Hard Lessons: What I've Learned in 30+ Years as a Small-Scale Gold Miner (Part 3)

(Yours truly on the "prowl" in N. New Mexico.)
It's all about moving lots of good ground. Ever see photographs or a TV special on commercial gold or silver mining? You have? OK, good. Did you notice the scale of the operations you saw, watched, or read about? Did you see those huge excavators, gigantic earth movers, or dump trucks capable of carrying more gold-bearing dirt than you could shovel in a 100 lifetimes? Yep, me too.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans
Gold Prospecting Books

See, mining corporations (unlike many recreational or small-scale miners) understand that the name of the game is all about moving and processing gold-bearing material. And unlike the good ground I mention as the lead in to the previous paragraph, large mining companies can work borderline ground for a profit these days. Why beat around the bush? Hell, with gold at $1,400 a troy ounce mining corporations can work ground nowadays that the oldtimers would have walked right by clucking their tongues and shaking their heads.

No, you and I are not probably ever going to be moving tons of potential gold-bearing gravel in a single day. Truth is, we'd be lucky to move a few cubic yards of material a day using the typical equipment employed by small-scale miners. But the point is this: the more dirt (or rock, or gravel) that you can move and process in a day, the more gold you will recover. And if you're fortunate enough to be working good ground and moving lots of dirt, well then brothers and sisters...your take will be even higher. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. But in mining, this is one rule you should always remember.

Be a student as well as an observer. Most mining novices (and a few veteran miners as well) tend to rush into a given mining location or environment so hot to trot to get at the gold they can't be bothered with little details that require a bit of study and observation. My recommendation? Learn to be a student as well as an observer when it comes to all things mining. This includes the time you're playing couch potato and those times you're actually out there in the field doing what we all love to do: mine gold.

Some of the best and most proficient miners I have known over the past 3 decades were avid students of mining, including the geology of gold, mining history, mining equipment and techniques, and the lessons passed down by oldtimers in personal or first-hand accounts. This type of knowledgeable and adept miner is also the guy or gal who'll take the time in the field to observe (that is, see and watch) what others miners are up to as well as using their eyes to assess just how Ma Nature may be distributing the gold in a given location. Trust me, it's folks like this who get the bulk of the gold in small-scale mining, not those willy-nilly types who mean well but rush around like chickens with their heads cut off. Interestingly enough, the latter are the ones who usually "pooh-pooh" the value of study and observation.

I am not exagerrating (or bragging) when I say that I can go to just about any location out there and in a very short period of time (sometimes minutes) tell you whether that spot carries gold or not and if it does, whether it's rich ground that will probably have you jumping for joy or if it's hardscrabble acreage that will leave your back aching and your pan empty. How can I do this? Am I special or different? Not in the greatest sense, no. But along the way I did do my homework and my powers of observation are very, very keen. So should yours be....

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Avoid the "quick fix" syndrome. You've probably heard at one time or another in your life the old adage, "Good things come to those who wait." Or put another way, "Patience is a virtue." Amen brothers and sisters. Especially when it comes to gold mining. (Note that this post is being written by someone who could have, at one time in his life, been the "poster child" for impatience and impulsiveness. Yes, I speak of myself here!) If you take a long, hard look at the world around you and the majority of those who populate it, you're probably going to see lots of what I call the "quick fix" syndrome firmly in place. "Work hard for something I want? To hell with that. Just gimme what I want now and I mean RIGHT NOW, without all that BS. After all, I deserve it." (Why exactly they deserve "it" they can never fully articulate, by the way.)

If you come into small-scale or recreational gold mining with this sort of attitude that's OK by me because you won't be around very long and that means more gold for me. You see, gold mining is like an extended game of poker in a way. Very seldom are you dealt a royal flush right off the get go (if ever). Most of the time you are playing the game with marginal hands and barely eking out a profit or operating in the red. But if your patient and thorough enough, eventually the mining cards being dealt will provide you with just enough of an edge to come out ahead in the long run. And if you are as patient as the biblical figure Job, who knows? You just might get dealt that monster hand and "strike 'er rich" pard.

Gold mining is not for sissies or the impatient. Remember that.

Good luck to one and all.

(c) J.R. 2010

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