The question of whether you can shoot rimfire ammunition in a centerfire rifle is one we get a lot from gun enthusiasts. And while it may sound like a simple question, the answer is a bit complicated.
Keep reading to learn more about these types of ammo and whether it’s wise to shoot rimfire in a centerfire.
For more reading on rimfire, see our article on the best rimfire scope for 22 rifles.
Can You Shoot Rimfire Ammo in a Centerfire Gun?
We’ll get straight to it – it’s not safe to shoot rimfire ammo in a centerfire rifle. Rimfire ammo is purposely designed for weapons made for that type of cartridge.
Similarly, centerfire rifles are meant to fire centerfire cartridges, which have a different type of ignition system and use a different type of primer than rimfire cartridges.
Trying to shoot a rimfire in a centerfire rifle can damage the gun or injure the shooter and anyone else nearby. We insist that you always use the right type of ammunition for your weapon and follow safety precautions to avoid injuries.
What’s the Difference Between Rimfire and Centerfire Ammunition
The major difference between these types of ammo is in appearance. Centerfire cartridges have a tiny primer or metal at the center of the base of the ammo. It’s what the firing pin strikes to ignite the powder. Rimfire cartridges lack an overt primer.
Another difference is in their ignition systems. In rimfire ammo, the pin strikes the rim of the cartridge to ignite the ammo. In centerfire ammo, the firing pin strikes the primer located at the center of the base of the cartridge.
The diagram below demonstrates how these two cartridges work:
Because these cartridges have different designs and work differently, they should only be fired from weapons designed specifically for them.
What Happens When You Use a Cartridge Not Designed For Your Gun
In many cases, you will find that the wrong cartridge won’t fit into your gun, and you may find it hard to close the bolt. This should be the first indicator that something is wrong.
But let’s say you manage to close the action. This is where things can go very wrong.
First, the ammo might jam in the action, and you’ll be unable to extract it yourself. This will necessitate a trip to the gunsmith.
The other danger concerns your safety and how these ammunitions work. These two types of cartridges have different primer systems.
Rimfire cartridges depend on a thin layer of primer material surrounding the cartridge’s rim to ignite the powder. This material is quite sensitive and needs a light firing pin strike to ignite.
On the other hand, centerfire cartridges use a small primer or metal cap at the base of the cartridge. This primer material isn’t that sensitive. As such, it requires a stronger firing pin strike to ignite.
When you shoot a rimfire cartridge in a centerfire rifle, the firing pin will strike the rimfire cartridge with too much force, causing the primer material to ignite too quickly. Such a reaction can damage the bolt face, firing pin, and barrel. (Reference: Can you shoot rimfire in a centerfire rifle)
For more reading see: how to sight in a rifle scope at 25 yards.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a .22 be centerfire?
A .22 cannot be centerfire as it’s classified as a rimfire cartridge.
Are .22 rifles rimfire or centerfire?
Most .22 rifles are rimfire rifles, meaning they use rimfire cartridges.
Is 22LR always rimfire?
The 22 LR (Long Rifle) is always a rimfire cartridge. Like all rimfire cartridges, the design includes a thin rim of metal surrounding the base of the cartridge.
Is 9mm ammo rimfire or centerfire?
The 9mm ammo is centerfire and not rimfire.
- Scott W. Wagner, Rimfire vs. Centerfire Ammunition. Retrieved from https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/blog/rimfire-vs-centerfire-ammunition/
I have been writing firearms and outdoor material for over 50 years to date. I have hunted across the world, including Russia, and a great deal of time professional hunting in Australia. I currently live in the American West and hunt all across the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains. I have specialized much of my work as a load developer in shotguns and rifles. I have run a small company that builds suppressor barrels of my design and load tests for writing purposes and consulting. My commercial names include Ballistics Research & Development / Metro Gun Systems TM.
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