Small-Scale Gold Mining is a Tough Gig

If you’ve been following Bedrock Dreams for a while now, you know that I tend to play the devil's advocate when it comes to all things mining. My role in this regard is not always the easiest path to take, but in my mind I owe you the truth as clearly as I can speak it.

This uncompromising stance often doesn't sit well with some parties out there. Some of these folks have vested interests in keeping the down side of gold prospecting and mining hidden in the shadows because the more dreams they sell...well, the more money they make. Although I find it hard to believe at times, others seem to actually want smoke blown up their asses in this regard. Like some say, "We believe what we want to believe," despite all facts to the contrary.

 Admiration and Queasiness

When the economy tanked and gold prices started skyrocketing a few years back I did my best to school the novices out there in the hard facts of making a living at gold mining. At that time my less-than-positive advice in this regard wasn't received very well on some ends. I took a lot of flak because I didn't buy into the dream selling hustle and advised people to pull back a bit before they sold their homes and cleaned out their bank accounts to get rich mining. In all truth, if I had been less scrupulous and lacking in clear conscience, I probably could've cooked up my own dream merchant routine and made some indecent money off the ignorant, ill-advised, inexperienced, and naive. I couldn't do that, of course.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans

Like I’ve said so many times before, small-scale gold mining is a tough gig. This incontrovertible fact is driven home with even greater emphasis if your livelihood (and that of your family) depends on getting the gold. Yet, there are those who still believe they can make it happen (even without wads of cash from the Discovery Channel) and plunge headlong into the fray regardless. I admire this sort of tenacity and the true mining spirit behind it, but when this sort of attitude is expressed by individuals who've never mined in their lives or don't even now how to use a gold pan, I get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Nature of the Beast

Give it enough time, however, and gold mining will weed out the wannabes, the posturers, the lazy asses, and the "pie-in-the-sky" types. This is true whether gold is at $15.00 a troy ounce or $1,500. Once the truth of the matter starts sinking in, even the dimmest of bulbs out there will have their moment of enlightenment and be forced to reconsider things. I hate to repeat myself, but small-scale gold mining is about lots of very hard work for mostly very small returns. It's just the nature of the beast.

(How about a nice slab of "pie-in-the-sky?")

For nearly 200 years now the United States has been poked, prodded, and prospected by successive waves of would-be Argonauts searching for precious metals. I suspect there are very few mineralized areas that haven’t had a good going over by someone, sometime, somewhere...including big mining and geologic research companies armed with arrays of high-tech "snooping" devices that would leave most old timers in a total state of shock and awe.

As an adjunct to all this, please read the following:

"Many continue to believe that it's possible to make wages or better by panning or sluicing the streams of the West and Southwest, particularly in regions where placer mining formerly flourished. However, most of these placer deposits have been thoroughly reworked at least twice:
  • First by Chinese laborers who arrived soon after the initial boom periods and recovered gold from the lower grade deposits and tailings left by the first miners, and
  • Then later again by itinerant miners during the 1930s trying to eke out a living during the Great Depression.
Geologists and engineers who systematically investigate remote parts of the country find small placer diggings and old prospect pits whose number and wide distribution imply few, if any, recognizable surface indications of metal-bearing deposits were overlooked by the early miners and prospectors. Thus, the odds of making a living with small-scale methods is a difficult proposition even for experienced miners."

You Love it or You Don't

So you see, my advice to those who still believe they can make a living at gold mining with a minimum of prospecting and mining experience (and without TV dollars backing them) is simply this: "You're barking up the wrong tree, pard."

Does this mean you should let your mining dreams and aspirations die? Of course it doesn't. You either love gold mining and prospecting or you don't. Your veins have mining blood running through them or they don't.

So be careful about taking what you love and putting it in a business or "must do" context. You may come to hate what you once loved so much...

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

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  1. You hit this right on the head. This is best kept as a hobby and nothing more. "Enough" never is.


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