How to Pan for Gold
The most basic method of prospecting for gold is to use a gold pan. Although the old time prospectors used heavy metal pans, plastic pans are lighter and nearly indestructible. Today, pans come in a variety of sizes (10, 12, and 14 inch are the most common), and in multiple colors (green, blue, black, gray, etc.), and even different shapes (square, hexagonal, oval). Not all gold pans are round anymore. You can still buy steel or copper pans if you prefer, but plastic pans are inexpensive and light-weight so your arms don’t tire too quickly. Click here to see a wide selection of gold pans.
Before using a brand new plastic pan that still has some "shine" to it, remove that shine to stop fine gold from potentially floating out of your pan. The shiny surface is a releasing agent (mostly oil) from the manufacturer. A good liquid dish detergent, water, some dirt or sand, or a scouring sponge is all you need to "season" your pan. Just scrub the insides of your pan until water no longer beads up, and you are ready to go!
When choosing a place to begin gold panning, find a spot where the water is not too deep and moves just swiftly enough to keep the water clear. Clear vision is vital so you can see what you're doing. Don't pan in fast moving water because gold could potentially get washed right out of your pan! Wear rubber boots or hip waders, and also consider panning gloves that reach to your elbow. Remember, large nuggets are very rare so you will recover mostly fine gold with an occasional "picker" nugget. Having tweezers on hand for removing pickers and small flakes from your pan is ideal.
Place a small amount of material in your pan — maybe 1/4 to 1/2 pan full at first. Submerge the gold pan just below its rim and shake side to side or around and around fairly vigorously. Be careful not to wash a lot of material out of your pan while doing this. The heavy material and black sands will work their way down to the bottom of your pan while the lighter and useless materials will rise to the top and can be discarded.
Move your pan slowly up and down in the water so that the water itself is washing off the lighter sands and gravel. Keep the material semi-liquid and continue to use the action of the water to wash the lighter material out of the pan until you see the darker more heavy material coming to the surface. Sweep just a little material off each time — don't get a huge tidal wave going in your pan or you are sure to lose your gold. Continue slowly sweeping this material out of your pan with water.
As you get further down in the material in your pan, notice how the heavier material turns darker and darker. Notice how it is increasingly more difficult to wash this material out. Resist the urge to wash harder. Continue sweeping the material out little by little until you have almost just black sand. Luckily, gold stands out well against this dark background.
Use a gold magnet to quickly separate the gold from the black magnetic sand concentrates. Place the magnet to the bottom side of your plastic pan and move it in a small circular motion with the pan slightly tilted. This will quickly remove the gold from the magnetic black sands.
Use a snuffer bottle to quickly suck up any gold you see. A snuffer bottle (sometimes also referred to as "sniffer" bottle) is a small flexible clear plastic bottle with a small tube/straw attached to its end. Squeezing the bottle creates a vacuum inside, and submerged gold from the pan can be easily sucked up through the tube and saved by releasing the bottle and moving it around the edges of your pan showing gold. Before using your snuffer bottle, make sure that the straw is properly placed into the cap. The straw should go no more than half to three quarters of the way down into the bottle. Don't let the straw touch the bottom of the bottle and always keep it well above the gold level in the bottle so you do not accidentally push your gold back out of the straw.
Fill your snuffer bottle about half full with water. Gently squeeze and hold the bottle, placing the straw next to the gold in your gold pan. Slowly release the bottle to create a vacuum. This will pull the gold into the bottle. One you have released the tension from the bottle and it is no longer pulling the gold up, lift your snuffer out of the water. Place a finger over the straw and shake it a couple of times. Any gold in the straw will fall into the bottle and be trapped.
Because time is often limited at the river, use your time to actually dig, pan and find gold — use the time at home to finish the clean up process and separate your fine gold from the black sands. Take your black sands home with you where you can pan in a controlled environment and go over each pan several times with a catch basin underneath to be sure you recover the tiniest bits of flour gold (they all add up)! An automatic spiral gold panning machine is ideal if you don't have the muscle power or time to separate your fine gold concentrates by hand. A Gold Cube Super Concentrator is another excellent fine gold recovery tool to consider when you have a lot of panning concentrates to process and want to speed up the process.
Back and forth, round and round, or side to side motion — it's up to you! As you practice, you'll find there are as many methods to panning as there are gold pans and gold prospectors. After a while you will find your best technique forms naturally. Your panning will become faster and your gold losses will become smaller. For extra help and confidence, read one of the many "how-to" prospecting books or watch a DVD written by experts about how to pan for gold.
Gold Panning Kits put together by Garrett, Fisher, and other brands are an economical way to get started because they contain everything you need— a variety of sizes of pans and classifiers, snuffer bottle, tweezers, vials to collect your gold in, and educational "how to" information. Now all you need to know is Where to Find Gold. Have fun!