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 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, presenting with a stiff, guarded demeanor. He gave his name only as Clair—based out of Portola, California–he said.
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.
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.
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…]