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Sniping For Gold
The shining and rushing rivers of Northern California, located within the glacier carved mountain range of the Sierra Nevada’s, are presently laden with a new and replenished abundance of placer gold. This more-precious-than-ever “yellow stuff” can still be found in profuse and copious abundance. These great quantities of gold can be attained with the simplest of tools.
These bountifuls amounts of gold are replenished by the melting of the annual snow and rainfall each and every year as the great rivers of California cut across the ancient tertiary channels.
Gold was first deposited with the melting of the glaciers which covered the North American continent before the thawing of the last ice age, roughly Ten Thousand years ago.
It can be helpful for one to have some basic knowledge and understanding of the nature of gold i.e. how it was formed, its continuous movement within the earth as well as its physical and molecular properties. The density of gold and its density realized in its mass in the form of kinetic energy or energy potential released, will also determine where you find gold in the river. So as not to bore you and to continue to create this writing as interesting and fun I will reveal this information throughout the writing.
The main purpose of this text is to reveal to you (the reader) where you can recover this gold, such as public campgrounds, under bridges and in nearly every river in California. You will recover this gold in a fashion that will be simple, enjoyable and safe.
For the most part while searching for gold you will go un-noticed, while working these rich and affluent areas.
I will reveal to you how you and your family, can take a two week vacation and recover enough gold that it will not only pay for your whole vacation but you may yield as much gold that the sum of its quantities, transformed into American greenbacks, may well exceed your yearly earnings from what for most of you may be a grueling and laborious job.
I have been placer mining in the rivers of California for over twenty years.
The other description for gold mining is locating or digging for “load gold”. The term load gold refers to a vein of gold located within its matrix (such as quartz) and still attached to the earth. This is when one locates a vein of gold in an outcropping of bedrock and then digs a mine to follow the vein. Gold in is matrix can also be described as gold in its natural form such as if you were to eat away the quartz from the gold with hydrochloric acid, this result of the ‘left-over’ vein of gold would be gold in its matrix form. This is sometimes done by jewelers to create or reveal a beautiful specimen of gold for display or jewelry.
At one time or another I have owned a one and a half inch dredge, a two inch dredge, and a three inch dredge, a four inch dredge and a six inch dredge.
Considering the arduous tasks of dredging not to mention the expense of setting up a dredging operation. After you set your dredge up in the water you are then limited to a specific area in the river in which to search for gold. You can often do a lot better by moving around.
I have found more gold by the simple method of “Sniping” than I ever did with a dredge.
A person such as yourself can cover over five miles of river in one day jumping from “hot-spot” to hot-spot filling your pouch with gold at each and every stop. The majority of all gold in a given river will be located in “hot spots” which amount to less than one percent of the river. Where in the river to locate and work these spots is the sole purpose of this writing, so that you may recover the most amount of gold in the shortest amount of time. You will use no more than a knapsack filled with tools.
Before I knew little to nothing about looking for gold in the rivers of California I first bought a gold pan which came with a little four by five inch pamphlet (an instruction booklet) which instructed me on how to pan for gold. Taped to the very back of the pamphlet was a small piece of gold. After reading the booklet I set out to find my fortune on the middle fork of the American River Five miles from Placerville California at a place called “Chili Bar” about eight miles upstream from Coloma California where gold was first discovered in Eighteen Forty Eight. I was twenty nine years old.
After diligently working the river every day I must have dug that entire bar out when finally after only finding about five dollars’ worth of gold I realized that I must be doing something wrong. There were these two ‘old timers’ that would come down to the river where I was slaving away to exhibit and flaunt their daily finds brandishing them in my face which were big beautiful nuggets compared to my microscopic flakes known as “flower gold”
The worst of the boasters was a fellow named “Mike” who was about fifty years old. No-matter how hard I tried I could not find a “nugget” I was finding a whole lot of lead; old fishing weights, bird-shot, square nails and buck-shot but no nuggets.
One day I found what appeared to be a nice one penny weight nugget except for the fact that it was bright shiny silver in color. I remember hearing something about mercury sticking to gold and I thought perhaps maybe this was the deal. I could not wait for Mike to show up so I could ask him. Finally he showed up. I hurriedly put my shovel away and ran for the truck where in the glove compartment in a little glass vile I had stashed what I had hoped to be my first gold nugget covered in mercury. I know now that it was indeed a gold nugget but Mike saw an opportunity.
Some people are just pure mean. Those three old guys had a lot of fun fooling around with me but oh did I ever have the last laugh. Yes well Mike ended up with my first nugget telling me it was worthless and asking if he could have it.
By this time I really was about ready to give up especially being convinced that the only way one could do well in the rivers was if one was to purchase one of those very expensive dredging machines.
About a week later (I had not been mining since) I was selling a travel trailer in the newspaper. This is how I met Steve. Steve and his family were professional placer miners.
Steve had a full beard and mustache, shoulder length wiry gray hair. He was probably in his late forties; to me he looked like an aging werewolf of London or a white aborigine. However Steve and I really hit it off.
At some point the topic of gold mining came up. It was then that I proudly showed him my gold. After examining the contents of my bottle he reluctantly withdrew a four ounce gold bottle out of his pocket and it was filled with nuggets all of which weighed nearly two penny weights! He took the bottle of dust from my hands and said;
“I don’t mean to put down your gold mining efforts or anything like that, believe me I know how much work you put into that but I found all of this in one day and I want to show you how.” And with that Steve held his large bottle of nuggets and shook it in front of my face.
“You must have a dredge or something.” I said. My eyes were bulging out of their sockets as I looked at the beautiful yellow gold in his bottle.
“Well I do have several dredges, but I found all of this sniping.” Steve interjected.
I had heard about sniping, and I thought it meant diving very deep under the water, that you had to have scuba gear and all of that.
“Oh yeah, I have heard of that, so you have scuba gear.” I stated in a matter of fact sort of way.
Steve almost bursts out laughing but he contained himself realizing that I was serious and he said;
“I snipe in my shorts, all I take with me is my face mask and snorkel, a small pry bar, a two pound hammer, my tweezers and my bottle, and I put my tools in a five gallon bucket and the bottle and tweezers in my pocket. I rarely look in water that is deeper than my knees.”
I was awestricken; “No way!” I exclaimed.
Suddenly, Steve looked quite serious and said “I have never done this before; I have never shown anyone my tricks, but tell you what, I will show you how to find gold.”
I felt so privileged, and then thought of those ole timers down at the river. I couldn’t wait to shove big nuggets in their faces.
Steve continued; “I live up near the middle fork of the Consumnes River in a place called Grizzly Flats.
You readers might not want to go there, the area is completely claimed up and there is more than one outlaw up there. There are many places you can mine along the North, Middle and South forks of the Consumnes that are not claimed up. The Consumnes is not the best river in California to look for Gold. The North Fork of the Yuba might be the best. You can find gold in any river in the California Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Now back to mining.
I arrived at Steve’s place after an hour and one half drive from Placerville, California around ten in the morning. I had purchased a pair of jeweler’s tweezers like Steve instructed me to. I rounded up a five gallon bucket (I didn’t know what the bucket was for at the time, but I wanted to be just like Steve.)
The morning was hot. I had awakened a six a.m. after a fitful night of sleep. I was very excited. I pulled into the dirt driveway in my ford four by three quarter ton pickup. I felt a little apprehensive before getting out of the truck.
“What if he changed his mind?” I thought. Then I saw Steve exit the forty foot trailer I sold him. He had a cup of coffee in one hand and the biggest grin on his face in the other. I saw his bucket and tools on the deck and he was already in his mining trunks which were basically cutoffs with pockets in them, that was the important thing; deep pockets. I opened the door of my truck and walked over to Steve extending his hand.
“Good to see you bro, did you sleep last night?” he asked seizing my hand in both of his.
“Well? Not so good.” I answer feeling a little ashamed of my excitement. I felt like a little school kid.
“I wouldn’t think so, you caught “gold fever” and there ain’t nothing that can cure that except the yellow stuff.” He stated.
“You got that right, Steve.”
Steve then walks around me, to then begin to peer in the back of my truck. He must have located my five gallon bucket filled with the tools he told me to bring because he immediately asks;
“Where’s your face mask?”
“In the cab, I just bought it.” I answered.
“I hope you got a full face mask and not the kind with a separate lens for each eye.” He says.
“I got the right one.” I said proudly. I couldn’t wait to get to the river. I was already sweating profusely it must have already been a hundred degrees out.
“Are you ready to go crevassing?” Steve suddenly burst out.
“Crevassing? What is that?” I asked, feeling really stupid now.
Steve looking quite concerned, now asks; “Bedrock, do you know what bedrock is?”
“Hmmm, uh kind of, I think so,” I painfully answer.
“Well let’s get a head-on, I will tell you about it on the way.”
On the way to the river Steve takes the opportunity to give me a little geology lesson as we make our way to the gold fields.
We back out of the driveway and then head toward the river. Steve says;
“Bedrock is, for our intent and purpose, essentially the bottom of the river. The river is a giant natural sluice box; you do know what a sluice box is? Don’t you?”
I was well acquainted with a sluice box; the rifles and how they created an eddy current so the gold would fall closest to the rifle etc. I answered,
“Yes, I know what a sluice box is and why it works, Steve.” I was really feeling stupid.
“Good, OK, The River is a giant sluice box with several extra variables; it can flow uphill, it gorges, it turns, it turns, gorges and flows uphill all at the same time sometimes; where it does this all in the same place would be the best place to find gold.”
“Uh, OK?” I stammer
“The first thing I look for is exposed bedrock on either side of the river, this is where the bedrock comes jetting out of the water, because there I know that there won’t be very much over-burden.”
“What is over-burden?” I immediately chime in
“Over-burden is sand, gravel and cobbles.” Steve says.
“Of course it is.” I answer, feeling stupider that ever.
“After I pick the larger cobbles out of the way, I fan the over-burden i.e. sand and gravel; out of the way, I can do this fairly vigorously because gold is very dense. After I get down to bedrock I start looking for cracks in the bedrock which run against the flow of the stream, these latitude lines in the bedrock act as a gold trap.”
“What is fanning?” I interrupt.
“I will show you down at the river, but fanning is just moving your hand vigorously back and forth underwater to create turbulence.” Steve suddenly is flapping his hand in front of my face as I am driving down the dusty dirt road.
“Okay! Okay! I get it!” I yell as I almost swerve off the gravel onto the shoulder of the road.
“There’s more kid, a lot more.” Steve takes a deep breath and with brow furred he continues.
“The first and most important aspect of placer mining is learning how to read a river.”
“For our intent and purpose the river is nothing more than a giant sluice box with a few extra variables.”
That phrase again; “Extra variables?” What does the white aborigine mean by this? I thought to myself. I am imagining turns and valleys in my imaginary image of the river as a giant sluice box. Little did I know at the time but I was imagining correctly minus a few variables.
“Pull off up there around the next corner and park your truck on the other side of the bridge. You will see a parking area for the swimming hole.”
Creating a cloud of dust which enveloped and penetrated the cab in that both windows had been rolled down, the trucks wheels screeched to a halt in the parking area as I applied the brakes.
“Come on kid” Steve said as he exited the vehicle.
“As the Bell Tolls” I thought to myself the sound of the truck door slamming; thus begins my new great adventure; Sniping for gold!
Steve was already halfway to the bridge.
“Hey what about the tools?” I yell after him.
Steve turned and then playfully in mid stride he unexpectedly assumed an aborigine-like dance, meanwhile gesturing for me to follow him. Earlier I had joked with him about how he reminded me of a white Aborigine. This characterization, of mine, for him had more to do with his exquisite knowledge of the gold fields and the river than any kind of bigotry. Steve was for me likened to that of a great medicine man; a holy man of the great gold river.
He then fashions in his hands pair of mock binoculars and peers down the river from the bridge above.
“Come on, I want to show you something.” He says as he continues to survey the twist and turns in the rushing river below and afar, all the while making precise adjustments to his imaginary field glasses.
“Perhaps a wizard or a sorcerer of sort.” I thought to myself.
Immediately as I stepped upon the iron grate of the steel bridge I paused to momentarily realize just how hot the ambient temperature was.
“With out a doubt I could fry eggs on the railing of this bridge.” I thought to myself.
“Look about half-way down the length of the river, notice that until that point and on the other side of the bridge that this is a long ‘straight-of-way’” And with that Steve gestures for me to look over the other side of the bridge.
“When reading a river you want to imagine how the river is flowing when the gold is being deposited. The gold only moves when there is a great rushing torrent of water like during one of your one hundred year storms. At such a time the overburden moving across the bottom of the river sounds like an enormous freight train rushing at full speed down the tracks. It is at this time that the gold gets dispersed.”
“Do you see the out-cropping of bedrock down there near the end before the turn?”
“That’s not a boulder?” I ask, bewildered.
“Nope not a boulder, notice the jagged break or shelf in the rock? Notice how it matches the bedrock on the left side of the river?”
Steve continues; Can you see that the river is running slightly uphill?” And with that statement Steve held his hand in front of my face, palm own and then he tilted his hand ever-so-slightly back towards the direction of his wrist. Now seeing his hand super-imposed over the river I could see for the first time that which he had been trying to tell me.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I would have never noticed that on my own!” Now when I am surveying a river I use my hand. Like Steve showed me; not unlike the manner in which a timber feller might use a plumb bob to measure the lean of a tree, or a carpenter may use a plumb bob to set a fence post.
Steve now tilted his hand ever-so-slightly to the right and said; “Now can you see how the entire floor of the river is tilting to the right?”
“The floor of the river, the river has a floor?” I ask truly perplexed now.
“Yeah kid, remember? Bedrock is the bottom of the river and it can tilt backwards (against the flow of the river) forwards (with the flow of the river) and it can tilt to either side.
“Really?” Suddenly the full impact of what he was teaching me was finally beginning to dawn upon me.
“Come on lets get down there.” Then Steve pantomimes the cleaning of his imaginary field glasses and then neatly puts them away in his imaginary case. He then begins walking towards the truck and our five gallon buckets filled with our tools and face mask. I still haven’t dared to ask what the five gallon bucket was for and Steve had not yet offered.
I doubled stepped to catch up with Steve. As I approached within arms distance of him I said;
“ I get it, Steve, at least I get part of it, I think.” I stop him then for a moment before we both left the bridge and said; “So what you are saying is that one would not find gold say on that side of the river.” I then pointed to the uphill side of the tilt on the river.
“Correct, it would not do much good to forage for gold on that side of the river. Of course one could score big there but nearby there would have to exist some kind of a trap, like a crevice.”
“Ok I think I can put this all together; we are looking for a location in the river which flows uphill, turns a corner, gorges, has exposed bedrock on at least one side and turns, correct?”
“Hmmm, yes… that would be ideal but you certainly do not have to have all of those factors in play.”
One of my favorite places to look for gold is an underwater table of exposed bedrock, exposed in that it is free of over-burden (sand and gravel) yet still underwater.
“There is what I call sniping signs.”
Compacted and cemented sand and gravel. Tertiary river channels
bearclawmedia from Mining Planet Earth on August 29, 2010:
This is a really informative hub, up front and to the point it is fun and has a flair of adventure. Thanks for sharing.