Mining Tips From an Old Timer (Part 3)

 (The old mining ghost of Shakespeare, New Mexico is still home for a few diehards.)

"Once more into the breach dear friends, once more into the breach." If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about here just ignore the literary allusion and we'll forge ahead with more mining and prospecting tips from a a venerable and sage old!

5. A five-gallon bucket is your best friend.

Of all the gold prospecting and mining tools in your arsenal nothing beats the five-gallon plastic bucket for general worthiness and all around flexibility. Whoever invented this simple but magnificent boon to miners should've been made president of the United States (as opposed to the current office holder) or given the Nobel Peace Prize on the spot. By the way, didn't our Fearless and Feckless Leader get the Nobel Prize just a couple of months into his first four years of reign? Yup, I believe so. I'm still scratching my head over that one. Anyway, I digress as usual. That beat up five-gallon bucket of yours really is a miner's best and most versatile friend (next to his or her gold pan, that is). You can classify gravel into it, carry water in it, lug your crevicing tools around in it, wash your miner's moss and concentrates in it, feed your highbanker, sluice box, dry washer or trommel with it, turn it upside down and use it as an impromptu seat, or slam it over the head of some loud-mouthed blowhard who just won't shut up. I'm telling you, any gold prospector or miner (greenhorn or old sourdough) who can't sing the many praises of the humble five-gallon bucket is suspect and not to be believed in any context. That's the long and the short of it.

 (Ahhh, the many uses of the humble five-gallon bucket. Porta-potty, anyone?)

6. Sampling makes sense and saves time, effort, and money.

Nothing is more important to the success of your overall small-scale mining activities than good sampling using a systematic or logical approach. Anyone (and I mean ANYONE) who doesn't appreciate and practice the value and importance of proper sampling in the field doesn't know shit from Shinola when it comes to mining no matter how hard they try to convince you otherwise. The absolute worst thing anyone can do is get on gold ground (wet or dry) and start shoveling away like a mad dog or Englishman at the first gravel pile they come across. Sure, there is truth in the old precept that the more dirt you move the more gold you'll get, but guess what? If that dirt is nearly devoid of gold you can shovel it for weeks and barely have anything to show for all your time and effort. Logic, my friends, simple logic. By sampling that same ground you'll get at least a working idea as to where the best gold values are and where you should set up your equipment and get going. Even the most basic and limited sampling is better than no sampling at all. If you think I'm BSing you here, think back to some of those T.V. gold reality shows where certain self-proclaimed "gold miners" failed to perform even the most rudimentary sampling before committing themselves and their many hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of big machinery to gold ground they knew absolutely nothing about. Eventually, even these dimmest of bulbs realized their collective mistake and your task is not to make that same mistake in the first place. If, by some weird stroke of fate, I ever end up out in the field with one of you and I spot you racing around like Chicken Little and forgoing any preliminary sampling you can rest assured I'm gonna plant a size-12 boot solidly on your backside. That's no's a promise. Sampling makes sense and saves time, effort, and money.

 (Sampling placer gravels in the Yukon.)

7. Black sands are everywhere.

The presence of heavy black sands does not necessarily mean that gold is nearby. I know this sounds very simplistic, but there's a lot of confusion out there about this and I've received my share of e-mails on this issue. "Hey J.R., I live in Illinois and found layers of black sand in the creek behind my house. Do you think there's any gold in it?" Or, alternately, "Hey J.R., I live near Mariposa in the Southern Motherlode Region and found lots of black sand in the creek behind my house. Do you think there's any gold in it?" In the first case the answer is "probably not" since any gold in Illinois was likely brought south by glaciers from Canada and there's not even much of that in the home state of Honest Abe. In the second case there's a decent possibility that gold is in the creek near Mariposa since that area of California was once rich in the yellow metal and the region is highly mineralized. But if you're truly following my chain of thought here what I'm saying is that the presence of black sands of and by themselves DOES NOT constitute the presence of gold nearby. The California Motherlode is known for gold while the State of Illinois is not. Yet both states contain gadzillions of tons of black sands distributed across their lengths and breadths. Black sands are everywhere. So you can't use black sands as a sign post to gold where gold doesn't exist. Even in known gold areas the presence of visible black sands on the surface really doesn't mean all that much. But coarse black sands packed into a bedrock crack or crevice in that same area might mean a lot. Get the picture?

 (Black sand layers on a beach.)

8. Beware of "Murphy's Law."

In gold prospecting and mining (as in life in general) "Murphy's Law" is occasionally the law of the land. If something CAN go wrong, it damn sure will. I'll bet you a folding green U.S. dollar bill that "Murphy's Law" has been in effect in your life or mining activities at some point or another. Is there a way to avoid this? Most miners will answer with an emphatic "No!" but I believe you can reduce the sheer amount of opportunities Mr. Murphy has to screw things up in your life and mining times simply by being prepared (that and maintaining a consistently positive outlook). Regarding the former, let me suggest that you develop a list of what we call in engineering maintenance "key spares, or critical spare parts" and carry those items out to the gold fields with you along with a bare bones but adequate toolkit for effecting repairs and replacing those critical parts or components. I don't care how much you payed for that motorized dry washer, highbanker, mini-trommel, or suction dredge. Sooner or later something untoward will happen that'll bring that puppy to a screeching halt and by default, stop or delay the entry of that placer gold into your poke. A belt will snap and go flying off, that little Allen screw holding your main dry washer pulley wheel in place will loosen up and go missing in action, or your Venturi pump will cease pumping. Trust me, something like this WILL HAPPEN if you run complicated or motorized small-scale mining gear for long periods of time. You can't realistically carry along a complete back-up set of parts or components (although that'd be the safest thing to do) so roll the dice and bring what you consider the key parts or components as you define them. Anything is better than driving hundreds of miles all excited and anticipating an extended stay at your claim or favorite gold area and then end up shoving that dredge into the back of the pick up because something broke and you don't have the part or parts (or tools) to fix it. Sucks for you and trust has sucked for me in past days. OK, that said, how about positive thinking? Well I'm not going to sit here and guarantee that getting your mind right will prevent equipment breakdowns or failures, but it surely can't hurt. You see, I believe that what you think and anticipate is pretty much what you're going to end up getting. So think positive and visualize a problem-free mining excursion (but carry those spares just the same!).

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Yep! I used to only cut my firewood during spring bear saw was old and tended not to run, so I'd go hunting instead! Black sand?? But, but, but,.....ALL the books say there is ALWAYS gold in black sand! HA! One of the first things I learned about gold mining books is that most were wrote by folks mining the miners that had very little idea what they were writing about.

  2. Good point on the back up plan. I used to only cut firewood during spring bear season. My saw was old and tended not to start, so I'd go hunting instead! The black sand??? But, but, but, .....ALL the books say there is ALWAYS gold in black sand! HA! One of the first things I learned doing this is that most books on gold prospecting are written by folks that are mining the miners. Most use big words to confuse the reader into thinking they know what they are talking about, while saying nothing......much like "our" government leaders. Are we going to be able to call it "Black Sand" much longer?? Maybe "sand of color"......? This whole thing with the Confederate Battle Flag....sigh......don't get me started......


Post a Comment