Prospecting for gold on a smal scale, viable again?

I live in Southern California, and have not been doing well in the current economy. I have read some articles about how going after gold is starting to pay decently again, with the prices the way they are. I read about people making $50-$200 a day, with the occasional nugget turning up that makes a nice bonus. The idea appeals to me, no boss to kow-tow to, no customers to seek out and placate, working in the outdoors, etc.

I am an experienced hiker, in pretty good shape in my late middle age, and am comfortable in the wilderness. There are a lot of areas around here that produce gold, and I remember talking to a nice couple a few years ago, that was making decent money at it back when gold was under $500/oz. They had buckets of “concentrate” in the back of their wagon and a bunch of flake and dust to show for their day’s effort up in the Angeles National Forest. At the time, I filed it under, “cool, but I wouldn’t want to do it”, but back then I was earning money!

I have checked out some of the equipment, and it seems like a sluice and a pan and a shovel are about all you need to turn up the golden stuff. I would have a girlfriend to run the sluice while I dug the ore, so we could keep the thing running through the day.

Is it realistic to suppose that we could make a modest living if we put some time and effort into it? Or am I on a fool’s (gold) errand?

I am getting kind of desperate, running out of stuff to hock on eBay, to the point where I am willing to try things like this, which doesn’t seem like it will pay off. So, dopers, should I head out for the mountain stream and start digging? :slight_smile:

I live in Montana and have thought about doing something similar, but only on weekends and only as a hobby.

I think you underestimate the amount of physical labor required to “work” an active claim. While gold prices are fairly high right now, most of the easy gold has already been taken. Also, I believe there are restrictions on where you can mine so you might want to check out whether it is allowed in the state and national parks near where you live since I would think that driving 3 hours in Summer to get someplace would become a drag fairly quickly. You can’t just pull off the side of the road somewhere and start mining.

So what do you do to earn a living now? The economy won’t be bad forever. There may be other things you can do that are less risky financially than panning for gold.

I really enjoy being in the wilderness, but spending all day up to my knees in a stream, dumping tons of mud into a sluce, in hopes of finding a few precious ounces of gold, may not be as fun as it sounds…

I never said that it would be fun, I am getting pretty desperate here. As far as “hopes” of finding gold, my understanding is that if you find a decent spot you WILL get gold after you process enough raw material. And the gold is always coming out of the ground, due to erosion, so it has NOT all been taken. My understanding is that the amount of “placer” gold available to surface miners is as much as it has ever been! In fact, since the 1800’s, a lot of the stream beds have been unworked, so there is more now than in a long time.

There are a lot of public places in my area where anyone can do non mechanized gold prospecting and extraction.

I am not looking or expecting to get rich, just keep up on my modest storage bills, feed me and my girlfriend, and keep the dog in kibble while I get some other gig together.

I have a friend in an online game I play that is a rockhound by profession. He regularly takes a few weeks at a time and goes prospecting. This past January it was for a week panning gold. I believe he also hit an area that had gemstones because he spent the next month or so processing gold and gems. He and his partner were thinking about buying a share in an opal mine in Nevada.

It can be done, but it is very hard work, physical and dirty. It is easier to make a living sitting in an airconditioned office unless you get extremely lucky.

Good luck! Let us know how you make out…

You wouldn’t keep the girlfriend long. It’s hard work. I did it a few weekends with my Dad when I was young. You are also out in the sun all day long, and that causes some mighty sunburns, which lead to melanoma, which leads to the Dark Side.

I used to pan for fun. It’s just nice to get out and do it.
This is the gold that I got.

That’s a 3/8s” inch test tube. It tends to magnify in the tube.
It’s not much gold. Not at all.

I suspect that this is about 10 days worth of fooling around and 20 actual hours of sitting by a stream panning. It’s probably worth $20. Maybe.

Understand that I am not a serious prospector. I hope to do a little bit more panning behind the house but I really don’t expect to come back with anything more than muddy boots.

Good luck to you.

Perhaps in California a little equipment is all you need but in Nevada if your aim is to supplement your income and amuse yourself you need a to file a claim. The last time I read the numbers in the Elko paper costs of a claim would run about $32,000. Oh, and then if you want to turn the gold into dollars you will need an assay. I know an old man who owns four claims and has perhaps a pound or two on a kitchen shelf but does nothing with it because of the costs of assaying the stuff.