Dave Mack

“…Having good mining property available to you is only about half the battle. You also need to know how to find high-grade gold deposits! I hope the information on the following pages will be helpful to you.”

 
Dave Mack

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

 

 
 

By Dave McCracken

Everything was going normal. My partner and I were using an 8-inch dredge, pumping rich gold from underneath about seven feet of hard-packed streambed. It was just another day in god’s country. Then, without any warning, we ran out of air. “Out of gas,” I thought. As I turned around to go back to the dredge, there it was, upside down, with the engine muffler resting on the bottom of the river!

Dave Mack

 
flipped dredgeThere are few things more disheartening in gold dredging than flipping your dredge upside down in the river! But if you spend some time talking with experienced dredgers in river-dredge country, you will find a good percentage of operators have experienced turning one or more dredges over at one time or another.

Dredges get flipped over because of numerous different factors. One common reason is not having enough flotation under the dredge. Another is having a dredge design where the dredge is not wide enough. Another common problem is in dredge designs whereby the forward-most floats are not tapered enough to help deflect the river’s flow.

Design problems aside, there are two common situations which cause dredges to flip over. The first is when something happens to cause the sluice box to start loading up with the material you are pumping. As more and more material piles up in the sluice box, and then perhaps onto one of the pontoons, the increased weight eventually overwhelms the dredge’s floatation capacity, and over she goes! This can happen in minutes if you are feeding the nozzle at production speed!

The second common reason for flipping a dredge is floating it out into faster water than the design can manage. Every dredge has its limits! A dredge which might float just fine in shallow, slack water might not last five minutes in the faster flow of a river. fast water

As fast water often poses more risk to the dredge than an experienced operator, sometimes you have to find some slack water along the edge of the river where it is safer to float the dredge!

Gold quite often deposits in the fast water sections of a river. Also, because of the faster water, these areas often have less gravel and overburden covering the pay-streaks. Less streambed makes sampling go faster. Consequently, river dredgers often find ourselves dredging in the faster sections of gold-bearing rivers—including white water rapids.

It is difficult enough to overcome the underwater problems associated with fast water dredging. Knocking out plug-ups in the suction hose is particularly difficult. A dredger should not also have to worry about his or her dredge flipping over at the same time. Therefore, a certain amount of dredge modification might be necessary on any store-bought dredge before it is used under fast water conditions.

Normally, dredges are modified for fast water by adding more flotation—sometimes to the sides, sometimes to the forward-part of the dredge.

Here’s something important: Additional side flotation tends to make the dredge more stable from side to side and generally prevents the flipping problem. However, additional side flotation enormously increases the dredge’s water drag in the fast current. This puts a great deal of pressure on the tie-off lines, and it also makes it more difficult to get on and off the dredge, or work around the dredge (knocking out plug-ups) without getting swept down river. This is because the additional drag directs a larger volume of water around the sides of the pontoons.

It is usually more difficult to mount additional flotation as an extension of the front of your dredge; but we have found in our own operations that this is the better overall modification for several reasons. Reduced water drag is very important in swift water conditions. More floatation up front helps prevent the dredge from doing a submarine dive! Also, the additional platform in front of the dredge provides more space to place support gear on your dredge. And, in the case of larger dredges, if you should ever want to mount a winch on the front of your dredge, the extra flotation and frame will already be in place.

But you do not need to be in fast water to flip a dredge over. As mentioned above, a very common reason for a dredge to flip over during operation is sluice box load-up. This is when rocks and gravel overwhelm the sluice box, start flowing over onto the decks, and eventually cause the dredge to list over to one side and flip. If you have a water-flow problem with your recovery system, the problem must be resolved before you operate your dredge without someone at the surface to keep an eye on it. The key is to get enough water-flow to keep all of the rocks and material moving through and out of the recovery system. We always make sure we have a little more flow than necessary, because we choose not to hire a dredge tender to stay on deck.

Occasionally, even with a dredge which is set up perfectly, just the right rock can lodge in the sluice box and create an obstruction. Then that single rock can be the cause of a sluice box load-up. If not caught in time, the load-up can collect enough weight to flip the dredge over. This is why I say many experienced dredgers have had the fun (not) of flipping a dredge. Helpful hint: It never hurts to look back every once in a while to make sure your dredge is floating alright!

Tying off the dredge properly in swift water is also an important factor in preventing a flip-over. Obviously, you do not want your dredge sitting broadside in a fast current! It is a matter of applying Murphy’s Law: you must observe the water-flow and its effect on the dredge. If it looks chancy, come up with another plan.

When a dredge is flipped over, you usually lose all of the items that float. If the river is swift, these things are usually quite some distance down river before you get back up on the bank and remove your dive gear. I will never forget the time we came up from a dive several years ago just in time to see the five-inch dredge that was operating just downriver from us was underwater and

hanging by just one pontoon. The guy was dredging when we started our dive, so we assumed he was still underwater, pinned by a rock, or perhaps knocked in the head by the dredge when it flipped over, or something. Because the owner of the dredge was nowhere to be seen!

However, it turned out that when the dredge flipped over, the dredger came to the surface and saw his other pontoon going downstream fast. He off-loaded his dive gear and swam through three separate sets of rapids trying to catch the pontoon. These were the very substantial rapids on our Mega Hole claim at K-15A! He never did catch up with the pontoon. He showed back up at the dredge about 45 minutes later, exhausted and demoralized. We already had dragged the remainder of his gear out of the river. Using my jet boat, several hours later, we located his pontoon about eight miles downriver in a back eddy. It only took him several days to get his dredge running again. He installed extra flotation to prevent further such incidents.

When a dredge is flipped over, after it is set right-side-up again, the water needs to be completely removed from inside the engine and hookah air compressor. We usually do about half a dozen oil changes, starting the engine for a few seconds each time, to remove more water. As long as the oil keeps turning milky, it is necessary to keep changing it.

It is not as hard on an engine if it is not running when it goes underwater! Sometimes it is necessary to remove the electrical components and blow them out with air or replace them altogether in order to get spark at the spark plug again.

The air compressor must have all water removed from inside, as well as the intake air filters and air lines. If the compressor was running when it was submerged, it will be necessary to pull out the reed valves and make them straight again or replace them.

And of course, if you were dredging gold, some or most of that will have been lost from your sluice box when it flipped over. So, you will have to decide whether it is worth going through your cobble and tailing piles to retrieve it. It usually is not worth the effort, because you can get more gold by just continuing forward on your pay-streak.

One important dredge modification worth doing is to secure the sluice box to the frame or deck of your dredge so it will not flap free in the current should the dredge become flipped over. This prevents the box from being damaged or lost altogether. It also makes it a heck of a lot easier to get the dredge flipped back over.

At the end of last season, one of our local commercial dredgers was trying to winch his dredge up through a particularly difficult section of rapids on our K-17 property along the Klamath River. He was trying to test a potentially-excellent hot spot that no one else had ventured into, yet. The spot looked great; many pounds of gold were recovered just upstream and just downstream. The spot is probably still loaded with gold!

He was moving the dredge alone, using a power winch anchored to the streambank some distance upstream. Just as he was almost around a large rock, the outside edge of his dredge took a dive and the dredge flipped over — just like that. This is the way it usually is in fast water; when something goes wrong, it happens quickly and decisively. Usually, there is little time to do anything effective about it.

connecting sluiceBesides all of the damage to a dredge, the loss of support gear, and the loss of production time, there is also a large amount of embarrassment which goes along with having a dredge floating upside down in the river!

Once we found out about his problem, we put the word out, and experienced New 49’er members from the area converged on the site to help our friend. It is no small task to right an eight-inch dredge in fast water! The images in this article were captured as we made it happen.
First, we had him winch the dredge around the rock and pull it into slower moving water. This did not help the equipment much, because his sluice box was dangling in the current and dragging along the river-bottom. His engine was also dragging the bottom. Not good!

We spanned the bottom of his pontoons with some beams, and then cranked his sluice box back up to his deck before trying to winch the dredge back over.

winchingThen, we had several divers go under the dredge and use chains and a come-along to lift the sluice box up and secure it to the deck. We used a boat to set up an electric winch on the far bank. We secured the two outside corners of the dredge to the bank on the close side of the river. We secured the winch cable to the opposite corners of the dredge and we winched the dredge over. What a mess the dredge was! Since it was late fall anyway, this pretty-much finished the dredger’s season. Miners are a hardy bunch; he returned the following year, better and smarter than ever!


The moral of the story is that a little prevention goes a long way. Another thing: we are dealing with the forces of nature. We use our observation and judgment. We take some chances and we are not always right. Murphy lives! And, when he wins a battle, it doesn’t mean he has to win the war. There is always another day and another opportunity.

Another thing: We are dealing with the forces of nature. We use our observation and judgment. We take some chances and we are not always right. Murphy lives! And, when he wins a battle, it does not mean he has to win the war. There is always another day and another opportunity!

Never quit!

 

 

By Dave McCracken

The main barrier to overcome is the psychological impact from the uncertainty of whether or not you are going to find an acceptable gold deposit.

Dave Mack

During the past five years, we have had an opportunity to work with hundreds upon hundreds of different gold miners, and we have realized many different things about how to approach a gold mining operation to improve a person’s chances of success. One of the things we have realized is that some people become so serious about a mining operation that they lose track of the fact that the operation is simply a game.

All games consist of a goal, a means to achieve the goal, and barriers or problems in the way of the goal’s achievement. And, of course, the GAME consists of overcoming the obstacles and achieving the goal. Football is a game; basketball, soccer, everybody knows these are games. What some people fail to realize is that your job, raising your family properly, getting through life successfully, and even gold mining–are all games, too. Each of these games have their own unique set of problems to overcome.

Because of the seriousness and importance of winning, sometimes we lose track of the fact that these different aspects of life are a game. The importance of winning simply requires that we play the game harder.

It is much easier to win at a game when you know what the game is that you are playing.

Gold mining is a game in which the obstacles and problems to overcome are not, generally, other people or other teams as in the game of football. The main obstacle to overcome in gold mining is the UNCERTAINTY of where acceptable gold deposits are located.

The best goal, of course, is to find lots of gold–enough to resolve your financial or emotional needs. I say emotional because some people are not in gold mining necessarily for financial gain. One person’s goal might be to continuously recover enough gold to support his family and the lifestyle. Another person might want to find enough gold to retire in luxury. Someone else might just like to find any amount of gold. Each individual will have his or her own goals. Once one goal is nearly achieved, a person naturally tends to set a higher, more difficult goal. One of the interesting things about gold is that you never seem to have enough of it–even if you have a lot compared to the goal you set for yourself some time ago! Therefore, as a miner gets better, he or she tends to elevate the goal higher and higher.

The means of achieving the goal in gold mining is by applying mining and prospecting techniques with available mining equipment on gold bearing locations so that you can to locate and recover valuable deposits.

The equipment is readily available. There is nothing difficult to understand about the techniques and procedures. The main difficulty is NOT KNOWING WHERE THE GOLD IS. This makes gold mining unique, in that the main obstacle to overcome is not an external, material or barrier–as in most games. The main barrier is the psychological impact of the uncertainty of whether or not you are going to find an acceptable gold deposit.

In reading this, you might find yourself feeling that you are dedicated and strong enough, that you have all of the discipline needed, that you have plenty of emotional fortitude, and that you are smart enough to overcome any psychological doubts which may arise in your own mind during the course of a sampling operation. We all have this, and we are all potentially strong enough to persevere. However, there are also negative voices in our heads–which can become quite strong when we are directly confronted with difficult situations. Sometimes we forget about these voices during times when we are not confronted by difficult situations!

None of us are super-beings. We are human. We all have our personal limitations–which are set by ourselves. This happens when we make decisions that we can’t do something, or that we don’t want to do it. A person takes up running and decides he can only run two miles. Does that mean he cannot run a step further than two miles? Of course not. The person could run twenty miles if he set his mind to it. If I did not learn another thing in SEAL training from my navy days, I learned that you can always take at least one more step. This is true in any aspect of life–in any endeavor; you can always do it a little more or a little better.

But, when we get close to a limitation which we have already set for ourselves, we run smack into the negative voices in our heads which we have ourselves identified with. “I can’t do it!” Just because the voice says we can’t doesn’t mean we can’t. We can, and by doing so, a person becomes stronger.

The problem in gold mining is different than in most other games. If you were cutting firewood for money, the barriers to overcome in the game would be the physical challenge of cutting down trees, sawing them into rounds, splitting the rounds

up, loading them in a delivery truck, hauling them to a location, selling them to someone, and maybe stacking the firewood on the buyer’s back porch. The easy thing about this challenge is that you are working with a reality that you can see all the way through the cycle. The wood is there. It is just the physical work of getting the wood onto the buyer’s back porch–that is, as long as you have a buyer.

Gold mining is different. The gold is not there until you find it. Yet, it’s really not that the gold isn’t there. When we see other miners recovering gold out of commercial deposits on the same river, we know there are more commercial deposits to be found. The problem is that we might not be sure that we are going to find them.

And, it’s not that the procedures and techniques for finding gold deposits are difficult. We know that gold, because of its weight, tends to travel along its own narrow path in the river. We know that pay-streaks (gold deposits) form in their own unique locations along the gold path–where water velocity slows down during major flood storms. We know these pay-streaks form quite regularly along a gold-bearing waterway. And, we know that prospecting consists of digging or dredging sample holes in an attempt to locate the gold path and the pay-streaks. None of this is difficult to understand and apply.

The difficulty is in the uncertainty–and this is the main barrier to overcome in the game of gold mining. We see a fair percentage of people who have themselves psyched out and talked out of it, even before they finish their first sample hole. Why is this? They have adequate equipment. They understand the procedures. They can confront the physical work. Why do they quit so quickly? It is because they don’t understand who the real opponent in the game is.

If it were a game of football, would they quit after the first play of the first inning just because the opposing team looked stronger? Not if the players have any degree of personal pride in being a football team. Yet, quite often in many games, the opposing players try to psyche-out the members of the members of the other team. A demoralized team is easy to conquer! More likely, a serious football team would psyche themselves up in an attempt to win over a stronger opposing team.

What people don’t realize is in the game of gold mining, you are really playing with and/or against yourself. It is your own inner voices which you listen to and decide whether to quit early, or to pour on the steam even harder to find the gold deposits you are looking for. When a person quits in gold mining, it is often because he has psyched his or her own self out.

I can understand quitting when your legs are busted and you are on your last breath of air. This is understandable. But, to quit gold mining because you have talked yourself into the idea that you are not going to find any gold just means that you don’t understand the game. Basically, in this case, you have lost to your own inner voices.

There is a fantastic feeling of self-accomplishment when you succeed in gold mining. A professional football player, when retired, will look back and remember certain games that were won. He probably won’t be thinking much about the money he made. He probably won’t be thinking of the easy victories. He will be thinking about the games his team was losing, and how the team pulled together, raised themselves up, and won against all odds. These wins are cherished, because they occur when a player, or a team of players, reach down inside and create the necessary additional energy and willpower to overcome large barriers and obtain the goal after all.

Success in gold mining brings about this same kind of intense emotional satisfaction–only better or different in the fact that you usually accomplish it on your own. You generally don’t have a team of other players helping you to make a touchdown in the game of gold mining.

Like it or not, gold mining is similar to a game of solitaire. You are playing the game with yourself as your teammate, and possibly with yourself as the main opposing force. you have a chance to overcome the little negative voices in your head that tell you to quit–not just in gold mining, but also in the other aspects of your life. Each time that you persevere and finish that next sample hole properly, despite the inner voices which tell you there is no gold in that location, not only do you get that much closer to the gold deposit you’re looking for, but you also grow stronger as a person. And, in the end, this is worth more than gold.

 

 
 
Dave Mack

“You can also find gold out in the deserts and other dry areas where there is little or no water available.”

 
Dave Mack

“Crevicing, both above and below the water, and vack-mining, especially in and around the moss along the edges of an active waterway, are one of the most popular methods our members use to recover gold.”

 
video subscription graphic
This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine May/Jun, 1992 on Page 36.
This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

Experienced gold miner lays out fundamentals of running a successful surface prospecting program.

 

A “sluice box” is a trough-like gold recovering device which has a series of obstructions or baffles, called “riffles”, along its bottom edge. While a steady stream of water is directed to pass through, streambed material is shoveled into the upper-end of the box. The flow of water washes the streambed materials through the sluice and over the riffles, which trap the gold out of the material.

The reason a sluice box works is that gold is extremely heavy and will work its way quickly down to the bottom of the materials being washed through the box. The gold then drops behind the riffles and remains there, because there is not enough water force behind the riffles to sweep the gold out into the main force of water again.

A sluicing operation, when set up properly, can process the gold out of streambed material about as fast as it can be shoveled into the box. This can be many times more material than a panning operation can handle, yet with similar efficiency in gold recovery. How much material can be shoveled into a sluice box greatly depends upon the consistency and hardness of the material within the streambed itself, and how easily it can be broken away.

A sluice requires a steady flow of water through the box to operate at its best efficiency. Most often, the box is placed in a stream or creek where water is moving rather swiftly, with the sluice being placed in such a way that a stream of water is directed through the box.

In locations where water is available, but is not moving fast enough to be channeled through the box for sluicing purposes, the water can be pumped or siphoned to the box with excellent results (covered later). How much water is available, and whether or not it will need to be transported to your sluice box, is something that needs to be considered during the planning stages of a sluicing operation.

Because so much more material can be processed with a sluice, than with a gold pan, streambed materials which contain far less gold values can be mined while recovering just as much or more gold. Therefore, if the streambed material had to pay a certain amount in gold values in to be worked with a gold pan to your satisfaction, gravel containing only a fraction of as many values can be worked with the same result using a sluice box. This is an important factor to grasp; because it means the modern sluice box opens up a tremendous amount of ground that can be profitably mined by an individual.

Motorized sluicing (also often called “high-banking”) is an activity similar to sluicing, except that sluicing is almost always accomplished with the water-flow from the creek or river keeping gravel moving through and over the riffles. As demonstrated in the following video sequence, a motorized sluice (also called a “hydraulic concentrator”) is usually set up with a water pump that supplies water for the sluice box:

Motorized sluices are usually equipped with a recovery system that is set up with adjustable-length legs. This allows the box to be adjusted from side to side and front to back on uneven ground. This allows the water flow to be created for optimum gold recovery. Most motorized sluices available on today’s market also include a screening device over the top of the feed-section of the sluice box. Screening the larger-sized rocks out of material to be sluiced is one of the primary methods for improving fine (small) gold recovery. Any time you can screen larger rocks out, you can slow the water down through the sluice, which will allow even smaller particles of gold to become trapped inside the riffles.

In normal sluicing, the operators must find a location alongside of a creek or river where the water is flowing just right, at the proper depth, to set up the sluice so the proper amount of water can be directed through. Once the sluice is set up, gold-bearing material must be carried to the sluice, screened separately, and carefully fed through the sluice box.

With a motorized sluice, all you need is a supply of water within several hundred feet of where you want to dig. The screen and sluice assembly can be set up directly at the work site so that pay-dirt can be shoveled directly onto the screening section. The pump/engine assembly will pump water from the water source, through a pressure hose, to the sluice.

Another advantage to the motorized sluice is that in some areas today, it is not legal to wash silt directly from the bank into an active waterway. With a motorized sluice set up some distance from the stream or river, you have an opportunity to utilize natural contours up on the land to slow the water down enough to allow the sediments to settle before (if ever) the water re-enters the creek or river.

SAMPLING

Just like in any other type of gold mining activity, the key to doing well is in digging sample holes to first find a high-grade gold deposit.

Placer Geology

In many places, there is more gold up on the banks than you will find in the river. This can sometimes be true on the Klamath River in northern California. Actually, it is not only that there is more gold on the banks than in the river. The gold on the banks can sometimes just be easier to get at for a small operation.

What happened along the Klamath River, and in many other areas, is not difficult to understand. The old-timers started mining down in the creek or river, and moved uphill, allowing gravity to carry the water and tailings back down towards the creek or river. As the old-timers worked further up into the banks, often the gravel became deeper and more difficult to remove by conventional hand methods. In time, the old-timers developed hydraulic mining. This is where they directed large volumes of water from nearby (or sometimes distant) creeks under great pressure through monitors (huge pressure nozzles). The high-pressure water was used to wash large volumes of gravel through large sluice boxes placed on the banks of the creeks and rivers. As the sluicing operations cut further up into the banks, the sluice boxes were moved forward, which left tailings deposited on the banks.

It is estimated that as much as 50-percent of the gold washed right through the sluice boxes in hydraulic operations because of the large volume and velocity of water which such operations used. Hydraulic operations did not lose gold in the same amounts all of the time. Much of the gravel that these operations processed contained little or no gold. The concentrations of gold were found along bedrock or at the bottom of lower strata flood layers. So, valueless top-gravels were processed at volume speed, and they would try to slow down when getting into pay-dirt materials. Sometimes, however, they would cut into pay-dirt materials at volume speed–before having a chance to slow down. This is where large volumes of gold would wash directly into the tailing piles.

Since the time of large-scale hydraulic mining, there have been several occasions of extreme high water. The 1964 flood in the western United States is one example. Floods of such magnitude, all throughout gold country, re-deposited old hydraulic tailings piles into newly-formed streambeds up on the banks and within the active waterways. Places where gold was lost from hydraulic operations formed into new pay-streaks–often only inches or a few feet from the surface. This is true all up and down the banks of the Klamath River–and probably many other rivers as well–which has created a wonderful and exciting opportunity for modern small-scale gold miners.

Contrary to popular belief, many pay-streaks today are not found down along the bedrock. In fact, many of the pay-streaks surface miners are finding along the Klamath River are situated in a flood layer (1964 flood) within two feet of the surface. This flood layer is often resting directly on top of undisturbed hydraulic tailings.

We are also finding similar pay-streak deposits inside the active river with the use of suction dredges.

Finding pay-streaks with a surface digging project is usually done by setting up the sluice in several different locations, and giving each sample a large enough test hole to obtain an idea of how much gold the gravel is carrying. Sample holes should be taken to bedrock if possible. However, if the gravel goes deep, you have to avoid getting in too far “over your head.” At the point where you start digging deeper than 3 or 4 feet with a pick and shovel, any pay-streak is going to have to be exceptionally rich to make the effort worthwhile. Richer deposits are more scarce; and therefore more difficult to find. So it is important to stay within effective digging/sampling range, and not get yourself into a full-scale production operation before you have found a high-grade gold deposit.

Sometimes you can learn valuable information before you start sampling. If other miners in the immediate area are finding gold deposits along a specific flood layer, you should be sampling for gold along the same flood layer while digging around in the nearby vicinity. Gathering information such as this is one of the many benefits of belonging to an active mining club or association. Active mining organizations will include others who are actively pursuing the same type of mining activity that you are engaged in.

While sampling with a pick and shovel, it is very seldom that you will actually see gold in the gravel as it is being uncovered. Usually, you do

not see the gold until it is time to clean-upthe sluice box after the sample is complete.

If you finish a sample hole and end up with a good showing of gold, the next step is to find out exactly where the gold came from. In other words, did it come off the bedrock, or did it come from a particular layer in the streambed? You must know where the gold is coming from to evaluate the value of the pay-streak. For example, digging two feet into a paying flood layer requires much less time and effort than digging four feet and having to clean rough bedrock. If you do not know for certain where the gold is coming from, and you assume it is coming from the bedrock underneath four feet of hard-packed streambed, you might decide it is not rich enough to work and walk away from a very rich deposit located at the two-foot flood layer

At the same time, if you are able to reach bedrock, you always want to get a good sample there by thoroughly cleaning the surface and any irregularities there. Sometimes that is where the richest deposits are found.

Pinpointing the source of gold is reasonably easy once the sample hole has been opened up. It is likely that the gold will be concentrated either along the bedrock, along the bottom of a flood layer, or at both locations. Sometimes, there is more than one flood layer that carries gold. You can run small production samples of each stratum separately to see which is paying. Or, sometimes you can simply take pan-samples in the different contact zones between the layers

Some pick & shovel miners are using metal detectors in their prospecting activities. Some of the new gold metal detectors will sound out on pieces of gold as small as the head of a pin! But in gravel deposits, metal detectors can also be used quite well to locate the concentrations of magnetic black sand. Black sand tends to concentrate in pay-streaks, just like gold. Therefore, locations sounding out heavy concentrations of magnetic sand on metal detectors are excellent places to follow up with pick & shovel sampling.

One question commonly asked about sluicing procedure is the proper slope-setting for a sluice box. A sluice box generally requires about an inch drop per each linear foot of sluice. This is just a guideline. Basically, you need enough water velocity to keep the material active in the sluice behind the riffles, but not so much that you are washing most of the material out from behind the riffles. I like to get enough water flow to keep the larger material moving through and out of the box. If I see lots of rocks building up in the sluice, I know I do not have enough water velocity. An occasional rock needing to be helped along is alright in a sluice (although maybe not a dredge sluice!). In surface sluicing (non-dredging), I would rather toss out an occasional rock and have the peace of mind that I am also achieving maximum possible fine gold recovery.

A common practice in sluicing is to also to set up a second sluice behind the primary sluice. The plastic Le’Trap sluice works exceptionally well for this because it recovers fine gold so well, and for its ease in cleanup. The idea is to have a safety check on your primary recovery system to make sure it is working properly.

And if all else fails, you can always do some pan-testing in your tailings to see if your sluice might be losing any gold.

One mistake that beginners often make is in thinking that the recovery system is at fault because they are not recovering very much gold. Most often, however, it is not the recovery system. It is the lack of a good-paying pay-streak! The answer to this is to hustle around with more sampling. Ask around to see what and where it is working well for others in the area. Use their operations as a model.

Flood layer pay-streaks are often easier than bedrock pay-streaks to clean up with pick & shovel surface mining operations. There are several reasons for this. One is that a flood layer pay-streak is closer to the surface. This means less gravel to shovel to reach the gold. Another reason is that it takes more effort to clean the gold off of a bedrock surface when you are not using a dredge. You can only do so much with a shovel. After that, you must resort to a whisk broom and/or a motorized vacuum cleaner. This is why portable dry land dredges are also becoming so popular. They give you the ability to clean bedrock surfaces and cracks with minimum effort. If the gold is coming off bedrock, you must invest the extra effort to clean it off well. Otherwise, you stand the chance of leaving an important portion of the gold behind as you mine forward on the pay-streak.

Many pick & shovel miners today also are equipped with an optional suction attachment. To use it, the pressure hose from the water pump is attached to a suction nozzle that directs the water and material through a suction hose into the sluice. So after an initial hole is dug up out of the water, the hole can be filled with water and material can be sucked into the sluice box. The recovery system can be positioned so that the water discharge can run back into the hole– keeping the hole from running out of water.

So you can dig a hole up on the land, and then begin a suction mining operation outside of the active waterway. This is great!

In California, dredging permits are only required when dredges are operated inside of the active waterway. Therefore, my personal understanding is that suction miners up on the land are not required to have a dredging permit as long as they are not dredging inside the active waterway.

Some surface miners also sample for the gold-path up on the bank by pan sampling the moss. Sometimes, how well the moss is producing gold at the surface can also be an indication of how well the gravel is paying underneath.

When moss, roots, clay and other types of materials are producing good quantities of gold, it is always a good idea to break up the material as much as you can before running it through a sluice box. This is usually done by pulling it apart over the top of a classification screen, or breaking it up inside a bucket of water before running it through the sluice. This slows down production, so the additional work must be rewarded by the recovery of more gold.

Once you find a pay-streak in pick & shovel mining, you want to give some thought to how you are going to develop the deposit with a minimum of wasted effort. For example, you will have to pile the cobbles (rocks too large to pass through your recovery system) and tailings somewhere. Preferably, cobbles and tailings would not be placed upon some other section of the pay-streak. Otherwise they might need to be moved twice, or you might be forced to leave behind high-grade areas that have been further buried. So it is worth some extra sampling to get an idea of the pay-streak’s boundaries. Then you can deposit the tailings material in a location where you will not need to move them again.

Placing tailings is, and always has been, one of the most important aspects of a mining operation–of any size. Yet, it is one of the most neglected aspects of mining by a substantial portion of small-scale miners. In fact, we have a standing principle, true as it may be, along the Klamath River: “Dowsing works: just look where a successful pick & shovel miner or dredger has been throwing his or her cobbles. It is almost guaranteed there will be excellent gold underneath!”

This usually comes back to a simple case of gold fever. The miner starts getting a good showing of gold, gets excited, and never slows down to define the boundaries of the deposit. This almost guarantees an important portion of the deposit will end up underneath cobbles.

Pay-streaks up out of the water are often different from those found in the river or creek. What I mean by this is that they do not always follow the same gold path. When you find a pay-streak in the river, you can usually line it up with the next river bend and make a pretty fair guess where the next several pay-streaks are likely to be. This is because river pay-streaks usually form from gold that has washed down the river along its own gold path during major flood storms.

Pay-streaks outside of the river often were formed from gold out of tailings from old hydraulic mining operations. So you can find a small pay-streak up on the bank, follow it until it plays out, and then not find any sign of it further upstream. This is because the source of the gold deposit was not from a point further up river. Then you can find another pay-streak on another path altogether. In other words, pay-streaks up on the bank might not follow a specific single gold path, as they usually do in the river.

Pick & shovel mining is a lot of fun – when you are finding gold. A healthy portion of our miners along the Klamath River mine out of the water. The reason for this is that it gives them an opportunity to find pay-streaks without having to commit to an underwater dredging operation.

We manage Group Mining Projects just about every other weekend during the spring, summer and fall months in Happy Camp You can find this year’s schedule HERE. You have my personal invitation to come out and get some firsthand experience. We always send participants home with a sample of gold that they help recover–that is, those who go back home. Many join up with us. Watch out–the biggest challenge in gold mining is not in finding the gold; it is getting over the “fever” after you have found it!

 

 

 

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