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Step-by-Step Gold Panning Guide

UPDATE: We recently added a new article that goes into much greater detail about gold panning. Read it here:

Finally! The Ultimate Gold Panning Guide!


You can find basic information about gold panning all over the web. Here’s the simple truth; it isn’t rocket science. The basics of panning for gold are quite simple, and can be learned relatively easily. The most important thing is to put yourself in an area that actually has some gold.

Below is a short step-by-step guide to panning. Be sure that you have good quality equipment like a good gold pan and shovel, and take it slowly at first to ensure you don’t lose any of the fine gold. As you gain more experienced, you will find that the process goes much quicker and you are finding more gold in the bottom of your pan.

The Panning Process

1. Firstly zero in on a stream which has possibility of having gold bearing gravel. Try panning in those areas which are known to have placer deposits. Dig down deep into the stream until you touch the layer of bedrock underneath. Use your shovel to pick an amount of gravel into your pan. Most prospectors don’t dig deep enough. Make sure that you get all the way down to bedrock, this is where to highest placer concentrations will be found.

Do not overload the pan as you will not be able to work it effectively if it is too heavy. Pan a moderate amount of material so you don’t wear yourself out.


2. Separate the large rocks from the small ones and toss them out. The odds of finding a big gold nugget are slim, but it is still a good idea to examine the rocks that you toss out of your pan to make sure you’re not throwing out any gold.

You may also want use a classifier for this. This will leave only the smaller sands and gravels, and can speed up the panning process significantly. If you plan on panning a lot of material, a good quality classifier is highly recommended.

3. Submerge the pan in the stream water and swirl the pan so that the gravels are moved from side to side or in a circular motion. Continue separating out any larger rocks that are still in your pan. This exercise will make the gold settle down at the bottom and the lighter material will rise to the top.

If there are any clays or dirt in your pan, it is a good idea to use your hands to manually break it up. Clay will hold fine gold causing it to be lost. Make sure that any clods are busted up and all of the material in your pan is loose so that it can stratify.

4. Slightly tip the pan to empty out the contents. The heavier particles will have settled down to the bottom at this point, but you should still be careful to continue agitating the mixture to ensure that the heavies stay at the bottom. The lighter gravels will get emptied out of the pan.

Every so often, level out your gold pan and agitate without letting anything spill out. This will also help you retain all of the fine gold. Keep doing this until the residue in your pan is reduced considerably and you have some fine heavy material left at the bottom of your pan.

5. You should now be left with heavy black sands and maybe some gold. If lighter colored sands are still present, continue the process. Keep draining out the sand to minimize the residue while taking care not to let any gold particles escape.

6. Now look into the pan and see if you can see some gold in there. If you do, gently pick out any larger pieces with tweezers and place them into a separate container. You might also use a snuffer bottle to clean out the gold and separate the black sand sticking onto the gold. A strong magnet can also help you separate the magnetic bits of black sand away from your fine gold. Have patience in this final step, as it can be an extremely challenging process to capture those extra fine gold particles.

With time you will be able to carry out the process with good efficiency. But it is important that you do it slowly at first so that you do not end up throwing out the gold. Take the time to learn how to do it right. As with other things you will be able to pan more efficiently once you gain enough practice.

The Reality of Gold Prospecting

Finding gold is tough and tiring work. This is not recommended to those who do not have the physical and mental conditions of braving extreme weather conditions and rough climate.

Sometimes you will come home empty-handed.

That is all a part of the learning process, but with time you will find that you have more and more success.

When you do discover some gold the payoff will be equally handsome. Not only is this a great way of spending quality time with friends and family, but you always have the chance to make some money too!

Ever gold prospector should master the art of gold panning, but eventually it will be smart to move up to some larger equipment like a simple sluice box to be able to process more material in a shorter time. This will increase the amount of gold that you can find in a day.

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