More on Making a Living Gold Mining: Response to a Reader's Query

(Small-scale gold mining was hard back then...)

What Some Don't Want to Hear

With gold as high as it is right now (about $1,800.00 a troy ounce) the age-old question of "Can I make a living gold mining?" becomes even more pronounced. Most of you who've been with me a while already know my perspective on this...a perspective that often is exactly what others DON'T want to hear, especially the "dream merchants" out there who make a living shucking and jiving novices with virtually no mining experience but plenty of "pie-in-the-sky" dreams.

Mining Equipment
Gold Concentrates

I am writing this post in response to a query from a loyal reader and a great guy named Walter S. Like many folks out there, Walt lives on a fixed income that doesn't leave much margin for error. Those of you who are on Social Security or Disability or both know what I'm talking about here. Walter has virtually no mining experience but was curious to know if he could pull 1/8  troy ounce a day, all considerations being what they are. I like Walt and I also understand where he's coming from on this...his question is a good one and it deserves an honest answer.

Listen Up

So listen up, one and all. Just because gold hits all-time highs doesn't change the fundamental nature of mining and the difficulties that are part and parcel of making a living at small-scale mining. Sure, gold at $1,800.00 an ounce narrows the odds for all of us, but mining remains VERY HARD WORK FOR SMALL RETURNS. I'll repeat that..."very hard work for small returns."

I myself have over three decades of mining experience working in all sorts of conditions and gold environments using all sorts of mining gear and equipment, and I can't guarantee I could make a living as a small-scale miner (but I'd give it one hell of a try!). I even have my own claim in a decent area and I still wouldn't guarantee I could pull a specific amount of gold out of that claim each day...and brother and sisters I know my stuff and am NOT a lazy ass!

Gold Can Be Fickle

Lots of novices have big expectations..."Well hell, all I need to get is about $200.00 a day and that's better than the crappy job I'm working." But therein lies the fallacy of this statement.You see, gold can be might pull a half ounce each day for a week and the following week you'll be eating your own liver over the fact that you're only getting a pennyweight or two.

There are NO guarantees in mining even if you've been around the mining block for a while, let alone the fact you may be a novice with no experience or foreknowledge whatsoever. It's a crap shoot of sorts, a gamble that may pay off and then that might bust you out. Just like the big gamblers in Vegas, you can get an edge only if you play the right game and know the true odds you're dealing with.

Supplementing Your Income?

How about supplementing your income by small-scale mining? "Yes, yes, yes" quadruple times "yes!" If your livelihood and the welfare of your family is not a primary concern then it's all good. You see, your kids won't go hungry on those days when Mother Nature casts you adrift and leaves you high and dry to contemplate your sad fate and the lack of shiny yellow metal in your poke. Mining remains fun (which it should be) and not a life or death situation.

 (...and still is.)

I also told Walt that his expectation of 1/8 troy ounce of gold each day for which he assumed he would be paid around $225.00 was fallacious as well. Even if he did pull this amount each day he wouldn't be able to sell that 1/8 ounce for full-boat price. Placer gold is never .999 purity which is what spot gold prices are based on. By the time the purity thing was worked out, the spot daily price was ascertained, and the gold buyer got his "bite," Walt might only get $160.00 or $175.00 for that 1/8 ounce of placer gold.

So here I am again, playing the mining "Grinch" to people's dreams, right? Not really...I am simply trying to help. That's why I never BS you. I truly want each and every one of you out there to succeed...and to succeed knowing exactly what to expect with all the "dream merchant" sugar coating stripped away.

There it is...

(My sincere thanks to Walter S. He knows I wish him well and will help him any way I can, no matter what.)

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Hard Lessons: What I've Learned in 30+ Years as a Small-Scale Gold Miner (Part 2)"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2011

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, VERY hard work is an understatement!! My better half and I often wonder how the 49'rs did it day in and day out. Sunrise to sunset. They must have truly been one hearty bunch of folks.

  2. You got that right Phil! Thanks for commenting. Jim

  3. There have been days I couldn't pull a penny weight to save my soul, and days I've pulled better than an ounce. Unfortunately the days I couldn't pull a penny weight FAR outnumber the days I pulled more than an 1/8th of an ounce. I lover gold mining and I'd do it all day long if I could, but realistically it's not going to replace my day job. I have several claims and my own dreams, but until I find that vein of gold five feet long, 4 feet wide and 6 feet deep, I'll be keeping my job. Dreams are great but eating is still damn important.


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