Failing to Sample: the Biggest Mistake in Gold Mining

 (Sample, sample, and then sample again.)

Over the course of my somewhat checkered mining career one of the biggest mistakes I've seen made by many would-be gold miners is failing to sample before they begin running material. Notice I said failing to sample...that means at all, let alone sampling properly (an art form of and by itself, by the way)

Want proof of what I'm saying here? Just watch any of the gold mining "reality" TV shows on cable these days, including "Gold Rush" and "Bamazon" for starters.

Learning the Lesson

As always, I'm no great fan of the Hoffman Crew (to put it mildly), but I was still appalled by their earlier propensity to fire up all that expensive equipment and start running tons of material through their wash plant without taking a single test sample to see what they might expect to recover per cubic yard. This greenest of greenhorn failures was eventually pointed out to Todd and the boys by a Canuck miner with REAL mining experience and the Hoffmans eventually brought in a drill rig to take core samples from their Yukon claim(s). They finally learned that lesson and good on them for that.

Metal Detectors
Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans

You know, despite their woeful ignorance of most things mining, I truly like the group of good ol' boys from Alabama who are attempting to make a go of gold mining in the jungles of the Amazon in the "Bamazon" series. Their sense of humor, fortitude, level of commitment, and willingness to work hard in an unforgiving and potentially dangerous environment speaks volumes about their individual and collective character. That said, however, their failure to conduct any sort of consistent or logical sampling at their site prior to running hydraulic mining operations is, I believe, a good part of the reason why they only recovered about 10 troy ounces of gold their first season, harsh conditions notwithstanding.

Sampling is Fundamental

Now before some of you start getting your hackles up or pointing out other aspects of these two TV endeavors that I failed to mention, listen up. I'm not here to attack these shows or the people in them, the perennially inept Hoffmans included. I'm simply using these reality shows as an illustration to drive home my point about the importance of sampling. So take a deep breath and let those bulging veins in your neck relax some. (God forbid I should slight anyone's reality TV "heroes.")

(The boys from "Bamazon.")

Sampling to determine where the best gold is and to get an idea of the gold values per cubic yard you can expect to recover is FUNDAMENTAL to any and all large-scale and commercial mining operations. It's also a must when you're planning on working for extended periods of time and/or running lots of material on a small-scale whether you're using a suction dredge, dry washer, highbanker, trommel, sluice box or even a rocker.

Pure and Simple

Gold miners (novice or otherwise) who take their mining seriously and want to maximize their gold recoveries will sample before conducting any sort of mining operations. Those who don't do this and then foolishly expend their valuable resources (time, money, equipment, personnel, etc.) on a roll the dice are, well...IDIOTS. Pure and simple.

I don't expect you to spend all your time sampling if you can only get out in the field a few days or a couple of weekends a year. Your time is very precious and you're not looking to run tons of material or strike it rich...just have a little fun and maybe get a bit of color along the way. But any mining situation where you're involved in a long-term commitment and where moving lots of material is concerned (above ground or below the waterline) you need to sample and sample thoroughly BEFORE running that dirt.

Got it?

Good luck out there.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Take Your Time"

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2013

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hi J.R.

    as always good point made here, just because you're in a gold bearing
    area doesn't mean that it will be equally distributed.
    I'm no expert but in my dabbling I've gone out just a bucket and pan
    and checked different places found signs i.e. black sand a few specks
    but nothing yet worth setting up a full on recovery effort.
    showed my dad he's like "so you going to get rich now?" just laughed and told him haven't found anything worth the effort YET .....

  2. You keep at it my friend. You'll find your gold. Best of luck and thanks for commenting. J.R.

  3. Hey J.R. I tend to sample around until I find some color (as it says in the prospectors handbook), then I set up the sluice. I try to make it a habit of sampling as I'm classifying. This worked out well when I was digging in the American River. I could see the number of fines/flakes were decreasing as I dug down. This told me where the pay layer was.

  4. There you go Phil...right on the money. Best, J.R.


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