By now, you’ve likely heard of a variety of different training tools that can be useful for safe dry-fire and/or live-fire practice. One popular item is the snap cap or dummy round. These typically colorful, relatively inexpensive tools are often used to aid firearms safety training, to conduct function checks, to assist with malfunction practice or to help folks who struggle with flinching (or anticipating recoil) and need to focus on a smooth trigger press.

Of course, while the terms snap cap and dummy round are often used interchangeably, there is actually a difference between these two types of “fake ammo.” So, if you are a stickler for the right word, or if you just want to be in the know, keep reading so you can be the most knowledgeable person in the room if these inert tools become a topic of discussion.

Snap Caps

The word snap cap was a trademarked name, but it has become a generalized term for a plastic or metal object, usually made to be the same size, shape and weight as a live round of ammunition. The difference, however, is that snap caps do not have primers, powder or projectiles. They are designed to be nonfunctional replicas. Snap caps can be used in magazines and loaded into the chamber of a firearm. Most importantly, because of their specific design, snap caps can help protect firearms during dry-fire practice by absorbing the impact of the firing pin. Some snap caps even feature a false primer made of rubber or polymer or one that is spring loaded/buffered. (NOTE: Be sure to check the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website to ensure that dry-fire practice is safe with your firearm.)

Dummy Rounds

Dummy rounds are not specifically intended for dry-firing. The reason is because while these plastic or metal objects may look like a training round, in most cases, they are not designed to absorb impact from the firing pin. In fact, some dummy rounds are handmade by removing the primer and the powder charge from a real cartridge. (Be warned that this could be confusing or potentially unsafe, since fake ammo typically has a bright or unusual color so it stands out as being just that — FAKE! You don’t want to load a dummy round when you need a live round … or load a live one when you need one that’s fake.) All in all, dummy rounds are often used to teach and practice loading and unloading magazines and to teach and practice loading, unloading and clearing a gun.

‘Fake Ammo’ in Use: Drills with Snap Caps and Dummy Rounds

Since using snap caps or dummy rounds can help hone your skills without the inherent risks associated with live ammunition, here are three pretty common practice drills you can try to improve your proficiency. Remember, safety should always be top priority when conducting firearms training, even with inert ammunition. So be sure to follow all safety rules and proper gun-handling procedures.

  • Reload Drill: Load a few magazines with dummy rounds. Start with an empty firearm and simulate both emergency and tactical reloads. Time yourself and strive to improve your speed and efficiency with each repetition. Pay close attention to proper magazine seating, slide manipulation and maintaining situational awareness during the reload process. (This drill can be done at home with dry-fire practice. Just be sure to select a safe training area and a safe direction and clear your training area of any live ammunition.)
  • Malfunction Drill: This drill can help build confidence and competence in dealing with unexpected firearm issues. Load a magazine with a mixture of snap caps along with live ammunition. As you shoot and get a “click” rather than a “bang,” practice clearing the ammo malfunction with a tap-rack-roll. (Forcefully tap the magazine to ensure it’s seated properly and fully rack the slide, while rolling the gun slightly to the side to eject the bad round.) You can also purposely induce malfunctions such as stovepipes or double feeds. For double feeds, clear the malfunction with a rip-rack-reload. (Forcefully rip the magazine from the gun, rack the slide three times to clear any rounds that may be in the chamber, and then reload the gun with a fresh magazine.)
  • Trigger Control & Follow-Through Drill: Sick of shooting low and left? This drill using snap caps is excellent for refining trigger control and follow-through techniques by developing the consistency and the discipline necessary for accurate shooting. Load a magazine with a random mixture of snap caps and live ammo. Set up a target at a close range and focus on maintaining steady pressure on the trigger while minimizing any movement or anticipation of the shot. Focus on the smooth press of the trigger and maintain sight alignment throughout. After each shot, observe how the sights settle back onto the target and analyze any deviations. When you get to a snap cap, notice any movement of the gun and make any corrections. (Nothing should move except the trigger!)

Snap Caps vs. Dummy Rounds: Which Is Best for Training

Understanding the difference between snap caps and dummy rounds can greatly enhance your firearms training regimen. Both tools serve distinct purposes and can significantly contribute to your skill development and safety practices.

Snap caps are ideal for dry-fire practice, offering a safe way to train without risking damage to your firearm. Their design, which typically includes a false primer, helps protect the firing pin, making them perfect for repeated dry-fire exercises.

On the other hand, dummy rounds excel in drills focused on loading, unloading and clearing malfunctions. They are not designed to absorb the impact of the firing pin, so they are better suited for live-fire scenarios where actual shooting is not involved.

Whether you’re practicing reloads, clearing malfunctions or refining your trigger control, incorporating both snap caps and dummy rounds into your routine can lead to more effective and safer training sessions. Always prioritize safety and ensure you understand the specific applications and limitations of each type of “fake ammo.”

By integrating these tools wisely, you can enhance your proficiency and confidence with your firearm, ultimately becoming a more skilled and responsible shooter.