Rifle Ammunition 101

There are many different types of rifle ammunition, with an equally wide range of uses. Whether hunting small game, large game, or target shooting, it’s a good idea to understand the very basics of rifle ammo before making a purchase.

Rimfire vs. Centerfire

There are two different kinds of cartridges: rimfire and centerfire.

●     Rimfire cartridges are extremely affordable, but cannot be reloaded. Rimfire ammo detonates by being struck on the edge. The most common rimfire cartridges are .22s, which leave the barrel at around 1,200 feet per second and are accurate to around 100 yards, depending on the firearm.

●     Centerfire ammo detonates when the back center primer is struck. Cartridges are reloadable by punching out the detonated primer and replacing it. Centerfire cartridges are more expensive, though price varies depending on caliber. Centerfire cartridges are faster (2,000 feet per second) and more powerful, offering greater range and better performance over rimfire cartridges.


The smallest cartridges (.17s and .22s) are rimfire while the larger calibers typically are centerfire. Smaller cartridges are preferred for small game and target practice; larger caliber are best for heavy game.

Some famous cartridges

There are a few specific well-known rifle ammunition types. If cartridges could be celebrities, these projectiles would be blasting the red carpet:

●      .17 HMR: This varmint rimfire cartridge is ideal for use in in shooting smaller species, with a MPBR of about 160 yards and hits up to about 200 yards. The .17 HMR combines a .17 caliber bullet with a .22 case, resulting in shots that have high muzzle velocity and flat trajectory for highly lethal long-range shots. The .17 HMR is considered by many to be the most accurate rimfire cartridge available. Popular .17 varmint rifle models include:

●     The Savage 93R17-BVSS rifle

●     Henry .17 HMR Varmint Express Rifle

●     The Marlin 917VS rifle

●     The Ruger 77/17VMBBZ rifle

●     .22 LR: This popular long rifle cartridge outsells all the other rifle ammo in the world. It’s perfect for hunting small game, and is also the cartridge used most often for formal target shooting. Rifle models which take .22 shells are equally common. Some popular examples include:

●     Marlin model 60

●     Ruger 10/22

●     Henry Lever Action

For centerfire, a Stevens might be a good choice, and older model (pre-1970s) Winchester, Remington, or Marlin are all reliable options.

●     .30-30 Winchester: The .30-30 is hailed by many hunting enthusiasts as one of the all around best cartridges for hunting big game, when long range cartridges aren’t needed. The .30-30 is perfect for two of the most popular rifles in the world: the Marlin Model 336 and the Winchester Model 94. These lever action rifles are great either for brush country hunting or the woods, out to roughly 225 yards.

A word for beginners

Finally, tor those just starting out, versatility should be considered. Some types of rifle ammunition (most notably the .22) can be used in either hand guns or rifles, making that caliber rifle ammunition one of the most economical investments, perfect for starting out on targets and progressing to small game.