Developing a Small-Scale Hard-Rock Mine (Part 4)

 (You need free-milling gold in that ore of yours.)

In an earlier post in this series, I mentioned a short list of metals percentages or values necessary to make a small-scale lode venture economically viable. I want to continue in this vein (pun intended!) for a bit in this post and then move things along into other areas of developing a small-scale hard-rock mine. So hang in there.

Remember the Overall Premise Here

OK, I've already covered the fact that you should avoid refractory ores in your hard-rock venture(s). So what we're talking about here are, again, free-milling gold ores. Here's the deal. If your ore is delivering as good or better than those metal values or percentages already mentioned, then your mine is considered viable for development. Since gold is the metal we're interested in, you're ore needs to be showing around 1.50 troy ounces to the ton on average. That is, if your little ol' miner's heart is set on making a profit and expanding your diggings down the road a piece. Then your mine and your mining become job-related entities centered on economic factors. There's a high road and a low road here as I've alluded to earlier. Stepping onto one road means you turn your hard-rock claim into a working proposition that spits cash out at the end of the process and the other road means you take whatever yellow you can get and are damn happy to leave it at that. I make no value judgement concerning one or the other. However, remember that the overall premise behind this series of posts involves making a real go at a small-scale, hard-rock enterprise. So, that's the direction most of the info and tips I'm throwing out there are headed. It's hard work no matter how you slice it. Got that, pard?

 (It's hard work no matter how you slice it.)


If you're serious about turning your small-scale lode claim into another Homestake Mine or Witwatersrand Reef, there's a simple truth to be discussed. Cost. Just how much your small-scale mine development is gonna cost you is dependent on an entire range of factors, including:
  • Estimating the types and quantities of equipment/supplies you'll need.
  • Deciding if you'll process your ore on site (i.e., building a small processing/recovery plant).
  • Getting a line on labor costs (disregard this if you're the only "employee").
  • Narrowing down transportation and/or shipping costs.
  • Streamlining your operation so it's more cost-efficient.
  • Acquiring the appropriate safety related gear (everything from mining helmets to shoring).
Granted, there are other cost-related issues in developing a small mine, but these are the major ones.

 (Balancing mining costs is a tricky act.)

Permitting and Other Bureaucratic Bullshit 

Thought I'd forgot this issue, didn't you? Nope, this snake was bound to rear its ugly head at some point. In an ideal world you could develop your small-scale lode the best way you saw fit and to hell with clerks, environmentalists, and bureaucrats. This may have been the way it was in the old days, but it sure ain't this way now. We as people (and as miners) are driven by paperwork and forms of every description imaginable, so it's little wonder that even in the much-heralded digital age paper still drives the gears of the Machine.

I'll be blunt here. Sometimes I don't even know why I try and put this sort of info out there (meaning developing a small-scale lode mine). There are so many bureaucratic restrictions on lode mining these days that it seems a doomed effort for the most part. Sure, large commercial gold mining operations and corporate mining giants can wend their way through this bureaucratic labyrinth with persistence and lots of cash to grease the political skids, but individual miners like you and I just don't have this sort of legal or financial presence.

The Main Drivers

There are two main drivers regarding lode permitting: 1) safety, and 2) the environment. Both of these are good things in and of themselves, especially a concentration on safety. I'm no land-raping maniac but when it comes to mining and the environment I'll repeat what an old pard told me a long time ago concerning mining in general. "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." There it is. If I somehow inflame some closet greenie's ire by this statement, then so be it. I've seen and done a lot of small-scale gold mining in my day and rarely ever have I (or someone else) had much (if any) real or lasting negative impact on Ma Nature. If the green loonies out there want to take someone on, why not go after Goldfield or Pegasus Mining or some commercial operation where things get torn up pretty well (like those TV mining stars up on the Klondike do)? In truth, radical environmentalists do go after the big boys on occasion, but they seem to have a real hard on for us, the small-scale guys and gals. Go figure.

Anyhoo, the upshot of all this is that you will find yourself under some pretty stringent environmental and safety rules and regulations once you decide to develop that little hard-rock venture of yours. So be prepared for the bureaucratic hassles involved as well as the associated costs (financial and mental). I never argue about safety when it comes to mining of any sort, so I cut the petty bureaucrats some slack on that issue as long as it makes safety sense. And if you're committed to a hard-rock mining operation, you damn well better be committed to your personal safety and the safety of others or you have no reason whatsoever to be involved in hard-rock mining (or mining of any sort for that matter). I think the great majority of us as small-scale miners LOVE the outdoors and the environments we mine in. None of us is going to dump hundreds of gallons of cyanide leach into nearby washes or streams or use large amounts of mercury or other poisonous heavy metals in our little operations like the big boys sometimes do. But mining does require that some eggs get broken, like it or not.

That's it for now. Later all!

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hey J.R. Another way is to get fractured rock from landscape company and pan it out. The local guys where I live use old mine tailins.

  2. Well that's an idea for sure!

  3. JR, one of the biggest problems with the "Good Old USA" is the meddling by government and environmentalist types. Either you play by their rules, just to get blocked or priced out, or you become an outlaw breaking all the rules and laws. It is not supposed to be this way in "The Land of the Free"........makes me sick.....
    I say get as far back away from people as possible and go for it! Trouble is the gold is where it's at and not always in the ideal spot to work unnoticed.

  4. You are spot on the money Gary. I always try to work where others are not around, but not always easy as you point out.


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