Use Your Gold Pan First: Part 2

One of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of successful gold recovery is to use your gold pan to sample thoroughly BEFORE operating any piece of mining equipment (i.e., dredge, dry washer, sluice box, highbanker, etc.).

Yes, stream hydraulics and the principles of gold deposition physics will dictate, to a great degree, where you will begin your search for gold, but unlike the examples of would-be miners I mentioned in my earlier post on this subject that you CANNOT afford to be lazy and assume that good gold values will be recovered just because you are working the gravels of an inside bend or other low-pressure or likely gold deposition area. USE YOUR GOLD PAN FIRST. Sample, sample, sample.

I've covered proper sampling in some earlier posts in Bedrock Dreams and I suggest you read these because I am not going to "re-plow" the same ground here. But what I am going to do is give you a few hints and tips on how to effectively employ your gold pan before running large amounts of material through a piece of mining equipment, whatever that may be.

Here's what I look for when performing my preliminary sampling with a gold pan, regardless of whether I am sampling a gravel bar; the area behind large, low-pressure obstructions; bedrock; bench gravels; or any other likely looking spot:

1) If there is no gold in the pan: If I find nothing in a certain number of test pans at different depths and locations I don't waste another second but move on to another likely looking location for additional sampling.

2) There are pieces of oxidized iron or lead in the pan but no gold: Definitely worth a second look and additional sampling. Bits and pieces of oxidized iron, old nails, rusty conglomerates, shot, and deformed lead fishing weights are good indicators that I'm on the right track since they tend to follow the same deposition patterns of placer gold. However, I must qualify this somewhat. They DO NOT guarantee I will find placer gold along with them, especially if I am unlucky enough to be sampling areas that have already been worked over pretty well.

3) There is gold in the pan along with pieces of oxidized iron, lead, and coarse black sands: Ok, now we're talking. If a reasonable number of test pans hold up with consistent results, this may be a very good location to set up my equipment and start running larger amounts of material.

4) How coarse is the gold in the pan? Am I finding a few microdots of flood or flour gold, small flakes, or a chunky piece I can pick up with my fingers? Here's the way I tend to assess things: If I'm finding lots of flood gold as opposed to an occasional flake or two or even a chunkier piece, I'll work the area showing the most gold. If I am getting a nice chunky piece or two per pan, or every third pan or so, I will make that my area to work hard by processing as much material as I can with the appropriate piece of mining equipment. It's a judgment call of sorts. Do you want to recover lots of fine gold or would you rather try to recover the heavier pieces even though they are less frequent?

In the final analysis, you must decide which area you are sampling is giving you the best gold "showing" and the best potential gold return recovery rate for the estimated amount of material to be processed. As you can see, this not an easy task most of the time and requires knowledge, foresight, experience, good sampling techniques, and a bit of luck thrown in for good measure. One thing I can tell you for sure is that a haphazard or half-hearted sampling approach won't cut it in the long run. You'll come up short the majority of the time.


Good luck out there.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008