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Placer Gold Prospecting - How To Get Started

Updated on September 8, 2014

Gold Prospecting Basics for Beginners - Know Your Basics and Increase Your Gold Prospecting Success

Gold naturally occurs in two basic forms:

1. Lode Gold - Also known as Hard Rock Gold or Gold Ore .

This is gold that occurs imbedded in the material it was formed in. This gold typically occurs in thin veins and commonly occurs with silicon based quartz or similar type of material.

To remove the gold from rock requires very specialized and expensive equipment to crush and extract the gold from its surrounding rock matrix. This makes it somewhat cost prohibitive to prospect on a casual level.

2. Placer Gold - This is gold that has been broken free of its hard rock matrix by forces of nature. Placer gold is also known as alluvial gold because it is usually washed across the ground surface and deposited in streams and low lying areas.

Placer gold is what most recreational gold prospectors are interested in. This is the type of gold you pan for to obtain.

Remember the following very important facts when you are gold prospecting and you will increase your chances of finding gold dramatically.

A. Gold is one of the heaviest naturally occurring minerals and it will always settle to the lowest level the surface structure will allow. For this reason, placer gold will very rarely be found on the immediate surface.

B. Gold is where you find it.

Here's a scenario I've seen numerous times.

Would be gold prospectors simply skimming the surface material of a stream with the hopes of finding some color. Of course they rarely do and write off the area as barren of gold and give up on it. In many of those cases they are walking by gold they could've recovered with a little more work.

In a stream, for example, and over time, gold will eventually work its way down to a solid or semi solid rock layer. This is commonly known as bedrock. In other words the placer gold has gone as deep as it will naturally go and has formed deposits in the pockets and cracks in the bedrock. This bedrock can be very near the surface or very deep.

Digging down to and working material found close to or on bedrock will greatly increase your chances of finding worthwhile deposits of placer gold.

Panning material found in cracks and crevices of solid rock can also be fruitful as gold will tend to get stuck in these places.

This also means that you will have to dig and scrape for material to pan. Yes, I'm afraid you will have to work for your gold. There's just no getting around that fact.

Gold is where you find it.

Let me illustrate one example of that.

Years ago, while traveling on a road home from a gold prospecting trip I noticed some road work was being done along a small stream. As a lark, I filled up a couple of buckets of freshly upturned material thinking I would take it home and pan it out for laughs.

The dirt filled buckets sat in the garage for a couple of weeks. One weekend I had some extra time and figured on panning out that material.

You guessed it. Lo and behold there was a fair amount of gold I recovered from those two buckets, almost 2 grams worth!

Naturally, at my earliest opportunity I travelled back to that same location. The visions of gold filled pans dancing in my head were quickly doused. As I pulled up to this site saw that the spot I dig the material from was now a paved drainage ditch and the surrounding area was covered with large rock cobble and that was covered with a heavy wire mesh to hold it in place. One can only imagine how much gold was left lying there.

In the next article I'll explain the basic tools of gold prospecting.

Gold Panning Basics

Simple ways to find Gold

What Tools Will You Need to Get Your Gold?

A Gold Prospecting Starter Tool Kit

The following is a list of basic starter tools you will need for a successful gold prospecting adventure.

As you go about this and get more familiar with the panning process you will find for yourself what works best for you and you might discover other tools that suit your gold prospecting needs.

1. Gold Pans - I prefer to use two sizes of gold pans. One is a 14" the other is a 12" pan. I use plastic pans. I prefer the green plastic ones. The other common colors are black and blue. Either color will work just fine.

I do not recommend metal pans for beginning prospectors. The main reason is that they are much heavier then the plastic pans and really don't work any better.

2. Classifier - Think strainer. Basically this is a pan with the bottom replaced with some type of mesh. This mesh can be metal or plastic. The purpose of the classifier is to simply strain out the larger materials prior to panning to speed up the process of getting to the gold bearing material. To keep costs down use the plastic ones. This mesh comes in various sizes. Typically ¼", ½" and ¾" mesh. For the material I usually work I prefer the ½" mesh size. I use only use the ½" size. You may find after doing this for awhile other sizes work better for your use.

As a cost saving tip you can also make your own. There are many videos on You Tube that cover this.

3. Spade Shovel - This is simply a shovel with a pointed tip. Do not use the flat kind as you can't dig into crevices and under ledges efficiently with the flat shovel. I prefer a short spade shovel with a handle grip. The shovel I use is about 30" long. I believe they are also referred to as a Garden Shovel. You can also use the folding shovels, although I prefer the solid handle ones mainly because I can get more rock prying leverage out of it and it also doubles as a walking stick.

4. Hand Trowel - Also known as a garden trowel. Most everyone is familiar with this tool so I won't go into much detail about it. I will say though the narrower ones seem to work best for me. Especially when you are working narrow crevices for material to pan. I do prefer the solid ones as opposed to the folding ones however.

5. Pry Bar - This is a semi optional tool. It really comes in handy for prying up larger rocks and breaking crevices open. I'd recommend the "crow bar" style ones with the flat tip on one end and the hooked tip on the other. The one I use is about 20" long.

6. Rock Hammer - Also known as a geologist pick or geologists hammer. This is an optional but sometimes very handy item. I most commonly use it to break up clumps of mud cemented material I sometimes encounter or simply to break up hard compacted ground material to make digging easier. Use the kind with the pointed tip as opposed to flat tip ones. I carry this tool on my belt in a holster. Remember to use safety glasses when using this tool.

7. Snuffer Bottle - This a plastic bottle with a tube that protrudes out from the top. It is used to suck up gold from your pan. It's a very handy and essential tool for your gold panning kit.

8. Tweezers - Hands down the best kind for gold panning is the tweezers with the magnifier lens built in. I do usually carry a regular set of tweezers but this is just a personal preference.

9. Magnet - I recommend the plunger type magnet specially designed for gold panning activity. This handy device allows you to quickly separate out the common iron sand and speed up the panning process. You can of course use a regular magnet but you will quickly find that using the plunger type magnet is way better for this purpose. The plunger type allows you to instantly release the iron sand from the magnet.

10. Plastic Pails - These are essential for efficiently working and area. I prefer the 1 and 5 gallon sizes found in most hardware and home improvement stores. Typically I will take 2 - 5 gallon pails and 1 - 1 gallon pail as a routine component of a prospecting kit.

11. Small Bottle or Vial - Not much to say about this except that you'll need some way to safely store your findings. I typically use a ½ oz. glass bottle with a screw on lid. I prefer glass but plastic bottles will work as well.

12. Knapsack - You will need some way to easily carry this kit around. I use an old knapsack I bought at a surplus store. It's not fancy but it carries all of the above equipment with ease. Although it will hold the shovel I usually use it as a walking stick. It really comes in handy especially when navigating a steep hillside.

13. Gold Locator Map - Last but not least you'll need a reliable map to show you where gold is found or has been found in the past. You can find good gold maps and all your prospecting supplies at "".

There you have it. A basic gold prospecting kit. Once you get the "feel" for gold prospecting and your pans are turning up "color" you may want to consider procuring a small portable sluice box. This tool will allow more volume of material to be processed and increase your gold recovery.

This is your basic gold prospecting kit. Visit the supplier links below to purchase pans, classifiers, magnifying tweezers, magnets, snuffer bottles and other gold panning specialized tools and equipment. The other equipment like shovels, pails, and such can be purchased locally.

The next article will give you a visual of the tools in a basic gold panning kit.

Here's a Picture of a Basic Gold Panning and Prospecting Tool Kit

Basic Gold Prospecting Tools
Basic Gold Prospecting Tools

The tools pictured are the basic tools you'll need for effective gold prospecting.

As you become more experienced you can adjust and add to this this set up.

Information about Gold Prospecting

Here's some material that will help you discover more gold.

Where to Look for Gold - How to Find it.

Looking for and finding gold are two entirely different things.

Let's break down these 2 subjects in more detail.

Looking for gold is also known as Prospecting.

Simply stated this is the process of locating a a gold deposit in which to mine. In the commercial sense this is the locating gold bearing material in which to profitably mine.

Where to start?

Obviously it's best to start your prospecting in places the that are known to produce gold, In the U.S. most of the gold is found is located in the western States. There are however documented gold discoveries in the mid west and eastern States.

Spend a little time searching the internet and you'll quickly discover gold bearing areas. There are also plenty of books, maps and other resources available that point out gold bearing areas.

For beginners it's best to prospect for placer gold. This is gold that has been deposited on or near the surface by running water or even geologic events like earthquakes and landslides.

OK, so now you found the location you want to prospect.

In the recreational sense, this is just locating some gold of any quantity.

Once you’ve located your prospecting location – what’s next?

Always keep in mind that gold is heavy and will tend to drop into and settle in the lowest point.

There are typically a number of common places where gold will become trapped.

Under waterfalls, along rock ledges, cracks in the rocks or surface, the bottom of deep pools, and gold can even become trapped in tree roots and vegetation.

All of these places should be explored.

As you do this for awhile you will get more proficient at locating likely gold bearing spots.

When you start finding gold in a particular type of structure I would recommend looking for more gold in the same or similar type of structures in the same area.

I would also recommend studying material on the subject of gold prospecting techniques and learn successful methods of prospecting.

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