The Hot Poop About Tailings (Conclusion)

 (I checked these old coarse tailings at a location in New Mexico but alas...they didn't show much.)

In my previous post I discussed what tailings are and the two major types of tailings. I also alluded to whether or not they're worth working. Today I'll be talking about how to go about sampling or working tailings...that is, if the spirit should move you in that direction.

I've said it before and I'll say it again here. I'm not a big fan of working tailings. It's sort of like cleaning out a garbage dumpster to see if anyone left anything good in it. But if you read my earlier post you already know that some tailings can contain decent gold. It's a toss up, I guess. I DO THINK you should sample some tailings piles just to take a look see at what got away from the old timers. I do this periodically...mostly as a matter of habit, not because I expect to strike it rich in a tailings pile. The only type of tailings you should seriously consider are:

Older Coarser Tailings

These are the leftovers from mining operations that contain larger, coarser rock and gravel. This is the stuff that the old timers classified either before they began running gold-bearing material or the stuff that was screened away or grizzlied. These coarse tailings can be found in both wet and dry placer locations, although it sometimes takes a practiced eye to spot them where there's lots of overgrowth. In the desert it's a sure thing. They can be huge or quite small, depending on the level of mining that took place. For example, you desert rats out there are used to the coarse tailings produced by small-scale dry washing, including your own. I recommend you check some of these old tailings or do a short run of material with them. Why? Because I've seen some pretty good gold come out of tailings that were produced by the material that didn't make it through dry washer hopper screens.

 (Old coarse tailings from a fairly large placer mining operation.)

Now here's a direct suggestion to each and every one of out there:

Always...I say again, ALWAYS check your tailings. It doesn't matter what type of gear you're using, with the possible exception of suction dredge tailings. If you're running a sluice box, rocker, highbanker, dry washer, trommel, wash plant, or some jury-rigged piece of gear you slapped together...check your tailings periodically. Check both fine tailings (those coming out the end of your mining equipment as smaller waste) and any coarse material you screened away or classified prior to running it. You don't have to be obsessive about these checks but you should perform them periodically when running mining equipment. Individual miners and small-scale operations can be notoriously inefficient at times whether anyone wants to admit that fact or not. The rationale for checking your own tailings is twofold:

1. To see what you might have tossed away in your classifying efforts, and

2. To see how much gold (if any) is escaping your mining equipment as you process material.

There are a couple of ways to check your tailings...get a gold pan and sample them or do a short run of those tailings through whatever gear you're using. If you're wondering how to run coarse tailings in a wet placer location I recommend puddling your coarse stuff in a five-gallon bucket of water and cleaning off any dirt or clay attached to the larger rocks. Then pan or run the leftovers to see what's what. If you're working dry ground (dry washing) take a stiff wire brush and scrub off any caliche or dried clay stuck to your coarse tailings. Do this over a gold pan or five-gallon bucket and then run or pan that material. If you're a would-be desert rat and didn't bring along enough water to pan concentrates in a tub...shame on you! You must greener than green.

 (You didn't bring enough water to pan concentrates or tailings cleanings? Shame on you!)

Metal Detecting

If your primary thing is nugget hunting (or "nugget shooting") bring a heavy duty metal rake along with you. To the extent you're able to, rake and spread coarse tailings piles BEFORE you attempt to search them for coarser pieces of gold that the previous guy or gal (newbie or old timer) may have left behind. This is easy to do with smaller, coarse tailings piles but it won't work with bucket dredge tailings or similar large-scale operations. Speaking of old bucket dredge coarse tailings, ALWAYS check those too if you're in an area where bucket dredges once worked. Some absolutely stunningly large nuggets have been found by nugget shooters this way...especially in Alaskan goldfields. I'm talking multi-ouncers that got bounced away and left to rest in those large, coarse tailings piles. Again, most of these beauties have come from Alaskan bucket dredge sites, but some have also turned up in California and elsewhere.

(Large, heart-shaped nugget found in coarse tailings with a Gold Bug 2 at Gaines Creek, Alaska.)

(An eight ouncer also found in Alaska.)

Nix on Chinese Tailings

I've spoken about Chinese miners in the past and I'll bring the topic to the forefront again here. Forget ANY AND ALL tailings piles that are leftover from the old days where gangs of Chinese miners worked. The Chinese were great miners. They were thorough and meticulous and left no stone unturned in their efforts to glean gold from claims or areas that white miners had abandoned as being "played out." Most Chinese coarse tailings are large in size and are readily identifiable at spots in Northern California and in other Western states. Wherever a placer mining boom occurred, the Chinese soon followed. They were only able to work borderline ground or leftovers, but they worked those types of areas with a fine-tooth comb. So if you sample or run large, coarse tailings piles that show no color whatsoever, you can pretty well figure the Chinese were there before you. I can't tell you how much I admire those Chinese old hat's off to them as gold miners. But the real moral of this short tale is nix on sampling or working Chinese tailings. It's a no go.

That's it for now. Be good to yourself and those around you.

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. yea bucketline dreadges left a lot of gold behind i know iv been working the tails of alder gulch montana and in the last 3 years iv gotten a way with 23 oz talk to me about it if ya want thanks dave

  2. Thanks for commenting Dave...that's a good gold take.

  3. JR, until about a year ago, there was a large scale gold operation just East of Salmon.(TV show type wash plant). They were re-running bucket dredge tailings as well as digging deeper than what the old dredge could do. The guy running it, showed me some of the bigger stuff that was the size of oatmeal flakes. He said they were getting several ounces per day (mostly smaller than that). Sadly, the property is owned by to was happy with the deal with the miners, the other thought it was worth much more. They are shut down now until they can come to an agreement.

  4. No meeting of the minds huh Gary? I've seen that sort of thing in mining circles before and it ain't pretty.

  5. I've been thinking about the Chinese miners. In this area, you can tell if they worked an area by the rows of stacked rocks.....Chinese walls. I'm guessing that's standard and not just here? As they worked the tailings, they stacked the jumbled rocks into rows....Chinese walls.
    I have sent you pictures of this, if you care to use them.
    Anyway..................looking forward to spring. Around here, that means late June or July.
    Have fun on your latest adventure JR! I hope you will write about it! Gary

  6. In Northern California the Chinese tailings tend to be in large stacks in the Northern Motherlode and in wall-type stacks in the Southern Motherlode, so probably similar to Idaho and elsewhere Gary.


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