Prospecting For Gold Tips And Tools
Anyone can join the gold rush with a minimal investment and a little education.
This is possibly why gold prospecting is a popular past time for young and old. The fact that gold is extremely high in value and it only takes a relatively small amount to make a person rich probably has a lot to do with it too!
Many a prospector dreams of the day when they find the elusive large gold nugget that will make them an instant millionaire, however, the chances of this happening are similar to winning the lottery. It does happen, but only for a very few. Fortunately, it is possible for a diligent prospector to get a good return through hard work, careful study, and a little bit of luck.
The first step in becoming a gold prospector is to learn where the gold is found in your area. What kind of gold is it?
If your local gold is alluvial (river) gold then you will need different tools to someone whose local gold is reef (vein) gold. Most new prospectors in New Zealand will be targeting the alluvial gold because of the comparative ease and accessibility of this kind of prospecting. The New Zealand Government has made available to the public 16 areas in the South Island where no license is required to prospect for gold. As most gold ore mining falls outside of these areas, and the tools of gold ore mining required are generally motorized, a prospecting license will be required.
Alluvial Gold Prospecting
In the spirit of many a gold rush all you need to get started as a gold miner in our alluvial gold rich rivers is a gold pan and a shovel. Some lunch, sunscreen, and insect repellent will help make your day more pleasant too!
Understanding the properties of gold will help you when it comes to finding gold in the river. Being able to visually access an area will cut down on the time you spend panning goldless gravel which will give you more chance of finding the big nugget that will make you instantly rich.
Gold has one of the highest specific gravity scores of all minerals, that means that it is heavier than everything else except iridium, osmium, and platinum. Because we don’t have a lot of these minerals in our rivers gold is about six times heavier than most of the other rocks in the river.
How does this help you?
Because gold is so heavy it naturally works its way to the bottom of the riverbed as the water tumbles the gravel downstream. Gold will keep working its way down through the gravel until it reaches the bedrock or hard rock bottom. Some gold will be found nearer the surface (what is known as flood gold) as it has been scoured out in floods and hasn’t managed to work its way down yet. This gold will usually be much finer and lesser in quantity than the gold found on the bedrock. So as a gold prospector you want to be able to find areas where the bedrock is close to the surface of the river – that is to say that there is only a small amount of loose gravel sitting on the bedrock. Often you will find these areas in a gorge or narrow river passage where the sides of the river are solid rock and rise quickly up. Failing that, you should look for large boulders or other obstacles that trap the gold as it is being swept by in a flood.
Once you have learned how to spot these areas, which will come with a little trial and error, or had someone experienced show you how to spot them, then you are ready start panning.
The technique of panning for gold has not changed over the years and the tools have changed very little. Still the most popular gold pan shape is round, although some people have created other shapes claiming greater efficiency, you can not go wrong with a round gold pan. You may want to invest in a light weight plastic gold pan rather than original heavy metal pans. Also, you might choose a pan of a dark colour to help the yellow gold stand out more when you are panning the last part of your concentrate down.
Remember that gold is much heavier than most of the other gravels so by “working” the pan – swirling the gravel and water mixture around – the heavy gold will end up in the bottom of the pan. You then wash the gravel off the top by sloshing water in and out of the pan. Continue to alternate between the working motion and the washing motion.
When you first start panning you will be fearful of the gold washing out with what appear to be big rocks but the fact is that these bigger rocks are much lighter than gold and contain no value.
Once you are down to a small amount of fine sand in the bottom of the pan you should be able to swirl the water around in circles and expose the heavy yellow specks (or large yellow nuggets if you are lucky). Many prospectors will save the concentrate in this form and take it home to extract the gold in relative comfort. This enables them to maximize their time at the river bed.
If you have decided you want to get more serious as a gold prospector there are several options open to you to speed up your gold recovery rate and increase your chances of finding big nuggets.
Alluvial Prospecting Tools
As already noted a shovel (big or small) and a gold pan are the minimum investments required to be able to classify yourself as a gold prospector. However, once bitten by the yellow fever, you may want to kit yourself out with more tools.
A metal detector is one of the tools that big nugget prospectors will consider to be an essential item. A good quality metal detector will allow you to explore the river banks for gold without touching a shovel unless you are confident that there is a supply of gold to be found. Many metal detector operators just search for gold nuggets caught in rock crevices washed up by floods. They do not resort to panning at all. Others will search for gold-rich sand to pan.
The other approach to serious prospecting is to test pan areas until a reasonably rich pocket or bed of sand/gravel is found then to set up a sluice box. A sluice box allows a much larger amount of material to be processed by any one person. The sluice box does all the washing and sorting for you. A gold prospector just has to shovel gravel into the sluice box, and it is washed down and out the sluice leaving the gold caught in traps in the bottom of the sluice box that mimic what is happening in the river bed. Once the prospector has finished for the day he or she can clean out the sluice box traps into a pan and then pan out this highly concentrated gold rich sand (or pop it in a bucket to separate out at home).
Gold Ore Prospecting
This generally requires a license as stated above. So once you are kitted out with the appropriate paperwork and area you are ready to grab your tools and head out to strike it rich.
As a prospector, your goal is usually to find areas suitable for mining, unless you hope to find an accessible reef you can chip away at with smaller tools and machinery. Rather than a miner who goes in with earth moving equipment and/or explosives. Bearing that in mind you need to be particularly smart in your approach.
The first thing you might want to invest in (or visit the library to find) are geological maps. These will give you some indication of where you are likely to find gold bearing ore. You may also study geological maps to figure out where gold rich deposits or lode can be found. These differ from reef mines in that the gold is not embedded in quartz reefs but is found scattered in the surface or subsurface strata. Usually, these gold-rich lode deposits are the result of ancient rivers, or changes in the path of current rivers, or old glacier paths, or seismic/volcanic activities.
The charts and maps will give you a basic idea of where gold may be found, but as all prospectors know “gold is where you find it” so at the end of the day the only way to test your theories is to get out and start digging.
Gold Ore Prospecting Tools
Once again, you can equip yourself with as little as a gold pan, shovel, and probably a pick, to call yourself a gold prospector. But in this kind of terrain, you would be wise to kit yourself out with a few more tools.
There are the safety tools like a GPS receiver, or at least map and compass, and cell phone.
Then once again a good metal detector is often considered an essential piece of equipment. If you purchase a quality detector you can cover much greater areas with the assurance that you are not missing gold, but you are also not spending all day digging up rusty nails or “false alarms.” With a quality metal detector, you have a much greater control over isolating the particular metal that you wish to dig up.
When you have found an area that you want to explore for gold lode it usually requires stripping off the overburden (or top soil) and processing the ground below. As these areas are not usually near water (if they were the gold would be classified alluvial gold) then you need to have a system to process the material. This usually entails either transporting the lode to somewhere with water for processing or bringing water to your mine. Systems that recycle water are the most popular with prospectors in this instance. High bankers are one such tool that you can use with limited water supplies.
If the gold you have found is in a quartz reef then you will need to chip out the gold-bearing ore and crush the gold out of it. Once you have the ore crushed into a dust you need to separate the gold dust from the other ore. This is where another of the characteristics of gold is exploited. Gold is one of the most stable elements occurring on Earth. Scientifically known as a noble metal because it forms very few compounds and does not decay. It will only dissolve in very few solutions – most of which are highly toxic, such as cyanide or mercury. So be sure to do plenty of research before attempting such methods yourself.