The 6 Levels of Gold Mining Experience

Unique Levels of Growth and Learning

Every aspect of human endeavor has its unique levels of growth and learning, and gold mining is no exception. The following represent what I consider to be the 6 main levels of small-scale or gold mining experience with their associated dynamics.

Please understand that I imply no sense of intrinsic "superiority" or "inferiority" to each of these levels. They are what they are. And, as miners, some of us are just embarking on this "golden" journey while others (like myself) have been around for quite a while (maybe too long?!).

Level 1

Knowledge: minimal, knows little about gold geology and formation, physics of gold deposition, stream hydraulics, mining history, equipment, or processes

Field Experience: little-to-none, may join gold mining or prospecting club to gain needed experience

Tools/Equipment: primarily uses a gold pan, classifier, small digging/crevicing tools, 5-gallon bucket, etc.

Expectations: highly enthusiastic but unrealistic with tendency to over-evaluate potential gold returns for amount of effort expended, sometimes displays "get-rich-quick" mentality when it comes to small-scale or recreational gold mining

Level 2

Knowledge: basic, with a developing understanding of gold formation/mineralization, deposition physics, stream hydraulics, sampling techniques, equipment operation and mining processes

Field Experience: adequate, may have some experience in both wet and dry gold placer environments, often an increasingly active member of mining or prospecting clubs

Tools/Equipment: begins using "classic" pieces of mining gear such as sluice boxes, rocker boxes, drywashers, and electronic equipment such as metal detectors

Expectations: enthusiastic but a bit more restrained, begins to understand that gold mining is very hard work, often for very low returns

Level 3

Knowledge: solid, with the ability to adequately "read" a stream or wash, identify mineralization and some ores, understands the principles of properly setting up and operating a wider range of mining tools and equipment

Field Experience: above average, has experience in an ever-increasing array of gold mining locations and environments, usually acts as a mentor if part of a gold mining or prospecting club

Tools/Equipment: small dredge (2"-3" intake) or highbanker, motorized "puffer" or electrostatic drywasher, may build some of his or her own equipment using "do-it-yourself" (DIY) plans, may begin electronic "nugget hunting"

Expectations: reserved but positive, knows the "routine" and is beginning to lean toward "buddying up" to increase understanding and gold recovery capabilities

Level 4

Knowledge: well-versed, can go into any mining locale with a measure of confidence and the ability to find gold if it's there, has good working knowledge of mining approaches, equipment, and processes, can employ proper sampling techniques and methods

Field Experience: strong, has participated in most aspects of placer gold mining, including setting up and operating most small-scale equipment, acts as "key player" if involved in mining or prospecting club

Tools/Equipment: has moved up to larger diameter intakes on dredges (4"-6"), "buddies up" with one or more other experienced miners in dredge or larger scale mining activities, employs techniques, methods, tools, equipment, and processes aimed at moving greater amounts of auriferous material, may attain "journeyman" status as an electronic nugget hunter

Expectations: moderated and based upon real-time experience, understands that gold recovery values are invariably dependent on a wide range of factors

Level 5

Knowledge: superior, has researched, read, and studied both first-hand and scientific materials devoted to gold geology, deposition physics, stream hydraulics, mining history, methods, equipment, and processes, may have written mining "how to" books, papers, or other documents

Field Experience: extensive, has prospected, mined, and metal detected for gold in nearly every type of environment under all sorts of conditions, perhaps functions as the director or "head" of a gold mining or prospecting club, may have a decent supplemental income from mining activities, has used both very high frequency (VHF) and pulse induction (PI) gold detectors in the field and may be a proficient at recovering placer nuggets electronically

Tools/Equipment: may employ large-scale motorized mining equipment, including larger dredges (6"+ intake) and trommels, multi-bank dry washer systems on his/her own claim or claims, practiced at using very fine/micron gold recovery systems

Expectations: realistic, based on at least 10 years of field mining experience, understands completely that knowledge, experience, practice, and employing the right equipment and tools is fundamental to mining success

Level 6

Knowledge: outstanding and nearly all-encompassing, but continues to research, study, and learn, keeps up with new developments in mining geology, equipment, methods, and processes, constantly seeks to apply more efficient mining approaches, can "read" ground and identify ores

Field Experience: complete, has "done it all" at one time or another, may no longer participate in mining clubs or organizations in favor of devoting full efforts to mining activities, owns placer claim or claims with "good ground," has developed high reputation for mining and/or nugget hunting skills and may be considered an expert, may have mined or performed preliminary work in locations outside native country, performs some mining "consulting" duties

Tools/Equipment: may employ heavy equipment such as skiploaders or bulldozers in mining operations, uses only largest-scale suction dredges, gold trommels, drywashing configurations, etc., when possible uses only state-of-the art mining equipment, tools, and processes, including metal detectors for nugget hunting, may operate a mining "pay-as-you-go" business or leases claims

Expectations: veteran's view, knows that making a living at gold mining is difficult at best, but has been successful due to extensive experience, knowledge, hard work, using the right gear, devotion to mining and mining traditions, and the capacity to employ patience, persistence, and perseverance (the "3 Ps") in all mining activities

Now a question or two for you. Which level do you see yourself at? More importantly, what level do you aspire to and how do you plan to get there?

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008