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Placer gold has tantalized many a person who has tried his luck and skill in the hope of striking it rich. Separating gold from embedded materials is basically simple, and can be done effectively on nearly any scale, depending upon the deposit and the capital available for investment. The final product is consistently in demand at a relatively stable price. Historically, however, one must be advised that rewards for the majority of small-scale miners-those who operate "on a shoestring"-have been depressingly small.
First of all the placer miner must know where the placer deposits are located and he must have the technical knowledge to extract the gold. Additionally, he must face problems of land ownership, water supply, and water pollution, all of which have grown in complexity with the population. The costs of labor and equipment are relatively high now, although this may not seem significant to an individual mining a small deposit. Secondhand equipment may become available at relatively low cost because of a slowdown in construction or as surplus at the end of a war. By taking advantage of such opportunities, one can sometimes make an otherwise unprofitable operation successful, at least as long as the equipment holds up.
To the novice or "weekend prospector," the more complex of placer mining may seem hard to comprehend. At any rate, the novice is often more interested in the recreational values offered by gold placering than in its profitability. Thus, the search for and discovery of even a small grain or nugget of gold is an achievement worth of considerable effort. As a start, the beginner may gain some benefit from visiting one of the many pan-for-a-fee tourist establishments typically found in gold-mining areas.