Gold Panning and Prospecting Mistakes
Here are some typical mistakes made by novice gold panners and prospectors. Avoid these errors and be more productive.
Not Seasoning Your Gold Pan
The newer models of plastic gold pans will have a sheen on them from the manufacturing process. Water will tend to pool and bubble on top rather move freely over the surface. Rough up your gold pan thoroughly using gravel and rough sand to let your gold pan work at peak efficiency.
Test your panning with one of our gold concentrate bags. Loaded with gold it will allow you to practice at home before going out on the river. Great for hand panning practice too!
Not digging deep enough
All too often I have seen people new to prospecting wasting their efforts by scooping up material from the surface of the river bank. Gold is heavy - it will sink to the lowest possible point over time. Most gold may be found on top of the bedrock of the river. Concentrate your efforts on working the material just above the hard pack or bedrock. Ignore the loose material on top - this is just "overburden" and likely contains little to no gold. Now, some gold may be found in the loose top material but it is surely far less than what can be found deeper. (Note: the reverse may be true just after flood season when the gold may be churned up and moved closer to the surface. Over time though this gold too will also sink lower.)
Consider the following: any gold found in the top layers of material will likely be fairly new gold - gold that has just been deposited. Now imagine hundreds perhaps thousands of years where Mother Nature has worked its magic through breaking down tons of rocks and minerals and depositing gold throughout the river bed. Over time, gold, being heavy, will sink through the lighter top material and concentrate near the bottom of the river bed - just on top of the bedrock. Get down to this bedrock and be rewarded.
If digging a hole down to bedrock is impractical due to depth or is just not your style, you can still be very productive. Try crevicing or sniping for gold. Look for cracks in the bedrock where gold may have become lodged. Use small hand tools such as garden trowels, flat head screw drivers, dental picks, and scrapers to remove material from these areas and pan this material out. (See other tips for more on crevicing and sniping for gold).
Not digging test holes before setting up heavy equipment
Before you drop your dredge into the water or set up your sluice box for a day's work, spend some time testing likely areas for gold deposits. Gold is not evenly deposited in rivers. It will concentrate and form paystreaks or pocket up in certain areas. (See our other gold prospecting tips to learn how to identify these likely areas.) Use your gold pan as a sampling tool - take some material from various locations and pan it out thoroughly. Use a safety pan or catch basin under your pan because you will be counting the "colors" found in each pan. Pan your test material thoroughly and note the presence or lack thereof of gold from each location. You may find ten colors in one pan from location #1 but only three from location #5. Spending a little preliminary time scouting the area and panning the material from test holes will yield a much better pay off and save you from hours of digging in less productive areas.
Not Knowing How Gold Accumulates - Learn to Concentrate Your Efforts
The best places to find gold exist where turbulence changes to slower-moving water flow. Check out slower water below rapids and waterfalls, deep pools, and the downstream side of boulders. Inside bends of meanders, upstream ends of sand or 'point" bars are good places to pan fine gold, which is renewed yearly during runoff. Bedrock crevices or pockets acting as natural riffles can collect gold. Scoop out and pan material from these spots.
Investing in heavy equipment too soon
Ask anyone inflicted with Gold Fever and he will be sure to tell you the rush and urge he had to buy the latest and greatest gold getting machine! If you are still fairly new to prospecting but have already been bitten by the gold bug, take your time. Learn the ropes, join a local or national prospecting club, and ask for advice. Don't blow your wad on that fancy new 6" gold dredge before you know what you are doing. Your state or local county may not even allow you to use it!
Be sure your skills in finding gold will match the money you have invested iin equipment. Even with the highest-end multi-thousand dollar set up - you can only find gold where it exists. And then you can only find what your skills will allow you to find. Even with a mean gold gettin' dredgin' machine you can suck the river dry but unless you know what you are doing and know where to look you will soon find your investment sitting in your garage. The upkeep on a dredge coupled with transportation and set up costs mount quickly. Be sure your hobby can support itself financially.
Consider the following evolution for investing in new gold prospecting equipment.
Stage 1: gold pans, classifiers, snuffer bottles, 5 gallon buckets, etc...
Not Respecting Mother Nature
Recreational gold panning is a privilege. One that is sadly becoming more and more rare thanks to the efforts of the "ecoterrorists". Keep some simple ideas in mind when prospecting and help keep these people of our backs.
Here are some tips from the USGS: "Be aware that some types of panning, sluicing, and suction dredging can adversely affect water quality, thereby impacting vegetation, fish, wildlife, and ultimately people.
During the process of separating soil from minerals, silt may be washed into streams, creating turbid water. Fish, fish eggs, and the aquatic insects have difficulty living in heavily silted water because of its reduced oxygen supply.
Avoid washing soil and vegetation into streams, and do not dig in stream hanks. This increases silt in the stream and is also dangerous. Many banks are unstable and can slide without warning.
To reduce silt, dig only in active stream gravels. Return rocks or boulders moved during your efforts to their original positions. Aquatic insects, an important food source for salmon, often make their homes under these rocks. A little care will help ensure a healthy water ecosystem for both miners and anglers."
A glossary of mining terms
Part of any endeavor is knowing the language. Here are a few of the more common terms used in mining. Knowing these terms will help you be a better recreational panner and help you have more fun, too.
alluvial fan--cone-shaped gravel deposit formed where a stream emerges from mountains onto a lowland.
bedrock--solid rock underlying gold-bearing gravel.
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