A Beginner’s Guide to Prospecting Gold for Fun (and Maybe Profit!)

Hunting for buried treasure. It isn’t an activity that is reserved for pirates. When you have the right equipment, you can prospect for gold right now. Many communities have public areas where gold panning, prospecting, and metal detecting are authorized.

And, if you prefer, you can also ask for permission to engage these activities on private property. For many property owners, they have the right to hunt for gold and buried treasure on their own land.

Before getting started with this fun hobby, it is important to remember these two traits: patience and perseverance.

Finding gold can take time. Some people have started this hobby and never found any gold. Prospecting for gold is not usually a get-rich-quick type of activity. You need to learn how to do it, get good at it, and then have more than your fair share of luck.

If you can be patient with the process and keep going with the hobby, even if you don’t find something for some time, then you can begin creating your own luck. Skill and knowledge, combined with the right tools, will make it more likely that you’ll find a hidden treasure one day.

5 Fast Tips to Help You Get Started with Prospecting

Gold isn’t usually lying on the surface, waiting for you to pick it up. Even someone who has lost their gold jewelry will have the ground claim the item in 24 hours or less so that it becomes buried. Finding gold means knowing where it could be, hunting in the right places, and using your equipment to detect where it may be.

Here are 5 fast tips to get you started with your gold prospecting.

#1. Know the history of the land. Gold is usually found near water. Along a coastline, that means hunting on a beach, especially during low-tide periods. Inland treasure can be found as well, often near streams and creeks. Because water movements can change over time, you’ll want to know the history of the land to improve your prospecting chances. Prospecting where water used to be can be highly profitable. Just make sure you have permission to be on that land.

#2. Look for diversions and tributaries. Rivers and streams tend to have a lot of power behind them. This creates an erosion process that can uncover gold very effectively. That gold tends to collect in the diversions and tributaries of the main channel. Begin your panning or metal detecting in these areas first, especially if there are areas with dense root systems, boulders, or other obstacles.

#3. Don’t be afraid to get yourself dirty. In the average river or stream, the gold will be the heaviest object in the sediment. Even small flakes sink to the bottom of the water in strong movement and then keep moving downstream from there. Don’t be afraid to get down into the sediment and get yourself dirty as you work.

#4. Sometimes you need to focus on the shoreline. Make sure that you have a good shovel with you so that you can dig the dirt, soil, or sand along the edge of the stream or creek for possible hidden gold. Then use the water from the stream so you can screen your pan to determine if there is any gold to be found. Fill your gold pan with the materials, use both hands to filter the extraneous material, and remove bigger rocks that are definitely not gold right away.

#5. Patience unlocks your full potential. The odds of finding gold nuggets or lost treasures the first time you begin prospecting are astronomical. This is not a hobby or job that is designed to provide instant gratification. Although there are stories of instant fortunes being made, many prospectors find a few gold flakes in the shifting sands of a stream or creek. Grind out a few flakes every day is just as profitable as any other full-time job.

How to Tell If You’ve Found Gold or Pyrite

When you’re prospecting for gold, the shining little bits in your sluice or pan can make your heart start beating hard when you see them. With the sun shining and the flakes sparkling, you feel like a million bucks and hope you’ve made at least a few hundred dollars. Without taking a closer look at what you’ve found, however, you may find that the only thing you’ve found is pyrite.

Pyrite is what we call “Fool’s Gold.” Unless you can spot the differences between the two, you may find yourself going to a gold buyer with nothing to offer.

There are 4 specific points to look at when examining what you think may be gold to determine if you’ve got something of value.

  • Pyrite tends to glisten in the sun instead of shine naturally. You’ll see the glistening come to a sharp edge and the “sparkly” aspect of the material may shift as your perspective changes. If you’re still unsure, place the item in question into a darkened environment. Gold always has luster. If the shine goes away without light, then you’ve got pyrite.
  • Pyrite is much harder than gold. It’s also harder than copper. Take a penny that was minted before 1982 and attempt to scratch the item that you’ve found. If you alter the complexion of the material, then it isn’t gold. If you don’t have a copper penny, just stick a pin in what you’ve found. Pyrite tends to shatter.
  • Pyrite interacts with white porcelain in a unique way. It will leave a powdery residue that appears to have a green-like sheen when rubbed against the material. Gold leaves a residue that is faintly yellow on white porcelain instead.
  • Pyrite tends to have an angular appearance. Gold tends to have a rounded appearance. If it looks more like a cube than a sphere, then you’ve likely found some fool’s gold.

For people who are sensitive to smells, pyrite tends to offer a faint odor of sulfur. Gold does not offer an odor after it has been cleaned whatsoever. If you get a whiff of what smells like rotting eggs, then there’s a good chance

Metal detectors can struggle to tell the difference between the two sometimes because fool’s gold is a mineral. It is comprised of iron sulfide, which has a crystalline structure that can “absorb” other materials as it forms. The metal detector can pick up the deposit and sound a signal. Unless your equipment has a numbered notification of the deposit discovered or has some other method of notification, it can be easy to think you’ve found gold when you really have not.

To make matters even more confusing, it is possible for some fool’s gold deposits to contain traces of real gold.

Prospecting Terms that You’ll Want to Know

As you get into the world of gold panning and prospecting, you’ll find that there are some terms used frequently to describe products or discuss opportunities. Here are some of the prospecting terms that you’ll need to get to know if you wish to pursue this hobby.

Alluvium: This is a deposit of mud, sand, or sediment that is formed by flowing water.

Argentiferous: This means the area is producing silver. Although panning for silver or platinum isn’t as profitable as gold prospecting, there are areas in the US West where it is possible.

Bar Claims: This is the gold that is found in a collection of gravel, sand, or sediment and is exposed in low water levels.

Base Bullion: Lead often has trace amounts of gold with it in a natural state. The blocks which contain both items are called this.

Conglomerate: Stones that are composed of pebbles and gravel can fuse together to resemble concrete. When that happens, this term is used to describe such a stone.

Coyote: If you are digging a hole in a creek, stream, or river to look for gold, it is said that you are digging a “coyote hole.” The goal is to find a bedrock deposit of gold that might be deep in the gravel bar of the bed.

Crevice: This is the crack or fissure that is found in the bedrock.

Denudation: This occurs when rocks are laid bare because of the running water of a creek, stream, or river.

Dredge: Occurs when removing sediment from a natural water source.

Flour: Sometimes the gold flakes you find look like dust. When you touch it, the gold feels like you’re touching flour.

Highbanker: This is a sluice box that is not permanently installed in a creek, bed, or stream. It is a common type of sluice that a hobbyist prospector would use. You would need to transport water to the sluice for material separation.

Long Tom: This is another type of sluice box. It’s narrower and longer than the common design.

Ore: When you find gold in its raw form, then you find ore. Any metal or combination of minerals that occurs naturally is called this when in its raw form.

Outcrop: If you find a vein of gold, then the portion of it that you can see is described with this term.

Panning: This action washes sediment away from free gold that has been recovered from a stream, creek, or river.

Rake: There are two types of “rakes” in prospecting. The first is a tool that you would use to separate materials while panning, much like a small rake you’d use for gardening. The second is a timber that is placed at an angle within the context of a gold mine.

Sourdough: This is an experienced gold prospector.

Tailings: This is the debris left over from panning efforts that does not contain any gold and is returned to nature.

Vein: When ore collects into fissures and concentrates, it is referred to with this term.

How Does Gold Panning Help to Find Gold?

Gold panning is a simple way to see if a local stream or creek has gold lurking in the sediment. It can be a fun and profitable hobby, but most people who go out panning do not find any gold at all.

The reason for this is simple: they don’t go down into the sediment far enough.

That is why panning for gold can be a lot of work. You need to get into the sediment layer that looks like black, gritty sand to find the most potential for nuggets and flakes. Gold is heavy and will be pushed downward when it gets trapped in bends, curves, or obstacles by the flow of the water.

As you are digging through the sediment, you may find yourself getting blocked by some bedrock. Many beginners will move to a new location when this occurs and they miss a rich potential place for gold. Cracks that you can find in the bedrock have a great potential for trapped gold.

To access those bedrock cracks, you’ll want to have a good crevicing tool as part of your panning kit. An option like this one will let you dig deep and plow out material with ease.

Then place the material into your gold pan. You may wish to use a screen before placing raw materials for sorting to eliminate the large rocks, pebbles, and gravel that will be in your way. Work water around in your pan to wash away the sediment and continue working until all you have is the black grit.

Then look for flakes or small nuggets that have a brilliant luster in any light. If you find anything like that, you have potentially beaten the odds and found some gold.

What Is a Gold Sluice and Why Would I Need One?

Gold sluice boxes process materials to find gold the same way that panning does. The difference is that you’ll have less physical work to do when looking for flakes and nuggets.

A sluice is a narrow box that water will pass through when it is placed into running water. You can place materials into this box as you are prospecting to let the water naturally separate items for you. This will allow you to recover any gold that may be in the place gravel thanks to the riffles that are in the box.

You’ll want to place a sluice next to larger rocks for the best possible results. You can also use the sluice along a rocky shoreline or near a flat, large rock that alters the flow of water.

The angle of the sluice should match the angle of water flow in that portion of the stream or creek. Some sluice boxes allow you to adjust how the item stands in the water, but you can also adjust the angle of a sluice by arranging rocks underneath it so that you can get the right water speed and movement through the box.

Place the materials you wish to separate upstream in the sluice box. The material will begin to pile up at the downstream end of the box periodically, so remember to clear that out once and awhile. Then continue to repeat until you begin to see materials catch behind the riffles of the box.

The weight of the gold should trap it in the first riffle in your sluice box. There should be almost no gold in any other riffle. If you do happen to find gold and most of it is trapped in the final downstream riffles, then you’ve likely lost a good portion of the gold that you could have found. Try to move more upstream with your sediment dispersal and consider adding more materials to the carpet of the sluice to improve trapping.

If you do need more matting, we highly recommend this moss mat by Jobe.

Are You Ready to Begin Prospecting for Gold?

For more than 200 years, prospectors have been bringing their panning kits and sluice boxes in the hopes of finding riches. It is a great hobby that will let you enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and possibly find some profits.

There are numerous locations where you can begin prospecting right now. You can even prospect on your own property, especially if there is a creek or stream that meanders through it.

To begin your adventure with this hobby, you’ll want to make sure that you have the best gold panning kits and sluice boxes that meet your needs.

You can also search for gold by using one of the best metal detectors, especially if it is designed to give you a quality tone when it locates this precious metal.

The consistently high prices of gold make this a hobby that can pay more than a side hustle. It is easy enough to do that it can become a family hobby, allowing you to spend quality time together. Maybe you’ll find something or maybe you won’t find anything.

What matters the most is that you have fun with gold prospecting. Use the tips here to spot a location with potential and then get out there to explore. You never know what you might find!

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