Making a Living Gold Mining (Yet Again...)

Here we go yet again brothers and sisters. Guess what the most frequent search phrase is coming into "Bedrock Dreams?" If you guessed "making a living gold mining" or "can I make a living at gold mining?" you're the winner of that huge stuffed panda bear you always wanted to win at the carnival ring toss as a kid.

To tell the truth, I've lost count of the number of posts I've written on this topic. I've tried a number of approaches in answering it, including the "good cop, bad cop" routine as well as others. Still, this query rears its questionably ugly head again and again.

Reach for the Gold

I fully understand the interest in this topic..I really do. Times are tough out there, money's tight, and a lot of folks out there are sick and tired of the generic BS associated with most routine jobs in the work-a-day world. That is, those who still have jobs these days.

So I'm empathetic overall. I truly am. I want each and every one of you out there to follow your dreams right on down to make those dreams a reality for yourselves and your families. To aspire and to reach for the gold, however you interpret that.

I've Told You This Before

Still, I owe you absolute honesty in this regard despite whatever it is you WANT to hear. Gold mining on any scale is a very tough gig. On the small-scale level it's essentially nothing but ass-busting effort for extremely small returns occasionally broken by triumphant moments of excellent gold recoveries...something I've reiterated time and time again here.

If I had to give a ballpark figure for the number of individual or small groups of gold miners I've known over the past 33 years there's not a single one who's made (or is making) a living strictly at gold mining. Ive told you this before and it's the God's truth. I suspect overall that less than 5%-10% of those small-scale miners who set out to make a living at gold mining actually do so. So what does that tell you? (I'm speaking directly to those of you out there who type in the "making a living gold mining" search phrase.)

No Matter How You Slice It

What does this tell you? Once again, the folks I'm using as examples are rough and tumble types who have decades of mining knowledge and expertise with all sorts of small-scale mining equipment and who are working their own claims on decent gold ground. They know their shit and have been through the mining mill. Despite all that, they STILL have to depend on other sources of income other than mining to make ends meet or to provide a comfortable life for their families.

I know that many of you are starstruck by all the gold mining reality TV shows you watch each week and all that glittering gold, but those shows ARE NOT about small-scale gold individual or one or two "pards" going at it. What you're seeing are often lame attempts at commercial gold mining, no matter how you slice or dice it.

TV Wannabes Pulling Paychecks

So if you want to be like Todd and the boys, or the big-time crazy dredgers off the coast of Nome, get your gold stolen in West Africa, or stumble your way through the Bamazon, then go for all means. You have a chance at getting some good gold that way IF you have the financial resources to back your play and, more importantly, the mining knowledge and experience to go along with it. But it won't be as a small-scale miner...and that's the orientation of this blog.

(If you're looking for big paychecks, small-scale gold mining is probably not your best bet.)

"Bedrock Dreams" is about (and for) small-scale gold miners and prospectors, both placer and hard's not about TV wannabes pulling paychecks from the Discovery Channel while they blow hundreds of thousands of dollars learning the ropes on the job. Unlike most of these reality TV types, we take pride in our traditions, history, and ability to get the gold the way those that came before us did. And those old timers didn't have a TV producer with a fat wallet backing their play.

Go To It

The simple fact is this...the odds of you making a living at small-scale gold mining are slim-to-none, especially here in the Lower 48. It was tough for the old timers back in the day on 100% virgin ground...very few of them ever struck it rich and chances are you won't either. Yes, you can get very good at small-scale mining and boost your income to one degree or another, but that's that. Otherwise, go commercial or get hooked up with a TV reality deal.

I know some of you "newbies" reading this are saying to yourselves, "Well that sucks. He's pretty negative on all this. I'll show him what I can do and prove his skinny old ass wrong." Go to it my friend. Get on it right away and prove me wrong. I have no ego involvement in all this and especially what I'm trying to get across to you. Like I've said before, I WANT to be proven wrong. In fact, I'll be the first to congratulate you.

Your Best Bet

Again, I want you to succeed but I also want you to know the facts. We mine because we love it. If our commitment to small-scale gold mining was based simply on money or the ability to support ourselves doing it, we'd have bailed on the mining game a long time ago.

There's not a single one of us who wouldn't rather be gold mining, no matter where the hell that mining effort takes place. Take that to the bank, my friend. But we aren't about to put the health and welfare of our families at stake to chase a dream where the odds are stacked against us. That would be sheer idiocy on our parts, if not criminal overall.

Your best bet is to take this gold mining thing in stride, learn and grow with it, get good at it, learn to love it as we do, and then if you still want to roll the the Aussies say, "Good on ya Mate."

I wish you all well.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "The Truth Hurts...Even in Gold Mining"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2012

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hello J.R.

    I'll just add this to what you've said and been saying

    your best bet in making a living at small scale gold mining is not needing to in the first place

    yes you'll need to think a bit about what I've just said

    1. I understand perfectly...excellent point. Thanks for sending this, J.R.

  2. Hi JR I came across a full time Prospector about 30 years ago when doing some fishing on Silver Fork river. We were to meet up with my sons friend Danny at this one Bridge when we arrived Danny said boy am I glad to see you guys, I ask why he said that old man over there by the camp fire was real scary looking, half his teeth are missing and real dirty looking. I went over and started talking to him he was busy fixing his supper had a corrugated metal over a fire with a frying pan filled ( I'm sure with river water) and one slice of bread floating in the pan. He told me he was a prospector so I ask him how the prospecting was going for him, he was real proud and told me he made $12000 last year. 30 years ago that was pretty good. He could of used about that same amount gold just to fix his teeth. I keep looking around for his Jackass..
    Take care Ron

  3. Thanks Ron. You've presented a case in point. I knew an old miner similar to the one you described working the N. Yuba back in the '80s. When we pulled out for the season we gave him all the left over stuff we had. Gotta love that pluck but this dude was barely surviving...he was working a sluice box and a shove...old school to the max. Best, J.R.

  4. A long shot for sure.....but if you don't try you will never win! I hope folks are smart enough to have a back up plan. Then there is the out of OUR money to give away to other countries so they can seem like big us more to make up for it....I'd rather go dig for gold and hope!

  5. Making a Living Gold Mining (Yet Again...)

    Wow: This question will never go away, but actually living the dream?

    Let me tell you a story taking place as I write a response to this post by JR.

    Year: 2009 – current day
    Location: Outback Australia
    Subject : Gold prospecting

    Two strangers, both men, meet purely by chance in a small out of the way Caravan Park in the outback. It’s a disgustingly hot humid day; November is one of the hottest months of the Australian summer. Flies this particular day are bad due to the cattle sale yards being full. An annual cattle sale for the district is to take place over the next week. Hundreds of beasts are penned up, bellowing, snorting, beltching and farting, much the same as what’s been going on in the caravan park really if a person was to be honest

    The unfortunate proximity of these two facilities has never been questioned, so one learns to accept it as normal for this time of year.
    Mulga Bill is well known in the area, not for his skills with cattle but for his ability to find Gold. A slim, tall man in his mid 50s…

    I better run this past JR before taking up space in this forum!


  6. Terry, thanks much for sending this along. I think I'll make a regular post out of your words if you don't mind. The readers need to hear what you have to say. Take care and be safe up there! J.R.

    1. That would be an honor JR

    2. If you want more information or want some pictures let me know. Alot more could be added. I would be happy to help. I do not like seeing people make such horrible mistakes because of a stupid TV show that is not even close to reality.

  7. That would be great Terry...I'd like to do a good write up or two on your perspective and experiences. Contact me via my e-mail:

    Thanks! J.R.

  8. greetings J.R.

    just for those of you that are "Goldrush" fans
    in the last installment I watched they show the results
    of a cleanup of a weeks worth of work at "Indian River"
    4500 cubic yards (they say)
    55+/- ounces recovered
    yield 2.65 grams per cubic yard
    there of coarse never talk about costs
    and this is considered good gold ground
    think any of you on your own could make that work?

  9. Excellent point. Thanks for commenting and posing this question. Best, J.R.

  10. sorry J.R.

    I have to make a correction to the last post
    (I can't even use a calculator)
    55x31=1705 (grams total)
    1705/4500=.38 grams per yard
    big difference
    point is that no way a individual can hope to make a living at this rate of return...... and these guys would be homeless by now without
    the show

  11. No worries my friend...I'm horrible at math in general myself. Thanks for the update, J.R.


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