Learning how to pan for gold can be an enjoyable and highly addictive outdoor hobby. And if you’re lucky enough, you can even make some money at it too (which is why most people learn how to pan for gold in the first place). Panning for gold is based on the simple principal of separation and weight. A gold panner scoops up material from a creek or riverbed and shakes the pan vigorously. The goal of this process is to separate the mud, gravel and sand from a hopeful gold fleck or nugget. Since gold is heavier than the other material, it should settle at the bottom of the pan while the other material is washed away.
While the description of learning how to pan for gold sounds simple, actually finding gold isn’t. However, like spending time at a casino or playing the lottery, the joy of this hobby is the anticipation of finding gold and the dreams of wealth that come with it . If you’re the type of person who can get immersed in a quest and you enjoy being outdoors than learning how to pan for gold can be a fun hobby to add to your list of favorite pastimes.
Gold Panning History
The quest and love of gold began thousands of years ago. Ancient Egyptians used gold to adorn tombs and temples as well as to make decorative gold objects. Gold was popular because it was found in its natural form and didn’t have to be separated from other elements. Working with gold and creating gold decorations and objects was also relatively easy compared to other metals.
While the search for gold is ancient, more recent gold panning became well known during the California Gold Rush that began in 1848. Miners from all over the world flocked to the Sierra Nevada foothills with the singular dream of making their fortune panning and mining for gold. Before the Gold Rush ended in 1855, nearly $2 billion dollars of gold was mined from the area.
Although the days of the Gold Rush are long gone, the passion for gold prospecting remains. There’s a chance you can find gold almost anywhere and some states even allow you to stake a claim if you find gold in an area designated for prospecting.
Gold Panning Fun Facts
- The Gold Rush miner nickname “Forty-niners” came from the year 1849, when the Gold Rush was in full force. This is where the San Francisco 49’ers football team also gets their name.
- Gold is so malleable that a single ounce can be hammered out into a thin sheet that measures 100 square feet.
- Aztecs referred to gold as “teocuitlatl”, which means “excrement of the Gods”.
- The largest gold nugget ever found is known as the “Hand of Faith”. It was found in Australia in 1869 and contained an incredible 156 pounds of pure gold!
Getting Started With Gold Panning
Gold panning is a relatively simple hobby and all you really need is a gold pan, a small trowel and a place to pan for gold to get started. There are a variety of Internet sites that list locations where you can pan for gold and some even sell prospecting maps. While you can learn how to pan for gold pretty much anywhere, it’s more exciting to start panning at a location where gold has been found in the past.
A basic gold pan only costs a few bucks. Specialty gold panning sites also sell gold panning kits. These kits cost around $30 and typically include the gold pan, an instruction guide, bottles and vials for sucking up and storing gold, and a jeweler’s loupe (specialty magnifying glass). Gold panning maps are available online for several states and cost anywhere between $10 and $25 each.
In addition to your panning equipment, you may also want to pick up some waterproof waders, a bucket, bug spray and sunscreen. A handheld GPS unit can also be really helpful, especially if you’re new to the area in which you’re planning to pan.
As with any activity where you’re venturing off the beaten path, always let a friend or relative know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
How To Pan For Gold
Gather up all of your gold panning equipment and supplies and plan your gold panning excursion. Plan out a couple of different locations you might try in the event that your first spot doesn’t work out.
Once you’ve arrived at your prospecting site, you’ll want to set up camp and start panning! With your shovel or hands, dig up some sand and gravel from the river base. Take a small amount of this material and fill your gold pan about ¾ the way to the brim.
Choose a place in the river where you’ll do your panning. You’ll need about a foot of water. Pick a location with a gentle current – anything too swift will make your panning more difficult. Ideally find a location with a rock or log to sit on. You can also flip your bucket upside down as a makeshift seat.
Place your pan under water and use your hands to break up any chunks of sand and gravel. Then take your pan and swirl it around so that any gold will settle down to the bottom of the pan. Change the motion from counter-clockwise to sideways and back and forth. You’ll need to repeat this step several times.
Carefully pour out the top layers of sediment. This will expose the heaver elements of your pan (hopefully gold) that have settled to the bottom. You may need to repeat this process several times to rinse out the necessary layers of material from your pan.
As you inspect the base layer of your pan, use tweezers to extract any gold you find. It’s helpful to keep a capped bottle handy to securely store your personal Mother Lode.
As you pack up camp, take some notes about your day. Make detailed notes of the precise location where you found any gold. You’ll want to return to this location after a heavy rainfall or snowmelt. The additional current may flush and concentrate more gold.
As you amass your gold nugget fortune, you may be interested in selling your treasures. You can sell your gold nuggets in a variety of ways. Some prospecting sites have onsite operators. You can also try and sell your gold nuggets through a variety of online brokers or even through eBay. Always be careful when selling your gold. Make sure you know the market value and only work with reputable brokers or buyers.
Gold Panning Tips And Tricks
Try the following tips and tricks for getting the most out of your prospecting excursions and learning how to pan for gold.
- Try seasoning your metal pan over hot coals. This process will darken the pan and improve the contrast that will make spotting gold easier.
- Try using magnets to remove black sand and other iron deposits from your gold. Magnets work best when your gold concentrate is dry.
- Using a drop of dish detergent during the final panning stage can help avoid fine gold particles from floating on the surface. The detergent breaks the surface tension of the water so the flakes drop back down.
- Try to leave your panning site in better condition than you found it. Become a panning ambassador and help keep nature clean.
Growing Your Panning Hobby
As you learn how to pan for gold and master the basics, you may want to grow your prospecting hobby. Here are a couple of ideas to consider:
- Try your hand at prospecting with a portable sluice (pronounced sloos). Sluice boxes are devices that are strategically placed in rapidly flowing riverbeds. Water and sediment flows through the sluice and heavy materials (hopefully precious metals) are trapped in the sluice.
- Join one of many gold prospecting groups, clubs and online forums.
- Take a prospecting vacation to famous gold mining sites around the country.
- Try your hand at rockhounding where you’ll search for and collect rocks and minerals from their natural environment.
Gold Panning Resources
Check out the following resources for more information about getting started with gold panning.
GoldMapsOnline – sells maps for a variety of states that show accurate, up-to-date views of America’s active gold deposits.
Gold Fever Prospecting – sells a variety of panning supplies as well as offers helpful instruction and panning tips.
Black Cat Mining – sells prospecting equipment, panning supplies, rockhounding and other treasure-hunting gear.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.