Gold Prosecting 101

If you’ve caught the gold bug, you’re probably searching the internet frantically trying to figure out what you need and how to get started. In this article we’ll discuss every thing you need to know in order to get out there and get you some gold!

Most people end up going all out, spending tons of money on equipment.  Looking at other prospectors and their gear might make it seem like you need to spend a lot of money but it’s actually somewhat inexpensive to get started! You’ll need a gold pan, shovel, classifier, snuffer bottle, and a sluice (optional). All of this (except for the sluice) can be purchased for about 50-60 bucks.  There are several trustworthy brands that sell starter gear but an absolute must have is the Garrett Supersluice Gold pan. It is the absolute best sample pan on the market. Sample panning is the name of the game. The more you sample pan the better your chances are of finding gold deposits (more on sample panning later on in this article).

Garret Supersluice Panning Kit


So now that you have your starter kit, it’s time to get some gold! But not so fast. There is one crucial variable of gold prospecting you must be diligent with before ever stepping foot on the river and that variable is RESEARCH. If you don’t do your research and make sure the area you want to dig at is gold bearing or even open to prospecting, your probably not going to find gold or even worse, you could end up trespassing on someones land or gold claim.

There are three parts that should be included in your research. Number one, research the history of the area. Was the area mined for gold historically? Does your area have geological surveys that include placer gold values?  Doing this will give you comfort that there is actual gold to be found in the area.

Next, you need to look at maps of your area to find ideal spots to dig. Look for gravel bars, inside bends, big rocks that create low pressure zones, areas that might have exposed bedrock, and even areas where the river widens.  These are all areas where Gold is likely to deposit. For this purpose, google earth is best due to high resolution so you can look at smaller details.

Last but certainly not least, you need to make sure you know where private land or mining claims are to avoid trespassing. There are several ways to do this but my favorite tools to use for this purpose are the OnX Hunt App and  The OnX Hunt App is a comprehensive map app that has several layers including private land parcels with owner information. This app is invaluable and gives you piece of mind to go places you wouldn’t before in fear of trespassing. My land Matters is also a comprehensive map but shows where both placer and lode mining claims are to the nearest section or square mile. My Land Matters has maps for every U.S. State within the Rocky Mountains and more!

Now that you’ve completed your research, you’re ready to head down to the river and get to work. Once you get to your spot, I cannot stress enough how important it is to sample pan. Sample panning is taking a pan and classifier, filling the pan up with classified material,  and rapidly panning it out to see if there is gold.  Sample panning allows you to test multiple spots so you can find an area with the highest concentration of gold. Once you’ve located an area with good gold, you can start filling up buckets of classified material to run through your sluice. To classify your material, you need to place a classifier on top of your five gallon bucket. Then you start shoveling into classifier so that it catches all the big rocks so that your material becomes uniform and one size. The more material you run through your sluice the more gold your going to get at the end of the day.

In order to catch gold in your sluice and make sure it stays there, your sluice needs to be set up properly. People are always looking for a rule of thumb on the proper angle to set a sluice but there are several factors that influence what angle is best. Because of this there is not a one size fits all solution.

One factor that effects a sluices angle is water speed. Every sluice is different but the water needs to be going a certain speed in order for an exchange to occur in the riffles. Typically, the faster the water is the flatter your angle needs to be. The slower the water is the steeper your angle needs to be.

Another factor that can effect the angle of your sluice is water volume or the amount of water running through your sluice at any given time. Your water volume can be too high or too low. This is one of those things that needs to be just right and is directly related to the angle of your sluice. To get the proper water volume you should stack rocks on either end of the flare so the river water gets funneled into your sluice.

If you’re looking for a number, I’ve found that most sluices (depending on water speed and volume) run best at a 3-5 degree angle with a 4 degree angle being ideal. To check to see what angle your sluice is at or to make sure your sluice angle is the same all the way around, you can use the compass application on your iPhone. Once you have your compass on the screen you can swipe your screen to the left and a level application will show up. Place your phone on all four corners of your sluice and you can get a good idea of what you angle is at and if your sluice is even all the way around.

To keep your sluice stable, level from left to right, and in place, you need to stack rocks on or up against the side walls of the sluice. You should also make sure the underside of your sluice is being supported as well. There are times where the water level of the river can fluctuate so it’s also a good idea to create a tether or strap that connects to your sluice to keep it from floating down the river. If the water rises exponentially you may lose your concentrates but at least your sluice won’t float down the river too.

It’s important to keep in mind that your sluice  doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. I’ve watched guys spend more time on getting their sluices just right than they did on actual digging.  A wise Prospector once told me, “20 percent of the effort for 80 percent of the gold.” Those numbers might sound a little extreme but the point is, everything doesn’t have to be perfect in order to get most of the gold.  Stop jacking around and start digging!

Once you think your sluice is set up correctly, it’s time to start scooping material into it. Roughly about 1.5 cups at a time is best. I like to dump scoops of material in different spots to help distribute material evenly through out the sluice. I usually alternate dumping my scoops to the left, in the middle, and to the right in the flare. After plopping a scoop of material in your sluice, about half of the material should be washed out right away while the other half works it’s way down into the riffles for exchange to occur. Remember, the point of the sluice is to get rid of the lighter material and for the heavier black sands and gold to get caught behind the riffles.

Depending on the size of your sluice you don’t want to run anymore than 10 buckets of material per clean up. If your sluice seems to be loading up with black sand it’s probably a good idea to do a clean up. To do a clean up you want to pull your sluice straight up out of the water with the top slightly higher than the bottom to prevent water from back washing concentrates into the flare and out of the sluice. But be careful not to have the top too much higher than the bottom or the water will wash concentrates out of the bottom.

To get my concentrates out of the sluice I place the bottom end of the sluice into a five gallon bucket with one side of the sluice tilted up at a 45 degree angle. Then I use a Gatorade bottle with a twist top and wash all the cons to the low side of the sluice. Then I take a couple pans full of water and wash all the cons into the five gallon bucket. You don’t want to pour water too fast or some of the gold could get splashed out. Once all the cons are in the bucket I pour the cons into a plastic bag for safe transport home to run through my miller table!

There you have it!  Everything you need to know to get out there and find you some gold. It is very important for you to always do your research before going out to dig so you don’t get skunked or end up breaking the law. Remember, sample panning is key to finding higher concentrations of gold and try not to spend too much time with preparation when you could be digging. Be sure to check out the article, “Miller Tables for the Win: Fine Gold Recovery Methods” for the best options on getting the finer gold out of your concentrates.

Below is some prospecting gear that I personally use and is great for any Prospector to have. Click on the image to view purchasing options on Amazon.

Keene A51A Sluice


Gold Prospector’s Handbook


Green Prospector’s Scoop


Classifiers 1/2 inch-100 Mesh


Gold Cube 3 Stack Deluxe



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