Over the years I’ve had more than a few people express an interest in being a gold miner for a living. They were generally asking my advice on how to make it happen.
A person can certainly get an education in mining and work for a large mining company, but these folks are more interested in being a professional “prospector” rather than working for a mining company.
They want to spend their days panning and sluicing along a nice mountain stream, yet somehow make enough money to survive.
A Look at the Numbers
It takes a very successful gold miner to actually find enough gold to make a good living.
For sake of argument, lets say that a reasonable wage nowadays is $30,000 per year. You might find this number to be too high or too low, but $30,000 seems like a reasonable wage in most parts of the country.
That translates out to $2,500 per month in gross wages. As I’m writing this the spot price of gold has been hovering around $1,250 per ounce, so you’d need to produce roughly 2 troy ounces of gold each month in order to keep on track with this goal.
Of course you aren’t likely to get full spot price for your gold. If you get a nice gold nugget then you might be able to get some premiums, but for the “bread and butter” placer gold that you find, you should only expect to get around 85% of spot.
This is a fair price to receive from refineries and most gold buyers. Even if you sell it direct on eBay, after fees and everything I’d say that 85% is about what to expect.
So you actually need to recover about 2 1/3 ounces of gold each month to gross $2,500.
Year-Round, Continuous Production
Keep in mind, this figure is assuming that you are going to continuously recover that much gold every month.
A goal of 2 1/3 ounces is fairly reasonable if you are experienced and it is the peak of mining season, but can you keep it up year-round?
Where are you mining? If you are based in Alaska, you’re only going to have a few months of prime mining season every years. What about Arizona? Are you going to be out there digging in the hills when it’s 110 degrees outside?
So you are going to need a plan, and you are going to have to move throughout the year, as well as have prime ground lined up so you can basically hit-the-ground running when you arrive.
Any downtime you have will only mean that you have to produce even more to make up for it.
Keeping Cost Low
When I point out these facts to people with dreams of being a professional miner, they will often point out that they can live on much less than $30,000 per year. After all, they are going to be living out of a camper up in the hills, so they can save money on rent. They won’t be going to restaurants or doing other things that most people spend money on.
That is a fair point, and I suppose it ultimately comes down to what a “good living” actually is. The reality is that most “professional miners” that I know are actually living a pretty lean existence. Most of them are struggling to find more than $10,000 in gold in a year.
Personally, living in an old camp trailer and eating canned soup on a daily basis isn’t my idea of a good time. I do plenty of that when I am camping and prospecting, but its always nice to get home and enjoy a real bed and a warm shower.
There are certainly some successful prospectors out there who are able to live more comfortably while still living their dream as a professional gold prospector. Most of the ones I know use metal detectors to find gold nuggets.
They are able to sell them for a nice premium to collectors, especially if they find a big one. They aren’t getting rich, but they are doing better than most prospectors.
The other thing worth considering is that some folks already have a second source of income like Social Security or other investments that they can live off of. Thus, they don’t need to make a full living off of gold and they can merely supplement their income a bit with their gold finds.
If you can prove me wrong, GO FOR IT!
Hey, I don’t want to discourage you from your dream. If you think that you have a real shot at making a living from gold prospecting then I will be your biggest cheerleader! Believe me, I’ve certainly had the dream too.
I just don’t want to give people false expectations. I have been involved in gold mining for most of my adult life, and only a very small percentage can do it successfully.
If you have capital to invest, a mining claim, good equipment, and experience then you can absolutely do it. But for the average guy with just basic mining equipment and limited experience you simply aren’t going to be able to produce the amount of gold that is required to live a comfortable life.
That’s my honest opinion based on my experience, but as I said, if you can make it happen then I wish you a very heartfelt:
~ Good Luck and Happy Prospecting! ~