With the high price of gold and the poor economic conditions, a large number of people are thinking seriously about getting into prospecting and digging for gold. Some folks who have never dug for gold before figure they will recover $200 to $300 per day, but if that were true, there would be millions of new prospectors out there digging.
Far too many prospectors will head out to those same spots they found gold at for the last couple of years, even if that means they continue to just find a little bit of gold at those same old spots, chasing after those last crumbs. The whole thing about prospecting is that it is an ongoing search, and that is one of the real secrets of success.
Another common mistake is in sampling, or shall I say, lack of sampling. Too often I see prospectors taking a test pan that shows a few colors, then bring in the high-banker for some production work. There surely must be a lot more gold there, right? Only to find they moved a lot of useless dirt.
If you are a new prospector, don’t start out by quitting your day job. Learn to walk before you try to run. You can try prospecting on weekends and see how you do. Once you get some experience, do the math. Figure out if you are recovering enough gold to provide for yourself and your family. Most small-time operators barely make enough money to live off cans of beans with the gold they find. They have loads of fun doing what they do, but the gold recovered is likely less than minimum wage after expenses. When you prospect do you make well over minimum wage on average?
When you start prospecting, keep a tally of what you get on your weekends and vacation time. Convert it to dollars and see if it’s a wage you would want to live on, taking into consideration that there are periods of bad weather and other situations when one simply cannot be out prospecting. Don’t let the high value of an ounce of gold mess with your head. Many new prospectors get attracted to the concept of being out in the wild, making a living off the land. Even at the current gold price it is difficult to maintain an average recovery over the long haul. Many who prospect regularly have “regular” jobs or they are retired and have enough savings and pension to cover their needs so that any gold recovered is just an extra bonus.
There are many retired folks who spend a few weeks to several months prospecting each year and successfully supplement their retirement income. Most full-time prospectors live in the field with a very low cost, hand-to-mouth kind of existence. Few experienced operators are able to make a reasonable living— it takes lots of skill and experience to reach this threshold.
An experienced prospector can reasonably recover two grams of gold per day, which would amount to approximately $150 per day at the current gold price. This equates to $750 per week if you are working five days per week, or $3,000 per month prior to expenses. By camping outdoors and keeping down expenses one can eke out a survival on that kind of money. However, bad weather, injuries, illness and other problems equate to days of no gold and no income. Inexperienced new prospectors should expect to recover less gold.
A professional prospector living off his finds must constantly go out and find new places to work—every location eventually becomes worked out. What might have begun as an exciting quest can become a hunt for gold to survive. The gold you find cannot be saved as a trophy when you need to pay your bills.
If you want to succeed prospecting on your own, you will need (1) the skills to find and extract gold; (2) the ability to get by living outdoors; (3) a gold-bearing piece of property; and (4) the necessary camping and mining equipment.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect is finding the right place to work. Most well-known gold-bearing locations are already claimed, and those that are still open may be already mined out. Acquiring decent mining claims or getting a claim owner to allow you on their property can be a difficult task. Gold is money, and most claim owners hold their claims with the intention of extracting any gold themselves. Miles of good gold-bearing ground isn’t just waiting there for you to arrive and start digging.
Finally there is the issue of equipment. This is a flexible issue depending on what type of operation you are envisioning. It’s important to have all the equipment you will need, including any camping related equipment you may need to live outdoors. Once you obtain some experience and skill prospecting for gold you can look for someone who has a gold-bearing piece of property who may let you work for a percentage.
Some prospectors envision a larger production rate or commercial-scale mining in order to generate more income. Commercial mining is very different from small-scale prospecting. Your focus is to be profitable, not just have a good time. The idea of running your own mining operation sounds intriguing, but when you start investing significant sums of money, taking risks and putting yourself in a position that you may be cited with very significant fines if you don’t obey all the laws, then it’s time to get serious.
When you start commercial operations you need to always recover enough gold to cover your costs to avoid financial disaster. However, commercial mining operations done on a small-scale can be highly profitable.
Permitting is always an issue in commercial mining. Figure that even if you have all the money you need for studies and consultants, permits for a commercial-scale operation, like a loader-fed trommel, might easily take 1 to 2 years to obtain depending on where you plan to work, and you can’t start work until the permits are in hand.
Whatever your course, your prospecting experience is cumulative and you can take what you’ve learned in the past and use it to grow. Even a failure to find good gold can be instructive. Take the experience you have gained and put it to use in a new place. Now go out there and get some gold!