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Running Against The Tide

It was the winter of 1979. I had been bouncing from state to state, job to job, and saloon to saloon since the end of my marriage–two and a half years prior. 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.

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.

I hoped to spend all winter camping and learning to prospect for gold—far and away from the nearest honky-tonk saloon—my nemesis of late. But if I were to last until spring, I would need to do more than just learn how to prospect for gold; it was vital that I actually find it and quickly turn it into cash. Failing that, I’d be forced to admit defeat and slink back to live and work in the concrete jungle from whence I had escaped.

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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.

Intimate details of his adventure, including a focus on his camp life and gold sniping techniques, are revealed as he goes about his daily business of gleaning placer gold from a remote creek winding through a forsaken, deep canyon ecosystem.

AJ the sniper had a scanty, little red cabin sequestered amongst a tall grove of cedar trees on the outskirts of Georgetown, California–a brassy, little Sierra Foothills community, established during the Gold Rush of 1849.

Early one morning, late in August of 1982, just shy of sunrise, AJ, in his mid-30s, tall, bearded, and robust, slapped a padlock on his front door.

The sun was peeking over the horizon minutes later when, behind the wheel of his stodgy, old pickup truck loaded with camping supplies and mining equipment, AJ rolled through town. Main Street was deserted except for a slovenly drunk, passed out, supine on the porch of the Georgetown Hotel bar–a scrawny, stray dog standing beside him, leg cocked–whizzing over him.

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Sniping for Gold Nuggets—the Walk and the Talk

Jason Q Kincade sniping for gold in the Sierra Nevadas circa 1985

Author sniping for gold in the Sierra Nevadas circa 1985


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

It was the late 70s. I was a stranger in a big city, 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

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

One day while scouting, I stumbled upon a scanty camp in the backwoods of Plumas National Forest, located in Plumas County, California. The camp’s sole inhabitant was a reticent, aging hippie with a puzzling persona. He gave his name only as Clair—based out of Portola, California, he said.

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