Snap Caps


Bruce,

I enjoy your site and think it should be on every shotgunner’s “favorites list”. The knowledge and wisdom has impressed most of my hunting buddies and I have to be wary in how much I pass on or they too may get hooked on your info.

I’m primarily a grouse hunter and only shoot clay birds informally about once a month. Sure, I could probably kill more if I really started playing the SC game but discovered a long time ago that enjoyment from hunting and fishing is not measured in how many you kill but in being there. I do take my fly rod into the yard some evenings to work on my cast and dream of better fishing spots. Likewise, I’ll sometimes take my favorite grouse gun and practice mounting and shooting at the corners of the room. Your advice on that has only convinced my family that there are others just as strange as I.

My question is about snap caps. I am a firm believer in relaxing the firing pin spring and have seen misfire problems cured in rifles by dryfiring prior to storage. I like to use snap caps for that indoors practice and for storage.

I recently switched to a fancy see through plastic with the “real” brass primer and internal spring (no names, lawyers have enough work). They took less than a dozen hits from the ejectors on my Browning and fell apart. Junk. They may be fine in my pumps but are a very short time solution for my O/U.

I’d used cheaper ones that were all plastic but they quickly dented where the firing pin strikes and I wasn’t sure they were of much use anymore. I’ve heard horror stories about using old shells, both from a safety standpoint and as the plastic may cause corrosion problems. I’m currently looking at some solid brass caps with all the springs and bells and whistles. They cost a lot more, but I’m worried that their weight may cause even more expensive problems with ejectors that were only meant to take the weight of a spent shell.

As the unchallanged champion of good shotgunning advice, I need your help. Should I just keep buying the cheap ones and consider them disposable or is there a solution?

Thanks,

Norm

Dear Norm,

Thanks so much for the kind words. If my “knowledge and wisdom” has impressed your hunting buddies, would you please have them contact my wife. She remains unimpressed.

Many people like to relax their springs with snap caps when they put the guns away, especially if their guns have leaf springs. Though it’s personal opinion, I’m not so sure about that practice. A couple of the gunsmiths in my area who work on snappy British guns feel that it is not necessary. In one of his books, Robert Churchill said that it didn’t make the slightest difference whether you dropped the hammers or not. Remember, this is coming from a gunmaker.

I was just re-reading Percy Stanbury and G.L. Carlisle’s “Shotgun Marksmanship” and note that they also have their doubts: “The controversial part of all this is that some experts tell us that it is unnecessary to let down the springs before putting a gun away, for steel does not acquire a permanent set nor lose its strength from being kept in a state of stress and in any case, the springs are only relieved to a very slight extent. You cannot let down the sear springs of a gun, anyway, and the lock springs of very old guns still work so perhaps it is all rather a waste of time.” pp 27.

That said, I do think that snap caps are a great idea. Like you, I use them all the time at home to dry fire and practice my gun mount at those imaginary grouse flying around my office. It’s great practice. When I coach, I also very often use snap caps for my students when we practice on clays. They can practice their mount and swing on clays without the interference of recoil. It’s amazing how much more a student can see when there is no shell going off.

The plastic snap caps that I have seen (clear plastic barrels with maroon heads) are pretty worthless. They break quite quickly in many applications. My experience has been similar to yours. I have a set of old aluminum snap caps with nylon spring set “primers”. They’ve got to be 20 years old and get constant use. They still work great. I’ve seen hollow aluminum snap caps sold with some sort of desiccant in them so that they can be used for gun storage, but I’ve not tried them out for a great deal of dry firing.

The best snap caps that I have seen are the more expensive chrome plated ones that you describe. These are the sort of caps that come Frenched into a nice doubles case along with the little oil bottle and ebony cleaning rod. You’ll see them advertised in the high end gun magazines. Any upper end gun shop should carry them. I wish I knew the brand name, but I don’t. They are chrome plated brass, open at the end, and have a spring loaded brass “primer” with a screw adjustment for the tension. I’m going to guess that they run about $30 a set, but that’s just a guess and it could be $40. That’s a lot, but you will only buy them once and they are classy looking. These sound exactly like what you already have.

Does the heavier weight of the brass snap caps present a problem? I certainly wouldn’t think so. It’s usually the opposite way. Have you ever noticed how some people tip their guns upside down as they open them after firing the shells. Sometimes this gives the empty hull a little head start on the ejector by sliding it out a touch and the ejector is basically snapping on nothing. That’s not good. The ejector was built to expect some resistance.

Ejectors were not only built to pop out slick modern hulls, but they were also built to deal with sticky old paper hulls that may have swollen up a touch. Ever see how far some of those English bests will toss an ejected hull? They come out of there hard enough to put down a peasant uprising. This extra power is there just to make sure that the gun will eject anything you can stuff into it. The little extra weight of those nice heavy brass snap caps won’t hurt a thing.

Bottom line: The necessity of relieving leaf springs when storing a gun is controversial, but no one says that it hurts anything. I don’t know of anyone who feels it is necessary to do it with coil springs, but again it can’t hurt. Using snap caps for dry fire practice is a marvelous training aid and I highly recommend it. The heavy metal snap caps you are using now sound as though they are just the right thing as long as the primer doesn’t become too indented so as not to protect the firing pin. The plastic snap caps are mere temporary solutions.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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One Response to Snap Caps

  1. Larry Isaacson says:

    Bruce I make my own Snap Caps as follows (sort of). Remove a spent primer, cut the old shell in half. Insert a small piece of hard rubber (I use a hard rubber washer cut into sections) into a plastic drywall plug ( I use the blue color) and then force it into the primer hole, cutting off any excess rubber that protrudes. The hard rubber absorbs the firing pin force but then returns to its original shape. I find that these last better than any commercial types. Just a thought!!

    Larry

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