How to pan for gold

The New American Gold Rush

We’ve all seen the iconic American image – dozens of old west prospectors squatting next to a creek with a shallow pan.  This is actually a very accurate depiction of what mineral-rich rivers and streams in California looked like during the Gold Rush of the 1850s.

Today, more and more people are taking up this very classical means of extracting gold, not as a way of striking it rich so much as an excuse to take in the great outdoors and connect with their old western roots.  However, that by no means suggests that you can’t make your own mint with the pastime of gold panning – so long as you know how to do it right.

What You Need To Get Started

There are a few very specific things you will need before you dip into your first stream:

  • A good spot – You won’t find gold in every creek in America, but will be much more likely to in the running waters of the western and Appalachian states (as well as Alaska).  Remember the old rule of thumb; if there’s been gold there before, there’s still more to be found.  A little bit of research on your part will show you where in your area is historically rich in gold.

[message type=”success”]Also, remember that large rocks, logs, and other debris act as natural gold pans in a sense, and you could make a big find right next to it.[/message]

  • A gold pan – I suppose that it goes without saying, but you can’t pan for gold without a pan.  A huge variety of gold pans can be purchased, or you can make your own with a shallow, round pan lined on the bottom with lightly crumpled aluminum foil.
  • A spade – A small spade or hand-shovel will be necessary for transferring river sediment into your pan.
  • A seat – The aforementioned iconic image aside, squatting next to a riverbank quickly becomes exhausting.   It’s usually a good idea to have a nice, low seat to sit on, such as a step-stool
  • A safe place to put your findings – You could end up with thousands of flakes of gold by the end of the day that are no thicker than an eyelash; make sure you have a secure place to put them after panning so they don’t simply get swept away in the wind.
  • Free time and patience – Gold panning isn’t normally done as a means of reliable income anymore.  You can certainly make some money with it, but it is very easy to become frustrated if you can’t be patient.

Once you have all of these things in line, it’s time to head out to the creek.

Five Steps To Get A Pan Of Gold

Once you’ve found a nice place to sit and sift, follow these steps to get into the rhythm and get your first pan-full of gold.

  1. Use your shovel to scoop a few handfuls-worth of gravel, sand, and silt out of the river and into your pan.  Be sure that everything you scoop out is nice and wet.
  2. Gold is heavier than other minerals and materials in the river, so roughly shake and swirl the pan around to help the gold settle at the bottom of the pan.
  3. Using a very shallow angle, tip your pan into the water and let the current carry the first layer of silt and sand away and out of the pan.  Slowly move the pan back and forth in the current to help loosen up the first layer, and make sure you don’t let too much of the material get away at a time.
  4. Repeat the second step, shaking down your gold, then move on again to step three.  Continue this process until you are left with a few tablespoons of blackish sand.
  5. Begin to gently swirl your pan to help the gold flakes settle further, and pick them out as you spot them.  Make sure you put them away safely.

Congratulations, you have just successfully panned for gold and been rewarded with raw gold of your very own.

A Common Mistake For Amateur Gold Panners

In most cases, you can’t just go out and dip into the first creek you find in a mineral-rich area.  You must make yourself aware of the gold claim laws in your state as they apply to the area in which you will be panning.  Also, make sure that you don’t wonder into private property to mine.  Either of these mistakes can cost you not only your findings, but substantially more in fines and penalties.

A good way to avoid this mistake is to join a gold panning club.  Associations such as these have resources readily available to make sure you are operating well within the confines of the law, and as an added bonus, may be able to give you extra advice from their more experienced members.

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