Snap Caps: Training Anywhere, Anytime for Anyone

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Beginner or advanced shooter, incorporating dry fire in training can help us improve. There is the potential that we can damage our guns with excessive dry firing on empty chambers, though. Snap caps are inert rounds that remove the risks by providing a variety of soft-plexi or spring-buffered primers for the firing pin to strike. They allow us to practice actual trigger pull, as well as adding the realism of trigger pull to safed-gun practice.

There are all kinds of benefits to that practice.

For some, the reductions in time versus gathering range supplies, going somewhere (anywhere, backyard to driving), and then cleaning firearms are reason enough to embrace dry-fire practice. Skipping out on inclement weather also has its appeal.

For others, the greatest motivator is the one-time investment of $10-30 versus replacing ammo or more expensive laser systems, and lowered or eliminated range fees.

The benefits get bigger when we consider how many are restricted to static square ranges with little opportunity to practice shooting across a wider spread and variety of ranges, at actual self-defense contact distances, with movement, drawing from holsters at all (let alone sitting), and transitioning between primary long gun and sidearm.

Snap caps are also huge in fine-tuning fundamentals like trigger pull, improving sight and target acquisition, first-last shot drills, and clearing skills.

They’re a longtime go-to for training truly random and self-diagnosed immediate and remedial action drills, and fixing various “flinch” habits.

At some point, we do need to hit the ranges and get our barrels dirty, but for most of our development and maintenance training, dry fire can be hugely beneficial, to everyone.

Snap caps increase that, allowing us to work with our real guns, the weight and actual trigger pull of the firearm we’ll be handling when we need it, in the conditions where we’ll use it.

Snap Caps & Lookalikes

Snap caps aren’t expensive, so if we have to replace them, no big deal, but some snap caps look like some types of specialty rounds.

Some of those specialty loads are hollow or solid-cell primer-only rubber and poly bullets, and might only wreck a TV or crack the window instead of passing through a wall and hitting a living being.

However, some of them are actually just lead with a poly- and powder-sheathing that serves a variety of purposes. They have the same ballistics as “real” ammunition because they are “real” ammunition.

Images: Snap caps, rubber-bullet ammo, poly-jacketed live ammo, and powder-coated live ammo…Mixing these things is how bad things happen.

Don’t let the potential “eek” scare you off. Just be aware of what you have, so you can adjust if anything presents a challenge to safety.

That said, some safety steps to abide by…

1 – SNAP CAP TIME IS RANGE/CLASS TIME

We treat it as such, taking the same precautionary measures we would cleaning a firearm, passing it back and forth to buddies or at a class, military range style checks for live ammo, etc.  

2 – SCRUB LIVE AMMO FROM THE AREA

To prevent any possible accidents, we follow NRA classroom rules and leave live ammo somewhere else.

Somewhere way else. 

Live ammo shouldn’t be anywhere close to us, anywhere within reach where there is any chance of human error – ours or another’s – that could lead to snagging what we think is a safe round/mag that’s actually hot.

 (The same holds true of primer-only rubber shot we use for practice in low-noise and backyard “baby” backstop situations – don’t even have “real” ammo in the same range bag or table.)

3 – MIXED MAGS GET LIVE AMMO AS THE LAST ROUND LOADED

That puts a “real” round at the top, readily visible. It’s an instant indicator that this is not a mag of safety rounds. There is no way we can look at that magazine, see red/orange/blue, and think it’s a snap-cap mag that’s safe.

*The exception to this takes place at the live-fire range. When we want dummies/snaps as the first rounds in a mag to generates an immediate fail after a mag change, just leave those mags 1-2 shy so we can top them off right before they go into the pool. Again: Until the very last moment before starting the evolution, that mag shows a live round. 

4 – DON’T MIX MIXED MAGS & OTHER MAGS

Even in the loading and storage stage, keep them separate.

There are absolutely times in live-fire that we will pepper dummies through some mags (or slides/speed loaders) while also having mags that are all standard-power or rubber-range rounds. That mixing also takes place right before the evolution starts. 

Otherwise, we’re inviting a very problematic situation.

We either grab a snap-cap round for indoor/home practice and it goes bang instead of click, or we grab a mag for self-defense and it goes click instead of bang. Both are a good way to have a bad day.

Images: Weighted, sealed shotgun snap caps, live ammo, & the amount of shell visible in some sidesaddles

If we want to pre-load mags for the range, that’s fine. Fill the mixed mags and immediately stick them in holey socks or a Tupperware tub to keep them separate and distinct so there is no chance whatsoever that we grab them instead of a snap-cap mag or a “real” mag in the interim.

Have similar individual containers/bags for live-only and dummy-only loads.

Press Checks

A press check is drawing a slide juuuuust enough to ensure that a round is loaded and seated. With some semi-autos, we can use a similar partial draw to re-cock without ejecting our snap caps if all we’re working on is trigger pull.

It doesn’t lessen the interruption aspect (coming out of position with every shot because snap caps won’t cycle the action), but it does let us spend more time practicing and less time chasing down the ejected snap caps.

*We always want to be aware of training ourselves into bad habits. If we mostly practice mod’d press checks, that muscle memory will stick. End each session with some mag changes, first-last shot drills, and immediate and remedial action to fully embed the firmer, full motions we’re going for in real life.

Trigger Pull & Flinching Fixers

Trigger pull hugely affects our accuracy, and is one of the easiest things to fine tune without actual range time and in odd spare moments, requiring nothing but the gun and our triple-checked snap caps.

There is a reason the military spends so much time snapping in to train shooters. There are all kinds of aids we can add, but just getting in good, solid practice – staying aware of finger placement, draw, and the sight picture through the whole pull – helps hugely.

Dry fire can also help us master interrupted/delayed trigger pulls, and coming off the trigger without firing. While that’s usually more of a factor in hunting, pest control, and over watch positions than it is personal self-defense shooting, it’s not a bad one to periodically get in there for everyone.

Dry-fire work and having snap caps interspersed in live-fire practice (randomly and heavily) also helps embed/regain solid muscle memory to eliminate the problem if we periodically demonstrate the side effects of anticipating shots and recoil.

Double-Down for Failure Drills

Another fabulous use of snap caps is instilling responses for immediate and remedial action, and instilling them more effectively by being cued by our own machine, not a call. To generate the failures, we randomly stick a snap cap in some of our mags.

Instead of working just one snap cap at a time, up the training another notch by throwing 2-3 in a row in half or a quarter of the time.

Doing so prompts us to not habitually rely on tap-rack-bang or just racking the slide, but to move on to the more elaborate fixes that might be required.

This is where periodically having the first 1-2 in a mixed mag be snap caps can be a super-duper training aid, especially if they’re one of the lookalikes that reduces the chance we recognize the dummies as we change mags.

It presents the scenario where something is wrong-wrong with our platform – which we recognize because we experience a consecutive additional failure off our fresh mag after sling-shotting/tap-rack-bang’ing the former mag. We need to switch platforms or find cover and figure out what’s going on and fix it so we can get back to work.

Again, the random nature and having the machine cue us, not a call or timer, is invaluable in instilling real muscle memory and assessment.

Double-Down for Awareness Training, Too

Muzzle awareness is one of the trickiest things to get into heads when we’re working real-life situations. A lot of shooters lose awareness and don’t think about ways to mitigate exposure in drawing and mag changes, leave fingers in trigger wells, and are flagging others with a “hot” gun and lazy finger as they return to engagement.

Putting multiple snap caps in a row in a mixed mag gives us an extra chance to really evaluate (or retrain if we caught an “oops”), even by ourselves.

Solid Practice

Snap caps make it possible to realistically practice things like transitioning between primary firearm and sidearm, faster target acquisition, and room and house clearing even if we don’t have access to outdoor ranges, when time is crunched, when weather makes it unsafe, and when we don’t want to burn ammo.

They’re also ideal for people who are just getting used to wear-and-carry or concealed carry, and adjusting to different carries, to include figuring out all the mundane daily tasks like going potty and getting in and out of vehicles without snags.

Don’t slough off because it’s “just” snap caps, though.

Wear the clothing and gear we would be, mock up a driver’s seat with a cardboard box steering wheel and window for comfort checks and realistic drawing and target acquisition, and maintain awareness of what’s beyond the target.

Consider the real-world applications, which may mean practicing multiple ready positions and procedures that account for times we’re alone and for times something is occupying our support hand or moving with us (like a child, a leashed dog, or light). Practice the habits of seeking cover and staying in your “work space”, and maintain good safety and fundamentals.

As with most things, we get out of training what we put into it. Snap caps just let us get that training in pretty much anywhere, anytime.

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