Difference between rimfire and centerfire scopes

When searching for just the right scope for you newest little hotrod rimfire you will quickly discover that there are certain scopes designated as being rimfire scopes and then there are scopes for everything else.

The first difference you will notice when comparing a scope that is specifically designed for rimfire rifles and another designed for center fire, is the price. Rimfire scopes in general are much cheaper. There are reasons for this.

Rimfire scopes are made of cheaper materials

Rimfire scopes are usually made of cheaper materials intentionally to keep the cost as low as possible. The manufacturer does this in order to remain competitive in the rimfire scope market place.

This is not to say that there aren’t quality rimfire scopes available because all of them are so low in price. Maybe a better term is they are built from “less expensive” components. All manufacturers design their products for a specific purpose. Rimfire scopes are designed and built to accomodate the needs of an average rimfire shooter which are small game size targets at less than 75 yards or less.

For this purpose, most of them fit the bill quite well as long as it is used on a rimfire rifle with a very small amount or no recoil. These scopes were not designed for the recoil from large centerfire rifles and probably won’t hold together if you attempt to use in that way. It probably won’t last long or at all on a 50 bmg, but on a rimfire, it might last a lifetime and provide the shooter with reasonable accuracy at short to medium range.

When purchasing a rimfire scope you are trading the ability to use it on high recoil firearms, and sometimes, repeatability even when used on rimfires for a lower price. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you realize the trade off up front before you purchase.

Limitations of the rimfire round

Due to the limitations of the round, a 22 lr for example, shooting distance is typically very short, around 50 yards maximum for the average shooter. Although this round is capable of killing out to at least 400 yards, and hitting a properly sized target consistently in a low wind condition, the average shooter won’t shoot a lot past 50 – 75 yards.

For this reason, most rimfire scopes won’t have a parallax adjustment. They will have a fixed setting from the factory at either 50 or 75 yards usually. At shorter distances and larger targets, parallax really has little affect on accuracy, but at long and extreme ranges it can make the difference in hitting your target or missing altogether.

Also, for the same reasons discussed above, most rimfire scopes won’t external windage and elevation knobs or hold over reticles.


For the reasons discussed above most rimfire scopes will have a lower range of magnification. Most will be in the range of 2x to 9x with the most popular being a variable power 3x-9x. In addition to rimfire scopes, many center fire hunting scopes are produced with this range.

This is because most of their customers are hunters. shooters / hunters will take their game at 80 yards or less One of the best scopes made specifically for rimfires and the average shooters needs is the Nikon Prostaff Rimfire scope pictured below. These scopes serve the average shooters needs well. The parallax is set at the factory at 75 yards and the magnification is a variable 3-9 power with a 40 mm objective.

If you intend to really stretch your rimfire out to 200 plus yards , don’t buy a rimfire scope. You are going to need a scope that let’s you clearly see where your cross hairs intersect the target at the longer range A 4 inch clay pigeon for instance allows easy centering of the crosshairs when on 9x at 50 yards, but that target will look like a tiny little dot at 200 yards on 9x and could be covered completely depending on the reticle you have.

For more information on how to pick a good rimfire long range scope, read this article I wrote a few months ago. It will go into more detail on the requirements of shooting long range with a rimfire.

Glass clarity

For the same reasons discussed above, rimfire scopes typically won’t have exceptional, or in some cases, acceptable lense clarity. I have seen the different brands range from fair to looking like your target is in a London fog at 200 yards. Again, this all has to do with price. You get what you pay for, especially when you are talking about glass quality.

If you are convinced that the rimfire scope will serve your needs because you won’t be shooting more than 75 yards at tiny little targets like golf balls and most of your shooting will be during prime daylight hours, not low light conditions around dusk or dawn, I would recommend either the Nikon pictured above, or one of the two scopes pictured below.

Nikon Prostaff 4-12×40

This scope has exceptional clarity out to 200 yards for the price. With a variable 4-12 magnification it can certainly be used for precision inside 100 yards. I own this scope and have it mounted on a standard Ruger 10/22. I use it to eliminate pests around the deer camp and it is very effective in this use. You can pick it up from Amazon for around $140.

Bushnell Optics 3-9X40 3 Bdc Turrets Side Focus Box

This one is the top of the line in my opinion for rimfire scopes. It does sport a parallax adjustment along with switchable bullet drop compensation turrets for different rimfire calibers.

The clarity is surprisingly clear but still has only a 3-9 variable magnification range with a 40 mm objective which should allow it to do good job in low light conditions. I don’t own this one yet but was able to try it at the range last week. I will be ordering one of these for the next rifle I buy that only has a need for a maximum 9x magnification.


A rimfire scope will be your cheapest path to scope your rimfire rifle and will be fine as long as you don’t plan to shoot long range or do precision shooting even at short range. You can install one of the scopes recommended above and it should serve you well for a lifetime if cared for appropriately.

On the other hand, if you can afford a little more, I highly recommend going with a scope than can be transferred to a larger caliber center if desired and allow accurate or precision shooting at any range out to 400 yards.

The Athlon Ares line is a good fit for these purposes and still relatively cheap compared to the upper echelon of long range rifle scopes. They offer magnification ranges as high as 6-24x and higher with super clear clarity for a price that is only slightly over $300. They have been proven on high recoil weapons over and over again so they will last a lifetime on a rimfire rifle. Check them out here on Amazon.

I have written an article detailing my top 3 recommendations for scopes that are more than reasonably priced but still give you all of the features found on 4 figure scopes. For a few dollars more you will have an investment that will last a lifetime, can be easily changed to any of your rifles, even centerfires, and will give you the ability to shoot your little rimfire much better for a lot more fun. Check out that article here.