Dave Mack

“You can also find gold out in the deserts and other dry areas where there is little or no water available.”

Dave Mack

“Crevicing, both above and below the water, and vack-mining, especially in and around the moss along the edges of an active waterway, are one of the most popular methods our members use to recover gold.”

video subscription graphic
This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine May/Jun, 1992 on Page 36.
This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

Experienced gold miner lays out fundamentals of running a successful surface prospecting program.


A “sluice box” is a trough-like gold recovering device which has a series of obstructions or baffles, called “riffles”, along its bottom edge. While a steady stream of water is directed to pass through, streambed material is shoveled into the upper-end of the box. The flow of water washes the streambed materials through the sluice and over the riffles, which trap the gold out of the material.

The reason a sluice box works is that gold is extremely heavy and will work its way quickly down to the bottom of the materials being washed through the box. The gold then drops behind the riffles and remains there, because there is not enough water force behind the riffles to sweep the gold out into the main force of water again.

A sluicing operation, when set up properly, can process the gold out of streambed material about as fast as it can be shoveled into the box. This can be many times more material than a panning operation can handle, yet with similar efficiency in gold recovery. How much material can be shoveled into a sluice box greatly depends upon the consistency and hardness of the material within the streambed itself, and how easily it can be broken away.

A sluice requires a steady flow of water through the box to operate at its best efficiency. Most often, the box is placed in a stream or creek where water is moving rather swiftly, with the sluice being placed in such a way that a stream of water is directed through the box.

In locations where water is available, but is not moving fast enough to be channeled through the box for sluicing purposes, the water can be pumped or siphoned to the box with excellent results (covered later). How much water is available, and whether or not it will need to be transported to your sluice box, is something that needs to be considered during the planning stages of a sluicing operation.

Because so much more material can be processed with a sluice, than with a gold pan, streambed materials which contain far less gold values can be mined while recovering just as much or more gold. Therefore, if the streambed material had to pay a certain amount in gold values in to be worked with a gold pan to your satisfaction, gravel containing only a fraction of as many values can be worked with the same result using a sluice box. This is an important factor to grasp; because it means the modern sluice box opens up a tremendous amount of ground that can be profitably mined by an individual.

Motorized sluicing (also often called “high-banking”) is an activity similar to sluicing, except that sluicing is almost always accomplished with the water-flow from the creek or river keeping gravel moving through and over the riffles. As demonstrated in the following video sequence, a motorized sluice (also called a “hydraulic concentrator”) is usually set up with a water pump that supplies water for the sluice box:

Motorized sluices are usually equipped with a recovery system that is set up with adjustable-length legs. This allows the box to be adjusted from side to side and front to back on uneven ground. This allows the water flow to be created for optimum gold recovery. Most motorized sluices available on today’s market also include a screening device over the top of the feed-section of the sluice box. Screening the larger-sized rocks out of material to be sluiced is one of the primary methods for improving fine (small) gold recovery. Any time you can screen larger rocks out, you can slow the water down through the sluice, which will allow even smaller particles of gold to become trapped inside the riffles.

In normal sluicing, the operators must find a location alongside of a creek or river where the water is flowing just right, at the proper depth, to set up the sluice so the proper amount of water can be directed through. Once the sluice is set up, gold-bearing material must be carried to the sluice, screened separately, and carefully fed through the sluice box.

With a motorized sluice, all you need is a supply of water within several hundred feet of where you want to dig. The screen and sluice assembly can be set up directly at the work site so that pay-dirt can be shoveled directly onto the screening section. The pump/engine assembly will pump water from the water source, through a pressure hose, to the sluice.

Another advantage to the motorized sluice is that in some areas today, it is not legal to wash silt directly from the bank into an active waterway. With a motorized sluice set up some distance from the stream or river, you have an opportunity to utilize natural contours up on the land to slow the water down enough to allow the sediments to settle before (if ever) the water re-enters the creek or river.


Just like in any other type of gold mining activity, the key to doing well is in digging sample holes to first find a high-grade gold deposit.

Placer Geology

In many places, there is more gold up on the banks than you will find in the river. This can sometimes be true on the Klamath River in northern California. Actually, it is not only that there is more gold on the banks than in the river. The gold on the banks can sometimes just be easier to get at for a small operation.

What happened along the Klamath River, and in many other areas, is not difficult to understand. The old-timers started mining down in the creek or river, and moved uphill, allowing gravity to carry the water and tailings back down towards the creek or river. As the old-timers worked further up into the banks, often the gravel became deeper and more difficult to remove by conventional hand methods. In time, the old-timers developed hydraulic mining. This is where they directed large volumes of water from nearby (or sometimes distant) creeks under great pressure through monitors (huge pressure nozzles). The high-pressure water was used to wash large volumes of gravel through large sluice boxes placed on the banks of the creeks and rivers. As the sluicing operations cut further up into the banks, the sluice boxes were moved forward, which left tailings deposited on the banks.

It is estimated that as much as 50-percent of the gold washed right through the sluice boxes in hydraulic operations because of the large volume and velocity of water which such operations used. Hydraulic operations did not lose gold in the same amounts all of the time. Much of the gravel that these operations processed contained little or no gold. The concentrations of gold were found along bedrock or at the bottom of lower strata flood layers. So, valueless top-gravels were processed at volume speed, and they would try to slow down when getting into pay-dirt materials. Sometimes, however, they would cut into pay-dirt materials at volume speed–before having a chance to slow down. This is where large volumes of gold would wash directly into the tailing piles.

Since the time of large-scale hydraulic mining, there have been several occasions of extreme high water. The 1964 flood in the western United States is one example. Floods of such magnitude, all throughout gold country, re-deposited old hydraulic tailings piles into newly-formed streambeds up on the banks and within the active waterways. Places where gold was lost from hydraulic operations formed into new pay-streaks–often only inches or a few feet from the surface. This is true all up and down the banks of the Klamath River–and probably many other rivers as well–which has created a wonderful and exciting opportunity for modern small-scale gold miners.

Contrary to popular belief, many pay-streaks today are not found down along the bedrock. In fact, many of the pay-streaks surface miners are finding along the Klamath River are situated in a flood layer (1964 flood) within two feet of the surface. This flood layer is often resting directly on top of undisturbed hydraulic tailings.

We are also finding similar pay-streak deposits inside the active river with the use of suction dredges.

Finding pay-streaks with a surface digging project is usually done by setting up the sluice in several different locations, and giving each sample a large enough test hole to obtain an idea of how much gold the gravel is carrying. Sample holes should be taken to bedrock if possible. However, if the gravel goes deep, you have to avoid getting in too far “over your head.” At the point where you start digging deeper than 3 or 4 feet with a pick and shovel, any pay-streak is going to have to be exceptionally rich to make the effort worthwhile. Richer deposits are more scarce; and therefore more difficult to find. So it is important to stay within effective digging/sampling range, and not get yourself into a full-scale production operation before you have found a high-grade gold deposit.

Sometimes you can learn valuable information before you start sampling. If other miners in the immediate area are finding gold deposits along a specific flood layer, you should be sampling for gold along the same flood layer while digging around in the nearby vicinity. Gathering information such as this is one of the many benefits of belonging to an active mining club or association. Active mining organizations will include others who are actively pursuing the same type of mining activity that you are engaged in.

While sampling with a pick and shovel, it is very seldom that you will actually see gold in the gravel as it is being uncovered. Usually, you do

not see the gold until it is time to clean-upthe sluice box after the sample is complete.

If you finish a sample hole and end up with a good showing of gold, the next step is to find out exactly where the gold came from. In other words, did it come off the bedrock, or did it come from a particular layer in the streambed? You must know where the gold is coming from to evaluate the value of the pay-streak. For example, digging two feet into a paying flood layer requires much less time and effort than digging four feet and having to clean rough bedrock. If you do not know for certain where the gold is coming from, and you assume it is coming from the bedrock underneath four feet of hard-packed streambed, you might decide it is not rich enough to work and walk away from a very rich deposit located at the two-foot flood layer

At the same time, if you are able to reach bedrock, you always want to get a good sample there by thoroughly cleaning the surface and any irregularities there. Sometimes that is where the richest deposits are found.

Pinpointing the source of gold is reasonably easy once the sample hole has been opened up. It is likely that the gold will be concentrated either along the bedrock, along the bottom of a flood layer, or at both locations. Sometimes, there is more than one flood layer that carries gold. You can run small production samples of each stratum separately to see which is paying. Or, sometimes you can simply take pan-samples in the different contact zones between the layers

Some pick & shovel miners are using metal detectors in their prospecting activities. Some of the new gold metal detectors will sound out on pieces of gold as small as the head of a pin! But in gravel deposits, metal detectors can also be used quite well to locate the concentrations of magnetic black sand. Black sand tends to concentrate in pay-streaks, just like gold. Therefore, locations sounding out heavy concentrations of magnetic sand on metal detectors are excellent places to follow up with pick & shovel sampling.

One question commonly asked about sluicing procedure is the proper slope-setting for a sluice box. A sluice box generally requires about an inch drop per each linear foot of sluice. This is just a guideline. Basically, you need enough water velocity to keep the material active in the sluice behind the riffles, but not so much that you are washing most of the material out from behind the riffles. I like to get enough water flow to keep the larger material moving through and out of the box. If I see lots of rocks building up in the sluice, I know I do not have enough water velocity. An occasional rock needing to be helped along is alright in a sluice (although maybe not a dredge sluice!). In surface sluicing (non-dredging), I would rather toss out an occasional rock and have the peace of mind that I am also achieving maximum possible fine gold recovery.

A common practice in sluicing is to also to set up a second sluice behind the primary sluice. The plastic Le’Trap sluice works exceptionally well for this because it recovers fine gold so well, and for its ease in cleanup. The idea is to have a safety check on your primary recovery system to make sure it is working properly.

And if all else fails, you can always do some pan-testing in your tailings to see if your sluice might be losing any gold.

One mistake that beginners often make is in thinking that the recovery system is at fault because they are not recovering very much gold. Most often, however, it is not the recovery system. It is the lack of a good-paying pay-streak! The answer to this is to hustle around with more sampling. Ask around to see what and where it is working well for others in the area. Use their operations as a model.

Flood layer pay-streaks are often easier than bedrock pay-streaks to clean up with pick & shovel surface mining operations. There are several reasons for this. One is that a flood layer pay-streak is closer to the surface. This means less gravel to shovel to reach the gold. Another reason is that it takes more effort to clean the gold off of a bedrock surface when you are not using a dredge. You can only do so much with a shovel. After that, you must resort to a whisk broom and/or a motorized vacuum cleaner. This is why portable dry land dredges are also becoming so popular. They give you the ability to clean bedrock surfaces and cracks with minimum effort. If the gold is coming off bedrock, you must invest the extra effort to clean it off well. Otherwise, you stand the chance of leaving an important portion of the gold behind as you mine forward on the pay-streak.

Many pick & shovel miners today also are equipped with an optional suction attachment. To use it, the pressure hose from the water pump is attached to a suction nozzle that directs the water and material through a suction hose into the sluice. So after an initial hole is dug up out of the water, the hole can be filled with water and material can be sucked into the sluice box. The recovery system can be positioned so that the water discharge can run back into the hole– keeping the hole from running out of water.

So you can dig a hole up on the land, and then begin a suction mining operation outside of the active waterway. This is great!

In California, dredging permits are only required when dredges are operated inside of the active waterway. Therefore, my personal understanding is that suction miners up on the land are not required to have a dredging permit as long as they are not dredging inside the active waterway.

Some surface miners also sample for the gold-path up on the bank by pan sampling the moss. Sometimes, how well the moss is producing gold at the surface can also be an indication of how well the gravel is paying underneath.

When moss, roots, clay and other types of materials are producing good quantities of gold, it is always a good idea to break up the material as much as you can before running it through a sluice box. This is usually done by pulling it apart over the top of a classification screen, or breaking it up inside a bucket of water before running it through the sluice. This slows down production, so the additional work must be rewarded by the recovery of more gold.

Once you find a pay-streak in pick & shovel mining, you want to give some thought to how you are going to develop the deposit with a minimum of wasted effort. For example, you will have to pile the cobbles (rocks too large to pass through your recovery system) and tailings somewhere. Preferably, cobbles and tailings would not be placed upon some other section of the pay-streak. Otherwise they might need to be moved twice, or you might be forced to leave behind high-grade areas that have been further buried. So it is worth some extra sampling to get an idea of the pay-streak’s boundaries. Then you can deposit the tailings material in a location where you will not need to move them again.

Placing tailings is, and always has been, one of the most important aspects of a mining operation–of any size. Yet, it is one of the most neglected aspects of mining by a substantial portion of small-scale miners. In fact, we have a standing principle, true as it may be, along the Klamath River: “Dowsing works: just look where a successful pick & shovel miner or dredger has been throwing his or her cobbles. It is almost guaranteed there will be excellent gold underneath!”

This usually comes back to a simple case of gold fever. The miner starts getting a good showing of gold, gets excited, and never slows down to define the boundaries of the deposit. This almost guarantees an important portion of the deposit will end up underneath cobbles.

Pay-streaks up out of the water are often different from those found in the river or creek. What I mean by this is that they do not always follow the same gold path. When you find a pay-streak in the river, you can usually line it up with the next river bend and make a pretty fair guess where the next several pay-streaks are likely to be. This is because river pay-streaks usually form from gold that has washed down the river along its own gold path during major flood storms.

Pay-streaks outside of the river often were formed from gold out of tailings from old hydraulic mining operations. So you can find a small pay-streak up on the bank, follow it until it plays out, and then not find any sign of it further upstream. This is because the source of the gold deposit was not from a point further up river. Then you can find another pay-streak on another path altogether. In other words, pay-streaks up on the bank might not follow a specific single gold path, as they usually do in the river.

Pick & shovel mining is a lot of fun – when you are finding gold. A healthy portion of our miners along the Klamath River mine out of the water. The reason for this is that it gives them an opportunity to find pay-streaks without having to commit to an underwater dredging operation.

We manage Group Mining Projects just about every other weekend during the spring, summer and fall months in Happy Camp You can find this year’s schedule HERE. You have my personal invitation to come out and get some firsthand experience. We always send participants home with a sample of gold that they help recover–that is, those who go back home. Many join up with us. Watch out–the biggest challenge in gold mining is not in finding the gold; it is getting over the “fever” after you have found it!




By Dave McCracken

Using the Le Trap Sluice to make your
final clean-up go faster.

Dave Mack

Because we have so many innovative, active gold dredgers and small-scale miners on the Klamath River, I don’t recall exactly who came up with the original idea of using a Le’ Trap sluice for final cleanup. When I first heard of it, I had reservations. We have been improving the fine gold recovery on our dredges for years. I was afraid the plastic sluice in final cleanup would lose a large percentage of the extra-fine gold that we are now recovering in our dredges. However, upon close inspection, this proved not to be the case.

One of the most time consuming jobs on any serious gold dredging activity is the final cleanup procedure of separating your gold from all of the other heavy black sands and materials which are also recovered by the dredge. My personal operation is utilizing two eight-inch dredges. We are working in an extensive fine-gold paystreak, which requires us to cleanup about two-thirds of our recovery systems at the end of each day. This amounts to about three five-gallon buckets of concentrates to process. In the past, we have utilized spiral wheels and just about every other kind of cleanup device available to process our final concentrates down to our final gold product. Always, with any of these devises, we succeeded in reducing the amount of concentrates down to about a handful, which we would then process with mercury amalgamation.

During the last several years, we have been using a professional shaker table to work our concentrates down. We found that the shaker table was faster than spiral wheels and the other devises we had tried. Even so, with three five-gallon buckets to process, we were spending several hours each day just running our concentrates across the table. Once the concentrates are worked down to a handful-sized amount, the final amalgamation process only takes about a half hour. In other words, the most time consuming job had been to work the concentrates down to just a small amount.

Shortly after we heard that the Le’ Trap sluice was being successfully used, there were other dredgers on the Klamath, dredgers who knew what they were talking about, starting to rave about how fast and effective the sluice was for final cleanup. Lots of people were starting to use the new system. Consequently, we decided to give it a try. We were quite impressed with the results!

Basically, the system is quite easy, and also quite inexpensive. The Le’ Trap sluice retails at about $90. When used in conjunction with a dredge, no further equipment or pumps, etc., are needed, except a garden trowel of some kind to shovel concentrates with.

We start our dredge and run it just over idle speed to get a small amount of water moving through the primary dredge sluicebox. Water flow through the Le’ Trap sluice can be adjusted by engine speed, or by placing any flat objects under the tail end of the sluice. If you do not have enough water flow, you will notice the black sand does not move through the sluice with any regularity. Rather, it tends to pack up and bury the riffles. In this case, you will notice your gold sitting on top of the black sand, rather than inside the riffles.

If you have too much water flow, you will notice that the black sand flies through the box, with little chance to make contact with the riffles. There is plenty of margin for error. Ideally, with the proper water flow, as you feed concentrates into the sluice with a garden trowel, you will watch the black sands work their way down the box in an orderly procession. The flat, smooth section of the box ahead of the riffles allows the pieces of gold to trail along just behind the black sands. And the riffles stay somewhat clean and open. You can watch the flakes of gold wash down and drop into them.

When done properly, you will find 90% of your gold trapped behind the first four or five riffles. A few pieces, just a few, will work their way further down. But, almost none make it all the way out of the Le’ Trap sluice. We were working with several ounces of very fine gold per day; and to test the system, several times we brought all of the tailings home to see what we had lost from the Le’ Trap Sluice. It was never more than a half of one percent of our total gold recovery.

And, really, we didn’t even lose that gold, because it simply ran back into our dredge recovery system.

The Le’ Trap sluice is a one-piece molded unit which has a unique set of very efficient short riffles which seem to suck the gold right out of the water’s current. Cleanup of the sluice is simply a matter of tilting it up and dumping it into a tub or gold pan. The final product ends up not being much more than a handful of gold and your heaviest concentrates. Needless to say, this is much easier to deal with, rather than having to lug several heavy buckets of concentrates up the hill to our vehicles!

The main ingredient that we saved with this new cleanup system is time. We were able to feed the Le’ Trap sluice about twice as fast as our commercial shaker table. And, we only needed to screen the concentrates down through a quarter-inch screen using the Le’ Trap sluice, rather than through a quarter-inch mesh screen, then an eighth-inch screen, and then a 20 mesh screen to use the shaker table. This saved a lot of time in itself.

Plus, the system was so simple to use, we purchased a second sluice and used one on each dredge to cut our cleanup time in half again!

Since it only takes one person to feed the Le’ Trap sluice, we would put everyone else to work with end-of-the-day organizational activities while the concentrates were being run. Things like putting airlines and weight belts away, transferring used gas cans off the dredges, minor equipment repairs, etc. About the time that everything is put away and finished for the day, the concentrates are also finished, and we only have a half-hour of finish-up when we get home. This is a HUGE improvement over our old systems for final cleanup.

While smaller dredges have lesser amounts of concentrates to deal with at the end of the day, the time it takes to work them down usually is considerable, even on a three-inch dredge operation. That is, providing you are recovering worthwhile amounts of gold, especially fine gold. I don’t see any reason why the Le’ Trap sluice could not benefit any dredging operation where the dredge sluice is wide enough to allow the Le’ Trap box to fit inside.

We will be using this system in our operations during this upcoming season, and in future seasons until someone comes up with something better and faster. Anyone want to buy a good commercial shaker table?


By Linda Montgomery

I have found it is not necessary, during weekend or vacation gold mining trips, for women to be resigned to the camp cook and dish washer position. There is an easy, hassle-free way to spend your time and have it turn out uniquely rewarding at the end of the day. This method is called “crevicing”. It requires few tools, no back breaking work and can be enjoyed by the whole family. My kids and I have creviced in desert dry washes as well as along streams and rivers. The final panning of the material we’ve recovered has always kept us going back for more!

Crevicing gets it’s name from the cracks and crevices found in exposed bedrock. These are known gold-catching areas. It is amazing how deep gold can settle inside these cracks. The job of crevicing involves breaking the crack open wide enough to allow you to get out all the material that it contains. This isn’t hard. Within a short time you can become a pro at it. The tools of the trade vary. it’s best to have a chisel, rock pick and a gold claw. A bucket is needed to put your material in, along with a #4 classifier. If you classify at your work site, you will not have such a heavy load to lug back to camp. Add a tablespoon to your tools for scooping out material in places where your hand won’t fit.

The very best piece of equipment you can add to your operation is one of the several models of motorized vacuum suckers now available on the mining market. It is not a necessity, but there is no comparison to the ease and thoroughness of using one. These vack machines are extremely lightweight and strap to a pack frame for carrying on your back. Instead of spooning or scraping out your material, you can simply vacuum it up. These motorized vacuums are also good for sucking flood gold out of moss on high water rocks. This is probably the easiest job of all.

Here is where you can find a special offer on the world’s best vack machine.

But do not fret, if you don’t have one. When I started crevicing, I used a hammer and a screwdriver!

After you’ve gathered your tools together, hike up the river or along a dry wash, wherever you happen to be. Look for low bedrock exposure, because gold is heavy it tends to concentrate more readily in the low spots. Preferably find a crevice in the rock running toward the river instead of along it. These usually catch more gold. Remember also, the bigger the crack, the larger the gold that could be trapped inside.

Start working by loosening everything inside the crevice with your gold claw or screwdriver. Scrape it out and into your classifier on top of your bucket. Chip around any rocks jammed in the way with your chisel until they come free and you can pull them out. Sometimes you can knock off the sides of the crack to widen it by hammering. This enables you to work farther and deeper into the crevice. If you reach a point where you cannot fit your hand, use your spoon; scraping away until the crevice is clean.

This type of bedrock is over 500 million years old. It’s origins come from the ancient mountains that used to be here. Quite often it appears harder than it is; but if you keep digging and scraping, it is actually soft enough to keep breaking away.

Take everything! Moss, sand, dirt, anything that you can loosen. Clean the crevice out as much as possible or as far as you can reach. If you finish one spot and have not gathered enough material in your bucket, move to another spot.

The hardest part about this whole method of mining is carrying your material back to camp. You can regulate this to suit you. Or, if you have kids or a partner, you can share the load. That is, unless water is near the place where you are working. In that case, you can either pan or sluice your pay-dirt right there.

Crevicing is fun and rewarding for the whole family. You will probably recover lots of fine gold and once in awhile a nice nugget or two. Your back will not hurt and you will not be dog tired when you are through, either! If suction dredging for gold is not your cup of tea, and you do not want to spend extra dollars on other equipment, crevicing may be just the thing for you. No noisy engines, no gas to haul, nothing to break down. Just peace and quiet, and the enjoyment of a job well done.


Sampling Report on K-2A at Gottville

By Sean, New 49’er Member #905

Recently, my two partners, Steve and Wendell, and I were allowed special permission to spend a weekend doing some dredge-testing on a private mining claim located in the heart of the Gottville Mining District on the Klamath River. We were very excited; as anyone with local knowledge will tell you that the Gottville area is one of the richest mining districts on the Klamath River. This claim is located near mile marker 92 along Highway 96. It is about 4 miles upriver from the town of Klamath River. It is the area where you see all the very large rock piles situated on both sides of the river.

While looking for the boundary markers, we walked around many huge piles of rocks and gravel. At first, we thought these were tailings from earlier mining. But it was later explained to us that these are actually piles of river material that were dragged up into big piles by mechanized derricks to allow the old-timers to work the deeper pay-layers behind wing dams out in the river. You can clearly see where the river used to run and that’s why this area had a lot of activity from the old-timers. I made a mental note that if I ever got to return to this claim, the high-banking potential in the big piles looks to be as rich as the dredging in the river!

After we located the boundary markers, we went looking for access points to get to the river. We found an incredible Forest Service parking area complete with a bathroom and concrete launch ramp. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

As part of our sampling plan, we test-panned some of the sand around the launch ramp. We could not believe how much the beach sand was holding small flecks of gold! Still, we knew better than to dig up the river access; because that’s where rafters and boaters launch their gear. But seeing all that gold in the sand was a great sign!

We immediately assembled our dredges while discussing where to start dredging test holes out in the river.

We decided that splitting up was the best. This way, we could prospect both sides of the river. So we floated two dredges across and kept one on the Hwy-96 side. The water was running a bit swift in the middle of the river, so we used a small inflatable boat to guide the dredges across.

Once we began dredging, we noticed layer-color changes as we started our dredge holes. I thought I saw a few flakes of gold go up the nozzle as I worked the overburden looking for contact zones or bedrock.

Soon it was time for a break and I headed straight for my sluice box. Wow, was I excited to see the gold flakes sitting on my black matt! So much for the break, and back to work I went!

I ran up against some large boulders and decided to turn out towards the center of the river as far as I could go without getting into the faster water. Before I knew it, shadows were covering the river. It was time to clean up, and also find out what my friends had found.

One friend’s progress had stalled due to a mechanical breakdown on his dredge. Too bad! Checking on my other partner across the river, a big grin was all I needed to see to know that he was also into something special. Within seconds, I started shouting when I found a large gold-covered piece of quartz in my sluce box! Here is a picture of the nugget:

This is a good claim!

Day two: We were only being allowed two days on this claim by the owner. Because we were there really to test the claim, rather than mine it, we decided to swing back across the river and work the Hwy-96 side.

We punched several more dredge holes to try and isolate what layer the gold was concentrated in. In the process, I uncovered an old hand-carved wing dam. Amazed at the craftsmanship, it gave me a good feeling to find something of quality that an earlier generation of miners left behind. A lot of special work was invested right there by some small-scale miners, probably not much different than me. This area was rich enough for the old-timers using very primitive methods, so I know it must be really good on the other side of the wing dam! But there was not enough time to go there on this particular trip.

Next time, though…

We found the gold was coming from a pay layer we think was formed during the 1997 flood. This layer wasn’t very deep into the streambed. Underneath that was a grayish hard pack, which might be the virgin material that the old-timers could not get with their wing dams. We were finding gold everywhere in the hard-pack. It was like background gold, but in paying quantities!

We finished up doing some production dredging that last afternoon, concentrating on the upper pay layer to see what we could do.

When all was said and done, I had some small quarts rocks with gold on them, so be sure to check your pans when you get down to the small stuff. I recovered one particular nice-sized quartz piece with gold ribbon around it, along with just under a quarter-ounce of match-head and rice grain-sized gold.

My partner had about 8 hours nozzle time between sampling and an afternoon of production work. His clean-up surprised me for how much gold he had for so little time. The gold was nice-size with about half sitting on top of a #20 screen. He had 11pieces that sat on top of a #10 screen – NUGGETS. His total recovery was 2/3 of an ounce, also using a 5-inch dredge.

In closing I cannot believe The New 49’ers were able to acquire this claim! I am very excited that, as a New 49ers member, this claim is going to be available to me, again. Look for Steve, Wendell and I to be back there this summer! We won’t miss out on getting our share of Gottville History Gold!



By Dave McCracken

It would be wise to discuss how you are going to split the costs and rewards with your partner(s) before you strike a rich gold deposit!

Dave Mack

There are several good reasons to team up with another person in a gold prospecting or mining program. One good reason is safety. A dredging accident is less likely to be fatal if there are two people on the scene keeping an eye on each other. A buddy is also able to offer a huge amount of assistance when it is time to move gear around during the sampling stages. Still another good reason to have a partner is the emotional support that two persons can give each other when you are just learning to sample.

It is true that two gold prospectors are likely to finish off a pay-streak around twice as fast, with only half as much gold going to each person. But it is also true that two motivated people tend to spur each other on to get more accomplished – as long as both of you are hard workers. It can be much easier to locate the pay-streaks when two people are sampling and seeing it through together. And one other thing: In gold prospecting, there can be some amazingly-good moments which carry an incredible emotional impact – like when a very rich deposit has just been discovered and the first bit of high-grade is being dredged up the suction nozzle. These are experiences which could never be wholly communicated to and understood by most others, so it is nice to experience them alongside someone else.

Most pay-streaks can be dredged up, or dug up, with two people working side by side. To try and mine pay-streaks with more than two dredges at once can become unwieldy. It can be difficult to mange a third dredge (knocking out plug-ups or whatever) when it has other dredges tied to both sides of it. Under the majority of conditions, two-person teams are better than larger-sized group dredging programs. By that, I mean that the individual prospectors are likely to end up recovering more gold for their effort.


There are several ways that two people can team up in gold prospecting or mining: They can form a full partnership and find, recover and split up all the gold equally between themselves. They can form a more limited partnership, helping each other to locate the deposits; and then clean them up together, with each person keeping what gold he or she recovers. Or, they can form an even more limited association whereby they agree to help each other move gear around when needed, with each person finding and recovering his or her own deposits. Each of these different arrangements has its own advantages and disadvantages, and each can be most-optimally used under different sets of circumstances. It is good to be able to shift from one of these arrangements to another, depending upon what the situation is.

Teaming up with one other person on a full 50/50% partnership basis is done best when both partners are of relatively equal mining and sampling ability, when both are willing to put equal amounts of time and energy into the operation and when both have about an equal share of financial investment into the program. Just by the nature of the way gold affects people, if the gold being produced by an operation is going to be equally split up, then the amounts of input into the operation should be reasonably equal, too. Otherwise, uncomfortable feelings can begin to separate the partners.

The more gold that is being recovered, the more that the inequities tend to express themselves. This can happen in varying amounts, depending upon the relationships, how much gold is being recovered and how far the exchange of time, financial investment and physical work has gotten out of whack between the people involved.

I was dredging on a 50/50% deal with another dredger in a moderately rich pay-streak not too long ago. We each had our own dredges in the pay-streak side by side, but I was recovering two to three times more gold every day than he was. This can happen once in a while in a pay-streak when one guy will uncover a richer section of pay-dirt, but this was happening every single day!

The water was very cold, and it was towards the end of a long and hard-working, successful season. We were both kind of burnt-out, but I had set a quota for myself to put another pound of gold into my poke before knocking off for the season. The gold was there; I just needed to dredge it up! My buddy needed the gold too, but he was not as motivated as I was. The only reason why he had not called it quits for the season, he said, was because I hadn’t.

One day we sat down and I told him that I only wanted one more pound before ending off; and that I wanted to go after it on my own – keeping what I recovered, and allowing him to keep what he recovered. Since the pay-streak was just as rich on his side as it was on mine, and since he was an ethical man and close friend, he could see the fairness in what I wanted to do. What I wanted was to change the nature of our partnership. So he agreed, and we started dredging side by side, each of us keeping what gold we recovered. Well, you will never guess: I started recovering a little more gold than I already was, and my buddy started recovering about three times as much gold as he was before! The pay-streak did not get any better over there. We just changed a working agreement. This is fruit for thought.


There are various ways that different people can contribute to a prospecting or mining program to keep the input relatively equal. One person may have the equipment and the experience, while another person might have the money to finance the operation. Full partnerships under these circumstances can be made to work more often when both parties are equally willing to put time and physical energy into the operation.

The kind of deals where one partner is going to put up the money and end up with half the gold, while the other person does all the work, generally do not turn out as well. Be careful about agreeing to a partnership on an equal basis with somebody who is not going to put in his equal share of mining alongside of you. While these deals seem fine in the beginning, they can become unfair to the guy doing all the work once a rich deposit is located.

Since you can really only put in so many hours a day at mining or prospecting, there is still plenty of time left over to clean-up, cook, repair gear, and do the other necessary things around camp. So there is no good reason to give an equal share of the recovery to someone else to do these things for you (unless it is your spouse or mother). If you do, you will be feeling the pain out of your own pocket once you get into a high-grade gold deposit.

Grubstake deals seem to work out better when the percentage to the silent financier is kept down to about ten percent or less of the gross find. Unless it means not going at all, you should try and avoid having to give any more royalties (especially of the gross recovery) away than you positively have to. As a matter of business, the larger cut of the pie you must give to others, the more lower-grade pay-dirt you will have to pass up that would otherwise be acceptable mining under other circumstances.

Unless some very rich area has already been located and just needs to be dredged or dug up, an absent financier and the property owner will likely make more gold in the long run if the amount of gold the miner needs to pay out is not kept down to a minimum reasonable percentage of the recovery. It is not in anyone’s interest for the miner to go broke, especially when a more fair distribution of recovery will allow a gold deposit to be mined up! In this light, it is unwise for the property owner or grubstaker to require more than a small percentage of the gross recovery.

I met up with a guy in Alaska who had agreed to pay a grubstaker 50% of his gross recovery, because the grubstaker had sent along enough groceries to last the dredger all season. Now let’s see; that’s 50% to the grubstaker, 10% to the claim owner, and the dredger still had to pay his own travel expenses, fuel and other operating expenses and repairs. How was he going to make any money for himself? He didn’t, and neither did the grubstaker! And the worst of it is that he was into a very nice pay-streak, which he had to leave behind for someone else to dredge up. See how this works? Unreasonable deals also plant the seed of dishonesty, where the only way the miner can make the deposit pay for himself, is to cheat his partners. I have talked about the challenges of gold and integrity in a different discussion.

In some partnerships, one person may receive a higher percentage of the gold recovery because he or she has invested more into the program than the other. Regardless of the agreement, and how right it is, when split-up time comes, and one person’s pile is larger than the other’s pile, both people are likely to feel a uncomfortable about it. As an example, doing one of my friends a favor a few years ago, I invited him to dredge with me on my 8-inch dredge, in a rich gold deposit I already had discovered through previous investment of my own, on a mining property which belonged to me.

This is the way it would normally go:

A) Ten percent off the top to whoever owns the dredge (someone had to put out the money to buy it and make it available).

B) Ten percent off the top to whoever owns the mining property (someone had to put out the money to buy it and make it available).

C) Five percent as a finder’s fee to whoever discovered the gold deposit (as long as it is really there).

Since we were buddies, and I already was concerned with the potential hard feelings that could arise when it was time to split the gold, I chose to forgo the 5% finder’s fee, even though I had invested months into locating the rich deposit in the first place. We had agreed that we would split the operating costs. We dredged side-by-side, both working very hard. The daily recovery ranged from 2-to-5 ounces per day, depending upon how much bedrock we were uncovering (we were having to remove 10 feet of overburden and boulders to get to the gold).

We cleaned-up the high-grade portion of the sluice box every day and did a split. Once the gold was clean, we separated out 10% by weight for the dredge, and another 10% for the mining property. Then we split the remaining 80% right down the middle. This was what we had agreed upon. Sound right to you? It was! But on the days when we were recovering lots of gold, my 60% pile was so much larger than his 40% pile that there were always uncomfortable feelings. It is always that way!

Actually, I did my friend a huge favor. On his own, he would not have had access to a dredge or established rich gold deposit. But it is hard to keep all that in perspective when you are weighing out gold shares of different proportions on a scale. I could give you many, many examples of this just from my own experience.

This all comes into play more when large quantities of gold are being recovered, making the difference in piles even more noticeable. This is always the way it is with gold. Plan on it! If you don’t believe you would experience these feelings, it is only because you have not found high-grade gold, yet!

When forming partnerships, and the contributions are not all equal, it is common to allow 10% of the gross recovery to whoever owns the mining property. It is also common to allow 10% of the gross recovery to whoever owns the dredge. This is an exchange for putting up the capital for the main elements required to start a mining program.

If someone is putting up the money to keep everything going, rather than a percentage of the gross recovery, if you can swing it, it might be better to just agree to pay that money back (perhaps with a little interest) right off the top of the gold recovery. Then the guys who are doing all the work usually split up the balance. This isn’t always possible. Sometimes the guy putting up the money wants in on the gold production. All I can say is keep your obligations as small as possible. Because the more you have to give to someone else, the less chances there will be enough gold remaining to make your time and effort worthwhile.


Here is something really helpful: Unless it is just two guys sharing all the costs and rewards, it is much easier to work a deal where you are providing a percentage of the gross (total) gold recovery for each person’s contribution. Trying to work deals where you are going to first subtract the various operating costs makes the program more complex and opens up the chemistry to seeds of discontent. As an example, I would rather have 5% off the top of your total gold recovery than 10% of your net profit after you subtract all the things you decided to spend money on! If I just take mine off the top, I don’t have to get involved with the way you decide to spend money. Reversing that, I would rather not have you involved with the way I am spending money, either! There is a lot to be said about weighing up the clean-up, and giving everyone their share right there on the spot.

By the way, it goes without saying that good record-keeping is a must if you are providing a share to someone who is not present!


One non-optimum way to set up a full partnership, is by teaming up in a small or intermediate-sized prospecting or mining program with a second person who does not have an additional dredge or surface mining gear to operate. One dredge or sluice can only process so much material in a single day. Two dredges of similar size, coordinated properly, ought to be able to double what one dredge can do by itself, as long as both operators are hard workers.

If you take on a partner using a small or intermediate-sized dredge, without also having a second dredge for him or her to operate, you will probably make less gold than you would if you just work alone. Since digging is slower, sometimes there is enough hard work for two people to keep a single sluicing operation operating efficiently.

There are exceptions to this, like when developing a high-grade gold deposit in deep streambed material where there are a lot of cobbles to be moved; enough to keep a helper productive full time without getting into your way. Another exception is when operating a large dredge, when it is a two-handed job to move the nozzle around. This creates the need for a helper to move the cobbles and boulders out of the way.

When two people are put to work on the same dredge, they need to be able to process at least twice as much volume of streambed material through the dredge, and recover twice the amount of gold. We have developed underwater team-work systems for this that contribute to productive production dredging programs. Otherwise, the arrangement can become inefficient, and the team might be better off operating two separate dredges, or take separate shifts on the same dredge.

In theory, you might figure that if one person can move a certain volume of material with a dredge or through a sluice, then two people working together on the same dredge or sluice ought to be able to process twice as much material. Sometimes this is true. If conditions are right for it, a well-orchestrated team under or above the water can process much more than double what either person could accomplish on his or her own. I have devoted a substantial discussion to underwater teamwork in Volume 2 of Advanced Dredging Techniques, so I won’t go into that here.

If there is not enough work to keep a second underwater person productive on a dredge, without the person cutting into the nozzle-man’s production and slowing him down, then it is not a good idea to put a second man there. What do I mean by cutting into the nozzle-man’s production? When a second person runs out of productive activity to keep busy, to stay busy, the person can start moving cobbles that are not ready to be moved. In doing so, streambed silt will be released into the water. Then if not immediately sucked up, water currents can cause that silt to spread around and cloud-out the hole. Then the nozzle-man must wait until the water clears up enough again that he can see what he is sucking into the nozzle. This is just one example of how a second person can actually slow down the production in a dredge hole.

As an example of an over-manned (and therefore underpaid) production dredging operation, I teamed up with two other guys one time in a sampling activity to locate a pay-streak. We found a very nice one which was sitting underneath about two feet of hard-packed material over top of some really rough and irregular bedrock. The pay-streak was about 45 feet wide; so there was no problem placing our two dredges side by side to clean up the gold.

We were each operating 5-inch dredges. Our partnership agreement was that after working together to locate some high-grade, we would develop the deposit side-by-side, keeping our clean-ups separate. I was running my own 5-incher and keeping all the gold that I found. The two of them teamed up on their 5-inch dredge and were splitting what they found equally between the two of them.

The streambed material was very hard-packed, and the water was moving pretty fast. A deep orange-colored silt in the material made it necessary to take apart the streambed in an orderly fashion, sucking the silt and material from the same spot that you were moving cobbles. Otherwise, that part of the dredge hole would be entirely clouded-out by silt, and you would have to wait for a half-minute or more before it would clear up enough that you could see what you were doing again. This is standard operating procedure in most dredging situations, anyway.

The hole we were dredging was so wide, that if I clouded myself out, their side would still remain clear enough that they could continue on dredging, and vice versa.

Since we agreed that each would keep what we separately recovered, and agreed that each could spend as many hours at it as we wished, the game was to produce like mad to dredge up as much gold as possible before the other guys recovered it. The friendly competition between us really spurred us on. Those were some hard-working guys and they surely kept me moving all the time, me knowing that they were dredging up all that gold as fast as they were. They had teamed up on their dredge and were going at it hot and heavy on the other side of the hole. But at the end of each day, my tailings pile was at least twice the size of theirs, and I usually had twice as much gold, too. Sometimes more!

In wonderment at this, I slowed down enough one day to have a look at what they were doing. Sure enough, they just kept clouding each other out. In 2 1/2-feet of material, there just was not enough work to keep two guys effectively busy on one dredge. I then went over and watched myself dredge, to see what a second man could do to help me get material through the nozzle faster, and there wasn’t much. I was pouring it through about as fast as it could be done most of the time.

The best bet for those guys would have been to split the day into two shifts: One starting at daybreak, and the other one ending at dark. In that way, each one of them would have ended up dredging about the same amount of gold that I dredged. As it was, they probably would have about doubled their gold intake if one of them did not dredge at all! This is something to keep well in mind when organizing a dredging operation.


My various partners and I have worked out a method of splitting up gold over the years which has always seemed to work out very well. On group ventures where everyone involved is getting some share of the gold we recover together, all recovered gold is deposited into a group collection jar. We pull out any and all pieces (nuggets) of gold that seem to be of extra value, and put those into a separate group jar. We split up the nuggets at the end of the venture, because there will be more of them then, so everyone is more likely to get a more fair portion of them. The rest of the gold (the fines and flakes) are split up on a regular basis. We do it every day if there is enough gold to make the effort worthwhile. Sometimes we classify the gold through window screen or 8-mesh, and measure up shares by weight of each size to each partner. If any partner is to receive some lower or greater percentage of the recovery, the person will receive it in both sizes. This is good, because each partner gets something back every day from the work he or she has invested.

At the end of the venture, when it is time to split up the nuggets and jewelry gold, we pick out the most extraordinary nuggets and set them aside for the moment. Then we make equal piles of all the remaining pieces of gold as equal by weight as possible, and equal by size and apparent value of the nuggets involved. Sometimes this can be a bit challenging, because each nugget is different. But when everyone is satisfied that the piles are all as equal in value that we are going to get them, we draw cards or tickets. Whoever has the highest card or first ticket gets to choose the first pile. The second-highest card gets to choose the second pile, and so on.

In our program, if one partner has some slightly-higher percentage of gold coming to him, he will usually receive the proper amount out of fines and flakes which were set aside for this purpose.

Then we take the most extraordinary nuggets that were set aside for last, and bid them off one by one-just like in an auction. Everyone involved in the partnership has an equal opportunity to bid up the amount of fine and flake-sized gold they are willing to pay for each nugget. Each nugget goes to whoever is willing to pay the most. The gold payments are directed into the group jar. Once all the nuggets have been sold off this way, the final gold from the jar is split up properly amongst all the partners according to our agreement.

While there are plenty of other ways to do it, this system has worked out very well, with no hard feelings amongst the partners, even though we often find very high-grade gold deposits with a lot of nuggets.


Dave Mack

“Here are some links to things every prospector should know about the business of mining…”