The Pursuit of Gold


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.   When you become an expert you will be able to 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.

Find a nice spot to do your panning where the water is at least six inches deep and preferably moving steadily with enough motion in the water to sweep away the mud and silt that fills the water as it is washed from your pan. By choosing a spot with clean running water you can always see what you are doing.  Be cautious as you don’t want the water moving quickly as it will upset your panning actions. A slow moving motion in the current is the best place to be.  Now for your own comfort look for a spot that also has a good sized rock, or an old log or a good stream bank, so you can sit down while you pan.  You can pan effectively while squatting, kneeling or bending over, but you will get tired. If you are planning to process more than just one or two pans, sitting down will make the job much more pleasant.

Carry the pan over to your determined spot and submerge it underwater.  Use your fingers to mix up the contents in the pan breaking it all up causing the material to become fully covered with water.. Now you begin to pull apart the clay, the dirt, the roots the moss and everything that is in the pan. being certain the material in the pan and covered with water;.  Mud and silt will float up and out. Don’t worry about losing gold when you are doing this as gold is heavy and tends to sink deeper in your pan while the lighter materials float out with the mild current.

Once the entire contents of the pan are now cleared from the moss and mud take the pan and with the cheater riffles on the far side of the pan shake it, to the left and to the right in a motion and just under the surface of the water. This action helps to break up the contents of the pan even more and starts to work the heavier materials downwards in the pan while the lighter materials surface.

Do not get over zealous shaking as you may move the material out of the pan during this step. Sometimes depending on what you are working with you may have to alternate these steps back and forth until all of the contents of the pan are in a fully immerged and diluted with water.  These actions are important as this is what allows the heavier materials to sink in the pan while the lighter materials emerge to the surface.

As the rocks move to the surface, just sweep them away, remembering the gold is heavy and will go to the what you have done to bring these rocks to  the surface will have worked the gold deeper down toward the bottom of the pan. 

Rotating your arm in a circular motion underwater will help to bring more rocks to the surface where they can be swept off in the same way.  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 gold has a tendency to be held up in clay.  So check those rocks out.
Continue to shake the pan and sweep out the rocks and pebbles, until most of the medium-sized material is out of your pan.

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 swept off.

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, and get a feel for knowing exactly 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 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.

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 doesn’t take much shaking to bring a new layer of lighter stuff to the surface. Maybe 8 or 10 seconds worth of shaking will do it, maybe less. it all depends on 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.

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.  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, sometimes garnets, small purple and black iron rocks, and the heavy black sand concentrates–which consist of 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, silver 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.


It is possible to pan all the way down to the gold–with no black sands, lead, or other foreign materials left in the pan. This 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 dredge.

Panning all the way down to gold is really not very difficult, once you get the hang of it. It’s just a matter of a little practice and being a bit more careful. 

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

If you have trouble transferring the gold to your container try wetting your finger and picking up the piece of gold, generally it transfers very easily.

For ladies, make sure you don’t have hand lotion on, as it creates oil and oil makes gold float.

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