So what is gold prospecting? In the simplest of terms it is finding gold that is still in or on the ground. Depending on where you live the search for the riches may be quite different. Gold can be found in mines, in open lands, in creeks around the country or even embedded in rock in the middle of the desert.
The oldest and probably the most used and recognized process for getting gold is panning. Recreational Gold Panning can be a fantastic opportunity for families and friends to spend time out doors and maybe even find some gold.
The nice thing about panning is the equipment is reasonable and easy to find. What you really have to have is a pan, a bucket and a shovel. I would not recommend an old steel pan like the ones used by the ’49ers, however, with a little practice they are quite effective. Literally tons of gold were gathered in Northern California during the “Great Gold Rush” that started in 1849 and a good portion was with an old metal pan.
The good news is that the newer pans are lighter and highly refined compared to the old ones which increases your chances of recovering the gold quite a bit. I have used the old steel pans while recreational gold panning in Alaska and they are very effective but I much prefer the newer, lighter and easier to use pans of today.
Where do you go
Recreational gold panning and prospecting has recently become a very popular outdoor activity in a number of countries. The US, Australia, Wales, Canada and even South Africa to name a few. In the US, Alaska, California and the Northwestern states are very popular for prospecting. In the Eastern part of the US the states of Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama are very popular. It should be noted that gold has been found all over the east to varying degrees so don’t be put off from trying if your state is not listed. The mid west around the Great Lakes has been very productive.
The best advice is to check with your local government officials or local clubs to determine if gold is close by you, or if a road trip or add on activity for your next family vacation is in order. Either way it is an experience you will never forget.
In the western part of the US the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) has many open areas for recreational gold panning and prospecting. In the eastern US most land is privately owned so you must get permission before entering. All US National Parks are off limits to gold prospecting.
The GPAA (Gold Prospecting Association of America) is a great place to find acceptable panning locations and there are local chapters in most every state in the US.
How to get a gold pan to work
Let me start out by saying that it takes a bit of practice. However, the rewards are worth it and you will be in or near the water most of the time and outside. My experience has shown me that if you have your kids or grand kids with you they will have a grand time with or without finding gold. The two major elements of fun outdoors are water and dirt. What is more fun that? Even for big kids.
If you have purchased a new pan the first thing you want to do is “season” it. That is very easy to do and will enhance your experience immensely. The reason for this is to get rid of the oils and slickness of new plastic pans left there from the manufacturing process. First scrub the pan on the inside, the outside doesn’t matter, with a scrubby pad and a good dish soap. If you have some sand available use it and dish soap to scrub the pan. It will put some fine scratches on the surface and remove the slickness. That is so the fine gold, called flour, will not wash out of the pan. No access to sand use an abrasive scrubbing powder to scratch the pan. Rinse well and you are ready to go for the gold!
When you arrive at your selected site try to find a sand bar on the edge of the stream or creek and start there. Using your shovel dig down into the gravel until you hit compacted sand or hard rock and then transfer a sample to the pan. I usually fill it half full, but any manageable amount is fine. You should have some stones, sand and “stuff” in the pan. “Stuff” is usually organic like leaves, sticks, slime, moss and anything else you don’t want. Pick it out or wash it out with the bigger rocks.
Now for the washing process which should be done under water as much as possible. This sounds counter intuitive but it works. The reason it works is that gold is slightly more than 19 times heavier than water and will sink into the pan if it stays wet. What’s next:
- Run your hands around the material and mix it up so it is good and wet.
- Rotate the pan under water vigorously in a circular motion
- Remove the bigger rocks and the “stuff” that has washed clean by letting it fall out of the pan while under water
- Now let the smaller material slide back into the pan and agitate your material in the pan by swirling it or rocking it.
- Keeping the pan under water tilt it away from you and continue rocking it allowing the bigger material to spill back into the creek.
- Keep this up until only the finer heavier material is left in the pan. This is called the concentrates. Usually black sand and hopefully gold.
There are as many variations to panning techniques, but all follow the basics above. It takes a little practice but if there is gold in the creek you can find it.
There are many publications and U-tube videos on how to pan. Many local clubs have panning demonstrations and practice areas for those interested. Just remember part of the fun is just getting wet and trying.
Collecting the Gold
So you have mastered the process of getting the pay dirt (gold) in the pan. Now what. You most likely want to keep it and show it off. I still have my first few specks and yes I show them off whenever I get a chance. Small glass or clear plastic vials are the easiest and cheapest way to show off your riches. Oh yeah, they are also great for show and tell at school. (Hint: I use plastic vials at school.)
Let me walk you this very briefly. When you get the gold in the bottom of the pan you want to suck it up in a plastic suction bottle made for the job. They are called snuffer bottles and are around $3-$5 dollars US. The instructions are easy. Fill the snuffer about half full of water and set the snuffer tube about half-way into the bottle. Turn the bottle upside down and squeeze some air out. Put the tube under water in the pan and gently suck the gold into the bottle. Hold the bottle upright and your gold is in the bottom. Repeat as necessary to get all your riches. Transferring the gold to your vial with water makes for a pleasing display.
I do sincerely hope I have whetted your appetite for Recreational Gold Prospecting. I can’t think of anything that provides a better opportunity for getting out of doors and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. It also gives the whole family an excuse to get wet and maybe a little muddy.
Gold prospecting opens many doors to friendships, fun and camaraderie. It is easy, inexpensive and can bring hours of joy to all that participate. If you get really hooked on gold prospecting like so many of my friends have done you may want bigger, better and more expensive equipment in your arsenal to support your quest. But no matter where you go or what equipment you may buy, you will always need a GOLD PAN.
Happy hunting and I hope to see you at the creek.