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What Does Centerfire Mean: Differences Between Rimfire 

Dakota Potts | Updated February 26, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
What does centerfire mean cover photo with a 9mm Luger centerfire bullet

If you’ve heard the words ‘centerfire’ and ‘rimfire’ floating around but have no idea what the difference is, you’re in the right place.

Knowing how to tell them apart and what shooting applications they should be used for is essential to make sure you don’t end up choosing the wrong one. So, let’s dive in.

For more reading see: best 3030 lever action scope.

Key Takeaways

  • Centerfire cartridges have the primer located in the center of the cartridge’s base, ignited by the firearm’s firing pin.
  • Rimfire cartridges have the primer in the rim of the base, making for a different ignition process.
  • Both centerfire and rimfire systems have unique pros and cons, which can determine their suitability for various firearm applications.

How to Tell if Your Rifle Is Centerfire or Rimfire

Side by side image of centerfire and rimfire cartridges

When identifying a rifle’s firing system, it’s essential to differentiate between rimfire and centerfire. They are the two primary ammunition classifications, and to tell the difference, you simply need to focus on two key aspects: the firing pin and the primer.

Let’s examine the firing pin first. On centerfire weapons, it’s situated right in the center of the breechblock. Meanwhile, rimfire rifles sport an offset firing pin located on one side.

Image of the base of a centerfire and rimfire ammunition

Next, take a look at the primer. When it comes to centerfire cartridges, they possess a primer right at the core of the casing’s rear side. This central positioning allows the firing pin of the firearm to strike the primer, igniting the propellant and sending the projectile down the barrel. 

In contrast, rimfire cartridges have a priming compound circling the casing’s rim and are ignited by the firing pin striking the rim.

These are the basics for telling if a rifle is centerfire or rimfire, to keep it short and simple.

“It has always been sensible for good citizens to own and carry firearms for lawful protection against violent criminals who prey on decent people.”

Wayne LaPierre

Rimfire vs Centerfire Pros and Cons

Rimfire and centerfire are two types of ammunition with very distinct differences. So, let’s explore their pros and cons.

Centerfire Pros:

  • Reliable: The centrally-located primer provides consistent ignition.
  • Powerful: Centerfire cartridges are available in a wide range of calibers and power levels. In a rimfire vs centerfire for hunting debate, this cartridge is usually the winner.
  • Reloadable: The robust casing can be reloaded, potentially offsetting the higher cost.
  • Versatile: Suitable for a range of applications, from self-defense to large game hunting.

Centerfire Cons:

  • More expensive: Generally, centerfire ammo is more costly than rimfire.
  • Not always ideal for beginners: The higher power can make centerfire cartridges less suitable for novice shooters.
  • Costs can add up: For high-volume shooters, the cost of centerfire rounds can quickly add up, even with the option to reload.
Product image of several centerfire ammunition

Rimfire Pros:

  • Less expensive: Rimfire ammo is usually cheaper, making it ideal for practice shooting and plinking.
  • Ideal for training: Due to its lower power and lesser recoil, it’s great for beginners and target shooting.
  • Excellent for small game: The .22 LR, a classic rimfire cartridge, is widely used for small game hunting.

Rimfire Cons:

  • Non-reloadable: The thin casing of rimfire ammunition can’t withstand multiple firings.
  • Less reliable: The firing pin may miss the primer, leading to a failure to fire.
  • Lower power: Not suitable for large game hunting or self-defense due to lower stopping power.
Product image of rimfire ammunition

Is 9mm Centerfire or Rimfire?

The 9mm cartridge is a popular and widely used ammunition type. It falls under the category of centerfire ammunition. This is because the primer, which is what ignites the gunpowder, is located in the center of the cartridge base.

In the case of rimfire cartridges, the primer is distributed around the rim of the cartridge base.

A common example of rimfire ammunition is the .22 caliber cartridge. Most .22 caliber firearms, including pistols and rifles, use rimfire ammunition. 

But before you ask, “Are all 22 rimfire?” know that not all .22 caliber cartridges are rimfire, but most are.

Image of .22mm caliber cartridge

In contrast, centerfire ammunition is more prevalent in larger caliber firearms. The 9mm cartridge is a prime example of centerfire ammunition. This type of ammo is commonly used in handguns and in various rifles.

So, if you’re deciding between a rimfire vs centerfire pistol, consider the power you require and the application you’ll most often be using your pistol in.

Now, using the correct ammunition type is crucial for firearm safety and performance. So, to answer the question: “Are rimfire and centerfire interchangeable?” No, they are not. Firearms are designed for a particular type of ammunition, and using the wrong one can be dangerous.

Fun Fact

A hunting dog is a canine that hunts with or for humans. Source: justfunfacts.com

So, distinguishing between centerfire and rimfire is essential. Always check the base of the cartridge and consult your firearm’s user manual to make sure you use the appropriate ammunition for your gun.

In a nutshell, the 9mm cartridge is centerfire, not rimfire. Meanwhile, most .22 caliber firearms use rimfire ammunition.

Rimfire vs Centerfire

So, which one should you choose? 

Image of several centerfire and rimfire cartridges of different brands

Rimfire Cartridge

Rimfire ammunition is commonly found in .17, .20, and .22 calibers. It’s generally less powerful and more affordable than centerfire ammo, making it popular for target shooting and small game hunting.

The downside? Rimfire cases are not reloadable. They’re too thin to withstand multiple firings. Plus, they can be less reliable. The firing pin might miss the primed part of the rim.

“On a local level, hunters in states around the country have provided billions of dollars for conservation efforts. Money collected from hunting license sales, taxes on ammunition and firearms and other hunting equipment often goes directly to properly maintaining land and conservation efforts.”

Katie Pavlich

Recoil is another factor to consider. Rimfire rounds have lighter recoil, making them great for beginners. Centerfire rounds, on the other hand, can have more recoil, depending on the caliber.

So, if you’re looking for a more cost-effective cartridge and don’t need as much of a punch behind the bullet, then getting rimfire is definitely a good choice.

Centerfire Cartridge

Image of centerfire cartridges inside a box

So, what is centerfire? 

Well, it’s a cartridge that is consistent. Reliable. The firing pin always knows where to hit. 

Centerfire ammunition is also versatile. It’s used in small and large-caliber firearms, and it’s powerful. More so than rimfire. It’s ideal for self-defense and great for hunting large game.

The cases are also thick and robust, and they can be reloaded. This can offset the higher cost of centerfire cartridges.

When it comes to hunting, a centerfire gun is often the go-to choice. It offers better stopping power and accuracy. It’s also the most common type of ammunition for rifles, handguns, and shotguns. That said, rimfire can be effective for small game hunting.

For self-defense, centerfire is typically deemed more suitable. The increased stopping power and reliability give it the edge.

So, rimfire or centerfire cartridge? It depends on your needs. Whether that’s training, competition, hunting, or defense, either way, always use the correct ammunition for your firearm.

For more reading see our guide to how far a centerfire bullet can travel without dropping.


What is the difference between centerfire and ammunition?

The difference between ammunition and centerfire is that ammunition refers to the entire cartridge, which includes the bullet, casing, primer, and powder. Centerfire is a type of ammunition that has its primer located at the center of the cartridge base, which is ignited by a firing pin strike.

What does centerfire mean on a rifle?

If centerfire is mentioned when talking about rifles, it means the firearm utilizes centerfire cartridges. These cartridges have a primer in the center of the cartridge base that is struck by the firing pin.

What is the difference between a centerfire and rimfire?

The main difference between centerfire and rimfire lies in the location and design of the primer within the cartridge. In centerfire cartridges, the primer is at the center of the cartridge base, while rimfire cartridges have their priming compound inside the rim of the cartridge base.

What is better centerfire or rimfire?

Both centerfire and rimfire have their own pros and cons. Centerfire cartridges are often preferred for their reliability and reusability. On the other hand, rimfire cartridges may be ideal for those looking for affordability and lower recoil. 

Ultimately, the choice between centerfire and rimfire depends on the shooter’s preferences, intended use, and personal comfort.

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