Small-Scale Gold Mining State of the Union, 2015

Just like the top-dog political hack in Washington, D.C. who loves to hear himself talk as he cocks his jug-eared head and reads from the teleprompter (his grown-up version of a baby "blanky"), I too stand here to deliver my annual state of the union. The difference between the two missives? I actually know what I'm talking about!

By and large, the year of 2015 has not been overly kind to small-scale gold prospectors and miners. I take no pleasure in making this statement but I'll make it none-the-less because that's just the way I roll. OK, that said, let's get to the heart of the matter via a series of topic headers:

Suction Dredging: Although there's been a strong push by so-called environmentalists and their partners-in-crime to stop gold suction dredging for over 30 years now, the year 2015 has pretty much shown us that the writing's on the wall as far as dredging is concerned in California and probably Oregon as well. As I've said before, I believe other states in the American West and Southwest will follow suit in the not-too-distant future. Suction dredging is, arguably, the most efficient method for recovering gold from streams and rivers, and in California many small-scale gold miners have supplemented their annual incomes through dredging in an effort to support themselves and their families. But it's been six years already since the little green fascists have had their way in California and the future looks bleak for miraculous turnarounds as far as suction dredging for gold in the West is concerned. As small-scale miners, your rights and mine have been violated again and again here in the West by these self-righteous little shits masquerading as champions of the downtrodden masses and Ma Nature herself. My prognosis? It's only going to get worse down the road unless some sort of equanimity and sanity is restored to the country at large (not likely under the current regime).

 (Say "bye-bye" to suction dredging in the West.)

Bureaucratic Bullshit: No surprises here I reckon. Bullshit is essentially synonymous with bureaucracy and petty bureaucrats. That said, however, the regulation of small-scale gold mining endeavors and practices has become more like Doctor Frantestein's patched together monster than merely just a nuisance in 2015. A good part of the reason for this is your generic brand of forest Nazi (thanks Gary!) and the rest is simply the nature of the bureaucratic beast. Many of the "do and don't" regulations you and I have to bear these days are, at the least, nonsensical and frustrating. At their worst, they are restrictive, overbearing, and downright inflammatory. Things like needing a permit from the U.S. Forest service to stick your gold pan in some worked-over creek to filing all sorts of bullshit paperwork to wield a basic sluice box, let alone a highbanker. The latter piece of gear has also been flagged for additional scrutiny and restrictions in California and Oregon, and that's just the start. Throw into the mix even crazier rules and regs about staying so many feet away from stream banks before you dig and you get a pretty clear picture of what's going on. Over and above mining itself, we here in the U.S. are the most highly regulated and highly taxed residents on the planet. And some of you wonder why I despise politicians, environmentalists, and bureaucrats. Go figure...

Public Mining Areas: To the best of my knowledge, there's not been much change regarding this issue either for the good or the bad. However, if current anti-mining trends in other areas surface in this category as well, we can expect fewer open or public areas to mine, not more. That's the simple fact of the matter. If small-scale gold miners were given any consideration at all as opposed to the greenies things might be different, but you know what they say about wishes. On a 50/50 note I can't think of one mining area open to the public that's been placed totally "off limits" to us, although the bureaucratic bullshit mentioned earlier has spread like a virulent pathogen in those areas that DO remain open. So take the good along with the bad. Interestingly enough, the disciples of the Messianic 4-Square, Holy Fire, Abundant Life Green Church don't seem quite as interested in desert scorpions as they are in the little fishies and frogs swimming around in those mountain streams or foothill mud holes (no hypocrisy in that, right?). So those desert or dry placers outside the boundaries of state or Federal recreation or park areas remain good places to prospect and mine without fear of much interference from greenie cult members or various bureaucratic "agents." In fact, you'll probably feel freer in these sorts of areas more than anywhere else, especially in California. That's my read anyhow.

 (California's South Yuba State Park remains a good open area for small-scale miners if you're willing to hike downstream away from the crowds.)

Mining Gear and Equipment: Aside from certain elements involving motorized equipment, most small-scale gear's essential design remains based on what miners used 150 years ago (or more). However, improvements in overall design, materials, and reliability (especially in motorized gear) have created a class of small-scale equipment that is, in some respects, a much improved version over the gear I first employed 35 years ago. This is what I call the "better mousetrap" mode and it's a real boon to the small-scale guy or gal. I find this especially true when motorized gear like dry washers, highbankers, dredges, and trommels are the topic of conversation. Just as most of our new cars today are, by and large, better engineered and much more reliable than the ones we grew up with, so it goes with motorized small-scale mining equipment. This said, however, I've no knowledge of any earth-shattering new designs or configurations in equipment geared toward the small-scale miner. But what's out there is much more reliable and in many instances, more durable. So take heart in that fact. The ongoing issue, is of course, where and if you can employ that gear.

 (Small-scale mining gear is much more reliable these days.)

Mining Claims/Claim Scams

Despite the fact that the Feds have upped the ante regarding annual claim fees and good claims remain hard to find, owning your own placer or lode claim is still a viable option for those of you who have been around the mining block for a while. It's a love/hate sort of deal though. Once you buy or file on a claim you'll be hit by the previously mentioned bureaucratic bullshit in terms of the paperwork and money required to keep your claim valid in the eyes of Federal, state, and local (i.e., county assessor/clerk) governmental entities. All in all, that's a minor fly in the ointment as long as you know what to expect and have the patience to deal with it. One of the best things about owning your own mining claim is you don't have to fret about where to work or being forced into those worked-over public areas with their ever-increasing restrictions. Mining claim scams are still out there as are some of the principal scammers, some of whom I can no longer target by name or expose due to lawsuit threats. The message here is to DO YOUR RESEARCH and know who the hell you're dealing with. Yes, there are many reputable and honest claim holders out there (or companies) that you can buy a decent claim from, but the rats and cockroaches are waiting in the wings to lift your wallet if you take a half-assed attitude about claim acquisition and don't use your smarts. Remember the old adage: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." 

(Be smart and avoid the rats and cockroaches when it comes to mining claims.)

Gold Prices

I'm no psychic or seer, but I think that gold spot prices will remain high for the near future. They may not reach the highest levels that they did in the past seven years or so, but I do believe a troy ounce of gold will still hover in the $1,000+ (USD) range. That's always good for miners, small-scale, commercial, or corporate. I just can't see gold plummeting in value in the foreseeable future despite the economic, social, and political madness currently surrounding us. In fact, this sort of instability has historically kept gold prices high. So hang on to those grams of gold you've recovered and know that the yellow metal in those vials is REAL money, not some near worthless piece of paper foisted on you by banking cartels and the Federal Reserve.

 (REAL money.)

Take Pride

I know I haven't painted a very pretty picture here overall, but I owe you the truth as I see it. Despite all the negatives small-scale gold mining remains a positive endeavor for all of us. Take pride in the fact that you are carrying on traditions established hundreds of years ago. Each and every one of you is a representative of living history and core values established on the concept of independence, hard work, and being the best you can be. You're an elite bunch, whether you realize that or not.

Hang tough out there.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hello JR, When you think about all the problems and worries this country is up against right now, uncertain president, elections, terrorists, refugees, immigration in general, so called global warming, social security........the list is long. My hope is that they will have bigger fish to fry and back off a little on some guy playing in the dirt looking for gold. Wishful thinking I know. To me prospecting, hunting, trapping are all ways to escape back in time to when life was more simple and free. When you think about it, the villains have changed, but prospecting hasn't. In the 1800's you had to watch out and hide from Indians and it's the Forest Nazis. If that makes me an outlaw, so be it. I don't know about you, but I refuse to let them and their rules control my idea of having fun. I do this more for enjoyment than profit anyway, but the threat of jail or fines takes a lot of the fun out of this. Everything we do in life has risks. We can either take those risks, or roll over and die. Like the old time mountain men used to say " Keep your eyes open and watch yer top knot!"

  2. Jim, I've been roaming around your blog for a couple of hours now and am thoroughly enjoying reading the immense amount of information. I just started my blog a few days as an outlet for this growing hobby of mine.

    Before reading this particular post I knew there were less opportunities for gold mining in the United States rather than more. It's absolutely the political and social environment we live in. What would your advice or opinion be for some starting out though? I've been metal detecting for about 15 years now and just recently started panning, but I get asked this question a lot from family and friends: How long will it last? I noticed in one of your other posts, the idea of going internationally. I suppose if it's viable there are countries with far more comfortable regulations and laws surrounding small scale gold mining.

    I'm definitely on the side of Muskrat here. I have enjoyed detecting for the opportunity at being outdoors, reconnecting with history, and sharing history with future generations. Any financial gain in this hobby is simply to maintain and upgrade my equipment. I certainly am not able to make a living off of it.


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