"Can I Make a Living Gold Mining?"
(Trying to make a go of it during the Klondike gold rush.)
Note: It's not my intent in this post to dissuade or discourage anyone, especially novices, from pursuing small-scale gold mining activities whether those be recreational, part time, or full time in nature. At the same time I would be doing all of you a great disservice if (like so many "dream merchants" out there selling books, detectors, gear, mining club memberships, etc.) I painted an overly rosy view of mining activities and the opportunities for making a living at mining. I owe you the truth, however unpleasant that may be at times...nothing more, nothing less. J.R.
The key question for many new-comers to the world of small scale or recreational gold mining is this: "Can I make a living gold mining?"
Probably not. Not as a recreational or small-scale miner, that is. I take no pleasure in bursting your bubble or in playing the devil's advocate here but the truth must be told.
Do People Make a Living Gold Mining?
Yes, some do. Obviously, large, multi-million dollar corporations make big money mining but they also have to spend enormous amounts of money to get the gold. Some medium-to-small mining operations in more remote areas like South or Central America, Asia, and Africa are also money makers but the obstacles to getting that gold are extreme and include corrupt politicians, theft, violence, disease, and even murder, to name but a few.
Oh, you're not talking about going out of the country but mining here in the United States? In fact, you're thinking of buying a claim somewhere in Alaska or the even the Lower 48, setting up a gold suction dredge or highbanker, and getting down to it. More power to you my friend. In fact, I'll even help you by showing you the ropes, setting things up, the whole nine yards. But one thing I won't do is guarantee you'll make a living at gold mining.
Most Miners Struggle to Make a Living
In fact, most of the gold miners I know of the non-hobbyist variety don't make a living at gold mining either. Who am I talking about here? People who have mined gold for the bulk of their lives, people who know their stuff, people with good claims and the right equipment, real miners doing tough work each and every day. Not hot-to-trot newcomers with dollar signs dancing before their eyes because the gold spot price hits $1,000.00 per troy ounce. Bless their little hearts, newcomers to gold mining have no idea what hard work gold mining is for very little return. They get bitten by the gold bug and are off and running.
Do the Math
Last time I checked the year is 2008 and not 1849. That means that very little rich or "virgin" placer gold ground exists in the continental United States. Alaska is better but it presents a host of potential problems to even the most experienced miners who, like the miners I know, supplement their mining incomes by writing prospecting or mining books, running pay-as-you-go gold mining "adventures," operating mining supply shops, or being the "grand poobah" of one of the many prospecting/mining clubs out there. Did you know that the average daily take in gold of an experienced placer gold miner in the Lower 48 is 1-3 pennyweights of gold per day? (There are 20 pennyweights in a troy ounce. Do the math my friend...)
Hard Work for Small Returns
By and large, gold mining is very hard work for very small returns. Even good claims are tough propositions to make a living from, and if you don't have your own gold claim you are pretty much restricted to the few "open" or public mining areas that have literally been beaten to death over the years by countless others before you. That makes things especially tough for the newcomer to placer gold mining, because experience and knowledge are fundamental keys to success to getting decent gold values out in the field. Like anything worthwhile, it takes time to become adept at gold mining. Are you patient enough to make that happen?
(Large-scale mining operations make money, but their overhead is huge.)
So making a living at gold mining? Tough call, that one. But people do succeed if they are willing to work hard with single-minded purpose, pay their dues, and can overcome the setbacks, hardships, and obstacles thrown their way. Perhaps you are one of those exceptional persons. If so, my hat is off to you. Make it happen and I'll be the first to congratulate you on your success. In fact, I 'll even write a feature post about you here in "Bedrock Dreams."
Keep Your Perspective
I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade here or play the gold-mining Grinch to someone's dreams. But if you are interested in becoming a gold miner (recreational or otherwise) it should be because you want to learn more about gold mining, mining history, and mining traditions, equipment, and processes while having some fun and getting a little gold along the way. Set your greed aside, because one thing gold mining is not is a "get-rich-quick" scheme.
Even the '49ers learned this lesson the hard way.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2008