Hard Lessons: What I've Learned in 30+ Years as a Small-Scale Gold Miner (Part 1)

(I can still shake and swirl a gold pan with the best of 'em!)

Hit Me Hard Enough and I'll Eventually See the Light

Right off the bat, I'm not going blow smoke up your nether regions by telling you I'm the smartest guy in the world. Nor will I state that I've always made the best decisions in the course of my life.

Carhartt Wear
Wolverine Boots

I can be stubborn and hard headed at times and these traits have probably contributed to the fact that many of the lessons I've learned as a person and as a small-scale miner have come to me the hard way. Hit me on the side of the head with a short stick hard enough and I'll eventually see the light.

Sharing Hard Lessons

But I'm not writing this series of posts to point out my problematic side. I'm writing it to hopefully save you a few hassles and perhaps make you a better (i.e., more knowledgeable, more adept, more efficient, happier) miner.

How will I do that? Simply by sharing a few of the hard lessons I've learned over the course of 30+ years as a miner, prospector, and yes...erstwhile treasure hunter.

Don't expect to get rich quick mining. Actually, what I should say here is "don't expect to get rich at all mining." Again and again I've driven this point home to you in "Bedrock Dreams:" small-scale gold mining is (by and large) very hard work for extremely small returns. And if you don't learn any other lesson here but this, you'll be way ahead of the game.

"Gold is where you find it." This old gold mining adage is as true as it is mysterious. I've found lots of placer gold exactly where it was supposed to be according to the laws of deposition physics and stream or wash hydrology. By the same token, there have been times in my mining career when I found placer gold exactly where it wasn't supposed to be. Go figure. So keep your eyes and mind open and understand that Ma Nature doesn't always play by our nice, logical little rules.

For those of you out there who have a bit of the philosopher in your hearts, this adage can take on additional import and significance beyond what I've described in the previous paragraph. What is "golden" is not always something that can be mined, retrieved, or bought and sold. I'll let you mull that over for a while.

Not every shovelful of gold-bearing gravel is the same. This little bit of wisdom holds true no matter where you are, what sort of ground you are working, or what type of gear or equipment you are using. You should always endeavor to process gold-bearing gravel that has the highest gold content, no matter what. If it's bedrock, good. If it's bench or terrace gravels, fine. If it's old tailings, then go for it. Don't waste your time running borderline material if something better can be had through additional investigation, sampling, or effort.

Gold Concentrators
Metal Detectors

Be more thorough than the guy (or gal) before you. Believe it or not, most small-scale or recreational gold miners are not as thorough as they think they are. We are all (to some extent) "legends in our own minds." You can exploit this tendency to good effect in just about any mining context. You'll be amazed just how much gold is left behind by those before you who failed to clean a crevice completely or stopped running material when a good paystreak or pocket was just inches away.

Don't get sucked into buying lots of expensive gear and equipment. This is especially true, but not restricted to, mining novices or "newbies." The main job of mining gear suppliers and prospecting shops is to sell their wares...after all, that's how they make a living for themselves and their families. Those who are unscrupulous (and there are a few out there) will pump you up with all sorts of BS about getting boo-coo amounts of gold if you only buy this pricey bit of gear or that one.

But trust me, most of the time you don't need any of that (although the time will probably come at some point for you to purchase a good dredge, highbanker, trommel, etc.). Hell, I've seen good snipers take more gold in a few hours with simple hand tools, a snorkel or snipe tube, and a gold pan than self-proclaimed "hot-shots" who ran expensive-ass dredges all day long. It's all relative...but start small and stay small if you're successful at it.

That's all for this round. There's more to come next time so stay tuned and good luck to one and all.

(c) J.R. 2010

Questions? E-mail me at mailto:jr872vt90@yahoo.com/