullet. A cartridge is the firing piece you buy from the store, while a bullet is a component of a cartridge that is ejected on firing. A cartridge has four main components:

  • Primer (either Berdan primers or Boxer primers)
  • Propellant (priming powder)
  • Bullet
  • Casing

When you fire your ammunition, the firing pin hits the primer which, in turn, ignites the propellant (gun powder), thus making it explode, leading to the expulsion of the front part – the bullet. The expulsion of the bullet completes the shooting process.

The primary difference between a rimfire vs centerfire ammo is the location of the primer. A primer is responsible for igniting the ignition compound inside the cartridge.

The names of the two cartridges represent the location of the primer (at the center or the rim). Centerfire cartridges come with two kinds of primers – Berdan and Boxer.[2]

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Differences

Coming to the meat of it all, what really separates the two models? Let’s draw a comparison between rimfire and centerfire across the most important parameters.

Rimfire bullets

Appearance

The basic difference between a rimfire vs centerfire cartridge can be spotted by looking at the back of both cartridges. Centerfire ammo has its primer at the center in the back of the metal cartridge.

If you look at the back, you can identify a hole that enables the firing pin to hit the primer. A centerfire-based gun uses a thicker cartridge and larger bullets.

A rimfire cartridge, on the other hand, has a thin wall that enables the primer to be struck by the firing pin easily. When you look at its spent cartridge you can easily see firing pin marks on the casing where it was struck.

Working Principle

Centerfire ammunition gets its name from its operating mechanism which is based on the position of the primer. When fired, the firing pin hits the center of the cartridge base. When struck, the primer and the propellant ignites, enabling a gunshot.

In rimfire rounds, the firing pin hits the cartridge rim, which in turn activates the primer and the gunpowder (propellant) to launch the bullet.

Price Difference

Rimfire rounds are cheaper compared to centerfire ammo. The manufacturing costs of rimfire rounds are lower, owing to their basic design. They only need a thinner wall as an addition.

On the other hand, centerfire rounds are quite expensive. This is due to a large amount of copper used in its manufacturing. Also, centerfire gunpowder is of a superior quality, which goes on to add to the cost of ammunition.

Rimfire vs Centerfire Uses

The firepower needed to carry out the work dictates the type of ammo to be used. Centerfire is more powerful than rimfire ammunition since the firing pin strikes the primer directly. When the firing pin hits the rim of the rimfire some energy is lost leading to lower energy released.

Centerfire bullets

Where Rimfires Are Used

Training Gun

Rimfire ammunition is a perfect training tool for people who wish to become well-versed in firearms and shooting. The low energy released while firing a rimfire gun leads to a subdued recoil.[3] Rimfires use smaller caliber bullets which are ideal for a beginner, owing to a better grip.

Older People

As we grow older, we do not want to spend a lot of physical energy. However, the elderly who hunt or enjoy sport shooting can use the rimfire, due to their lightweight and ease of handling. Rimfires may not be as big as the centerfires but they, too, can be used as self-defense weapons.

Hunting

Being the ideal beginner gun, rimfires are the most common guns used in hunting. From small to large game, there are rimfire rifles suited for each activity. Inexperienced hunters can use this to sharpen their skills before they lay their hands on centerfire rifles.

Hunting with center fire

Self-Defense

Due to thinner rims, rimfire cartridges are cheaper compared to centerfires, thus drawing a large number of people who use them for self-defense. Although they are not as powerful as centerfires, having one is better than not having a gun at all.

Uses of Centerfire

Hunting

Unlike rimfires, owners of a centerfire gun can comfortably hunt deer without fear that they may escape. Once shot, the bullet inflicts a deep injury making the capture immobile. Thus, these guns are ideal for plinking & hunting.

Military

Due to their high reliability, they are used by members of the police force and the military. They are ideal for rough handling and less susceptible to accidental firings, unlike rimfire calibers.

These metallic cartridges come in all sizes making the bigger sizes and pistols ideal for several police divisions. Using large-caliber rimfires would require more priming explosives as compared to centerfires.

Sport Shooting

Pro shooting sports events prefer to use centerfires due to their compatibility with distance shooting. Having mastered the art of handling firearms, pro shooters find these guns more comfortable to shoot with, making them a popular choice for longer competition.

Why Choose Rimfire

Cheaper

It is cheaper to purchase a rimfire gun since its base rim is thinner. The manufacturing process leads to a lower cost, the benefit of which is passed on to the customers.

While older versions of the cartridge used black powder, modern rimfire ammo manufacturers prefer smokeless powder, which makes the cartridge both light and cheap.

Training

Training with rimfire ammo is more comfortable and cost-effective compared to centerfires. The cheap cost of acquiring the ammunition enables one to train without the fear of draining their pockets. With a lack of recoil, it is easier to handle the firearm while training.

Antiques

If looking for older model guns, look no further. Rimfire ammo is some of the oldest models and they are still available in stores. You can purchase them as part of your antique gun collection.

Disadvantages of Rimfire

More Likely to Fail

Rimfires are essentially a technology of the past, thus they often come with manufacturing defects. At times the primer may not be in contact with the casing rim when the firing pin hits the round it blanks or fails to detonate. Thus, a rimfire might lead to dud rounds.

Low Availability

Fewer rimfires are being produced due to their dwindling demand as more people prefer more powerful guns. As a result, it is becoming harder to find them.

Non-Reloadable

Once shot, the cartridge cannot be reused due to the position of the primer.  The shooting weakens the shell making it unsuitable for another shot. However, this has been taken care of by the ammunitions’ low cost.

Why Choose Centerfire

All-Size Firearms

You can get centerfires in any size from rifles to pistols, revolvers, and shotguns which makes them the ideal choice for most tasks. Their high energy production makes them viable for rifle and shotgun production.

Highly Reliable

Centerfire ammo rarely fails when shooting, making them reliable. The centerfire design involves having the primer at the middle as a protrusion of the cartridge walls where it is struck by the firing pin lowering the possibility of failure.

Reloadable

Centerfire ammunition causes little to no damage to the casing. You can fit the primer back in the cartridge and the propellant making the cartridge usable. You can reload once you shoot which makes your investment worth it.

Long Distance

You can shoot objects further away by using larger cartridges. These centerfire guns allow you to have an edge while game hunting or participating in long-range shooting sports.

Disadvantages of Centerfire

Cost

The cost of a centerfire cartridge is higher. Being heavier than the small caliber rimfire and owing to its complex cartridge design, quality gunpowder,[4] and high powder load, it uses more manufacturing resources.

Final Thoughts

Modern gun shops and gun manufacturers are inclined towards centerfire ammunition due to its distinct advantages. The majority of cartridges nowadays are centerfire, but that doesn’t mean that the rimfire design is of little utility.

Choosing one between the two types of ammo depends on your intended usage and budget. If you wish to indulge in pleasure short-range shooting and do not want to spend a lot on guns, rimfire firearms can be an ideal option.

Although these are cheap, they are slowly becoming a thing of the past.

On the other hand, if you desire more precision and professionalism in your shooting getaways, you can definitely try your hand on centerfire ammo.

They are more accurate for distance shooting and easy to find. You can indulge in larger and powerful rounds of shooting. However, you might have to spend a little more on this luxury.

We hope the above-detailed guide has settled the debate of rimfire vs centerfire!

Resources

  1. https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/gun-ownership.html
  2. https://www.ammunitiontogo.com/lodge/boxer-vs-berdan-primers
  3. https://www.engagevirtualrange.com/blog/gun-recoil
  4. https://www.starlinebrass.com/articles/black-powder-vs-smokeless-powder-comparing-gunpowder-types/

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