Cheap Advice for Gold Mining Novices

I've decided to march back through the halls of time a bit and resurrect and update a post that dates back to 2008. This particular post is directed toward those of you out there who are gold prospecting and mining novices (a.k.a. newbies and greenhorns) but I'm throwing a few gems of mining wisdom into the mix that are applicable to each and every one of you out there, no matter how long you've been at this gold thing of ours.

The Big "E" is Never Enough

You know my newbie friends, getting proficient at any pursuit requires time, commitment, hard work, and an overwhelming desire to learn more about whatever has captured your this case, gold prospecting and mining. My view of the learning process is simple: it NEVER ends. If you're not taking the time to read, study, practice, and learn everything you can about gold prospecting and mining at every available opportunity, then you're missing a key element to becoming adept and confident at getting the gold. And, speaking from a purely practical sense, getting the gold is the whole premise behind gold prospecting and mining. As the years slide by, many of you greenhorns will also begin to see the "gold" in what I call, "The philosophical aspects of mining and prospecting." But let's not rush things.

One thing most novice miners and prospectors have more than enough of is the Big "E." Enthusiasm. This is a real plus in the sense that you should be enthusiastic when you approach your mining and prospecting activities. Or anything that's a true avocation, for that matter. So having enthusiasm is good. However, enthusiasm alone will not carry you through most of the difficulties, frustrations, and plain old hard work you're about to get a big dose of. You see, gold prospecting and gold mining are not for wimps, whiners, wannabes, wussies, or any other "W" persona you can come up with. Gold prospecting and mining is one of the best forms of reality therapy you will ever experience. Take that from an old timer who knows only too well.

Sure, gold prospecting and mining has its high points too. There are new discoveries, great successes, and the very best of days out there waiting for you. Good gold too. But to make sure you have as many days like that as you possibly can I strongly suggest you pay close attention to the tips and lessons I'm about to lay at your feet. Be humble, let your ego slip aside, and commit yourself to listening and learning. If you do, I guarantee you'll get up to speed far faster than most and also get very good at what you want to do. In this case, that's prospecting and mining for gold

Educate Yourself

I've been through the academic learning routine, have bachelor's and master's degrees, and taught at the university level for 11 years. I'll be perfectly honest here. All that formal learning didn't make me a better person or a better gold miner. But it did teach me how to perform thorough research and bring my analytical skills to bear in breaking down data and using logic to assess problems and find viable solutions to those problems. To put it simply, what academia taught me best was the value of study and the significance and importance of having a broader knowledge base.

As a greenhorn or newbie, if you truly want to become a miner's miner then you'll need to educate yourself on all aspects of small-scale gold prospecting and mining. Hear what I said? ALL ASPECTS. Things like mining history, gold geology and mineralization, ore identification, types of small-scale mining equipment, gold deposition physics, how to "read" streams and washes, placer deposit types, stream hydraulics, visual clues, recovery processes, and on and on and on. All of this information is out there nowadays in the form of books, websites, and videos. So there's absolutely NO excuse for a newbie not to start the learning process and eventually making it an ongoing study habit. This learning process should be fun, not a task to be endured. Why do I say that? Because if you're truly excited about being a gold prospector or miner you'll devour any related information like a family pet being given treats under the dinner table. In other words, you'll want to learn and you'll enjoy the learning process.
Now I'll throw a monkey wrench into the works. The very best way to learn the ins and outs of gold mining and prospecting and become very good at it is by field experience, especially if you are fortunate enough (like I was way back when) to have a veteran miner (or miners) as a mentor and teacher. This is what we call OJT (on the job training) and it's the single most effective means of teaching the score to gold prospecting and mining novices. However, that grizzled sourdough who's mentoring you is going to assume you already know something about gold prospecting and mining on the front end. I'll be blunt're liable to get a literal boot in the butt if you don't know what he or she is talking about when you're told to "Clean the damn box out and haul that bucket of concentrates over to the panning tub!" or "Move your ass and start setting up the highbanker next to that section of bench gravels!" Now maybe you see the value of a bit of mining knowledge on the front end, especially if you don't know what concentrates or bench gravels are. With or without a mentor, prior knowledge is an absolute must.

Powers of Observation

There's one aspect of the learning process that all would-be miners (and even a few experienced ones) fail to fully realize or develop and those are your observation skills or powers of observation, if you like. What are these? Simply put, the ability to use your eyes to "see" and discern the overt or subtle clues that Ma Nature offers you in the field each and every time you hit a gold area. Things like how and where the gold's probably being deposited, what are the existing hydraulic features of the stream or dry wash, and where that gold probably came from. This latter observational factor is more important to you budding lode prospectors, but again...knowledge is power. That power can be translated into more gold recovered. And no...the three observational points I mentioned are not the sum total of what you need to learn. There are literally hundreds to be learned and filed away for future reference in your mental mining database.

So, before you greenhorns go rushing out the door with your gold pan and shovel in hand expecting to hit the "big one," I urge you to slow down a bit, calm your feverish mind, and take the time to learn a little first. Then study and learn a little more. Then do your research thoroughly, study that, and learn even more. If nothing else, it'll probably go a long way in preventing that hard-ass mentor of yours from shaking his or her head in disgust and spitting a big wad of brown liquid "chaw" onto the toes of your brand-spanking new L.L. Bean hiking boots.


(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Slow your roll. Watch and learn. Then ask questions. Learn to be a miner, not a whiner. Prospecting is hard work. Jerry Hobbs once told me and a buddy, 90% of prospecting is research. Give back. Share what you know. Be sure you find a good mentor. Still looking for one, think you might have found one here.

  2. JR, another good post here. After a few years of this, and finding a little, my weak point still is "what to look for". You have helped a lot there, but I still don't have it down. A lot of the places that look like they should be great, I have found little or nothing at all. I have looked at different rocks and mineral combinations on here, in books, and in the mountains but it is still very hit and miss. I suspect that is normal, but it is frustrating and confusing. Last year, time and money forced me to take a break from this, but I'm going to try to change that this summer. One good thing about these damn computers is that even in the dead of winter when it is -20 below, you can still be "prospecting". There is a lot of info if a guy wants to find it. Bedrock Dreams is a real nugget, I'm glad we didn't loose this one. Thanks again. Gary

  3. One of the best places to begin to search for info here in NM is Tech in Socorro for records and geologic info. You might
    also try the Map and Geographical Information Center or Magic Room at UNM in the basement of the Engineering Library.
    There you will find original survey maps and the names and places on them should correspond to names and places on old reports. For some unknown reason new maps have new name places. enough said. Gary C.

  4. JR

    When Amber and I first started going out, I heavily relied on our newly acquired used metal detector. I didn't want to be bothered with flakes, there were nuggets to find after all. What a Jackass. While no doubt there are nuggets waiting to be found, detecting is an art in of itself. Much time is necessary in the field digging false targets and getting to truly know your machine. If you learn to listen to what your detector is telling you, you will be successful, as long as nuggets are in your search area. I didn't find nuggets, but found humility instead. I was blinded by the gold shows telling us of great gold finds still out there waiting to be discovered.

    We reassessed our goals and went to a good mining store. We found a very helpful "old timer" who probably lost more gold than we might ever locate. He recommended we go to a river known for gold, that had public access and was wild and scenic. We were cautious, but took his advice. Sure glad we did. We cut our teeth on panning and have never looked back. Two things we'd never leave the house without is 1.) a trusty gold pan and 2.) our detector.

    Mining is much like school. The more knowledge you amass, the better you get at your craft and the more gold you can locate. We were blessed to have been given good advice from our first mining mentor. He passed away God bless his soul, but we will always remember getting our start with his sound wisdom and advice. We had another Mentor and he was a wild one. He is still recovering great gold in the hills. One day we happened upon Bedrock Dreams. What a God send. JR you have truly been inspirational to us and have proven how giving you are to our community.

    We have met amazing people and some questionable characters as well. In our short 4 years of mining, I didn't think it was possible to learn as much as we have. We are though just green grasshoppers in the kung fu school of mining. We can't thank you enough JR for hanging in there. As always we wish you the best and look forward to the nuggets of wisdom you share with us. These are the true nuggets!!!

    Amber and Paul


Post a Comment