Camp Games and Activities

How to Pan Like a Professional

October 24, 2016
gold panning
gold panning

©istockphoto/Robert Gubbins

Gold panning is an American tradition and a great family pastime to share with the kids! It’s a fun way to explore our country’s history, get outdoors and, if you’re really lucky, maybe make yourself just a little richer in the process. Of course, the most important part is having fun. Here are some great tips on how to pan like a professional on your next trip.

Get the Right Gear
Every prospector needs the right gear if he’s going to bring home the goods. There are numerous toys to play with in the world of gold panning, and the more you explore the hobby the more you’ll find yourself collecting various odds and ends. To start out you’re going to need, at minimum, a basic gold prospecting kit. One of these puppies has everything you need to get started, including two separate pans and a mess classifier, hand trowel, snuffer bottle and a book to teach you the ropes.

If you live near rough terrain you might also want to invest in a sturdy rock pick that’ll help you dig through the debris.

Pick Your Place
The single most important decision you’ll make as a prospector is where to pan for gold! The shiny stuff can actually be found in nearly every creek bed in the continental U.S. (and around the world) but some spots are bristling with more than others. In fact, most areas have so little available that you could spend weeks panning and still never find a drop.

Look for creeks and streams and be sure to start your panning downstream. Most gold deposits come from up above and will wash down with the flow of the water, so you want to find a spot where the current isn’t too rough and it might’ve had a chance to settle into the ground. If you’re willing to travel a bit the best spots in the country are definitely out west. Just make sure it’s legal to pan in your area before you begin.

Practice Your Technique
One of the greatest things about panning is there’s no one right way to do it, so you have plenty of room to work on your technique. There are a few basic steps to follow, though, if you want to effectively pan for gold.

First, you’ll want to dip your pan into the stream and fill it roughly ¾ of the way up with sand and gravel. Be sure to shake it in a clockwise motion while under the current so that the heavier metals can find their way to the bottom of the pan. You’ll also want to shake it under a section of the stream where the current is actively moving to aid in the removal of lighter sediments and dirt.

Once you’ve pulled the pan out of the water there should only be a couple of inches of dirt left behind, if done properly. Dip a little water back into the pan and swish the contents around unless you have just black sand and gold. Some kits include a magnet so you can pull the sand to the bottom of the pan and separate it from the gold more easily, but you can also pick through with tweezers or just use your fingers.

Have a glass vial on hand so you can place any gold flakes you find into quick storage, since constantly walking back and forth from the water to land can get exhausting.

As you progress in your panning you’ll develop your own techniques and discover what tools you prefer and which you’d rather leave behind.

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