Gold Mining's "Dirty" Little Secrets

Ignorance is Bliss

So you want to be a gold miner, do you? You watch the news and see the spot price of gold skyrocket and a little voice whispers in your ear that there's money to be made in gold, lots of money. And it seems all you have to do is find a stream with gold in it, pack a light lunch, and spend the rest of your days in leisure, swirling a gold pan and then picking up those nuggets and coarse flakes with your fingers. Ounce upon troy ounce.

Yes, I'm being facetious here. Well sort of, at least. Because in my 30 years as a small-scale/recreational prospector and gold miner, I've seen this attitude expressed by many a newcomer to gold mining, especially those with "get-rich-quick" dollar signs dancing before their eyes. It is often said that ignorance is bliss. I rest my case in that particular regard. But it's what they don't tell you about gold mining that is the true qualifier here, the make-or-break issue that will define you as a grizzled "sourdough" or send you scurrying off whimpering like a whipped puppy. Who are they, you ask? And what is it "they" don't want you to know?

1) Most of the easy to get gold has been gotten. Forget about shiny piles of coarse nuggets and ever-accumulating ounces. Even an experienced recreational placer miner these days only averages between 1-3 pennyweights per day. Hmmmm. There are 20 pennyweights in a troy ounce of gold. If we do the math here that's not a lot of gold for busting your hump all day. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule just as a few lucky souls win the lottery. Just don't count on it.

2) Gold mining is very HARD work. Notice how I emphasized that word? There's a method to my madness here because gold mining, recreationally or otherwise, is plain old hard work. Backbreaking, pick and shovel, 3rd World laborer's toil that'll leave your knees on fire, your shoulders aching, and your hands looking like hamburger. There's nothing easy about it, pure and simple.

3) There aren't that many mining locations open for public access these days. Why? Because most of the gold-bearing ground in the continental U.S. is either claimed up, on private property, or not open to mining. Evermore restrictive state and local regulations are also to blame. So, the placer ground that is open to the rest of us is usually of the "hard scrabble" variety and has been beaten to death by other miners over the years. So if you're dreaming of easily accessible rich ground, think again partner.

Who "They" Are

Those are just some of the things they don't want you to know. They? Oh, right. Forgot to tell you. They are the lost mine map purveyors, the claim sellers, mining equipment and metal detector manufacturers, prospecting shop owners, self-styled mining club "gurus," and the various and sundry other well-intentioned dream merchants who all have a vested "interest" in your interest in gold mining. (Yes, many of these folks provide us with the tools of the trade but have you ever noticed that they, by and large, paint a very rosy picture of all things gold mining with little said about the down side? Think on that for a moment.)

Just like the Days of '49. Or very similar to it. Those who became wealthy citizens in the greatest numbers were not the miners themselves. No, not at all. The folks who really made the money were the merchants and suppliers who sold (at outrageously inflated prices) the miners the goods they so desperately needed.

What's My Point?

So there are some of gold's dirty little secrets for you to ponder. What's my point you ask? Am I simply trying to be a gold-mining Grinch (yet again) and upset the apple cart for newcomers to recreational mining? Not at all. In fact, just the opposite.

Understand this. Gold mining is a love, a passion, and an avocation. Or alternately, a pleasant hobby conducted outdoors that can provide, at times, a small amount of money as well as satisfaction. So if you're interested in becoming a recreational miner, do so because it fires your imagination, not your sense of greed.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008


  1. So your best friend is the negitive sign

  2. Not sure what your comment means, but thanks for sharing it with us. J.R.

  3. One thing you have J R is a lot of comon sence and experience. I thank you for your insights.I have already looked around at the price of some equipment and the identical items sell for as much as 35% more at some places.

  4. You're most welcome Alan. Thank you for taking the the time to comment. I wish you the best out there! J.R.

  5. Hi J.R. !! Your article was great and very well understood. It is a lot of work and some days you dont get much but if you have "love" for the game then it will come back to you full fold. Thanks again!!

  6. Hi Rebekah! Thanks for your perceptive comments. You are absolutely have to love this "game" of ours. Best to you. J.R.

  7. I hope the powers to be don't put minerals in the same class as arrow heads and old bottles in old logging camp dump-sites. Just a thought. TF

  8. I hope so too my friend...Thanks for commenting. J.R.

  9. yes from the research I've done anyone who thinks they're going to get "rich" as a small scale prospector/miner is fooling themselves,
    but as a worth while hobby I see it as a great way to spend time outdoors and get away from the grind and maybe get rich in a personnel
    sense perhaps finding sound "peace of mind"

  10. You hit the nail right on the head. Thanks for the perceptive comments. J.R.


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