For basic gold panning you will need a pan, vials with lids for storing your gold, tweezers, and a small shovel or gardening scoop. For more serious prospecting you may want to consider sluice boxes and metal detectors. My wife’s friend uses a mini backhoe to excavate the stream running through his property, he often finds good sized nuggets this way.
Panning for gold is not just a recreational hobby, many modern prospectors are still finding quality nuggets in their pans. Some people are actually supplementing their income quite nicely. If nothing else they come away from the experience with fresh air in their lungs, smiles on their sunlit faces, great memories and a few treasures for their specimen collections. I can say gold panning is wonderfully therapeutic, adventurous and fun for the whole family.
My wife Suzie and I go panning several times during the summer. We have never gotten rich, but we cannot complain either. Here is a quick rundown on some equipment and pricing.
Round pans range in size and price, anywhere from $2.95 to $18.00 depending on where you buy them and whether they are made of plastic or metal. The most common sizes are from ten to fourteen inches. I found an oblong plastic pan that measures 18 x 12 x 4 inches that costs around $20.00.
Classifiers are handy little strainers made to fit in a five gallon bucket. These are designed to further aid the sorting process of your panned materials to help you find those highly coveted nuggets. The classifiers I came across cost between $8.00 and $25.00. A small hand held kitchen colander or screen sieve can be used.
I found some great deals on panning kits priced anywhere from $12.00 to $40.00. These great kits contain a pan, a how-to guide booklet, a couple of glass vials, a sniffer bottle that works like a bulb syringe to suck up gold dust with, and a folding jeweler’s loupe. We have decided these kits would be excellent for gift giving as well.
I have seen several types of modern portable sluice boxes in the price range of $14.00 to $300.00. These appear to be very handy, but if you are only going a few times a year it may not be a “must have” item.
Metal detectors are very popular with modern prospectors and treasure hunters alike. My wife wants one almost more than she wants candy, cake or ice dream. Depending on how elaborate you want to get, the new metal detectors are available for between $120.00 to up over $7,000.00. Suzie has many varieties of crystal, and mineral specimens and artifacts around the house, but I cannot see spending more than a few hundred dollars for a good metal detector.
When panning, look for trickling brooks or streams with a gravely bed. Choosing streams running through or out of areas where old gold mines are found can be beneficial, but dangerous. Always steer clear of the mines, these areas are very unstable. It can be a lot of fun to pick through a mound of tailings if they are located a safe distance from the mines. Should you find yourself considering this, never assume you are safe, and the property is very highly likely to be private. Nothing can ruin a good thing faster than a trespassing charge. If the water in your chosen stream is moving too fast or deep for safety you can pan along the banks. My wife and I recommend scooping materials into buckets for small children to pick through, situate them well away from the water.
Once you are well prepared and have decided on a good location place a good sized scoop of stone and gravel in your pan, allowing it to fill with water as well. While holding the pan just slightly in the water, let the stream flow into and out of your pan while tilting it slightly with a gentle circular motion. This allows the heavy metals to settle to the bottom of the pan while washing away the fine sand, biotite and muscovite mica, and other unwanted particles. Every few minutes remove and discard any large stones, then resume the circular washing method. Your goal is to get down to any gravel sized pieces and any heavy metals. Sort through these particles with your fingers and tweezers. When you find even a slight spec of gold place it in one of your vials and continue. After all, you cannot find the mother lode if you do not work diligently.
It really is easy to spot gold once you get used to looking for it. Gold is rich in color and sometimes it will even have a reddish glint to it, whereas mica and fool’s gold are shiny, but a dull yellow in color compared to gold. Mica falls apart very easily when pinched hard with tweezers. Fool’s gold crystals usually form in squares that are clustered together.
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If luck is with you, you will have a lot of fun and may come away from your experience with at least a small amount of gold. Hopefully you will find a few decent nuggets, or some other treasures such as quartz crystals, topaz, garnet, or perhaps even a genuine arrowhead or other artifact worth displaying. Just remember, if the stream yields no treasure you can always go fishing.