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Rattlesnake! Lookout!

The following is a true account of an unusual rattlesnake encounter my family and I had while camping and prospecting for gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills.


Since first becoming an independent gold prospecting miner in the late 1970s, I’ve spent lots of time camping, hiking, prospecting, and mining gold in backcountry (bush) environments.

It wasn’t unusual for me to encounter various snake species, including rattlesnakes.

Sometimes I went weeks and longer without running into a single rattler. Conversely, I encountered numerous buzztails within yards of each other twice while hiking in remote areas. Thankfully, however, over the average year of prospecting, I faced off with but a few.

Close calls happened, but rarely.

Judging from my experience, rattlesnakes can be defensive and aggressive when surprised, but when given a chance to back off safely—they usually do. Whenever possible, I give them all the space they need and walk around them. When I have no other option, I do what needs to be done.

Once while out prospecting, I skinned, fried, and ate one—didn’t like it. It left a nasty aftertaste that lingered on and on. Maybe that was because of the way I fried it, no flower for breading and, other than salt and pepper, no seasoning. [continue reading…]

The Prospector’s Logbook

The following is a brief story describing how I came to create The Gold Prospector’s Logbook, how using it helps me, and how it could benefit you too if you’re a prospector.

During the years I was a full-time gold prospecting miner, I chased gold throughout several of our western gold-producing states. I panned, sluiced, sniped, dredged, dry-washed, metal detected, and once, in partnership with others, turned to hard rock mining.

Though I gave it my best shot, I never made the BIG strike that I dreamed of. Typically, pickings were mighty slim, keeping me tied to a shoestring budget. And with gold selling for a meager fraction of what it is today, it was usually a struggle to just squeak by. Thankfully though, whenever it got so bad that it seemed certain I would be forced to return to punching a time clock, I would usually score a juicy little patch of nuggets or a choice specimen piece just in the nick of time to save my faltering ass. I credit those cliffhanger recoveries to a lot of hard work combined with a little bit of skill and, I’ll concede, a heaping dose of good luck. [continue reading…]

Becoming A Gold Miner—Step by Step

The author sniping for gold in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Typically, greenhorn gold miners begin their careers by learning to master the simplest of mining techniques and tools, and then, step by step, they advance, augmenting their skills as they go.

The following is my acquired skill set and order of progression:

First—the Gold Pan

Most gold miners, myself included, launched their careers by learning how to use a gold pan—the simple, indispensable tool that has been handed down through the generations and epitomizes the gold mining industry.

During the winter of 1979 when I began mining gold, I was camped beside California’s North Fork of the Yuba River. All I had to mine with was a pick, shovel, gold pan, and my determination to learn and to succeed.

In my day, the steel gold pan was the norm. Nowadays, the plastic pan has flooded the market and has become the favorite among the majority of miners—largely because it is lighter, doesn’t rust or dent, and is virtually maintenance-free. [continue reading…]

Do Metal Detectorists Need a Pinpointer?


What Is a Pinpointer?

A pinpointer is a miniature, handheld metal detector.  Its purpose is to home in on and pinpoint metal objects first identified beneath conventional metal detector coils.  The targets will be pinpointed either on the surface, in a dig hole, or in the pile of soil removed from a dig hole. [continue reading…]

Are you thinking of joining the metal-detecting hobby but find yourself stuck on the sidelines because getting started seems to be too expensive and overly complicated? When it comes to buying a detector, do you have the time to research the myriad of competing options, each highly touted and clamoring for your business? And what about the numerous, supposedly essential accessories? Do you wonder what accessories are truly essential for you, the cash-challenged, aspiring detectorist? [continue reading…]

The above photo shows the author standing between two other miners who were also sniping along the North Fork of the Yuba River, circa 1979

There are millions of acres of gold-bearing lands in the United States that are open to prospecting and mineral extraction (mining). With that in mind, I have put together a virtual field trip designed to teach the rudiments of sniping.

Sniping is a simple, age-old mining method used to home in on and recover concentrations of gold from easily accessible caches on or near bedrock (more about bedrock soon). Partly because sniping requires but a minimal investment in tools and equipment to get started, it has been a favored mining method used worldwide by generations of independent gold prospectors and miners operating on limited budgets.

Once the suspected cache of gold is located and worked, the sniper quickly moves on to the next likely spot to work. A lone sniper commonly powers through multiple caches in a day. While sniping techniques are used in both wet and dry environments, this expedition will focus exclusively on stream gold.

We will visit a quintessential gold-producing stream where you will come away with a fundamental understanding of the geological processes leading to the deposition and concentration of placer gold in streambeds. You will also become familiarized with the basic tools and techniques needed to target and recover placer gold from streams. In addition, you will learn how gold caches are worked by expert snipers. [continue reading…]

Will Metal Detectors Detect Meteorites?

Meteorites are often detected by metal detectors but are not always recognized as meteorites by metal detectorists.

This post explores the mysterious world of meteorites. Meteorite origin, composition, value, and sensitivity to metal detectors are highlighted. In addition, preliminary meteorite identification tips for use in the field are presented, as are links to supplementary research sources.

* So, Can Meteorites Be Detected by Metal Detectors?

Yes, metal detectors, using the All-Metals search mode, can detect most meteorites. And, surprisingly, even though meteorites are coveted, highly valuable commodities (some astonishingly more valuable than gold), most metal detectorists cannot distinguish them from common Earth rocks. In fact, many mistake meteorites for ordinary *hot rocks and thoughtlessly kick them aside as if they were rubbish. In doing so, many rare and precious discoveries have been missed. [continue reading…]

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, before I began to metal detect, I sniped for gold in the waters of creeks and rivers. Sniping, simply put, is a method/art used worldwide by gold miners to home in on and recover concentrations of gold from caches (usually small), both in wet and dry environments.

Over the years, I also dry washed in The Mojave and Great Basin Deserts, and panned, sluiced, and dredged in remote streams of California—a bit in Alaska too. I usually camped and worked alone.

With gold back then valued at a small fraction of what it is today, it wasn’t always easy to make ends meet, especially during the all too frequent dry spells when gold became brutally scarce (as hard to find as an honest politician). Rarely, but on occasion, I had to swallow my pride and take a temporary job to fill in the gaps and get up a new grubstake. But that came with the territory; I always got by, and, no matter how difficult the times, there was nothing I would rather have been doing than living my life as a roving prospector—except maybe becoming a Playboy centerfold photographer. [continue reading…]

Does Metal Detecting Pay?

So, does it pay?

If you broadly define pay as simply a positive return on investment, then my short answer is yes, definitely—it pays! However, if you strictly narrow it down to time and dollars invested versus dollars returned, my answer is maybe.

What qualifies me as an authority?

I supported myself for years as a roving, full-time detectorist living solely off the gold I recovered, often in remote, hard-to-get-to locations, primarily in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and to a lesser extent in Nevada, Arizona, and Alaska. It was an exciting, independent, freewheeling lifestyle. Every new day was exciting. The possibility of discovering a life-changing bonanza with the next swing of my detector’s coil kept me inspired, focused, and energized. [continue reading…]

So many of us freshly retired seniors, abruptly cut off from our jobs and our society of work friends, go into a sort of shock. Enmeshed in our funky daze, we lose our sense of purpose and wind up becoming depressed, withering, couch potatoes. It is an insidious trap from which many of us never escape—let alone recognize. If caught in that forlorn predicament, it is critically important to get off your keister before it turns to mush and get back into living. Produce! Do something, anything, that challenges your mind and body. There are a gazillion activities that will fit the bill and zap that old spark of purpose, joy, and accomplishment right back into your life. However, I am here to highlight just one that I love and know well—metal detecting.

What Do I Know About Metal Detecting?

[continue reading…]

Simple Answer: Yes. Absofrigginlutely!

In skilled hands metal detectors detect metal. Gold nuggets are metal, therefore, yes, metal detectors can detect gold nuggets—however, the design and quality of the detector, size and depth of the gold, prevailing ground conditions, as well as the skill of the detectorist, are all critical factors that can significantly affect one’s level of success.

Every year, thousands of hobbyists and professionals all over the world target and recover gold nuggets with their detectors. However, realize that much of the gold found in the field is tiny, under a gram in weight, and some detectors are more suited by design for targeting small gold than others. If you hope to maximize your gold recovery in the field, you must be armed with the best detector for your purpose and for the conditions under which you hunt. [continue reading…]

With the onset of a particularly cold, wet winter, I quit my job as a welder in a Seattle shipyard and headed for California’s Gold Country. I was clueless but eager to develop the skills to pan enough gold to realize my dream of becoming a free and independent miner. Because my bankroll was perilously thin, I would need to learn fast or be forced to slink back into the city to resume punching a timeclock.

I rang in the New Year of 1979 freshly camped in the Tahoe National Forest, beside the North Fork of the Yuba River. I had arrived with a carload of gear and supplies and immediately pitched my canvas tent mere feet from the riverbank. Reasoning that my tent would leak at least a little during the heaviest storms, I opted to transfer the car’s cargo into the tent and convert my Datsun station wagon into my sleeping quarters, where I thought I could count on warm and dry slumbers. [continue reading…]

Running Against The Tide

I had been bouncing from state to state, job to job, and saloon to saloon for two years, ever since my marriage had tanked in 1976. Now, bored and restless, craving purpose, freedom, and adventure, I quit my job as a welder at a Seattle shipyard just shy of New Year’s Day, 1978.

Thus, I became committed to the fulfillment of my lifelong dream—becoming a full-time gold prospector. I would pit my will and scanty resources against the magnificent, unforgiving, Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  I would arrive in the dead of winter, an utter greenhorn, gambling on being dealt a winning hand—whilst just a-knockin’ on poverty’s door.
[continue reading…]

Sniping for Placer Gold (Hardcore)

Placer Gold in Bottles with Nuggets on the Side

Placer Gold

This is a story about a professional, hardcore gold sniper, whom, for reasons of anonymity, I will call Alabama Jack (AJ). The tale, 100% true, chronicles one of his frequent forays into the untamed backcountry of one of California’s gold districts in quest of a sufficient quantity of gold to bankroll his expenses in the bush and those back in town.
[continue reading…]


California’s streams are the focus; however, the principles of sniping apply universally.

I was a stranger in a big city during the late 1970s, recently divorced, chained to a dull, monotonous job, and trapped in a lackluster, rewardless life. As fast as I collected my weekly pay, I squandered it in saloons, taverns, and strip clubs. I was spinning my wheels, going nowhere–and sick of it. A radical change was called for. The time and circumstances were ripe to give my childhood dream of becoming a full-time gold prospector a fair shot at fruition. It was now or never. [continue reading…]

He Made His Living With a Gold Pan

It was the early 1980s. I was sniping for gold throughout California’s Mother Lode country, rolling out my sleeping bag wherever it suited me best, while scraping out a living from isolated rivers and creeks that favored me–mostly at the bottom of deep, narrow canyons.

One midsummer day, while scouting, I stumbled upon a scanty camp in the backwoods of California’s Plumas National Forest. The camp’s sole inhabitant was a reticent, aging hippie, with a stiff, guarded demeanor. He gave his name only as Clair—based out of Portola, California–he said.
[continue reading…]