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Rockhounding (also spelled rock hounding) means going out and collecting rocks, stones, and minerals. While collecting rocks and gems is a fairly popular hobby, some rockhounds might wonder, “Can you make a living by rockhounding?”
You cannot make a living by rockhounding. Although it’s possible, most rockhounds cannot financially support themselves via rockhounding alone. Only those who live minimally, know where to search, and spend most of their free time collecting, cleaning, and advertising their minerals turn a profit.
Have you been thinking of quitting the 9-to-5 to become a full-time rockhound? If so, you’ll want to continue reading to discover whether rockhounding is a lucrative career change.
Is Rockhounding Lucrative?
Rockhounding could be lucrative for those willing to put the time and effort into finding, cleaning, and advertising their minerals. But for most rockhounds, collecting and selling stones isn’t profitable enough to become full-time careers.
Rockhounding as a career is a high-risk choice.
According to an article published by The New York Times, rockhounds could potentially earn up to $10,000 per month. But few rockhounds reach this upper limit, especially on a consistent basis.
Like becoming a professional poker player, a certain amount of luck is necessary for rockhounding to become a profitable full-time position. There’s no guarantee that rockhounds will find valuable stones and minerals, even after spending full days scouring promising sites.
Still, there are ways to make rockhounding more lucrative.
How To Maximize Rockhounding Profits
The most financially successful rockhounds tend to share a few common qualities, like patience, perseverance, and years of experience. These adept rockhounds also know how to maximize profits while minimizing expenses.
Many of these full-time rockhounds:
- Make an initial investment in high-quality tools.
- Spend years studying raw stones.
- Only collect high-value stones and minerals.
- Embrace van life and camping.
- Sell stones directly to interested buyers.
If you’d like to try making a living by rockhounding, you’ll likely want to study and adopt these actions.
Of course, getting started can be challenging, especially if money is tight. After all, rockhounding tools can be a hefty initial investment, and enjoying a return on this investment could take years of dedicated collecting and selling.
Make an Initial Investment In High-Quality Tools
A set of rockhounding tools can cost anywhere between $50 and $200, depending on the number of pieces included. Stone-polishing tools like rock tumblers can cost about another $100.
While you don’t always need these tools to discover high-quality gemstones and precious minerals, having them on hand is crucial when pursuing rockhounding as a full-time job.
Some of the most crucial rockhounding tools you’ll need to invest in include:
- A professional rock-tumbling machine
- Heavy-duty containers for hauling and storing stones
- A set of rock chisels
- A sifting pan or sieve
- Safety gloves
You’ll also want to stock up on the following:
- Rock hammers
- Rock picks
- Ultraviolet flashlights
- Cleaning brushes
Spend Time Studying Raw Stones
Can you tell a rare and valuable stone from a common one just by looking at it?
Remember, raw gemstones can look very similar to average pebbles. If you haven’t spent much time rockhounding and struggle to identify high-value stones in their raw, unpolished state, earning a living by rockhounding can be an uphill battle.
After all, pro-level rockhounds spend barely any time differentiating precious minerals from common ones. Instead, they use their experience (typically years of first-hand experience) to quickly tell low-value rocks apart from high-value ones.
So, if you’re determined to become a full-time rockhound, now’s the time to start studying how to identify precious stones in the rough. You should also brush up on your general geology knowledge.
Only Collect High-Value Stones and Minerals
When you’re first getting started as a rockhound, it can be tempting to keep all the rocks you find. But the most financially successful rockhounds only keep and sell high-value stones and minerals.
Let’s say you find some interesting-looking rocks while searching a nearby quarry or mountainside. While you might find some online shoppers willing to spend money on those unique pebbles and stones, they’ll sell for less than high-quality quartz pieces or gemstones.
Overall, the time and energy spent collecting, cleaning, listing, and shipping those low-value stones can result in a net loss instead of a rising profit.
Embrace Van Life and Camping
Reducing monthly and annual expenses is a vital part of making rockhounding a lucrative full-time job. For that reason, many rockhounds opt to live in vans or RVs, while others simply invest in a comfortable tent and camp out for extended periods.
Naturally, such a nomadic lifestyle isn’t well-suited to everyone, and it poses unique challenges that have little to do with finding and selling high-value stones.
However, because most rockhounds must travel to multiple locations to discover precious gems and minerals, living out of a vehicle can be an efficient way to embrace the rockhounding lifestyle. Besides, you won’t need to spend money on rent or mortgage payments.
Sell Stones Directly To Interested Buyers
While you could sell your minerals to warehouses and retailers, the most profitable route for most rockhounds is to sell stones directly to interested buyers. But developing a pool of loyal customers takes time and effort.
For example, you’ll likely need to:
- Create a professional website with retail applications.
- Create social media accounts associated with your rockhounding adventures.
- Consistently update your website and social media to attract interested buyers.
- Invest in packaging and spend funds on shipping services.
If you’re working alone, finding the time to update your website, create social media posts, and package and ship stones can be almost impossible. Understanding how to create and maintain an attractive and user-friendly website is a hurdle for many rockhounds.
But hiring a webpage designer or manager can cut into your profits.
Consequently, you should spend time researching these topics and comparing website creation options, domain names, and retail fees (like Shopify’s transaction fees) before submitting a resignation letter to your current employer and becoming a full-time rockhound.
Best Locations For Rockhounding High-Value Minerals
Unless you own a mine or live near a public quarry, you probably won’t become a profitable rockhound by selling the stones found in your backyard. Instead, you’ll need to search for locations known for possessing high-value minerals.
Some of the best spots for uncovering profitable stones include:
- Quarries and mines
- National Forests
- State parks (limited)
- Wildlife sanctuaries and preserves (limited)
If you’re considering earning a living by rockhounding, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with these locations. You’ll also want to explore quarries, mines, and National Forest lands near you to discover if rockhounding could be a profitable career change.
Quarries and Mines
The most promising rock-hounding locations are quarries and mines. These spots tend to be littered with broken pieces of stone and offer rockhounds easy access to rocky surfaces that are ideal for hammering.
Some quarries and mines are privately owned and operated, with zero public access. But others do permit visitors, including rockhounds, to collect on-site rocks. Still, mining companies charge a small fee for collecting gems, which can eat into profits over time.
If you have the funds to place a mining claim, you can avoid entry and permit fees and legally keep or sell all gemstones discovered on the property covered by the claim.
Otherwise, it might be better to search for rocks in National Forest lands.
Most National Forest lands throughout the U.S. have affordable entrance fees, and nearly all of these government-owned properties permit rockhounding.
You can save on entrance fees by investing in an Interagency Annual Pass, which allows rockhounds to enter areas owned and maintained by the Forest Service and National Park Service without paying location-specific entrance fees.
However, rockhounds looking to stock up on high-value minerals found in National Forest System lands might be disappointed by the Forest Service’s recreational mineral collecting rules and policies.
For example, stones collected on these properties are only permitted for personal use (i.e., they’re not supposed to be sold). If you’re looking to collect for commercial purposes, you’ll need to seek prior approval from Forest Service agents.
State Parks (Limited)
Removing rocks from national parks throughout the United States is strictly prohibited, with only two exceptions. But some state parks do allow rockhounding.
Two of the best and most potentially profitable state parks for rockhounds include:
- Crater of Diamonds State Park (Murfreesboro, Arkansas)
- Rockhound State Park (Luna County, New Mexico)
Wildlife Sanctuaries and Preserves (Limited)
Rockhounding at National Wildlife Refuges is prohibited, but some state-run sanctuaries and preserves permit small-scale rockhounding. For example, Crystal Hill in Arizona’s Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent rockhounding destination that could yield buckets of quartz and agate stones.
But, like rocks collected from National Forest lands, these minerals aren’t designed for commercial use. As such, collectors might be in legal trouble if they’re discovered selling them online.
The likelihood of earning a living via rockhounding is low, but you can earn a profit by selling the rocks and minerals you collect.
That said, becoming a full-time rockhound is a risky career move that requires consistent effort, plenty of expertise, and some luck. Those who profit financially from rockhounding often live minimally by camping or living in vehicles. They also know where to look and how to identify high-value stones.
It’s also crucial to note that it can take several years to build an online following large enough to make rockhounding profitable.