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Gold Panning - River Bed Nugget Hunting Fun and Rewarding Hobby

Updated on July 19, 2013

Introduction to Gold Panning

Gold panning is a great hobby that is good exercise and lot's of fun. With gold prices at record highs, panning for gold can be very rewarding. Not many hobbies these days will actually pay dividends. Gold panning unlike many other hobbies that require a constant drain of the piggy bank, it can be done rather inexpensively with only a few basic tools required.

Before you get gold fever and run out and buy a gold pan, be forewarned though, it takes a lot of physical effort. To make large profits you typically need to move tons of dirt and sand. Then there are the stories from the history books, stories of folks finding extremely large gold nuggets. One such example happened in 1859; when a man was walking along the East Fork of Althouse Creek, located in the Illinois Valley in Southern Oregon. He discovered a gold nugget that weighed 17 pounds. Can you imagine how much that would be worth in today's gold prices?

As with buying real estate, the same holds true with panning for gold. Choosing a good location will mean the difference between seeing color in the bottom of your pan or just seeing dirt.

While you may have a chance of finding gold nuggets, most of the gold found will be in the form of small flakes, grains and sometimes even dust. This is what makes this hobby fun, exciting and a little bit addictive and rewarding. You never know what you may find in that next pan of dirt.

Where Gold Comes From

Gold is widely distributed inside the earths crust. It is concentrated in bedrock by volcanic activity and is often found in quartz veins. Over time the rain erodes it and washed it down into creeks and than rivers. There the gold tumbles along the bottom and can be moved log distances by large floods. Eventually it even makes it's way to the ocean. Although, by the time it has traveled that far the gold pieces tend to be very small more like small grains rather than flakes.

Required Tools

To enjoy your new hobby you will need to buy a gold pan, look for a plastic pan in a size you are comfortable holding for extended periods of time. They come in different colors my favorite is blue for new users. A blue or green lets you see the heavy black sand easier than a black pan and still lets the gold show up nicely..

Look for a pan that has four or five steps or sharp ridges on one edge of the pan. These ridges act as little traps and keep the gold from washing out over the edge of your gold pan. In addition to a gold pan, I use a small snuffer bottle; this allows you to suck up small flakes of if gold. Some folks like tweezers or hemostats, I prefer the snuffer bottle as it allows you to suck up any gold flakes embedded in fine sand and dump it in a small container which you can latter pan to separate the gold from the sand when you are at home. This allows you more time in the field to process more sand and hopefully find more gold. Finally, you need a small glass vial to store your hard earned treasure.

Where to Look for Gold

The best place to start looking for gold is on your computer. No, I don’t mean start scraping it off the connectors on your circuit boards. Go to your favorite search engine and look for places that gold was found in the past. If you live in the western USA than you are in luck as Oregon California and Arizona are all great places to go prospecting for gold. Do your research on areas that were gold bearing in the past. This just may be the place to plan a vacation next time you can get away.

You can pan for gold on BLM Land, State Campgrounds or National Parks. This is from their webpage: "Persons may collect such rocks and minerals only by hand or use of a gold pan. They may NOT use shovels, pickaxes, sluice boxes or dredges. Collection methods which may result in the disturbance of the ground surface are prohibited." So it's always best to check local regulations, when planning to pan for gold in these type of areas.Be sure to respect private property and never pan in an area that has been claimed. Grumpy miners do not take kindly to claim jumpers and you may find yourself on the wrong end of a shotgun with some explaining to do.

Look for areas where you suspect gold may be along rivers and creeks. Gold is washed down from the hills by heavy rains and pushed along the river or creek bottom during times of floods. That means even if you find gold in a creek, the source can be many miles from where it was found. One way to tell if the gold came from nearby, is if the nuggets or flakes have jagged edges. This is a good indication the the gold did not travel that far. Nice rounded edges means the gold could have traveled quite a distance and the sharp edges were knocked down and rounded by the water, gravel and sand.

If you see a bend in the river or creek, a good place to look is on the opposite side where the water is hitting the bank, the gold tends to drop out or settles where the current is still. If there is a large rock in the water, look on the downstream side of it. Since gold is heavy it will want to keep settling down until it hits bedrock and can’t go down any further. Another great place to look is in cracks and crevices of river bedrock. You can use a turkey baster to suck out these areas and than pan the sand and dirt you pull out.

When out looking for gold always remember that just because a creek or river is located where it is today, it may not have flowed there 100 or 10,000 years ago. Rivers and creeks often change their course throughout time, you could be digging along an ancient river bed and discover gold that was deposited there a long time ago.

How to Pan for Gold

The best way to start gold panning is to first scoop a handful of sand or dirt and put it in the bottom of your gold pan. Break up any large clumps by mixing it with water and crumbling it with your fingers. Pick out any larger rock and throw them out of your pan. Panning is best done near water, like a stream, lager bucket or even a garden hose, if one is available. Once you have removed any obvious larger pieces of gravel and rocks. Hold your pan level and start rotating your pan in a circular motion, be sure to keep your wrists loose. Do this a few times and then stop and tap, tap, tap on the side of your pan. Remember the gold is very heavy and will want to settle on the bottom of your pan. Then stop and hold your gold pan at about 20 degrees, the side with the ridges should be pointing down to allow the looser sand and lighter particles that are floating in the water pour over the edge of your gold pan. The ridges will act as a trap for the gold while the lighter silica and minerals will float and wash over the edge of the gold pan.

Keep up the circular motion and tapping, and soon you will begin to see black sand. This black sand has higher iron content and is heavier. Inside the black sand is where the gold likes to hide. When you have panned out most of the lighter sand and are seeing the black sand tip your pan the other direction back and forth slowly and start working the lighter sand out the smooth side of your pan. Be careful you don't end up washing the black sand out. When you get down to the very fine black sand you can level it out on the flat bottom of your gold pan and suck up any gold flakes you see with your snuffer bottle. Don't worry if you get sand inside your bottle along with the gold, remember at this point we are trying to get as much of this we can from the field location. Later at home you can separate the flakes from the sand when you have more time.

If you see what looks like gold flakes in your pan, before you get too excited make sure what you are seeing is actually gold. Pyrites or mica is called fools gold, because if you don't know the difference it is easy to be fooled. One sure way to tell the difference is shade your pan, if it is gold it will still look like gold. Mica on the other hand will have almost a whitish cast unless the sun shines on it. Mica can be easily crumbled with your fingers and the lighter pieces will even float.

For beginners I have a tip that will get you started, you can even do this at home. Get some lead shot and throw it in your pan along with some sand or dirt and try to pan it out and see if you can find all the small pellets. When you can do this well, you are ready to go have some fun and find some gold. Who knows, you just may strike it rich someday!

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