5 Tips for Novice Gold Miners
1. Educate Yourself
Take the time to learn all you can about gold and gold mining BEFORE you rush out the door gold pan in hand. As in any pursuit, there are many fine points to be considered and studied in gold mining, small-scale or otherwise. For a newcomer to placer mining these include the geology of gold, stream hydraulics, deposition physics, mining history, and a good understanding of placer gold mining equipment, tools, and recovery processes. Whew! Sounds like a lot to learn, doesn't it? In some ways it is, but not all of this is meant to be learned overnight. And if you take the time to learn something about gold and gold mining first, you'll be a much more successful miner in the long run.
2. Stick to Basic Tools and Equipment
If you're a gold mining novice, it makes absolutely no sense to spend hundreds or perhaps even thousands of dollars on fancy and costly mining gear like motorized dredges or highbankers. Keep it simple and learn how to walk before you run. A good gold pan, a few hand tools, and a 5-gallon bucket for carrying gold-bearing gravel are about all you need to find a bit of gold early on. Buy the fancy gear later, after you have the basics down, feel more confident about your mining knowledge and abilities, and are ready to move more material and get more gold.
3. Keep Your Expectations in Check
As a would-be gold miner, maintaining a positive outlook is an asset. But remember, this is 2008, not 1849, and the likelihood of you (or I for that matter) striking it rich gold mining is slim indeed. Unfortunately, many newcomers have visions of gold pans overflowing with flakes and nuggets and it can be quite sobering for them when the realization sinks in that gold mining is, for the most part, very hard work for very small returns. Let's do a bit of math. Even the most experienced recreational or small-scale miners these days average between 1-3 pennyweights per day. Hmmm...there a 20 pennyweights in a troy ounce of gold. Why, that's only about 1/10 of an ounce of gold per day! Get the picture? Keep your expectations in check and you'll be a happier, less frustrated miner because you understand that recreational mining is not some "get-rich-quick" scheme but a love and an avocation that can pay a bit back in return.
4. Learn How to Sample Properly
Using proper sampling techniques, methods, and approaches is the most important thing you can do to ensure your chances of successful gold recovery out in the field. Many newcomers to recreational mining fail to realize this and race around willy-nilly grabbing dirt and gravel from here and there, with no rhyme or reason to their madness and very little gold gained in the process. But you, you're different. You understand that a systematic sampling approach is your best bet to finding good gold values, perhaps even those hidden paystreaks or pockets that others have missed. Use proper sampling techniques and you'll be well on your way to becoming a miner with a reputation for getting the gold.
5. Watch, Listen, and Observe
You can learn more in a day from an experienced miner than you could in a month from a dozen prospecting or gold mining books. And, truth be told, most experienced placer miners are more than willing to help newcomers get a handle on things, if they open their ears and don't become royal pains in the proverbial rear. So put your fragile ego aside and learn to watch, listen, and observe. See how other miners work, what little "tricks of the trade" they employ, and what sorts of tools and equipment they use.
If you follow these tips conscientiously, I guarantee you'll graduate from good ol' Greenhorn University magna cum laude.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2008