Gold Prospecting

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It's been more than a century and a half since the infamous gold rushes in North America. We've all heard about the hot spots, bonanza strikes, fool's gold and human migration caused by this metal called gold.

Despite the time that's passed, gold fever has never died. Prospectors are still looking for gold.

There are two types of gold prospecting: placer and hard-rock.

Placer prospecting is the search for gold that has been weathered away. It's usually done in streams, rivers and other bodies of water; the gold found in these areas is called placer gold.

The most common method in placer gold prospecting is panning. Other methods include sluicing, dredging, sniping, moss mining, dry vacuuming and dry washing.

Hard-rock gold prospecting, on the other hand, involves metal detecting, rock drilling, hammering and explosives. Hard-rock prospectors are searching for gold that is found in rocks.

This type of prospecting is usually done in flatlands, mountainsides and deserts.

Because gold is scarce, inaccessible and is primarily obtained through commercial mining, you may think that this recreation is odd and almost impossible to do.

Yet people -- individually or as a club -- continue to search for gold. What keeps them motivated?

"The gold you find is just the icing on the cake. The real payoff is the gorgeous scenery, the friends you'll make, the education and the experiences you'll gain and the healthy workouts," says Jim Zambenini, a prospector in California.

Jason Ploeder, who belongs to a prospector's association, shares the same sentiment as Zambenini.

"Prospecting has allowed me to get out of the house into the farthest recesses of wilderness. It is one of the best ways to relax and the possible payoffs aren't that bad either," he says.

Another reason for present-day gold fever is the fact that the old-timers (prospectors of yesterday) left a lot of gold.

Jake Hartwick, vice-president for public relations of the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA), explains that the notion "the old-timers got all the gold" is a misconception.

The truth is, there's more gold left than has ever been excavated.

The GPAA reports 50,000 members nationwide. The Santa Rosa Gold Diggers Club, based in California, has an estimated membership of 200. There are more than 100 clubs and associations involved in gold prospecting in North America.

Getting Started

With the different methods of gold prospecting to choose from, the equipment varies. The cheapest and most popular method is panning.

The basic tools needed to pan gold are a pan, screwdriver, paintbrushes, tablespoon, garden shovel, utility bucket, and a small bottle.

Optional items include classifier (for separating materials), a sniffer bottle (to suck up gold from the pan), an ice pick, a garden trowel and crevice tools.

Most of the tools are available in one's own garage or kitchen, except for gold pans, which are available in various prospecting and mining stores. They come in different sizes, textures and makes. There are gold pans made of plastic or metal, each costing less than $20.

As prospectors become adept, they need more high-tech equipment. Machines like metal detectors, suction dredges, powered-sluice boxes, vac-pacs and dry washers each cost from as little as $50 to as much as $5,000. These machines may be expensive, but the return is better.

Despite the expensive tools used in this hobby, it remains as popular as ever.

"Gold prospecting transcends all ages and gender. There are no special skills needed. Everybody can work at their own pace and at their own time," says Hartwick.

Even physically challenged people can partake in this recreation, particularly in gold panning.

But when it comes to more serious prospecting like the kind hard-rock prospector Jason Ploeder does, skills and physical fitness are necessary.

Injuries seldom happen in recreational gold prospecting, but prospectors are cautioned about snake bites, bee stings and falling rocks, especially when prospecting in mountainsides.

Getting involved in gold prospecting can even lead to a job. "Some gold mines still employ people," say prospector couple Paul and Rose Klemenok of Petaluma, California.

They add, "Even claim owners enjoy hardworking and honest workers to clean or help them in prospecting."

Another option is becoming self-employed. In getting started with gold prospecting, basic research about gold, its location, government regulations and methods of obtaining it is very vital.

Read some books, magazines and watch TV shows and instructional videos for information.


Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA)
P.O. Box 891509
Temecula , CA   92589
Toll-free :  800-551-9707


Gold Rush 2000,
by  Ed Mitchell and Jan Lackey
Looking for Gold: The Modern Prospector's Handbook,
by  Bradford Angier


The Outdoor Channel
Search for prospecting-related shows

U.S. Geological Survey
Check out the latest news

A Resource Center for Gold Maps
Loads of information

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