Rimfire vs. Centerfire Ammunition

In this post, we’re looking at the differences and the revolution of both rimfire and centerfire ammunition. From .22LR to .223, we compare and contrast rimfire vs. centerfire. Let’s get started.

rimfire vs. centerfire

Rimfire cartridges are among the first self-contained cartridges ever commercially available, and after black powder perhaps the longest used firearms munitions.  Since the mid 19th century rimfires have been on the cutting edge of firearms design, and that is no different today in the 21st century.

Recent calibers such as the .17 HMR achieve staggering velocities in excess of 2500 feet per second and over 200 foot pounds of energy making it a very potent varmint caliber indeed.  The 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) is a little slower but has slightly heavier bullet reaching around 2000 fps and 300 ftlbs, encouraging several arms manufacturer to market it as a contending self defense caliber limited only by the diameter of the wound channel.  All this raises the question of whether or not centerfire cartridges, with their increased mass, recoil, noise and price, are somewhat superfluous for the purposes of target and small game.

First, a bit of the obvious: centerfire cartridges are called that because the primer that ignites the powder in the case is located in the center of the case’s rear.  Rimfires have the primer compound inserted into the rim of the case’s base with centrifugal force.

Centerfire technology offers a greater variety of calibers from which to discover that perfect round, and let’s be honest: sometimes size DOES matter and centerfire delivers.  But rimfire has long standing marketability, and the primary reason behind that would probably have to be cost.  While gone are the days of half penny priced rounds, the .22 LR is still the cheapest ammo out there to shoot.  Prices increase for the more potent RF calibers, but fifty rounds are still in the comfortable price labels.

There is something of a paradox here since even though the .22LR is cheapest shot for shot than anything else out there (besides pellets), it is also the most complicated to manufacture and most prone to misfires: even high quality ammo may have a 1% failure to fire first try.  This is because of the extra step of getting the primers into the rims by spinning the cases and the fact that it does not always get the entire circumference of the rim: reloading and hitting a different side usually fixes the problem.  Yet it is because of the fact that each finished round uses a fraction of materials of centerfire rounds – both in mass of raw materials and in thinness of the case to allow crimping of the rim at ignition – that consumer costs are balanced out.

Cost of rounds is just one side of shooting: when using your firearm for defense, even with substantial penetration capabilities, rimfire rounds will always be handicapped by their small diameter and relatively stable ballistic coefficient – they are designed for accuracy, after all.  Proponents of the RF for defense are quick to point out that what the rimfires lack in stopping power they make up for in quantity.  Certainly they are better than throwing rocks, it is decidedly in defense where rimfires are left in the shallow end of the pool.  Presentation and firing of a firearm may deter an assailant, but one who is intent on harm will need precisely placed shot to be involuntarily deterred.

For target shooting and training, however, .22LR cannot be beat.  For most small game, the more potent rimfires are wonderfully suited to the purpose.  The cure all for firearms usage, however, they are not.  When effective shots matter against motivated attackers, rimfires will lose to centerfires every-time.  Don’t discount them yet, rimfires have kept shooters merrily making small piles of spent brass for generations, there’s no reason that will stop anytime soon.