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Wisconsin Gold Mining, Panning and Prospecting

Wisconsin is a state that will yield small amounts of gold for a persistent prospector. It is an interesting state as far as gold is concerned because of its known potential to produce the yellow metal is limited. All gold recovery is done on a small-scale. No significant gold mining operations are active in the state.

Let’s take a closer look at Wisconsin and its golden history and future.


Northern Wisconsin Gold Deposits


As is typical of the region in the upper Midwest where Wisconsin sits, there is little or no interest on the part of commercial mining companies to take on any big mining operations in the state. Most of the gold that has been found is in placer deposits scattered throughout the countryside found at the banks of rivers and streams. The gold found in Wisconsin depends on which part of the state you are interested in.

Geographically, Wisconsin is divided into the two parts. The southern part has basement rocks which are covered by miles deep layers of sedimentary rocks. This part is not the most lucrative in terms of finding gold. If you are serious about finding some gold, I would suggest that you venture north.

The northern part of Wisconsin, which is part of the Canadian Shield, is the region where one will strike gold.

Small-scale prospectors have a history of success in the state with finding the very fine grained gold that these placer deposits yield; these fine textured bits of gold are referred to as what is commonly known as ‘flour gold’.

Finding a nugget of even pea size would be a very rare occurrence indeed. A long day of sluicing is more likely to produce a small collection of very fine dust and perhaps a tiny “picker,” but definitely not big nuggets.

Read: How Rare are Gold Nuggets?

And: Gold in Quartz – Releasing Gold from Ores

Glacial movements have been thought to have brought these gold deposits from as far away as Alberta into the area. That is the reason the northern part of the state is able to produce gold as it flows via glaciers through Canada into the state. The glaciers actually acted like a grinder on the gold to crush it into the small dust like particles that it is found in.

This type of gold can be found in almost any waterway in the state but most significantly has been found on the shores of Lake Superior and around Plum Creek in the Pierce County area.

The Rush River in Pierce County is also often recommended for placer gold deposits. New and experienced prospectors alike are often found panning the gravels along this river.

When glaciers moved across northern Wisconsin, they pushed gold bearing gravels across a wide area. As they receded, gold bearing material was left behind. This would naturally continue to erode and find its way into streams, rivers, and even the Great Lakes. In fact, Lake Superior is one of the most popular places to prospect in Wisconsin. You can find fine gold from Superior all the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Wave action can cause fine gold dust to concentrate along shorelines in much the same way that it might concentrate in a river. But prospectors in Wisconsin have to be extremely skilled in panning in order to be able to capture such “flour gold”. If you’re trying to find more than just a few specks, you might want something bigger like the Gold Rush Nugget Bucket, or even better would be the Gold Cube. These can catch really tiny gold and you will find more than with just a gold pan.

There has actually been speculation of big lode deposits existing under the ground but the ore is of low quality and it would not be cost effective to get the gold out of the ground. Of course this could change if the price of gold ever went up dramatically, but with the current trend of gold prices this seems unlikely in the near future.


Recreational Panning in Wisconsin


Recreational gold panning is allowed in the state, but many placer gold deposits lie in private properties. Hence you require prior permission or agreement. Otherwise by law, any gold found while you were on private property automatically will belong to the property owner. Since you aren’t likely to hit the “Mother Lode” here, this probably won’t be much of an issue, but it’s worthwhile to sort out these details before you start digging.

If you plan to use mechanical devices other than panning, proper license is required. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources should be contacted if you intend to use equipment such as high bankers or dredges. You can read further details from the DNR here.

Read: Prospecting for Glacial Gold in the US – Locating Ancient Outwash Areas

Lots of Placer Gold Found


The History and Future of Gold in the State


As mentioned the most significant gold finds in the state were done in the Plum Creek area. The biggest of which took place from 1887 – 1890. This fine gold was found by means of sluicing and yielded a large amount of flour gold and some slightly larger size grains also. Once again this venture fizzled out because of the eventual lack of substantial gold finds and the tediousness of the work to extract the gold.

As far as the future goes, there is an ambitious venture going on near the Town of Easton, which is located east of Wausau in the Marathon County area. The attraction there is what is known as a “reef” deposit with actual known gold reserves that could yield as much as 119,000 ounces of the yellow metal. The deposit was first discovered way back in 1970 but it was not until the recent spike in gold prices that anyone thought about seriously going after the gold. Of course there will be considerable costs in extracting these ores, and the future mining endeavors are still yet to be seen. Sizeable deposits of iron, zinc, copper and other ores have also been discovered in the state. And often gold exists as a byproduct of these metals hence mining for them may also produce gold. But the whole operation again depends on viability and until the prices of these metals surge, serious mining activity may not begin.

So between the continued panning that often leads to finding small amounts of gold and the ore finds that will probably come up, Wisconsin has a chance to be very active when it comes to states that have a lot of gold activity going on.

Additional Reading:

How to Prevent Fine Gold from Floating out of your Pan

The Blue Blow Concentrator for Fine Gold Recovery

7 Minnesota Ghost Towns to Explore

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