By John Robertson

Although Wesley, my 6-year-old son, had scouted areas in the past with me this was his first overnight trip. Before, I’d spent most of my time just watching him and making sure that he didn’t try to catch a snake or swim in the pools of a creek.

Like most children, my son loves the outdoors. And, like most fathers, I believe growing children should get plenty of exercise and fresh air. With present day video games and movies, children tend to stay indoors and miss experiences that will make up their childhood. Computers are in the present and air and muscles need to be built–through play and activities the outdoors provides. My first mistake was in telling him of the upcoming trip on a Monday, instead of waiting until the day before we left. All week I heard of how much gold we would find and how rich we would be.

The dreams grew as the weekend drew near. At last, Friday night arrived, and he was bouncing off the walls of the house! After his bath, I allowed him to stay up for a few hours, in hopes that this would slow him down enough to sleep that night.

Long since forgotten was my first trip, but the excitement showing in his young face, and knowing that this trip would be a very special one, I began getting just as excited as he.

It was Saturday morning and I began loading the truck with tent, sleeping bags, the cooler with our food; but being a grown-up, there were a few items that I had overlooked. Items such as crayons and a coloring book for the boring times. And then there were the creature comforts that I had learned to do without, such as a portable toilet. (This was brought to my attention by my wife.)

With the truck finally loaded and a final trip taken to the bathroom, we began our adventure. After about 15 minutes the ride was already getting boring, and unable to settle down, the questions started. “Dad, are we there yet?” “No, but soon.” Would be my reply. “Are we going to Alaska?” “Not this time, but we are going to the mountains.” I said. “Will there be bears and snakes in the mountains?” “No, I don’t think so.” “Dad.” “What, Son?” “I’m hungry.” “OK, Son, we’ll be there soon.”

An hour and a half later, we arrived at our chosen area. We began unloading the equipment, but I knew that the best plan would be to set up camp first. There were threatening thunderstorms off in the distance. It was the logical thing to do. So, with the help of a six year old, the pitching of the tent started.

“No, Son, you can’t get in the tent until I have all the poles in it. And don’t take that turtle inside.” “Are we going to sleep in here tonight?” “Yes, but not with that turtle.”

Alternately taking photographs and trying to dig is not a job for one father. I soon found that this man who had no better sense than to take a small boy prospecting could not watch the child, focus the camera, and watch for snakes all at the same time. How many times had I answered the hundreds of questions about snakes, and would there be any where we’d be? Well, I found out that two minutes after arriving the whole idea of snakes was forgotten completely.

Suddenly noticing that something was missing, I began searching for my son. I found him with his mouth stuffed with cookies. That’s when I found out that any time there was peace and quiet, something was wrong. After telling him that it was not time to eat, and retrieving the “soon to be extinct” cookies, I found him a military trenching tool and started him on his first dig. I decided that would be a good time to find a safe hiding place to stow the food.

When the food was safely stored, I turned my thoughts to setting up the camp. I unrolled the sleeping bags and built the traditional campfire ring. I decided that helping me gather firewood would take his mind off food and maybe give him something to do for awhile. Using a length of rope, I pulled dead limbs from a nearby tree and started breaking them up for the fire. Wesley helped as much as he could and for a change he began to really pick up an interest in what was going on around him. Showing him about building a fire and how to stack the wood, he was all for starting the fire right then. I explained to him that we would light the fire, but only when the sun went down, because of a lack of abundant firewood.

I knew that the only way that we were going to get any prospecting done would be to calm him down a little. I thought of letting him play in the creek, so we removed his clothes, and replaced them with his swimming trunks. He ran and jumped in a pool about six inches deep. He ran back out just about as fast as he’d run in, complaining about the temperature of the water. “Dad, that water is cold.” “I know, but we have to get used to it so we can work”, was my reply. Satisfied somwhat with my answer, but not with the cold water, he would play in the water until his lips turned blue and then run around camp until his blood started circulating again.

After an hour or so of splashing through clear Georgia mountain water, my energetic son had had enough. Rinsing off the mud and sand, I dried him and he dressed. Once in his “camping clothes,” we started our digging. Have you ever watched your son imitating the things you do? I watched Wesley as he dug into a sandbar and then later as we classified the material. Panning was a different story…After a frustrating hour and dozens of attempts, “By George, I think he’s got it!” I could feel pride in my son. We worked side by side on the sandbar. Of course all the panning was done over a tub. Although we didn’t find any gold, we were determined to find it the next day. Our plan was to work harder and not to play as much.

Evening was coming and we stopped our prospecting to light the fire and eat. I sharpened a couple of green sticks and we began roasting franks over the fire. When it came time to eat, however, there was an objection raised by my son, about the fact that ashes had landed on the franks. So, Wesley ate uncooked franks and chips. Well, so much for roughing it. I watched the fire, as men have done for millions of years, with their sons, and thought of how good it made me feel to have this time with him. As the pile of wood grew smaller and the darkness drew nearer, Wesley changed for bed. Crawling into his sleeping bag, he told me goodnight, and asked me to turn the lantern off, it bothered him. This from a boy that the night before, had insisted on having a nightlight at home. I smiled as I turned the lantern down. My son was throwing off some of his childhood fears and had grown some.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, I watched as the last flames of the campfire died, and I thought of how much my son had learned and the satisfaction of being the one to teach him. I drifted off to sleep.

About midnight I woke to thunder and lightning, with rain leaking in through the screen. I got up and zipped the fabric door. Returning to bed, I returned to the land of dreams. I was again wakened by yet another storm, and sat up for awhile, realizing that this was a series of storms. I decided, after feeling the runoff flowing under the tent floor, to check for leaks. There were no leaks, but the lightning was striking so close that I decided it was time to pack and leave. Waiting for the rain to slow, I grabbed my son, still wrapped in his sleeping bag and put him into the cab of the truck. I broke camp and started the trip home.

As we drove, I realized the decision I’d made was the right one. We passed through storms all the way, and it rained all the next day.

We had found no gold, but next time…we would bring our dredge and…well, that’s another story. My son and I hope to see you and your family sharing an outing together soon.

 
Dave Mack

“Sluicing for gold is the next productive step up from gold panning. Sometimes this activity is also referred to as “high-banking.”

 
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By Dave McCracken

“The Gold Pan as a Production Tool”

Dave Mack

The main thing to remember about the use of a gold pan is that while it is very effective as a gold-catching device, it can only process a limited volume of streambed material. For this reason, the gold pan is normally not used as a production tool in commercial use, other than in the most remote locations where it would be very difficult to haul large pieces of equipment, and where there is only a small amount of streambed material present — which is paying well enough to make the panning worthwhile.

The gold pan is most commonly used to locate a richer paying area by sampling, so that larger production equipment can be brought into that location to work the ground to recover more gold.

There are stories in the old mining records about the ground being so rich during the 1849 gold rush that as much as 96 ounces of gold were recovered from a single pan. That is $100,000+ at today’s rate of exchange, and must have been some very rich ground indeed!

Stories like that are rare and pay-dirt like that is not run across very often. However, it is not too uncommon to hear of prospectors today who are able to consistently produce better than an ounce of gold per week with a gold pan in the high country, and have the gold to show for it. Some do better, but these prospectors have usually been at it for awhile and have located hot spots. I personally know of two guys who support themselves with a gold pan, and one of them lives pretty well. As mentioned earlier, the gold pan gives you unlimited accessibility, and these prospectors look around to find the pockets in the exposed bedrock along the edges of the creek-beds in their areas, picking up a few pieces here, a few there, and a little pocket of gold once in awhile. It adds up, and to them it is better than punching a time clock.

There is still plenty of rich ground to be found in gold country if you are willing to do the work involved in finding it.

Gold Panning Procedure

Panning gold is basically simple, once you realize that you are doing the same thing that the river does when it causes gold to concentrate and deposit during flood storms.

The process basically consists of placing the material that you want to process into your pan and shaking it in a left to right motion underwater to cause the gold, which is heavy, to work its way down toward the bottom of your pan. At the same time, the lighter materials, which are worthless, are worked up to the surface of the gold pan where they can be swept away. The process of shaking and sweeping is repeated until only the heaviest of materials are left-namely the gold and heaviest black sand.

Once you are out in the field, you will notice that no two people pan gold exactly alike. After you have been at it awhile, you will develop your own little twists and shakes to accomplish the proper result.

Here follows a basic gold panning procedure to start off with which works well and is easy to learn:

STEP 1: Once you have located some gravel that you want to sample, place it in your gold pan-filling it about 3/4 of the way to the top. After you have been at it awhile, you can fill your pan to the top without losing any gold. While placing material in your pan, pick out the larger-sized rocks, so that you can get more of the smaller material and gold into the pan.

STEP 2: Choose a spot to do your panning. It is best to pick a location where the water is at least six inches deep and preferably flowing just enough to sweep away any silty water that may be washed from your pan. This way, you can see what you are doing better. You do not want the water moving so swiftly that it will upset your panning actions. A mild current will do, if available.

It is always best to find a spot where there’s a rock or log or stream-bank or something that you can sit down upon while panning. You can pan effectively while squatting, kneeling or bending over, but it does get tiresome. If you are planning to process more than just one or two pans, sitting down will make the activity much more pleasant.

STEP 3: Carry the pan over to your determined spot and submerge it underwater.

STEP 4: Use your fingers to knead the contents of the pan to break it up fully and cause all of the material to become saturated with water. This is the time to work apart all the clay, dirt, roots, moss and such with your fingers to ensure that all the materials are fully broken up and in a liquid state of suspension whithin the pan.

The pan should be underwater while doing this. Mud and silt will float up and out. Do not concern yourself about losing any gold when this happens. Remember: gold is heavy and will sink deeper in your pan while these lighter materials are floating out and away.

STEP 5: After the entire contents of the pan have been thoroughly broken up, take the pan in your hands (with cheater riffles on the far side of the pan) and shake it, using a vigorous left and right motion just under the surface of the water. This action will help to break up the contents of the pan even more and will also start to work the heavier materials downwards in the pan while the lighter materials will start to surface.

Be careful not to get so vigorous in your left and right shaking that you slosh material out of the pan during this step. Depending upon the consistency of the material that you are working, it may be necessary to alternate doing steps four and five over again a few times to get all of the pan’s contents into a liquid state of suspension. It is this same liquid state of suspension that allows the heavier materials to sink in the pan while the lighter materials emerge to the surface.

STEP 6: As the shaking action causes rocks to rise up to the surface, sweep them out of the pan using your fingers or the side of your hand. Just sweep off the top layer of rocks which have worked their way up to the pan’s surface.

Don’t worry about losing gold while doing this, because the same action which has brought the lighter rocks to the surface will have worked the gold deeper down toward the bottom of the pan.

When picking the larger rocks out of the pan, make sure that they are clean of clay and other particles before you toss them out. Clay sometimes contains pieces of gold and also has a tendency to grab onto the gold in your pan.

Note: Working the raw material through a classification screen into the gold pan during Step 1 or Step 3 will eliminate the need to sweep out larger rocks in Step 6. This will also allow you to pan a larger sample of the finer-sized material(which contains all the gold you will find in a pan sample).

STEP 7: Continue to do steps five and six, shaking the pan and sweeping out the rocks and pebbles(if present), until most of the medium-sized material is out of your pan.

STEP 8: Tilt the forward edge of your pan downward slightly to bring the forward-bottom edge of the pan to a lower position. With the pan tilted forward, shake it back and forth using the same left and right motion. Be careful not to tilt the pan forward so much that any material is spilled over the forward-edge while shaking.

This tilted shaking action causes the gold to start working its way down to the pan’s forward-bottom edge, and continues to work the lighter materials to the surface where they will be more easily swept off.

STEP 9: Carefully, by using a forward and backward movement, or a slight circular motion just below the surface of the water, allow the water to sweep the top layer of worthless, lighter materials out of the pan. Only allow the water to sweep out a little at a time, while watching closely for the heavier materials to be uncovered as the lighter materials are swept out. It takes some judgment in this step to determine just how much material to sweep off before having to shake again so that no gold is lost. It will just take a little practice in panning gold before you will begin to see the difference between the lighter materials and the heavier materials in your pan. You will develop a feel for knowing how much material can be safely swept out before re-shaking is necessary. When you are first starting, it is best to re-shake as often as you feel that it is needed to prevent losing any gold. When in doubt, shake! There are a few factors which can be pointed out to help you with this. Heavier materials are usually

darker in color than the lighter materials. You will notice while shaking the pan that it is the lighter-colored materials that are vibrating on the surface. You will also notice that as the lighter materials are swept out of the pan, the darker-colored materials are uncovered.

Materials tend to get darker (and heavier) as you work your way down toward the bottom of the pan, where the darkest and heaviest materials will be found, they being the purple and black sands, which are usually minerals of the iron family. The exception to this is gold, which is heaviest of all. Gold usually is of a bright and shiny metallic color and shows out well in contrast to the other heavier materials at the bottom of the gold pan.

One other factor to keep in mind is that the lighter materials sweep out of your pan more easily than do the heavier materials. As the heavier materials are uncovered, they are increasingly more resistant to being swept out of the pan, and will give you an indication of when it is time to re-shake.

As you work your way down through your pan, sometimes gold particles will show themselves as you get down to the heavier materials. When you see gold, you know it is time to re-shake your pan.

There is another popular method of sweeping the lighter materials out of the top of your pan which you might prefer to use. It is done by dipping your pan under the water and lifting it up, while allowing the water to run off the forward edge of the pan, taking the top layer of material along with it.

STEP 10: Once the top layer of lighter material is washed out of your pan, re-shake to bring more lighter materials to the top. By “lighter materials,” I mean in comparison to the other materials. If you continue to shake the lighter materials to the top and sweep them off, eventually you will be left with the heaviest material of all, which is the gold. It does not take much shaking to bring a new layer of lighter material to the surface. Maybe 5 or 6 seconds of shaking will do it, maybe less. It all depends upon the consistency of the material and how much gold is present.

Continue to pluck out the larger-sized rocks and pebbles as they show themselves during the process.

STEP 11: Every few cycles of sweeping and re-shaking, tilt your pan back to the level position and re-shake. This keeps any gold from being allowed to work its way up the forward-edge of your pan.

STEP 12:Continue the above steps of sweeping and re-shaking until you are down to the heaviest materials in your pan. These usually consist of old pieces of lead and other metal, coins, BB’s, old bullets, buckshot, nails, garnets, small purple and black iron rocks, and the heavy black sand concentrates. Black sands consist mainly or in part of the following: magnetite (magnetic black sands), hematite (non-magnetic black sands), titanium, zircon, rhodolite, monazite, tungsten materials, and sometimes pyrites (fool’s gold), plus any other items which might be present in that location which have a high specific gravity-like gold and platinum.

Once down to the heaviest black sands in your pan, you can get a quick look at the concentrates to see how much gold is present by allowing about a half-cup of water into the pan, tilting the pan forward as before, and shaking from left to right to place the concentrates in the forward-bottom section of your pan. Then, level the pan off and swirl the water around in slow circles. This action will gradually uncover the concentrates, and you can get a look at any gold that is present. The amount of gold in your pan will give you an idea how rich the raw material is that you are sampling.

A magnet can be used to help remove the magnetic black sands from the gold pan. Take care when doing this. While gold is not magnetic, sometimes particles of gold will become trapped in the magnetic net of iron particles which clump together and attach to the magnet. I prefer to drop the magnetic sands into a second plastic gold pan, swish them around, and then pick them up once again with the magnet. Depending upon how much gold this leaves behind, I might do this several times before finally discarding the magnetic sands.

Many beginners like to stop panning at this point and pick out all the pieces of gold (colors) with tweezers. This is one way of recovering the gold from your pan, but it is a pretty slow method.

Most prospectors who have been at it for awhile will pan down through the black sands as far as they feel that they can go without losing any gold. Then they check the pan for any colors by swirling it, and pick out any of the larger-sized flakes and nuggets to place them in a gold sample bottle. Then the remaining concentrates are poured into a small coffee can or bucket and allowed to accumulate there until the end of the day, or week, or whenever enough concentrates have been collected to make it worthwhile further process them. This is really the better method if you are interested in recovering more gold, because it allows you to get on with the job of panning and sampling without getting deeply involved with a pair of tweezers. Otherwise, you can end up spending 25% of your time panning and up to 75% of your time picking out small colors from the pan!

Panning Down All The Way To Gold

It is possible to pan all the way down to the gold-with no black sands, lead or other foreign materials remaining in the pan. This is often done among prospectors when cleaning up a set of concentrates which have been taken from the recovery system of a larger piece of equipment-like a sluice box or suction dredge.

Panning all the way down to gold is really not very difficult once you get the hang of it. It is just a matter of a little practice and being a bit more careful. When doing so, most prospectors prefer to use the smooth surface of the gold pan, rather than using the cheater riffles. The key is to run the concentrates through several sizes of classification screens and pan each size-fraction separately. Use of a smaller-sized pan (“finishing pan”) makes this process go easier.

When panning a set of concentrates all the way down to the gold-or nearly so, it is good to have a medium-sized funnel and a large-mouthed gold sample bottle on hand. This way, once you have finished panning, it is just a matter of pouring the gold from your pan into the sample bottle through the funnel. Pill bottles and baby food jars can make good gold sample bottles for field use, because they are usually made of thick glass and have wide mouth. Plastic bottles are even safer.

Another method is with the use of a gold snifter bottle. This is a small hand-sized flexible bottle with a small sucking tube attached to it. Squeezing the snifter bottle creates a vacuum inside. Submerged gold from the pan can consequently be sucked up through the tube.

If you do not have a snifter bottle or funnel, try wetting your finger with saliva and fingering the gold into a container, which should be filled with water. The saliva will cause the gold and concentrates to stick to your finger until it touches the water in the container. This works, but the funnel method is faster.

Practice Gold Panning

If you are not in a known gold-producing location, but want to do some practice panning to acquire some skills before going out into the field, you can practice in your own backyard. Use a washtub to pan into and some diggings from your garden (or wherever) to simulate streambed materials. I recommend that you throw in some rocks and gravel along with the dirt so that it takes on an actual streambed consistency. Take some pieces of lead, buckshot or small lead fishing weights, cut them up into various sizes ranging from pellet-size down to pinhead-size, and pound some of them flat with a hammer. This puts the pieces of lead in the same form as the majority of gold found in a streambed-flake form. They will act in much the same way as will flakes and grains of gold. Leave a few of the pieces of lead shot so that gold nuggets can also be simulated.

When panning into the tub, place some of these pieces of lead into your pan, starting off with the larger-sized pieces first. Keep track of how many pieces of lead you use each time so that you can see how well you are doing when you get down to the bottom of the pan. Practice panning in this manner can be very revealing to a beginner, especially when he or she continues to put smaller pieces of lead into the pan as progress is made.

If you can pan small pieces of lead successfully, then you will not have much difficulty panning gold (higher specific gravity) out of a riverbed. And, who knows? You may end up with gold in your pan-right out of your own backyard! It wouldn’t be the first time.

Bags of real panning material are also available from different sources within the industry. These bags usually contain some real gold along with the type of materials you would commonly encounter when panning out in the field. Practice panning with the “real thing” is the best way to get started!

 

 

 

by Weldon E. Dodson

I recently taught myself how to pan for gold. I’d talked with several professional gold miners and a number of veteran gold mining hobbyists. All had agreed that efficient panning would take some time to learn. Most claimed that it had taken them months, or even years, to learn their technique. Even author Tom Bishop addresses the issue in his popular book “Gold.” Bishop says on page 8 that “I am acquainted with a man who makes his living panning gold. It took him about three years’ work to become really proficient.” Well, I did not want to wait three years–or even three months. I wanted to learn right then. So I decided I had to teach myself. And, indeed, after a little research, and, after I discovered a very effective way to practice, I became an expert at panning for gold in less than one day. It was easy.

Before I taught myself, I’d asked the experts about how to pan and about where to find gold. Most of the advice that I received was about where to look. Remarkably, few of the experts offered any tangible suggestions on how I could develop an actual panning technique. Sure, I received lots of good information: I was told to “Hold the pan like this,” or, “This is how you dip it in the water,” or, “This is how you swirl it around.” All this is fine when you hear someone explain it, but how do you know that you will really be able to perform the task?

How do you know that you won’t be washing away the gold? I was afraid that I might find a spot containing tons of gold and I wouldn’t be able to extract it from the soil.

The problem was simple; I needed a way to practice and no one was willing to let me experiment with their gold. How could I blame them? Would you let a novice and stranger fondle your favorite nuggets and flakes? The solution was to find a gold substitute. I needed a substance with similar properties. After only a brief search, the answer came from one of my old college chemistry books; it was lead.

Why lead? Actually, lead has many of the same metallic properties as gold. It is soft, malleable and can be easily cut into small flakes or shaped into large nuggets. It is also dense. It is denser than metals like copper, nickel, or iron and it will easily sink to the bottom of “black sand.” Lead, however, is not quite as dense as gold. This is actually an advantage when you practice because, if your technique will effectively retain lead, it will undoubtedly capture the heavier gold.

Proper technique is easy to learn. Begin with a few small lead fishing weights and a large empty coffee can. Fill the can with dirt, gravel, and sand, and dump it into your gold pan. Cut the lead fishing weights into ten small pieces. Lead is so soft that you can use almost anything to cut it with; I use regular wire cutters. If necessary, a hammer will help to shape the lead. Make sure your pieces include “nuggets” of different sizes and shapes and you also need to include some smaller “flakes.” Mix the lead with the sand and gravel and

then put it back in the can. Head for water and begin practice.

The actual method that I use is simple and it is the same for both lead and gold. First, I place a small amount of sand and gravel into my pan. Next, I immerse the entire pan into the water. I do this by sinking the pan into the water so that all the sides submerge evenly. This crates an intense “swirling” action that carries away particles of the lighter sand and dirt. After each submersion, I take the pan from the water and I quickly pour off the swirl of sand and water by slightly tilting the pan forward. Then, with just a little water in the pan, I give it several moderate shakes. This helps the heavier particles to settle to the bottom. I pick out the gravel and rocks with my fingers as I go along. When I get to the heavier sediments, such as black sand, I still do basically the same thing, except that I work a little more slowly and carefully.

When practicing, you should continue the process until the can is empty. Ideally, you should have recovered ten pieces of lead. If not, just start over–lead is not expensive. When you can consistently recover all ten pieces, you have excellent technique.

Everyone uses a slightly different panning method to recover gold. I developed mine mostly by trial and error. I suppose everyone must determine what works best for themselves. People use many different sizes and shapes of pans. Both plastic and metal are readily available. Some people use magnets and special equipment to enhance their efforts. I use only my fingers and a pair of tweezers, but I’m not a professional, either. The possible variety of equipment and techniques is limited only by the imagination.

All that’s left is finding the gold. I will be the first one to admit that this is where I needed the most help. I bought two books for reference, and, I listened carefully when the experts spoke. Most preferred small streams, deep holes, tiny falls, washouts, and similar places. I decided that I would begin my search in a comparable locale.

A few months ago, I made my first outing and I discovered that my self-taught technique really worked. I spent two days fishing for trout and panning for gold. On the afternoon of the first day, in a trickling stream near La Porte, California, I found a 1/8-ounce nugget. My discovery came in a pool where water tumbled two feet over small boulders. Within two hours, I had another 1/8-ounce of gold flakes. The next day, nearby, I found over 1/8 ounce of small flakes and tiny nuggets. My total for the two days was nearly 1/2-ounce. I was thrilled. This probably falls well short of most professional efforts, but it is not bad for a few hours of work from a novice who taught himself how to pan for gold in less than a day!

 
Dave Mack

“Gold panning is the basic prospecting activity. Everyone should know how to do it very well.”

 

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