Mining Tips From an Old Timer (Part 5)

I wish I'd been given a dollar every time I've heard or read the phrase "Hey, how's it goin' old timer?" in the movies, in books, and of real life. In fact, I probably asked the same question when I was still a young pup full of piss and vinegar, trying to get my small-scale prospecting and mining career off the ground. What goes around comes around and now I'm the old timer. So read on and you just might turn up a bit of gold here.

12. There are easier ways to make money.

If you come into small-scale gold prospecting and mining looking for a substantial financial pay off or the certainty of hitting it big then you're delusional. No two ways about it. The fact of the matter is that there are, hundreds of thousands of easier ways to make money if that's what you're after. For most people (even the most well-intentioned) small-scale gold mining is reality therapy of the harshest type. You newbies out there and those of you dreaming of getting rich off gold mining listen up. This gold mining thing is not likely to turn you into a Andrew Carnegie or a William Randolph Hearst with money to burn and empires to run. In fact, you'll probably consider yourself lucky to break even and get enough gold to pay for your expenses (mining gear, equipment, travel costs, etc.). Nope, at our scale gold mining is not typically a money making affair and even at the commercial and corporate levels it's a touch-and-go business proposition at best. Like I've said before, small-scale gold prospecting and mining is a labor of love, not a get-rich-quick scheme. I hazard a guess you could do a hell of a lot better money-wise trying the following instead of small-scale mining:
  • Panhandling on the streets for stray cash. (You could even make up a sign that says something along the lines of "Bust-out gold miner needs a new grubstake.")
  • Becoming an ambulance chaser attorney. (You can do it. If you can't, "Go call Saul!")
  • Going into politics. (Plenty of graft, corruption, and loose change to pilfer from the public's pockets here.)
  • Working for the government. (If you want a steady paycheck, decent benefits, and low performance expectations this one's for you.)
  • Trying your hand at being an online huckster. (The possibilities are virtually unlimited here. Just cook up a questionable mining service or product online and Voila! You're on the road to instant success.)
  • Transforming yourself into a New Age guru. (Grow your hair out [the beard is optional], wear pink, yellow, or purple robes and call yourself something like Swami Subaru Prius. Pass out some pamphlets with premises that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, gain some glazed-eyed followers, and just sit back on your pillows to wait for the gold to come rolling in!)
Yes, all in good fun here. But remember what I said...there are easier ways to make a living than gold mining. Don't believe me? Ask a gold miner.

13. Check your tailings.

It's always a good idea to check the tailings generated by your mining gear to see if any gold (or how much gold) is escaping your sluice box, dry washer, high banker, or whatever else you're using to concentrate gold. You can get a good idea of the level of gold recovery simply by taking a break periodically to pan out or re-run your tailings. I use the term "re-run" here because those tailings were already run once through your gear as fresh material and now you're gonna run them through again (or again and again if necessary). Most aspiring small-scale gold miners (and a few more experienced folks as well) don't fully understand or realize the importance of equipment set-up factors when it comes to gold retention and recovery. Mounting your sluice box or your dry washer riffle tray a tad too steeply may result in what I would consider unnecessary and perhaps significant gold loss...and that's something you want to avoid at all costs since even the tiniest amount of gold lost adds up over time and reduces the overall size of your poke. If, in all your excitement to "get at it," you've rushed to set up your equipment then there's a good chance that some gold is going to get lost so slow down and be more deliberate with your set-up time. Take it slow and easy and make sure your gear is set up for maximum gold recovery. The best way to determine how good you are at setting up and getting the gold is by checking your tailings for color. This holds especially true for those of you out there who are "desert rats" running hand or battery powered, or engine-driven dry washers in the desert. Dry washers can be notoriously inefficient at the best of times but set one up incorrectly and you're just asking for problems. I've recovered quite a bit of gold at times from old dry washer tailings, including small nuggets. Yep, you heard me right. Nuggets. Had the miner (or miners) who generated those tailings taken the time to check them, some positive gold-retention adjustments to their gear could have been made and I would've been S.O.L. in trying to glean a bit of gold from them. A dry washer will generate fine tailings off the riffle box or tray and a waste rock pile from the grizzly screen. You want to check both! Check your tailings by taking a few sample pans or re-running them through your gear (after adjustments are made) and checking them once again. It takes a lot of time and hard work to get get even the smallest amount of gold, so why be a slacker? Check your tailings.

 (Periodically check the fine tailings and the waste rock that falls off the grizzly screen.)

14. Gold pans are for prospecting, sampling, and clean ups.

Your trusty gold pan is one of your best friends out in the field. But some of you still need to learn this pertinent fact: a gold pan is NOT a piece of mining equipment. It's a prospecting, sampling, and gold concentrates clean-up tool, nothing more and nothing less. On borderline gold ground (which is what most of us are used to, right?), panning (other than for purposes already outlined) is pretty much a fruitless pursuit. You'd have to stumble upon some VERY rich gold ground to be able to make money using a gold pan as your primary weapon of choice. One exception to this rule of thumb is when you're crevicing or gold sniping. Why? In those instances you're actually searching for small pockets or concentrations of gold and using a gold pan makes sense.Otherwise, here's some basic math for you to consider. It's been said (and I've heard it and read it more than once) that a skilled gold panner can move approximately one cubic yard of gold-bearing gravels in an average day. To accomplish that task you're going to be busting your hump, shoveling, stooping, bending, squatting, carrying, panning, and then trying to straighten up and do it all over again...time after time after time. That's why the light bulb eventually went off in the heads of those inexperienced Argonauts who first rushed the California gold fields in 1848-1849. They quickly learned that even the most rudimentary and basic piece of mining equipment that ever came down the pike, the gold rocker box, could cut down on their level of effort (although not much) and they could process 3-4 times the amount of material they could by panning. This was a significant fact because in those days much of the ground was so rich in gold that the more dirt you moved, the more gold you put in your poke. This principle is still followed today by commercial and corporate mining interests (and at times it'll be followed by you and I as small-scale miners). The old timers quickly tired of the rocker box and then began using sluice boxes or a series of longer boxes connected in length. Why? Because the sluice box was more efficient and could, at the very least, double (or at times triple) the amount of gold-bearing dirt that the trusty old rocker box could. Getting the picture here, are you? Good, especially you newbies out there. Again, your gold pan is not a piece of mining equipment so don't try and use it as such.

(This is NOT a piece of mining equipment.)

15. "Katie, bar the door!"

I truly do hope that each and every one of you out there, greenhorn or old sourdough, hits the "big one" some day and that pounds of yellow metal fall right into your laps, metaphorically speaking that is. I do wish all of you the best despite my constant growling about getting your shit together as miners and as human beings. I have your best interests in mind always, believe it or not. That said, may the Good Lord above (or the universe in general) help you if you ARE fortunate enough to gather up large amounts of gold by accident or through hard, earnest effort. Because if that happens it'll be "Katie bar the door!" time when the news gets out about your good fortune. I was told recently by a very smart person that the two biggest drivers in our culture are sex and money, not necessarily in that order. Let's let sex take care of itself for now and concentrate on the money aspect. A troy ounce of gold at the time of this writing is worth $1,178.00 U.S. dollars (USD). End up recovering boo-coo ounces of gold to the tune of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of USD and you're in for a wild ride pard. Gold being gold, when other miners hear about your find(s) they'll be rushing in to jostle you aside from your spot or jumping your claim when you're not around. Distant relatives who haven't given you the time of day for ten years or more will suddenly be calling you with "heartfelt" congratulations over your good luck and every charity (or fake charity) in the world will be hitting you up for a slice of the pie (hell's bells, they do that now WITHOUT a major gold find on your part). Imagine how many new "friends" you'll have once they think you're paying the tab every time. And let's not forget the generic riffraff, scum bags, and low lives out there. They have a nose for other peoples' property and cash, and aren't above committing random acts of violence to get their sticky fingers on your goods. Oh, and let's not forget the state, local, and Federal tax people. They'll want their share for doing nothing, nothing at all. These are just some of the reasons why I've always urged you to keep things on the down low and keep your mouth shut if you do come up with an exceptional gold find or recover lots of gold, one way or the other. That cautionary admonition remains in effect. There's another old adage you should always remember: "Be careful what you wish for."

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Good one JR, I would be more afraid of the G-Men taking my gold than any of the rest. Like you say, I'm not likely to have to worry about it anyway. I never made it out last year, and haven't gone yet this year either. Need a hip replaced this fall. I'm a big fan of the poetry of Robert Service, and one of his lines said " It's not the Gold that I'm wanting, so much as just finding the Gold."
    That pretty well sums it up really, sure I'm wanting the Gold, but the thrill of the chase is a huge part of it. This is one hobby, maybe the only one, that you can do for years and never get ahead, then one day you hit the big one, and it's all worth while. I read someplace someone wrote " You never know if you are a million shovel fulls away from a dollar, or one shovel full away from a million." I have had trouble with that many times. When to quit for the day.......just one more shovel.....OK well, one more.......maybe just one more........then it's too damn dark to see what's in your pan when you clean out your sluice!! Anyway, thanks again for some good reading. I'm going to get out at least once this year yet! Gary

  2. Some good advice there JR.
    I really enjoy reading your posts! I found it ironic to see you write: "...your gold pan is not a piece of mining equipment so don't try and use it as such". Unfortunately for us here in some parts of Australia, a pan is all we're allowed to use!
    I particularly enjoyed your recent High Point Gold posts.

  3. There are definitely easier ways to make money, but few that are as fun or just plain good for the soul. Whenever I think about gold, I think about the river, the birds, and the sound of a breeze blowing down the canyons through the leaves of the trees. It's peaceful and rejuvenating. I've been wandering around rivers, mountains, and lakes since I was 14. I'm 54 now, and it is still awe inspiring to me.

    I lived in a little town called Midland, Ca when I was about 4, and then used to travel to the Kaiser steel mine city of Eagle Mountain, Ca when I was 20. I have always found the desert to be stunningly beautiful around sunset, and of course there is nothing like the night sky with its multitudes of stars and planet.

    I've never worked the desert for gold, and I decided that this year and next I am going to give it a go. I am reading nearly everything you've written about dry washers because a little forehand knowledge is always a good thing. I've always found that when I read about a thing I can not repeat the specifics off the top of my head, but when a situation arises that I have read about something clicks and I can recall what i read and put it to use. You are a treasure trove of information for me. You really should just put it all in a book. I'd buy it. And just so you know, when I am out on the river, my pan is somewhere close by.


  4. Thanks Jeff. If you need any cheap advice about dry placer mining, hit me up. Got a lot of years under my belt running a dry washer in the desert.


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