Although this post is targeted primarily toward novices and newcomers to small-scale gold prospecting and mining, it includes some pearls of questionable wisdom that may apply to you old vets and sourdoughs out there as well.
Over the years I've observed quite a few prospecting and mining novices doing their thing in the field and it's not always a pretty sight. However, what greenhorns lack in knowledge and experience is often made up by sheer pluck and enthusiasm. I admire those attributes in newbies but at the same I have to say that, in the end, it's going to take a lot more than a grin and elbow grease to get the gold.
Understand here and now that I'm not trying to belittle newcomers. After all, even the most experienced prospectors and miners had to start somewhere. Oftentimes the learning curve for greenhorns is very steep, especially if they don't have much in the way of direct instruction or mentoring. I was very fortunate early on in my mining career because I had good mentors, old timers who'd just as soon plant a booted foot in your backside as look at you. (Sort of a mining "boot camp," if you will!)
Anyhoo, a frequent mistake made by novices is assuming far too much when it comes to gold and all things mining. For example:
ASSUMPTION: Gold is everywhere.
In the form of micron-sized particles spread out over huge tracts of land or sea this may be true in the greatest sense. But large, economically viable concentrations or deposits of gold are hard to come by. That said, gold fever can induce a form of hypoxia that creates illusions and delusions in the malleable minds of novices, causing them to conclude with absolute certainty that they can dig for gold in just about any creek, stream, or gulch east or west of the Mississippi River, including their own backyards.
(Gold particles under 90 microns in size.)
Please don't do that. As I've said far too many times before, if you want to find gold, go where gold has already been found. One day down the road when you're an old salt your knowledge and experience will allow you to veer away from this principle to some degree or another (but, in truth, not very far). Until then, stick to the straight and narrow and don't dig up your own yard. You'll end up in the dog house for certain.
ASSUMPTION: Gold is plentiful.
Well, yes and no. Yes, there's still a staggering amount of the yellow metal scattered about this earth of ours. The problem is that the so-called easy to get stuff has already been gotten. The cream has already been skimmed, especially as that relates to small-scale miners. To get your share of the remaining gold out there you'll have to work twice as hard as those who came before you. What? You mean you didn't know that? Perhaps (like myself) you brought an empty baby food jar along on your first mining foray to hold all the gold you'd find. Oh, were it only that easy...
ASSUMPTION: Finding gold is easy.
On the surface this statement is true. It doesn't take much (even for a newbie) to capture a few fines or small flakes in a gold pan, especially if the location is a known gold producer. In all honesty and with 35 years of prospecting and mining experience behind me, finding gold is not the issue. The real problem is finding where the best gold is likely to be in any given placer location. Next is having the knowledge, expertise, and the right gear to get the gold out of that location expeditiously and efficiently. Finding a bit of color and finding pockets, paystreaks, or coarse gold and nuggets are not one in the same by a long shot.
You can't squeeze gold from turnips. Got that?
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org