Gold prospecting grows as a hobby thanks to social distancing and an uncertain economy

It’s a Saturday in mid-August in northern Montana, about 45 minutes outside of Helena in an area informally referred to as Magpie Gulch by locals.  Dustin LeDoux is standing in an ankle-deep stream, the crystal-clear water sparkling in the sunlight as it quickly moves downstream. Aside from the wireless speaker, it could be a scene from “A River Runs Through It” or any other number of films whose plot is rivaled by the jaw-dropping beauty of the vibrant green landscape and bright blue sky.

But LeDoux isn’t there to take in the scenery or even fish – he’s looking for telltale flecks of yellow in the sluice that he’s set up in the small stream.

LeDoux  is fishing for gold – and he’s not alone.

With a staggering value of about $1,864 per ounce as of Sept. 25 (up about $300 from an average price of just over $1500 in early January before the pandemic), even a fistful of gold could give LeDoux, who already runs a successful masonry business, a very nice payday. To date, his biggest score has been six grams (.21 ounces), netting him about $400. Most jewelry shops will purchase pure gold at market rates. Others sell their gold on eBay or via internet forums.

LeDoux’s weekend hobby, which is quickly gaining traction for weekend enthusiasts as well as destination travelers, could be heralding in a frenzy reminiscent of the 1849 gold rush. 

Almost 170 years ago, hordes of people flocked to the western United States in search of gold. While good fortune smiled on some prospectors and made them millionaires almost overnight, most failed to strike it rich. Generally speaking, gold prospecting has remained buried in America’s collective conscious: a legacy to the romanticized notion of a modern-day miracle brought on by little more than hard work, determination, and an adventurous spirit.

Social distance, isolation from reality

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