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For the rest of us, the truth is that only a small proportion of placer miners make money placer mining. But there are a aspects...
It may be a long shot but people have been looking for gold for thousands of years. There is always the chance of striking it rich.
Many placer miners do find gold that they value. It may not be enough to make their mining profitable but it makes the placer mining worthwhile. It is a great hobby that supports great dreams for many people.
Unless an operating mine is purchased, placer mining is like starting a new business. Most new businesses fail. In any kind of situation, if there is an obvious way to make money, someone will already be doing it. If the situation is speculative, there are risks. Most placer miners are folks who are willing to accept some risk for the possibility of successful placer mining (however success is defined).
Another approach is to try to find an existing placer claim where you make a deal with the owner. The deal might be a percentage of the gold recovered or an option to purchase the claim. But, again, finding a good location is the hard part.
A sluice box can capture fine gold. It is very important to ensure that all clay is broken up and suspended in the moving water. Balls of clay can roll down the sluice and pick up ("steal") the fine gold that has already been caught.
Locations that can now be reached by modern forestry roads can be of particular interest to prospectors because they were so hard to reach before the roads were put in.
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