Another excellent article on gold panning techniques.
Please post your comments or suggestions. Do you have a mining tip you would like to share?
How to Pan For Gold
The principal behind gold panning is really simple. Gold is heavy. Just about everything else is lighter. If you load a pie-pan shaped container with gold-bearing gravel and sand, proper agitation in water should cause the gold to sink to the bottom, while washing away the lighter stuff that rises to the top. Eventually, all that is left in your pan is the heaviest minerals, including (hopefully) some gold. It really is about that simple. Of course there is more to the story than that.
Equipment Needed for Gold Paning
First off, you are going to need some equipment. This photo shows about the bare minimum of equipment you need to be a successful gold panner. I bought a lot of my equipment online . The rest came from the hardware store. None of it is difficult to find or terribly expensive.
Start with the water-proof boots. Gold panning is done in the water, usually icy cold mountain streams. You'll want to keep your feet dry. Some nice warm socks (maybe a couple of pairs) also helps to keep your feet warm in that cold water.
The green thing is the gold pan. There are lots of different types of gold pans. They all work. so don't spend too much time obsessing over getting just the right kind of pan. I buy my gold pans online since there is nobody near me that stocks them, and it is usually the cheapest place to buy them.
Inside the gold pan is the sniffer bottle. It is used for sucking up little bits of gold out of your pan. More on that later.
The purple thing is a classifier, also known as a sieve or strainer. It is really optional, but I find it to be a great help. I'll talk about why later.
Next, you need some digging tools. A full-size pointed shovel will be real useful (remember what I said about this being hard work?). You'll also want a smaller spade and either an old screwdriver or some other skinny tool for cleaning out small cracks and crevasses in the rocks.
The small white plastic pail is used for collecting concentrates. You can use just about any sort of container for that. More on why this is important later.
Big five gallon buckets come in handy for lots of things. I usually carry several. You can pack a lot of the other equipment in them along with some water bottles and other supplies, and carry it all down to the creek. Once there, a bucket makes handy stool to sit on in the creek to do your panning and another serves to carry your paydirt from where you are digging it to where you are panning it.
Other nice to have accessories are gloves. A nice pair of rugged leather gloves to protect your hands from blisters while working the shovel and protect from cuts and scrapes while digging out cracks and crevasses with the smaller digging tools. Also a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands from the cold water while panning. Also, a pair of tweezers to pick the larger bits of gold "pickers" out of your gold pan, and a glass or plastic bottle to put them in will come in real handy.
Naturally you'll want to take all the usual stuff you would take for any outdoor adventure in the wilderness. Things like a first aide kit, warm clothes, drinking water, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, etc.
Find a Place to Go Gold Panning
If the stream isn't on public land, get permission from the owner first, or move on. Nobody likes trespassers. If the stream is on public land, make sure there isn't an active mining claim in the area where you want to do your panning. Also check with the agency that manages the land the stream is on. They may have restrictions on what sorts of activities are allowed there. If it is a designated wilderness area, then you probably aren't allowed to do any prospecting there. Even if prospecting and recreational mining activities are allowed on the land, there may be restrictions on where you can do it and what sort of equipment is allowed.
This photo shows my favorite little secret place to pan for gold. I'm not going to tell you where it is because I like the fact that it isn't very crowded. I will tell you what makes it such a good spot though. Not a lot of people know about it. It is on public land where recreational mining and prospecting is allowed. It has a history of producing lots of gold. It is not hard to get to. It is just far enough off the beaten path that most people miss it, even though the general area is overrun with people most weekends during the summer.
I usually go panning here in the late spring. The floods from winter storms and the early spring snow melt wash fresh gold into the stream every year. By late spring the water level is down and it has warmed up enough that the water is ice free (but still really cold). By summer though, this stream is usually bone dry. You can't pan without water.
Digging the Paydirt
Where to dig? Gold is heavy. It is a lot heavier than most of the other rocks and minerals in the stream. It takes a lot of force from the moving water to keep gold suspended in the water and move it along the stream bed. So anywhere the water slows down is where the heaviest stuff suspended in the water is most likely to settle out. The inside of bends is one place. Water flowing down a stream moves slower on the inside of a bend and faster on the outside. So heavy material is more likely to settle out on the inside of bends. Also, anything that disrupts the flow of the stream, like a big rock, will create eddies behind it where heavy material will settle out. Dig behind and under big rocks. Also, any cracks or crevasses in the rocks are likely to catch gold. Gold will fall into the cracks but be too heavy for the current to wash it out again. Gold, being so heavy, tends to always sink as low as it can in the stream bed. So digging down in the stream bed to solid and impervious bedrock is often a good way to find the gold. Just keep these thoughts in mind as you hit the stream.
Classify your Paydirt
The second photo was taken after classifying. Now the gold pan only contains the smaller gravel and dirt. The big rocks are retained in the classifier.
One way to make life easier is to take the 5 gallon bucket and classifier to where you are digging. This kind of classifier is designed to fit on top of a 5 gallon bucket. You can classify your material into the bucket as you dig it and only carry the classified material to where you are doing the panning. That way you don't have to waste a lot of effort hauling the big junk rocks over there. Then you can take a break from digging, sit down, and pan out your bucket load of "pay dirt". To make classifying into the bucket easier, fill the bucket to the top with water. Classifying is easier in water. Wet dirt is real heavy though. So don't over-fill the bucket and dump out the excess water before hauling it to your panning site, or you will tire out fast and be really sore the next day. When these photos were taken, I just happened to be digging an area right next to where I was panning, so I classified directly into my pan.
Every source on panning I have ever seen has warned of the possibility of throwing away a big gold nugget with the rocks in your classifier. They all recommend sorting through and carefully examining the contents of the classifier rather than just tossing them away. I think the odds of tossing out a nugget too big to fit through my 1/2 inch classifier are astronomically low. So I don't waste a lot of time sorting through the junk that comes out of my classifier. I just pile it all up in a couple of spots and take the short-cut of running my metal detector over the piles at the end of the day, just to be sure. So far no big nuggets. But the day I don't double check will probably be the day one is there.
Pan Out Your Paydirt and Recover the Gold
Clean Out Your Snuffer Bottle and Enjoy Your Gold