Use Your Gold Pan First: Part 1

Want the best piece of advice that nearly 30 years' worth of placer gold mining experience can give you?


That's it? Yes, that's it in a nutshell. If you've read some of my other posts here at Bedrock Dreams you've heard me emphasize these three issues concerning the gold pan:

a) It's a prospecting tool, not a piece of mining equipment; and

b) It's the single most important sampling tool in your entire arsenal of gold mining gear; and

c) It's the standard tool used for "cleaning up" (i.e., panning) gold-bearing black sand concentrates out in the field.

Let's take a closer look. Unlike suction dredges, dry washers, sluice boxes, high bankers, trommels or rockers, a gold pan is not designed to process large amounts of auriferous gravel. In fact, an expert panner working full tilt can only effectively process approximately one cubic yard per day of gold-bearing material. With a rocker box this amount of material is just about doubled, with a sluice box tripled, and so on, up the line, depending on the type of mining equipment used, how well it is set up and employed, and the knowledge and hard work of its operator.

What does that tell you? What it should tell you is that the gold pan is the least effective of all these pieces of mining gear in terms of the sheer amount of material that can be processed using it. So it is best employed in the roles it was designed for: prospecting, sampling, and clean up. One, two, three. And it is these first two items about gold pans that require closer examination.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

So here is where we get to the heart of the matter about gold pans. Over the past 30 years I've seen any number of recreational placer gold miners lug all sorts of fancy and expensive (and quite often heavy and cumbersome) pieces of mining equipment streamside and then, without further adieu, spend an hour or two (or longer) setting up and fiddling with or "fine tuning" things. Once they are satisfied that their gear is running at optimum performance, they set to work with a vengeance, shoveling or vacuuming up vast amounts of dirt and gravel in an impressive display.

All well and fine, right? Well, no actually. Why? In the instances outlined above I was amazed (or better yet, horrified) by the fact that these individuals performed little, if any, real prospecting or sampling before setting up their equipment and running large amounts of material.

Panning's a Waste of Time?

On one occasion, the miner in question told me bluntly that "panning was a waste of time" because he was working an inside bend gravel bar and that's where the gold should be! In another incident a miner told me it didn't pay to pan samples as long as you were in a gold-bearing area and knew gold was there. And, in yet another situation, a would-be miner expressed his frustration and disappointment at the low gold returns in his concentrate clean up after running material for hours. Yet I observed this same person take only two sample pans (one of which contained a couple of microdots of flour gold) before setting up and going to work.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2008