By Dave McCracken

Part One – The Fundamentals

Dave Mack

 

During the Group Mining Projects we conduct each season, I always like to start by discussing the most important and fundamental ingredient in successful gold mining. That basic ingredient is you, yourself!

You are the one who makes decisions for yourself. You decided to get into mining in the first place. You also make the decisions on how you are going to approach gold mining, and how you are going to deal with all of the problems and the barriers to your success. Regardless of suggestions or input you receive from others, you make the final decisions on what you are going to do-no matter what they are.

The main problem in gold mining is in overcoming unknowns. Until you find them, you do not usually know where the good gold deposits are located. If it were really easy, all the gold would already be gone. The fact that so much gold is being recovered by small-scale miners today proves it was not easy to find in the first place. Otherwise, the old-timers would have found it all!

True, it is much easier for us now than it was for them. We have low-cost modern equipment they never even dreamed of! Accessibility to gold-bearing areas is excellent. We have new technology as well as the benefit of the technology developed by the old-timers. We also have historical information that directs us to the proven gold-bearing locations. The old-timers had it much more difficult than we do. But, it is still not that easy. When you get out into the field, you are mainly faced with not knowing where the gold is! And, this is where it comes down to you and your ability to overcome problems and the unknown.

Gold mining procedure is very simple. And there is an enormous amount of gold still accessible to the small-scale miner. The problem you face is not knowing exactly where it is. It can be six inches beneath where you’re standing or where you are digging, and you will have no idea it is there for sure until you find it!

You live by every decision you make. If you decide in your own mind there is no gold in an area or on a claim, you are probably not going to prospect that area, unless you change your mind. It is important to avoid making decisions that are not based upon solid observation. A miner on any scale must be an investigator, a hound dog on a tricky trail. Good investigators never rule out possibilities before their time.

Successful gold mining is generally done in two steps: First is sampling or prospecting, and then, production.

While some gold-bearing creeks and rivers tend to have gold values dispersed throughout their entire streambeds, there is generally not enough gold to make a small-scale mining operation payoff very well. Because we are limited as to how much gravel we can process as small-scale miners, we need to find higher-grade deposits. This means we need to look for them, and this is where sampling comes in.

When my partners and I first started gold dredging, we made the mistake of putting our dredge into a likely spot and dredging in that same location for about 30 days, even though we were not getting very much gold. We had in our minds that we had to keep going because we just might uncover a bonanza at any time. While that may have been possible, we would have had to be very lucky to find a rich deposit this way.

Because gold is so heavy — about six times heavier than other average materials found in a streambed, such as rock, sand and silt –it tends to follow a certain path when being moved in a river. This path generally runs from inside bend to inside bend (when the waterway is running at flood stage), and in a meandering line between the bends. Gold deposits are sometimes found elsewhere, but the statistics of history show that most recovered deposits have been located along these paths.

This is a very important bit of information; it provides you with a good idea of where to start your sampling. You can rule out about 90% of the riverbed at the start, and concentrate your sampling efforts along the path where you are most likely to locate an acceptable gold deposit.

Let’s define a few basics: “Bedrock” is the solid hard rock of the earth’s crust–like a cliff or like the solid rock you see in highway road-cuts through the mountains. “Streambed” consists of all of the rocks, sand, silt, gold, and other sediments that end up in the bottom of a creek or river. Streambed always lies on top of bedrock. A “lode” gold deposit is gold that is still locked up in solid rock, often contained in quartz veins. “Placer” gold deposits are created after erosion has broken the gold away from the lode and deposited it elsewhere. There are different kinds of placer deposits. The difference primarily has to do with how far away from the original lode the gold has traveled.

Hidden irregularities on the bedrock channel of a river can change where the gold path runs. So, until you locate the gold path, you are never certain where it is going to be. But inside bend to inside bend (during flood stage), and a meandering line between inside bends, is a good place to start your sampling. I have seen some gold paths located off this line, so you have to be flexible. But this is what sampling is all about. Sampling is done by digging or dredging test holes in different locations, comparing one against the next, establishing where the better results are coming from, and following those positive signs until you locate an acceptable deposit.

Most gold-bearing rivers have a certain amount of low-grade gold values dispersed throughout the gravel. The general gold path tends to have more gold along it than the average gravel throughout the rest of the river. You also generally find more iron and other heavy elements along the gold path.

When making test holes, keep track of the amount of iron, iron objects, and gold that you recover from each hole. After you have completed a number of holes, you will start to get an idea of the average gold values and other heavy materials in the riverbed. Then, when you turn up more than the average amount in a test hole, it is a sign that you have located the gold path. Sometimes, there is little visible increase in gold, but there is a visible increase in the amount of iron rocks, pieces of lead, and old rusty objects.

There is a certain amount of microscopic-sized gold moving downstream in some rivers at all times. However, gold that is large enough for us to recover with our small-scale mining equipment generally does not move in a riverbed to a large extent, except during major flood storms. Storms of this magnitude are able to generate enough water force and turbulence to get all or most of the streambed material flowing down the riverbed along with the water.

Because gold is so heavy, when being washed downstream, it quickly works its way to the bottom of the other materials being washed along with it. The gold also moves more slowly. Cracks, crevices, holes and barriers in the bedrock can trap the gold out of the flow of water and material. And of course, this happens much more along the general gold path than off of it.

Gold deposits along the general gold path can be small or large, depending upon the size of the gold trap. The most important type of gold trap in river mining is called the “pay-streak”. Pay-streaks always form along the gold path where the river’s flow slows down on a large scale during a major flood storm. One example is the tail end of an inside bend in a river. Centrifugal force places most of the water pressure to the outside of the bend, leaving a low-pressure (low-velocity) area at the tail end of the inside bend. This is a very common location in gold-bearing rivers to find pay-streaks.

Another example is where the river slows down after a long stretch of faster water. Anywhere along the general gold path where the river slows down on a large scale during a major flood storm is a likely spot to find pay-streaks.

Pay-streaks are important because they are large deposits as opposed to smaller, single-type deposits–like what you might find in a bedrock crevice along the general gold path. The size and richness of a pay-streak depends upon the size of the low-pressure (low-velocity) area created in the river, and on how much gold traveled through that section of the river during the flood storms which formed the deposit.

Most pay-streaks have definite left and right outside boundaries, meaning the gold tends to run out quickly once you get outside the pay-streak. Sometimes upstream and downstream boundaries are not so easy to distinguish. Varying water flow turbulence during major storms can sometimes make a pay-streak somewhat inconsistent. It may appear to be good for a while, bad for a while, and then good again, but the outside left and right boundaries tend to hold true most of the time.

Because pay-streaks have some size to them, they are much easier to find than single-type deposits while sampling. Most successful river miners use the following technique to locate and recover pay-streaks: First, locate a proven gold producing section of the river. By digging or dredging sample holes, locate the main gold path. More sample holes are continued along the path until a pay-streak is located.

This method is generally used whether the operation uses gold dredges in the river, sluices, or even heavy equipment up on the bank. Since the bank consists of older streambeds left high and dry, you are just as likely to find pay-streaks on the bank, or in the ancient streambeds further away, as you are in the river itself. If you are able to find acceptable amounts of gold in a riverbed and you want to find more, look upstream and downstream along the same line of flow in the riverbed. Keep in mind the direction water and material would be moving in a major storm. Gold generally will have moved in the same direction as the water flow.

The point about locating a proven gold-producing section of river is really important! You can save yourself a lot of time and energy by finding out where other miners are already doing well. If somebody has located a pay-streak, there will almost always be more pay-streaks in that general area of the river.

Investigation to locate proven areas, and communication with local successful miners to find out where deposits have been located, can save a great deal of sampling time. All of the really successful small-scale miners I know make it their business to stay updated on who is finding deposits and where.

The overall process of successful mining is quite simple. We have it down to a science, having taken most of the chance out of it. Gold travels and deposits along special lines. A knowledgeable, energetic, persistent sampling effort is assured of always finding the next pay-streak.

Sound simple? It isn’t that easy! This is because you never know where the next deposit is or how long it is going to take to find it. And, this is why it always comes back down to that important, fundamental ingredient, which is you!

You are the one who decides where to put your sample holes, how large to make them, and how long to continue them. You are also the one who evaluates the test results and has to decide what to do next. You have to decide, based upon your sampling results and the other information you have collected, whether a certain section of river deserves further sampling activity or if you should move on to another location. Every decision you make is a crossroads that will directly affect the final outcome.

It is important to realize that how much gold you get from your mining activity depends entirely on you and what you decide to do. A good miner is an investigator who tracks down where the gold is coming from, and diligently works his or her way right into it. How good you are does not depend upon how much time you have spent at it in the past. It depends upon how much you really want to succeed and how willing you are to hustle yourself into a deposit.

I know of quite a few people who have discovered rich gold deposits in their first season. I also know a lot of guys who have been at it for years, and still cannot seem to find acceptable deposits for themselves. Why is this? They are not sticking to the right procedure. They are making the wrong decisions, and, a lot of the time, they are (deciding to) giving up too easily.

Again, the main problem is not knowing. So, based on the information you do have, you are constantly being put to the test, having to decide if the gold is likely to be in a certain area or if it is more likely not to be.

People who have the most trouble in gold mining are the ones who give up too easily. You need to give your sample holes a little more time and effort than they deserve, but without overdoing it. This is a matter of judgment which gets a little easier with experience. It’s always going to be a challenge, though; because you don’t know if the gold is going to be there right up until the point when you find it!

Once you find a good deposit, it is easy to see why it is located there, and you will also see how easy it was to find. But when it runs out, you are right back to not knowing where the next one is going to be. Gold mining is always an emotional challenge.

The problem most people have with mining and sampling has little to do with judgment in sampling. It has to do with other basic decisions they have already made concerning their own personal success. It is very difficult to help someone become a successful miner when that person has already decided he or she is not going to do very well at it. Some people work at it just a little bit, and then give up on their sample holes long before they are completed. You cannot find gold deposits this way unless you are awfully lucky. This is good food for thought for everyone.

Some people get into gold mining as a get-rich-quick solution to other problems they have created in their lives. Any person who is giving up or quitting in their personal life hasn’t much chance of succeeding at gold mining!

If you are not finding enough gold, you cannot blame the claim, the river, the club you belong to, or anything else. Blaming an outside source might make your ego feel better, but it will not help you locate more gold. You are either getting it, or you are not. Blaming anyone or anything else is going in the wrong direction. The answer is to become effective, communicate with other miners to find out where the gold is coming from, and then get busy with your sampling. If you want to do well in gold mining, you have to make it happen!

And, if you are not sure if you have given a sample hole everything it deserves, be honest with yourself about it and give it a little more. It takes personal discipline to be a good sampler!

This is not to say that gold mining cannot be fun. It is a great outdoor activity no matter how much gold you find while you are prospecting for high-grade deposits. Once you get involved though, you will find it is more fun if you are finding more gold! If you are looking for challenge in your life, if you want to put yourself to the real test, then gold mining is just the thing for you!

When you are producing sample holes and not finding acceptable amounts of gold, when you are not sure where the gold might be, and you are not sure exactly how to deal with it, that is when you are put to the real personal test. This is when you have the opportunity to see who you really are and where your personal improvement lies. There is not a successful miner alive who does not have to deal with this on a continuing basis! This is why it always comes back to you. If you are strong enough to pull yourself through it, you will learn to sample, enjoy new thrills, and attain personal achievement and growth, not to mention the gold you will find.

There is much, much more to know about the business of sampling, which we will continue to cover in future articles. But we have covered the most important and fundamental ingredient here. If you can get yourself squared away with the right attitude, and approach mining with a stiff upper lip and the eye of a tiger, you will have no trouble figuring out the rest!

Don’t quit!

 

By Dave McCracken

I know I’m going to have a great season! How about you?

Dave Mack

Springtime! The days are getting longer and warmer. The birds are chirping. And, there is a magic in the air created by all of the living things waking up for a new start. This is when most of us who live on or near the river start really feeling the gold fever itch. Miners start returning to the river, and you can really feel the excitement about the prospects of the new season. What is it about spring that gives people so much renewed hope and interest? Even people who failed utterly during seasons past, who considered giving up gold mining forever, seem to be rejuvenated at the beginning of a new season!

Spring and early summer is usually the time when most of us are pulling our mining equipment out of storage, wiping off the cobwebs, doing the needed repairs, and ordering the necessary replacement gear and additional equipment to start our new gold mining adventure. We are also spending a lot of time thinking about where we are going to mine.

Having a successful mining season depends on many things. But all of these basically fall into four separate categories: having the right equipment; having the experience and knowledge to do it properly; having a location where recoverable gold deposits are present; and most of all, having good management–meaning the right approach!

Basically, if you have dependable equipment and you have a gold bearing location, and you know how to use the equipment to find and recover gold deposits, then you obviously can be successful. Creating the condition of having the right equipment, knowledge and location will be accomplished by you. You will decide on what equipment to use and how to service it and keep it operational. You will decide how you are going to improve your mining skills–or you will decide you don’t need any improvement. And you will decide where you are going to mine. Therefore, the final category, management, is more important than any of the others.

It is very important to know all of the technical aspects of successful gold mining: what pay-streaks are and how to find them, how to cleanup, the best way to utilize your equipment, etc. The “how-to” is one of the most important categories, but, what good is it go know the technical points if a person is going to approach gold mining with a losing attitude?

There is an emotional scale on which any person or group can be found with regards to any subject or activity. At the top of the scale is enthusiasm; down about halfway is anger and resentment, and at the bottom is total apathy and regret.

A person at the top of the scale, approaching the activity of mining with interest and enthusiasm, would try to do everything the right way. He or she would obtain the best possible equipment within his or her available resources. The equipment would be properly maintained. Communication would be energetically and enthusiastically undertaken to determine new and exciting places to mine, with plenty of new friends and allies being made along the way. And the person would be absolutely willing to learn everything possible about those aspects of mining that would affect his or her type of operation, even though he or she may already know a great deal.

Everybody makes mistakes–especially when learning. A person high on the emotional scale would recover quickly from mistakes, and enthusiastically approach his or her mining operation with the new-found knowledge. The idea of failure or giving up would probably never be considered. Also, at the highest level of responsibility, the person would not be found blaming others or “the world” for his or her momentary setbacks. Instead, the person would confront his or her mining activity with renewed energy and build his or her own success in the world. This is the way that successful people do it! It is the way you win in the game of gold mining.

A person who is further down the emotional scale will not take responsibility for the problems that are occurring in his or her mining operation. The person will feel more like his or her success and destiny are not really self-created, but are more at the effect of other people or the world at large. Most likely, the person will be found resenting others who are succeeding. The person is not as willing to make the extra effort to do things the right way in the first place, and not as willing to confront mining with the necessary perception to be able to predict what things to prepare for. Therefore, more mistakes will be made. In anger and resentment, this person is generally found striking out at the world, and generally is blaming others for his or her “bad luck.”

This type of person, for lack of incentive, and for lack of personal responsibility, will usually approach mining impatiently. If he or she does not have enough money to buy the proper equipment, rather than wait and do it right, the person is likely to buy worn-out gear, or equipment that is not large enough to work efficiently in the person’s operation. He or she is more likely, for lack of personal incentive, to allow damaged or worn equipment to go on without service or repair, which ultimately results in more damage or costly accidents. The

person is more likely to get angry and to give up because he or she is not able to locate an acceptable gold deposit right away. And the inability to find paying deposits is neverbecause the person does not know how. In the person’s “expert opinion,” it is because there simply is no gold left, or someone else already took it all.

A person in the resentment stage is more likely to be seen blaming the dredge because it is in a poor state of repair. He or she generally won’t have very many real friends; and the friends the person does have will generally be found to agree on the same negative viewpoints: “The gold has already been taken.” We already are experts on mining.” “Watch out for others so they don’t steal our gold,” etc. A negative person generally will give little help to others when it comes to passing along useful information about the potential location of valuable gold deposits. Therefore, he or she places little value on the information received from others, because he or she knows “no one would give me real information on the location of gold!”

Also, negative people have difficulty learning new skills. Learning comes from perception–which results from taking the responsibility to take an honest look at the subject or activity. A negative person generally has the idea that he or she is wrong in some way if he or she admits that something can be learned about a subject.

A person at the bottom of the scale has completely given up and is not even blaming anyone else for failure, anymore. Such a person has little or no chance to succeed at gold mining on a continual basis.

All of us can be found somewhere along this scale as regards to how we are approaching gold mining–or life. There are levels between enthusiasm and anger, and between anger and total apathy at the bottom. A person’s basic survival (or success) level is largely determined by his or her volume of positive energy, in comparison to the volume of negative energy. That is what this scale is all about. People having more negative than positive will be found lower on the scale.

Of course, we all have our momentary good and bad moments–those times we sank our dredges, we were ready to give it up altogether. But, when we found the big nugget last year, we felt totally on top of the world!

The question is, how do we approach our gold mining ventures most of the time? Are we willing to stick ourselves way out there to confront every possibility in order to prepare? Do we share and communicate with others in order to improve our chances of success and theirs? Do we try to do everything the right way in the first place? Are we willing to defend our industry when it is in trouble? When we are not enjoying immediate success, do we utilize all of our energy to create success? Or, do we use our energy to complain or justify our failure? Just how are we positioning ourselves around this activity of mining?

When it comes down to it, how well we do in gold mining on the long term always comes back down to how we are approaching the activity. We ARE responsible for how well we do. Isn’t this great?

Just how do you change the way that you are? You do it with personal discipline, by boosting yourself up to a higher level of responsibility.

There is more to success than hard physical work. Success breaks down to the above four categories. Knowing how to do it properly is one of them! If success is continually lacking, then something is definitely lacking in one or more of the four categories.

If, however, an operation is temporarily not recovering very much gold, it does not mean there is a management problem–or even a problem with the other three categories. By the nature of gold mining, there are times when we are not into gold deposits–but rather are looking for them.

If a person is blaming anyone other than himself for the long-term lack of success of his or her operation, there definitely is a problem with management!

But, it is Spring; there is magic in the air, and we all have renewed high expectations about the upcoming season. As a sobering thought, in the renewed excitement, some people seem to forget all of the pain and misery they were experiencing last year–only to recall it again once they get started. Spring cannot change the basic way you approach mining. Only you can do that. To experience the magic of success in any activity, failure and inability has to be overcome by positive energy and personal discipline. True magic cannot be obtained by forgetting failure or justifying it away.

So, if you want to experience excitement, and the true magic feeling of recovering valuable gold deposits continually, you must depend upon and improve your own skill, rather than depend on your luck. Your skill will improve in direct proportion to your correct basic approach to gold mining.

Spring is here, and it is time to work on the dredges. I cannot wait to get into the water! I know I’m going to have a great season! How about you?

 

 

By Ron Wendt

“I Remember Seeing The Miners Coming In With Bags Full Of Gold…”

 

Sluicing in AlaskaThe old man leaned against his shovel and wiped his brow as the hot interior Alaska sun beat down upon him. He was a veteran of the gold rush. He had missed too many boats and never quite made it back out of Alaska. It had been over sixty years since he had walked the streets of Seattle, where he first caught a boat to head north to the Klondike. It was the gold that kept him here, and his sluice box, shovel, and gold pan were an integral part of him.

He looked at me and never said a word. Even at my age in the early 1960’s, I could tell he was not having any fun. It was a tedious job for him. He shafted to bedrock during the winter and sluiced in the summer. As my father used to tell me, “He made enough gold to buy beans.” The old man was content with his life in the wilderness where he answered to no one; only the occasional camp robber or raven would land nearby, begging for a few scraps of food the miner had.

Even in the late 50’s, as a small boy, I remember seeing the miners coming in from the Fortymile River with bags of gold, begging for someone to buy it just so they could feed themselves. One miner had a cake pan full of nuggets he tried to peddle. He wanted $500 for the whole pan, but my father could only afford to buy a few choice nuggets from him at a cheap price.

Sluicing 2My first homemade sluice box was built from old photos, some advice (some poor and some good), a few aged pieces of plywood and two-by-fours, wooden slats for riffles and burlap to catch the gold. At sixteen, I had visions of gold, just like any other person would after reading Jack London’s books and other stories about the gold rush. Having been raised in the gold camps of the Circle Mining district in eastern Alaska, I had watched many miners, including my father, extract gold with sluices and gold pans.

Here I was in the Yentna River area near the Alaska Range, with a water-logged wooden sluice box, trying to make my first big strike. Believe me, there is nothing worse than trying to move around water-soaked wood! With the help of a more seasoned prospector, we located a bench of pay-dirt where a false bedrock of clay rose up out of Twin Creek. Through some trial and error, I figured out that the gold was in the clay. After shoveling tons of dirt and clay into my sluice, I soon discovered that I was not breaking up the clay enough and was losing quite a lot of gold with the tailings.

Between shoveling into the head, and raking rocks through the sluice, just as I watched that old man do years before, I was able to recover six ounces of gold for the two mosquito-infested, rain-soaked months that I worked this bench. Though it wasn’t a fortune, I didn’t care; I felt as happy as that old-timer probably did when he just got started years before. I have learned a lot since then, but I still value all of the early golden lessons taught to me by those old sourdoughs.

Eventually, I graduated to the wonderful world of aluminum. The aluminum sluice has been a great blessing to the modern day prospector. They are great for back-packing and throwing around in the back of the pickup. They don’t break; and if you learn to master them, they will reward you with great recovery results.

Some places in Alaska are pretty remote. Not always can one put a suction dredge in just anywhere. It is so much easier to walk into the hills with a four-foot, fifteen-pound sluice box, than hauling a 200-pound suction dredge over hummocks and through alders. Each piece of equipment has its place.

I have always recommended that if you are going to get into prospecting, start out small. Start with a gold pan, then sluice with pick & shovel, then eventually get into a dredge system. From there, who knows–maybe a D-8 will be your next tool!

I have found that if you are going for the gold, like most everything, unless you are pretty lucky, you will not strike it rich right off. Finding the high-grade gold deposits is something that gradually happens as you learn the right approach.

I have also found out that when new prospectors start off all gung-ho into this business, hauling in big equipment where there is not much gold, they usually lose interest real fast. After two or three outings, a few thousand dollars of investment and no return, they get discouraged and quit.

I suggest it is better to start small and learn the art of prospecting. Shoveling into portable sluice is an excellent, economical way to learn the basics of finding gold.

In the old days, the sluice boxes were usually 12-to-14 inches wide, pieced together in telescoping sections, with pole riffles. The boxes were set at an average grade of six inches to the twelve-foot box. Water was directed to the head of the sluice from a long flume or a canvas hose coming from a dam. As in today’s sluicing operations, the name of the game was production, shoveling the most pay-dirt into the sluice. With long lines of sluice boxes, the kind you see in the old photographs, miners would try to set up the sluices so there would be six feet open on either side of the boxes. The lighter material was shoveled in while the larger rocks were placed on bedrock and washed later on.

During those days, shoveling-duty varied with the nature of the gravel and bedrock, how far pay-dirt had to be lifted to the sluice from the excavation, and the person’s capability to work. Under ideal sluicing conditions, a shoveler could feed as much as 2 ½-to-10 cubic yards of gravel in 10 hours.

In 1905 on Anvil Creek near Nome, there was one elaborate set of sluice boxes set up on bedrock. Five strings of sluices were shoveled into 24 hours a day by 120 shovelers. They were able to process an average of 1,080 cubic yards of pay-dirt per day during this time.

The good thing about prospecting with a sluice box is that you can process a lot of material just using a good No.2 shovel and a sharp pick. A sluice is an excellent way to scout out good future prospects.

I have heard some pretty interesting stories about sluice boxes. One classic story I remember happened up on the Koyokuk River around 1914. A prospector made a big strike; but all he had was a gold pan, shovel and an ax. So he cut down a tree, split-out a four-foot piece, carving out a set of riffles along the bottom edge. Although this was indeed very crude, the prospector found enough gold in two days to party in San Francisco for four months!

When sluicing with a portable aluminum sluice, there are several key factors to be aware of:

1. Water-speed is critical to gold recovery. Some gold can be lost out the end if the water is too swift-flowing through the box. If the water-flow is too slow, the heavy rocks, black sand and/or garnets can clog the riffles and the gold can wash out. So it is critical to learn water-flow. In my own experience, water-flow in the sluice should be no more than three inches deep with a flow that will tumble golf ball-sized rocks out the end.

2. It is important to keep the sluice box raked out after one or two shovelfuls of pay-dirt are fed into the head of the box. Allowing too much material to pile up in the sluice can also cause erratic water flow in the sluice. This can cause a gold loss, too.

3. The sluice should be on a slight slope. Most streams have a natural slope as they flow along. But there are times when the sluice needs to be adjusted to increase water-flow, especially in wider, deeper water. Sometimes, water-flow can be increased through your sluice simply by raising up the head of the sluice; and, whenever needed, using rocks underneath and around the sluice to dirvert more water.

For under $200, a prospector can be outfitted with an aluminum sluice, gold pan, pick and shovel. The sluice is one of the handiest prospecting tools next to the gold pan.

 

by John Cline

I talk to a lot of other miners, asking for different ways to do this or that. One observation that has surfaced is the importance of sampling. And, how many miners lack this practice. Many miners can “read” a river or creek, and some sample, but many don’t. This past year, I’ve talked to several miners who can’t understand why they are not finding gold. They are set up in a great looking location, they have moved many large boulders, they have cleaned the bedrock, but still very little gold. Well, believe it or not, they have been bitten by the gold bug. They have “gold fever,” they are working for all they have… but bottom line, recovering nothing for their effort. I have experienced this same frustration.

A couple of my friends and I set up our dredges in an area that looked great. Within the first hour, we knew that we were working someone else’s tailings. This area hadn’t been worked for ten years or so, but still we were in some tailings. We moved to our second location. We worked a hole for two days without success. Afterwards, we asked ourselves why we hadn’t found anything. We were in hard-pack, we found the red layer, we were on bedrock, but still nothing. When we asked some the local old timers why, their answer was “that’s gold mining” or “sometimes you find it and sometimes you don’t.” The real reason we did not harvest any fruit for our labor was that we had not sampled. Oh, we looked at the water flow and studied the river, but we had not sampled either location. It’s like working with our heads in the hole and not looking up to see which direction we’re going. When one climbs out of the hole, looks around and yells down to the others “We’re going in the wrong direction!” The others yell back “It doesn’t matter–we’re making good progress.”

Webster’s definition of sampling: “…a part, piece, or item taken or shown as representative of a whole thing, groups, species, etc., specimen; pattern.” We sample all the time and really don’t give it a second thought. Recently my wife Marge and I were going out to dinner with our son David and future daughter-in-law, Daphne. And, we had a hard time deciding where to go. I suggested one place and they said it was a great place for lunch, but not so good for dinner. This happened several times and then we decided on a nice restaurant. Believe it or not, this is a form of sampling. David and Daphne eat out much more than we do, and in other words, they sampled for us.

In my last article I shared with you my experience with Dave McCracken and his weekend Group mining Projects. During the workshop Dave made two points over and over, which have made a considerable difference in mining for me. The first is being proactive and having a goal. The second was the importance of sampling. During the Project we had twenty-plus people sampling and formed a good picture of the area–where the gold was, and where it wasn’t. When you work by yourself or with a friend or two, you must create that picture.

First, I believe that a sample hole when power sluicing (high banking) or dredging must have at least 50 square feet (5 feet x 10 feet) of bedrock cleaned. I feel that this should give us a fair sample of the potential for gold we should recover. We systematically take the hole apart by deciding the location that we will work, how big an area, and how deep we will go before testing the high-grade trap in our Pro-Mack High banker/Dredge Combo. Let’s say that the overburden is about three feet deep. We divide the area into sections. Take the first foot or so from one side, then test the high-grade trap for results. We then do the second half of the hole. If we run into a different layer of material we clean each half of our hole to that depth, trying not to go any deeper. Why? Well, if we do we’re not getting a good sample of the material and potential gold above that layer. After we have cleaned the top portion of each section, then we go down to bedrock, again looking for different layers of material, heavy metals such as lead, steel, etc., working each section and testing before working the next layer. We continue with this process until we have cleaned our test hole, thus creating a picture of where the gold flow is located. In the drawing I have included, we tested a creek on our claim. This is a secondary creek of the main creek, meaning that the creek “split,” forming an island. This section of creek is about 30 feet wide and runs about 150 feet long before merging back into the main flow. The water

was mostly 4-6 inches deep, with the exception of a few holes. As we sampled this area, we drew a map of each location we worked and recorded the results.

In Hole #1 at the top of the divide, we cleaned about 50 square feet of bedrock. There was about 2-1/2 feet of overburden. No defined layer difference. In the top half of each section, we recovered some fine gold and several small flakes (what we call flood gold). In the bottom of each section we recovered not only flood gold but several nice small nuggets. There was no apparent difference between the left or right side of the hole. Total weight recovered was 3.5 pennyweights (dwt).

In Hole #2, about 25 feet below the first, we cleaned about 150 square feet of bedrock. We started from the inside curve, working to the outside. We decided our approach would be to divide the hole into six sections, each being about five feet. Again, we systematically removed about a foot and a half of overburden, testing the high-grade trap before moving to the next section. We discovered that the west half of the creek had a good amount of flood gold and the east half had almost none. When we removed the remaining overburden to bedrock we found the following:

The west outside half: 2.5 dwt., and a one dwt. nugget.

The west inside half: 2 dwt. of nice pieces.

The east inside half: Five to six grains of fine flood gold.

The east outside half: Almost nothing.

In Hole #3, about 40 feet below Hole #2, we decided to work the center of the creek westward. This time we decided to test three parts. The bedrock was showing in several places and the overburden wasn’t more than two feet deep, so we cleaned the bedrock without sampling midway. We found the greatest amount of gold in the middle third of the hole. All total being a little more than 5 dwt., 3.5 dwt. from the center and very little from the inside third.

In Hole #4, about 25 feet below Hole #3, we decided to test out our theory that the gold was on the west side of the creek. Again, we systematically cleaned about 60 square feet of bedrock, but this time on the east side of the creek. The results–you guessed it, almost nothing.

As Dave McCracken states in his dredging videos, when you hit pay dirt or the paystreak, the hardest thing to do is to fall back and find the tail end of the flow. In Hole #5 we dropped back another 50 feet, almost to where the little creek flows back into the main channel. Again, we started at the center and worked westward, and you guessed it. Almost the same results. The westward half of the hole proved to be the best. Total weight found was 7 dwt. We talked to the miners above and below us. There have been several nice nuggets an ounce or larger, as well as several quartz rocks with gold taken.

I have talked to many miners about sampling and recording. It is hard to believe the number of miners who play the hit or miss approach to mining.

If you are out to have fun and find some gold, then sample, find gold and have fun. If you want to find a little more gold, then use a systematic approach. This approach must center around sampling and recording, sampling and recording, and more sampling.

Knowing where the gold should be does not mean that it is there, but your chances are better. Like many of you, David’s mining and mine is limited to weekends and summer vacation time. If we’re going to be productive, find gold and beat that gold bug, then our time sampling is of greatest value to us. We can plan our summer vacation in the area that has sampled out the best.

We have now sampled several locations and recorded our gold recovery. Some locations have been very interesting with good potential, and others did not prove out at all. We haven’t made our plans for next year, but we have created a fairly good picture of where the gold is, and where it isn’t. A very important first step.

If we decide to mine the creek above, guess which side of the creek we will be mining? I’ll let you know how the summer goes, but until then, remember to keep a smile on your face, your back to the wind, and watch out for that gold bug.

 
Dave Mack

“Sluicing for gold is the next productive step up from gold panning. Sometimes this activity is also referred to as “high-banking.”

 
 
Dave Mack

“Gold recovery systems also trap the other heavy elements — like iron sand. Here follows some helpful information about how to accomplish the final separation.”

 
 

by Weldon E. Dodson

I recently taught myself how to pan for gold. I’d talked with several professional gold miners and a number of veteran gold mining hobbyists. All had agreed that efficient panning would take some time to learn. Most claimed that it had taken them months, or even years, to learn their technique. Even author Tom Bishop addresses the issue in his popular book “Gold.” Bishop says on page 8 that “I am acquainted with a man who makes his living panning gold. It took him about three years’ work to become really proficient.” Well, I did not want to wait three years–or even three months. I wanted to learn right then. So I decided I had to teach myself. And, indeed, after a little research, and, after I discovered a very effective way to practice, I became an expert at panning for gold in less than one day. It was easy.

Before I taught myself, I’d asked the experts about how to pan and about where to find gold. Most of the advice that I received was about where to look. Remarkably, few of the experts offered any tangible suggestions on how I could develop an actual panning technique. Sure, I received lots of good information: I was told to “Hold the pan like this,” or, “This is how you dip it in the water,” or, “This is how you swirl it around.” All this is fine when you hear someone explain it, but how do you know that you will really be able to perform the task?

How do you know that you won’t be washing away the gold? I was afraid that I might find a spot containing tons of gold and I wouldn’t be able to extract it from the soil.

The problem was simple; I needed a way to practice and no one was willing to let me experiment with their gold. How could I blame them? Would you let a novice and stranger fondle your favorite nuggets and flakes? The solution was to find a gold substitute. I needed a substance with similar properties. After only a brief search, the answer came from one of my old college chemistry books; it was lead.

Why lead? Actually, lead has many of the same metallic properties as gold. It is soft, malleable and can be easily cut into small flakes or shaped into large nuggets. It is also dense. It is denser than metals like copper, nickel, or iron and it will easily sink to the bottom of “black sand.” Lead, however, is not quite as dense as gold. This is actually an advantage when you practice because, if your technique will effectively retain lead, it will undoubtedly capture the heavier gold.

Proper technique is easy to learn. Begin with a few small lead fishing weights and a large empty coffee can. Fill the can with dirt, gravel, and sand, and dump it into your gold pan. Cut the lead fishing weights into ten small pieces. Lead is so soft that you can use almost anything to cut it with; I use regular wire cutters. If necessary, a hammer will help to shape the lead. Make sure your pieces include “nuggets” of different sizes and shapes and you also need to include some smaller “flakes.” Mix the lead with the sand and gravel and

then put it back in the can. Head for water and begin practice.

The actual method that I use is simple and it is the same for both lead and gold. First, I place a small amount of sand and gravel into my pan. Next, I immerse the entire pan into the water. I do this by sinking the pan into the water so that all the sides submerge evenly. This crates an intense “swirling” action that carries away particles of the lighter sand and dirt. After each submersion, I take the pan from the water and I quickly pour off the swirl of sand and water by slightly tilting the pan forward. Then, with just a little water in the pan, I give it several moderate shakes. This helps the heavier particles to settle to the bottom. I pick out the gravel and rocks with my fingers as I go along. When I get to the heavier sediments, such as black sand, I still do basically the same thing, except that I work a little more slowly and carefully.

When practicing, you should continue the process until the can is empty. Ideally, you should have recovered ten pieces of lead. If not, just start over–lead is not expensive. When you can consistently recover all ten pieces, you have excellent technique.

Everyone uses a slightly different panning method to recover gold. I developed mine mostly by trial and error. I suppose everyone must determine what works best for themselves. People use many different sizes and shapes of pans. Both plastic and metal are readily available. Some people use magnets and special equipment to enhance their efforts. I use only my fingers and a pair of tweezers, but I’m not a professional, either. The possible variety of equipment and techniques is limited only by the imagination.

All that’s left is finding the gold. I will be the first one to admit that this is where I needed the most help. I bought two books for reference, and, I listened carefully when the experts spoke. Most preferred small streams, deep holes, tiny falls, washouts, and similar places. I decided that I would begin my search in a comparable locale.

A few months ago, I made my first outing and I discovered that my self-taught technique really worked. I spent two days fishing for trout and panning for gold. On the afternoon of the first day, in a trickling stream near La Porte, California, I found a 1/8-ounce nugget. My discovery came in a pool where water tumbled two feet over small boulders. Within two hours, I had another 1/8-ounce of gold flakes. The next day, nearby, I found over 1/8 ounce of small flakes and tiny nuggets. My total for the two days was nearly 1/2-ounce. I was thrilled. This probably falls well short of most professional efforts, but it is not bad for a few hours of work from a novice who taught himself how to pan for gold in less than a day!

 
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By Dave McCracken

“The Gold Pan as a Production Tool”

Dave Mack

The main thing to remember about the use of a gold pan is that while it is very effective as a gold-catching device, it can only process a limited volume of streambed material. For this reason, the gold pan is normally not used as a production tool in commercial use, other than in the most remote locations where it would be very difficult to haul large pieces of equipment, and where there is only a small amount of streambed material present — which is paying well enough to make the panning worthwhile.

The gold pan is most commonly used to locate a richer paying area by sampling, so that larger production equipment can be brought into that location to work the ground to recover more gold.

There are stories in the old mining records about the ground being so rich during the 1849 gold rush that as much as 96 ounces of gold were recovered from a single pan. That is $100,000+ at today’s rate of exchange, and must have been some very rich ground indeed!

Stories like that are rare and pay-dirt like that is not run across very often. However, it is not too uncommon to hear of prospectors today who are able to consistently produce better than an ounce of gold per week with a gold pan in the high country, and have the gold to show for it. Some do better, but these prospectors have usually been at it for awhile and have located hot spots. I personally know of two guys who support themselves with a gold pan, and one of them lives pretty well. As mentioned earlier, the gold pan gives you unlimited accessibility, and these prospectors look around to find the pockets in the exposed bedrock along the edges of the creek-beds in their areas, picking up a few pieces here, a few there, and a little pocket of gold once in awhile. It adds up, and to them it is better than punching a time clock.

There is still plenty of rich ground to be found in gold country if you are willing to do the work involved in finding it.

Gold Panning Procedure

Panning gold is basically simple, once you realize that you are doing the same thing that the river does when it causes gold to concentrate and deposit during flood storms.

The process basically consists of placing the material that you want to process into your pan and shaking it in a left to right motion underwater to cause the gold, which is heavy, to work its way down toward the bottom of your pan. At the same time, the lighter materials, which are worthless, are worked up to the surface of the gold pan where they can be swept away. The process of shaking and sweeping is repeated until only the heaviest of materials are left-namely the gold and heaviest black sand.

Once you are out in the field, you will notice that no two people pan gold exactly alike. After you have been at it awhile, you will develop your own little twists and shakes to accomplish the proper result.

Here follows a basic gold panning procedure to start off with which works well and is easy to learn:

STEP 1: Once you have located some gravel that you want to sample, place it in your gold pan-filling it about 3/4 of the way to the top. After you have been at it awhile, you can fill your pan to the top without losing any gold. While placing material in your pan, pick out the larger-sized rocks, so that you can get more of the smaller material and gold into the pan.

STEP 2: Choose a spot to do your panning. It is best to pick a location where the water is at least six inches deep and preferably flowing just enough to sweep away any silty water that may be washed from your pan. This way, you can see what you are doing better. You do not want the water moving so swiftly that it will upset your panning actions. A mild current will do, if available.

It is always best to find a spot where there’s a rock or log or stream-bank or something that you can sit down upon while panning. You can pan effectively while squatting, kneeling or bending over, but it does get tiresome. If you are planning to process more than just one or two pans, sitting down will make the activity much more pleasant.

STEP 3: Carry the pan over to your determined spot and submerge it underwater.

STEP 4: Use your fingers to knead the contents of the pan to break it up fully and cause all of the material to become saturated with water. This is the time to work apart all the clay, dirt, roots, moss and such with your fingers to ensure that all the materials are fully broken up and in a liquid state of suspension whithin the pan.

The pan should be underwater while doing this. Mud and silt will float up and out. Do not concern yourself about losing any gold when this happens. Remember: gold is heavy and will sink deeper in your pan while these lighter materials are floating out and away.

STEP 5: After the entire contents of the pan have been thoroughly broken up, take the pan in your hands (with cheater riffles on the far side of the pan) and shake it, using a vigorous left and right motion just under the surface of the water. This action will help to break up the contents of the pan even more and will also start to work the heavier materials downwards in the pan while the lighter materials will start to surface.

Be careful not to get so vigorous in your left and right shaking that you slosh material out of the pan during this step. Depending upon the consistency of the material that you are working, it may be necessary to alternate doing steps four and five over again a few times to get all of the pan’s contents into a liquid state of suspension. It is this same liquid state of suspension that allows the heavier materials to sink in the pan while the lighter materials emerge to the surface.

STEP 6: As the shaking action causes rocks to rise up to the surface, sweep them out of the pan using your fingers or the side of your hand. Just sweep off the top layer of rocks which have worked their way up to the pan’s surface.

Don’t worry about losing gold while doing this, because the same action which has brought the lighter rocks to the surface will have worked the gold deeper down toward the bottom of the pan.

When picking the larger rocks out of the pan, make sure that they are clean of clay and other particles before you toss them out. Clay sometimes contains pieces of gold and also has a tendency to grab onto the gold in your pan.

Note: Working the raw material through a classification screen into the gold pan during Step 1 or Step 3 will eliminate the need to sweep out larger rocks in Step 6. This will also allow you to pan a larger sample of the finer-sized material(which contains all the gold you will find in a pan sample).

STEP 7: Continue to do steps five and six, shaking the pan and sweeping out the rocks and pebbles(if present), until most of the medium-sized material is out of your pan.

STEP 8: Tilt the forward edge of your pan downward slightly to bring the forward-bottom edge of the pan to a lower position. With the pan tilted forward, shake it back and forth using the same left and right motion. Be careful not to tilt the pan forward so much that any material is spilled over the forward-edge while shaking.

This tilted shaking action causes the gold to start working its way down to the pan’s forward-bottom edge, and continues to work the lighter materials to the surface where they will be more easily swept off.

STEP 9: Carefully, by using a forward and backward movement, or a slight circular motion just below the surface of the water, allow the water to sweep the top layer of worthless, lighter materials out of the pan. Only allow the water to sweep out a little at a time, while watching closely for the heavier materials to be uncovered as the lighter materials are swept out. It takes some judgment in this step to determine just how much material to sweep off before having to shake again so that no gold is lost. It will just take a little practice in panning gold before you will begin to see the difference between the lighter materials and the heavier materials in your pan. You will develop a feel for knowing how much material can be safely swept out before re-shaking is necessary. When you are first starting, it is best to re-shake as often as you feel that it is needed to prevent losing any gold. When in doubt, shake! There are a few factors which can be pointed out to help you with this. Heavier materials are usually

darker in color than the lighter materials. You will notice while shaking the pan that it is the lighter-colored materials that are vibrating on the surface. You will also notice that as the lighter materials are swept out of the pan, the darker-colored materials are uncovered.

Materials tend to get darker (and heavier) as you work your way down toward the bottom of the pan, where the darkest and heaviest materials will be found, they being the purple and black sands, which are usually minerals of the iron family. The exception to this is gold, which is heaviest of all. Gold usually is of a bright and shiny metallic color and shows out well in contrast to the other heavier materials at the bottom of the gold pan.

One other factor to keep in mind is that the lighter materials sweep out of your pan more easily than do the heavier materials. As the heavier materials are uncovered, they are increasingly more resistant to being swept out of the pan, and will give you an indication of when it is time to re-shake.

As you work your way down through your pan, sometimes gold particles will show themselves as you get down to the heavier materials. When you see gold, you know it is time to re-shake your pan.

There is another popular method of sweeping the lighter materials out of the top of your pan which you might prefer to use. It is done by dipping your pan under the water and lifting it up, while allowing the water to run off the forward edge of the pan, taking the top layer of material along with it.

STEP 10: Once the top layer of lighter material is washed out of your pan, re-shake to bring more lighter materials to the top. By “lighter materials,” I mean in comparison to the other materials. If you continue to shake the lighter materials to the top and sweep them off, eventually you will be left with the heaviest material of all, which is the gold. It does not take much shaking to bring a new layer of lighter material to the surface. Maybe 5 or 6 seconds of shaking will do it, maybe less. It all depends upon the consistency of the material and how much gold is present.

Continue to pluck out the larger-sized rocks and pebbles as they show themselves during the process.

STEP 11: Every few cycles of sweeping and re-shaking, tilt your pan back to the level position and re-shake. This keeps any gold from being allowed to work its way up the forward-edge of your pan.

STEP 12:Continue the above steps of sweeping and re-shaking until you are down to the heaviest materials in your pan. These usually consist of old pieces of lead and other metal, coins, BB’s, old bullets, buckshot, nails, garnets, small purple and black iron rocks, and the heavy black sand concentrates. Black sands consist mainly or in part of the following: magnetite (magnetic black sands), hematite (non-magnetic black sands), titanium, zircon, rhodolite, monazite, tungsten materials, and sometimes pyrites (fool’s gold), plus any other items which might be present in that location which have a high specific gravity-like gold and platinum.

Once down to the heaviest black sands in your pan, you can get a quick look at the concentrates to see how much gold is present by allowing about a half-cup of water into the pan, tilting the pan forward as before, and shaking from left to right to place the concentrates in the forward-bottom section of your pan. Then, level the pan off and swirl the water around in slow circles. This action will gradually uncover the concentrates, and you can get a look at any gold that is present. The amount of gold in your pan will give you an idea how rich the raw material is that you are sampling.

A magnet can be used to help remove the magnetic black sands from the gold pan. Take care when doing this. While gold is not magnetic, sometimes particles of gold will become trapped in the magnetic net of iron particles which clump together and attach to the magnet. I prefer to drop the magnetic sands into a second plastic gold pan, swish them around, and then pick them up once again with the magnet. Depending upon how much gold this leaves behind, I might do this several times before finally discarding the magnetic sands.

Many beginners like to stop panning at this point and pick out all the pieces of gold (colors) with tweezers. This is one way of recovering the gold from your pan, but it is a pretty slow method.

Most prospectors who have been at it for awhile will pan down through the black sands as far as they feel that they can go without losing any gold. Then they check the pan for any colors by swirling it, and pick out any of the larger-sized flakes and nuggets to place them in a gold sample bottle. Then the remaining concentrates are poured into a small coffee can or bucket and allowed to accumulate there until the end of the day, or week, or whenever enough concentrates have been collected to make it worthwhile further process them. This is really the better method if you are interested in recovering more gold, because it allows you to get on with the job of panning and sampling without getting deeply involved with a pair of tweezers. Otherwise, you can end up spending 25% of your time panning and up to 75% of your time picking out small colors from the pan!

Panning Down All The Way To Gold

It is possible to pan all the way down to the gold-with no black sands, lead or other foreign materials remaining in the pan. This is often done among prospectors when cleaning up a set of concentrates which have been taken from the recovery system of a larger piece of equipment-like a sluice box or suction dredge.

Panning all the way down to gold is really not very difficult once you get the hang of it. It is just a matter of a little practice and being a bit more careful. When doing so, most prospectors prefer to use the smooth surface of the gold pan, rather than using the cheater riffles. The key is to run the concentrates through several sizes of classification screens and pan each size-fraction separately. Use of a smaller-sized pan (“finishing pan”) makes this process go easier.

When panning a set of concentrates all the way down to the gold-or nearly so, it is good to have a medium-sized funnel and a large-mouthed gold sample bottle on hand. This way, once you have finished panning, it is just a matter of pouring the gold from your pan into the sample bottle through the funnel. Pill bottles and baby food jars can make good gold sample bottles for field use, because they are usually made of thick glass and have wide mouth. Plastic bottles are even safer.

Another method is with the use of a gold snifter bottle. This is a small hand-sized flexible bottle with a small sucking tube attached to it. Squeezing the snifter bottle creates a vacuum inside. Submerged gold from the pan can consequently be sucked up through the tube.

If you do not have a snifter bottle or funnel, try wetting your finger with saliva and fingering the gold into a container, which should be filled with water. The saliva will cause the gold and concentrates to stick to your finger until it touches the water in the container. This works, but the funnel method is faster.

Practice Gold Panning

If you are not in a known gold-producing location, but want to do some practice panning to acquire some skills before going out into the field, you can practice in your own backyard. Use a washtub to pan into and some diggings from your garden (or wherever) to simulate streambed materials. I recommend that you throw in some rocks and gravel along with the dirt so that it takes on an actual streambed consistency. Take some pieces of lead, buckshot or small lead fishing weights, cut them up into various sizes ranging from pellet-size down to pinhead-size, and pound some of them flat with a hammer. This puts the pieces of lead in the same form as the majority of gold found in a streambed-flake form. They will act in much the same way as will flakes and grains of gold. Leave a few of the pieces of lead shot so that gold nuggets can also be simulated.

When panning into the tub, place some of these pieces of lead into your pan, starting off with the larger-sized pieces first. Keep track of how many pieces of lead you use each time so that you can see how well you are doing when you get down to the bottom of the pan. Practice panning in this manner can be very revealing to a beginner, especially when he or she continues to put smaller pieces of lead into the pan as progress is made.

If you can pan small pieces of lead successfully, then you will not have much difficulty panning gold (higher specific gravity) out of a riverbed. And, who knows? You may end up with gold in your pan-right out of your own backyard! It wouldn’t be the first time.

Bags of real panning material are also available from different sources within the industry. These bags usually contain some real gold along with the type of materials you would commonly encounter when panning out in the field. Practice panning with the “real thing” is the best way to get started!

 

 

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