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» Sniping

By John Cline

Sniping1As young kids growing up in the country, we would play a joke on the new kids from the city. We would take them “snipe hunting”, or “sniping.” You see, sniping is a way of catching a small, but very tasty bird.

These types of birds only come out at night, with little or no moonlight, and always in a wooded area. It takes several kids to catch snipes. Some of us would spread out in the area and herd the snipes toward the new kid waiting by himself with a gunnysack. We always had the new kid holding the bag so he wouldn’t get lost in the woods. It’s rough being the new kid…

These were the thoughts racing through my mind when I was invited to go “sniping” for gold this past summer. I was told it was easy and fun. Oh sure, I’ve been there, done that; and I was even the one left holding the bag one night…

Finally, someone explained to me that sniping or crevicing for gold was really about working crevices in exposed bedrock. They told me stories about several people who snipe throughout the summer months, recovering ten-to-fifteen ounces of small (and sometimes large) gold nuggets per season. Was this a joke, or was it for real?

On the first morning, a friend and I were off on a sniping adventure, I took my wet-suit, a face mask and snorkel, a crevicing tool, hammer, small bar, small shovel & hand trowel, gold pan, my “Super Nugget Sucker,” and a bulb-snifter with me. My wet-suit was necessary, because the water was a little cool until about midday! Everything fit into my backpack and; surprisingly, weighed not more than 20-25 pounds.

We went to an area where the creek was wide and shallow, with exposed bedrock running across the water-flow. I could see material in the crevices and cracks in the bedrock. Also, I could see the bedrock cracks running from one side of the creek to the other, not in a straight line, but across the creek, with no real pattern. Where the bedrock wasn’t exposed, the streambed material (overburden) was no more than a couple of feet, if that.

Getting started in one place, I removed the top six-inches of overburden with the shovel. This is when the fun starts! You need to “fan” the remaining material away. This is accomplished by waving your hand back and forth in a fanning motion. It’s kind of like doing a dog-paddling motion, sweeping the remaining streambed material away with water-force. It only took me a moment to realize that it is much easier to work with the water flow, rather than against it. Yes, one must learn the hard way sometimes!

Fan or paddle an area about a foot or so, wait a moment for the water to clear, and hope to see that beautiful yellow glimmer—Gold! After an hour or so of not finding anything, I began thinking back to that night in the woods when I was left holding the sack… But I felt reassured when I looked up and saw my friend still there working in the creek.

Then it happened. There was a beautiful, small golden flake sitting right on top of the exposed bedrock! Not really expecting to find any gold, I almost overlooked it!

Using the bulb-snifter, I sniped my first piece of gold along the edge of a crevice, not really at the bottom of the bedrock crack where I had expected it would be. What a wonderful feeling! The joke wasn’t on me, after all.

Within three or four feet of that spot, I found several more really nice flakes of glimmering gold. Encouraged, I followed the crevice to the other side of the creek, but I didn’t find anything else. So I moved up to the next crevice and started the procedure all over again. This time, I found a bigger piece of gold in a crack along the side of the bedrock. Breaking the bedrock with a pointed-bar and hammer, I found that a large golden flake was trapped in the crack. Wow, what a great feeling when that piece of gold first popped into view!

During the day, I found several pieces in this manner. Working another crevice, I used the super-sucker, because the crevice was about three feet deep. By using the super nugget sucker, I could stand with my face in the water and remove the material with no problem. Several times, I pumped water out of the super sucker, thus blowing material away, like fanning. I recovered several nice nuggets about the size of small rice-grains.

By the end of my first day, I had found about 2.5 pennyweights of gold. Not bad!Sniping 2

Seeing all that gold was enough to lure my wife out on the creek on my second day. As I was fanning an area, I turned-up five nice flakes of gold in about a one-square-foot area. This was fantastic! So I invited my wife to put on a mask, and she came down and ended-up recovering about a dozen pieces of really nice gold, including one beautiful nugget weighing about 10 grains! That’s a big one! We had spent almost an hour together, having the time of our lives! It is a wonderful feeling every time you uncover more gold at the bottom of a waterway! It was really great sharing this experience together!

On the following weekend, a couple of friends and I went into a whole new area. We found several locations where exposed bedrock was visible along the bottom of the creek. I found a long and narrow slot (crevice) that ran in the same direction as the water-flow. This seemed like a great place to start, so I suited-up and got busy. I spotted some flood gold as I was removing the overburden by hand (not using a shovel). I carefully placed that streambed material in my bucket, so I could pan it off after my dive.

After removing about a foot of overburden, I discovered the crevice was a foot deeper than I had originally estimated. The streambed material along the bottom of the crevice was a reddish-colored hard-pack. Using my dog paddling, fanning motion, I uncovered several nice flakes of gold. Working very carefully, enjoying the excitement, I found two small, really nice quartz-gold nuggets. What a thrill!

Everyone found gold. Some found more than others did, but we all enjoyed this new experience.

My last visit up there was late in the season. The leaves on the trees covering the creek had turned color, and the water was colder. Squirrels were busy gathering the last of the pine cones along the edges of the creek. The birds were singing what could be one of their last songs for the year before the snow. I had been sniping for about an hour, having a great time and finding gold.

As I sat on a rock in the sun, warming myself and enjoying the sounds of nature, its beauty and tranquility, I heard a noise from not far upstream. A small bear cub came out of the brush and started to cross the creek. By the time the cub had reached the middle of the stream, the mother-bear stepped from the brush onto the stream’s edge. The cub was looking downstream toward me. It stood up onto its hind legs. With its head held high in the air, it was trying to smell me, or probably did smell me! I just sat there quietly, trying not to move, captured by the moment. The cub slowly dropped onto all fours and crossed the creek with the mother-bear close behind. Up the hill they went. This was a rare moment that I will never forget! I then went back to sniping, finishing the day with almost 2 pennyweights of gold to add to my ever-growing collection.

Sniping is an inexpensive way to mine for gold. It can be done alone, with friends or with your entire family. Kids get real excited about it as soon as they begin finding their own gold! There is no heavy or noisy equipment to pack in or out (Well, maybe your kids and their day-packs, but you know “what I mean.”). Sniping is a safe and fun activity for the whole family. I really did enjoy sniping this past summer! Each time was an exciting and educational experience. On my best day of sniping, I found 7 pennyweights of gold. In total, I found almost an ounce of gold. How about that for a beginner?

I know an old-timer who found more than 20 ounces of gold this past summer, sniping. He told me that on his best day, he found 11 pennyweights, plus a one-ounce nugget. He said most of it came out of a single crevice in the bedrock. Can you imagine?

As for next year, David, my oldest son, and I are talking about an adventure into the Wild and Scenic area of the Feather River to do some sniping for a long weekend. That will be another story!

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