Gold can be found in many forms— nuggets, wire, tiny lumps called "pickers" or flat flecks and feather-shaped crystals. But no matter the size or type, having the right equipment and practicing good techniques makes gold panning much easier, more successful, and lots more fun!
Gold is heavier than most gravel found in streams, so that's why it can be collected in a gold pan when the right techniques are used. Plastic gold pans are recommended, especially for beginners. Plastic has significant advantages over the older steel or copper pans— they are lighter, don't rust, nor do they conflict with the use of a magnet. Most pans are 10 to 18 inches in diameter at the top, with the sides sloping at roughly 30 to 45 degrees. The exact size is not all that critical as long as it's comfortable for YOUR hand and allows you to shake the pan so that the gold settles downward and allows you to wash the lighter material off the top. After all the lighter materials have been removed, only the heavy concentrates will remain in pan— and with practice, you'll see a gleam of gold at the bottom! In addition to having a gold pan or two, and knowing the location of a gold-bearing stream or other area, all you need is an optimistic attitude and practice to get good at gold panning.
You can get started prospecting for gold around $60 if you buy a gold panning kit containing plastic gold pans and classifiers, a plastic suction bottle (snuffer bottle), tweezers, vials, a magnifying glass, and how-to instructions. Gold Panning Kits put together by Garrett, Fisher, and other brands are an economical way to get started because they contain everything you need in one convenient package. Now all you need to know is Where to Find Gold. Then, it's time to get out there in the great outdoors and have fun! And before you know it, you may recover so much of the shiny metal that you'll need to know how and where to sell your gold.
WARNING: Keep in mind that all the shiny stuff in your pan may not be gold. Pyrite, also known as "fool's gold," and mica are both brassy in color. If any gold-colored flecks float on the water, it's a sure sign it's NOT real gold. Don't get discouraged. Keep practicing, and sooner or later that flash in your pan will be the real deal! After getting a flash in your pan a time or two, almost certainly Gold Fever will invade your psyche! After you get good and successful with gold panning, you may need to spend a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars on more sophisticated gold prospecting tools that will give you a special advantage in processing more paydirt more quickly. And why not?! With the price of gold on the rise these days, you don't need to find much to completely pay for your mining equipment and turn a profit!
Steps for Gold Panning Success:
1. Fill pan about half full of gravel, small rocks, and sand collected from the stream bed
2. Put the pan under the water's surface, break up large lumps of clay or dirt, and remove stones
3. Continue to hold the pan level under the water with your hands on opposite sides, and tilt the pan forward, away from your body, and down slightly. Rotate and shake it side to side to let gravel and sand dribble out the front. Pick out the rocks.
4. Repeat step 3 several times until most of the material is removed, leaving less than a cup of fine-grained dark material overlain with a thin layer of light material at the bottom of your pan.
5. Rotate the pan in a circular motion. Notice how the water separates lighter material from heavier.
6. Stop rotating and hopefully you'll see a flash in the dark material remaining in the bottom of your pan! Use tweezers to retrieve the gold and place in a vial for safe-keeping.