Can I Make a Living Gold Mining? (Revised Version, March 2016)

I'm taking a short break from my series on developing a lode gold mine to tackle this particular subject yet again after having written at least three or four posts on it in the past. One reason is that this topic has generated more interest and more comments from the peanut gallery than just about any other I've written and the other reason is that the question of whether or not folks can make a living at small-scale gold mining seems to generate more delusion and contention among readers and commenters than any other I've posed in Bedrock Dreams. So once more into the breach good friends...

The Best Question to Ask?

OK, the fundamental question is this: "Can I make living gold mining?" Before anyone, myself included, can attempt to answer that we need to modify this question somewhat. Maybe "Can I make a living as a small-scale gold miner?" is a better way to put things and to take this a step farther, "Can I make a living as a small-scale gold miner in the Lower 48 of the United States?" is perhaps the best question to ask of all three. Can you make a living at gold mining? Sure, some folks do. These are the commercial or large-scale miners who move hundreds of tons of dirt a day using very expensive mechanized and motorized equipment that runs into the many hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase, maintain, and operate. Your not-so-humble TV-reality miners that star on the boob tube every week are prime examples of this "making a living" type of miner. One thing to bear in mind here, however, is how long it took some of these mental giants to go profitable in their commercial ventures and the emotional and financial struggles they endured along the way. No easy path to success right? Mining only amplifies that premise. Next we have the megalithic gold mining corporations scattered throughout the known world who are busy, busy beavers right now excavating gold ore from mostly huge open-pit operations. They make money or they wouldn't be in business, so yes...folks involved there are making a living at mining. But the scope and cost of their mining operations makes a small-scale miner like you and I look like a mere fly speck on the wall. Oh...and the miners working for those massive corporations? They really aren't miners, but employees making a wage and taking home benefits that cover themselves and their families.

 (Don't confuse commercial mining approaches or equipment with small-scale gold mining.)

Plain and Simple

Which brings me to my next point concerning the premise of whether or not you can make a living as a small-scale gold miner here in the Lower 48. What does making a living mean to you, first of all? Does it mean you have no fixed address, no dependents, no bills to pay and simply cruise around to various claims or gold areas mining as you go and sleeping in the bed of your pick up each night? Does it mean you eat cold beans out of cans and minimize your gas expenditures so that you're overhead is also minimized? Does it mean (as an individual) you can work marginal gold ground using a dry washer, sluice box, or highbanker and pull on average a gram or two a season, by the way. Yep, seasons can interfere. The weather is not always gonna cooperate when you need to get the gold. Ma Nature operates on her own terms, not based on yours or your immediate needs, financial or otherwise. You see what I'm getting at here? Sure, you might make a living at small-scale gold mining here in the Lower 48 if you go at it in a similar fashion with little or no overhead, but most of us (probably you as well) have dependents and families and bills and mortgages to pay. So what does making a living at gold mining mean to you? Making two thousand, three thousand, five thousand dollars or more a month by mining worked-out areas or borderline claims with your family on pins and needles never knowing exactly HOW much you'll earn through your small-scale mining activities? If you think you can predict the outcome here and say to yourself I can pay for health insurance for the family, make sure my kids have school clothes and the latest I-Phones, and my wife is happy with her home and new furniture then I'll say ARE delusional. Plain and simple. You are allowing your dreams to impact reality as it is and in the final analysis you're heading for a very rude awakening.

I Dream Too

Listen, I know only too well I really piss people off on this topic because I tend to rain on their grandiose parades by telling them the truth as I KNOW IT based on 36 years of real experience. It's nigh impossible to make a living as a small-scale gold miner here in the Lower 48 these days. Hell, even when virgin ground was still plentiful here and new gold discoveries were waiting around the next bend small-scale mining was a tough proposition. And this was in an era where rules and regulations governing mining activities were essentially non-existent. Interestingly enough, the majority of the e-mails and comments I get regarding this topic come mostly from those with little real field experience as small-scale gold miners and even less overall knowledge. Greenhorns and newbies, many of them. As the Good Lord is my witness, those operating from this premise are the very first to seize on the "making a living" thing and the last to let go of it. You could say they don't know any better and while that's true, the reality of the matter is that most folks don't like being told the truth. They believe what they want to believe, no matter how unrealistic or nonsensical that idea is. Dreams die hard. And the truth is dreams die hard for all of us in this life. I'll be the first to admit I'm a dreamer...always have been and always will be. I wouldn't love small-scale gold mining if I wasn't a dreamer and neither would you. But I don't let my dreams run me over a cliff or take risks with my family's well-being and financial future. To do that would be, at the very least, irresponsible and at the worst...criminal. So get it through your heads that I'm not here to dash your golden dreams all to hell and back. I'm not doing that. I want to encourage you in all things small-scale gold mining, but I won't be party to lies, deceptions, or delusions no matter what you think or what you say.

Do It Because You Love It

Hey, I want you to succeed. Why would I have given eight years of my life to writing and publishing Bedrock Dreams for little or no remittance and often no thanks? Just for the hell of it? I do what I do for you, not for me and if some of you can't get that through your thick heads or past your dreamy expectations, then I all I can say is good luck. Prove me wrong. Go out there and make a good living at small-scale gold mining here in the Lower 48. And you know what I mean by good living now...not sleeping in the back of your pick up and depending on social security, disability, or unemployment checks to pick up the slack or vacuum left by the gold you thought you'd get but didn't. You can BS yourselves but I can tell you here and now you can't BS me. So prove me wrong. I love a success story as much as the next guy or gal. I truly do.

Keep your dreams alive but your delusions in check OK? If you're dead serious about making a living at small-scale gold mining start thinking about packing your goods and heading for better ground elsewhere...maybe Canada, Alaska, or even Central or South America. I believe you have a fighting chance in those places despite their inherent difficulties. Here in the Lower 48 you're pretty much screwed, blued, and tattooed unless you're able to go at things in some sort of commercial simply aren't going to make a good living down here as a individual miner using basic equipment without supplementing your income somehow. Like I said before, I don't know a single solitary small-scale gold miner who made it on his or her own in the Lower 48 by mining and mining alone. One of the best small-scale miners and dredgers around (whom some of you know personally) was not able to make much more than a subsistence living at mining until he branched out into club memberships, videos, one-on-one instruction, etc. That takes nothing away from this person because he's the real deal, not some green-in-the-gills, inexperienced hopeful looking to cash in and support his or her family through small-scale gold mining. That's the truth of the matter no matter how hard you want to believe otherwise or refute it as hogwash that doesn't apply to you're special don't ya know?

Do it because you love it. If your dreams are burning up inside of you, then go at it logically, with intelligence and true knowledge of just what's at stake here. Don't go off half-cocked. You'll get burned, trust me because I'm writing this from the heart. Despite all this, I can guarantee you that I'll get the usual spate of angry or semi-angry e-mails or comments, or smart-ass refutations of everything I've tried to get across here. I'll be wrong, full of shit, just being a "Debbie Downer," not playing fair, and so on and so on. And I'll get those, "You got it all wrong Pal," statements. "I'm gonna make it happen or I'm making it happen," (without any of the salient or real details disclosed). Truthfully, I wish each and every one of you well, but don't ask me to buy into your delusions or denial. That'll never happen during my watch or as long as I'm writing and publishing Bedrock Dreams. Want someone to blow smoke up your ass and tell you can make a good living at small-scale gold mining in the Lower 48? Try talking to some dream merchant who's ready to fuel your dreams as long as you have the folding green.

'Cause it ain't ever gonna happen here...

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Good Morning JR, The Alaska gold rush is a great example of this. Thousands flocked to Alaska and Canada to strike it rich quick and easy. Only a handful got rich, and most came home dead broke or at best broke even. My Great Grandpa William Thomas was there. Like most, he only found a little gold, but he did better than most by doing other things. He "mined the miners". He climbed the Chillcoot Pass 45 times packing other people's gear for money. Latter he became a hunter selling meat to feed the mining camps. Most of his money didn't come from the gold he found,and he did pretty well compared to those that tried to make it only on the gold.
    It's best to look at this thing we do as a hobby and hope for more,rather than to expect more and find out it's a hobby. Here's hoping I can pay for gas this summer!! Ha! It'll never happen.....but I'll try anyway! Thanks again Jim, Gary

  2. Lots of truth in what you say Gary and great story about your Great Grandfather. Most who made a good living in the mining camps were NOT miners but those mining you so aptly put it.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with approaching this as a hobby. Sure you may have the money to invest in fancy equipment (some hobbies are expensive), but remember in order to make the claim that you make a living at mining, you have to pay for that equipment from your poke first. I will only invest more if I truly believe that it will pay off in whatever I'm into. Some people blame their equipment for their lackluster success. But, you have to be sure that you are using what you have the best way it can be used. Sluice box set-up is a good example. You have to experiment and keep in mind that if whatever you try doesn't give you the result you want, it wasn't a failure, because you learned what does NOT work. Then you won't waste time trying it again with the same material.


Post a Comment