Because gold is heavier than most sediments and gravel in a stream, it and other heavy
minerals called “black sands” (including pyrite, magnetite, ilmenite, chromite, and
garnet) can be collected in a gold pan when the right panning techniques are used.
First, get a gold pan from a hardware or department store or a store that specialized in
mining equipment. Gold pans are flat bottomed, usually about 2 or 3 inches deep, with
the sides sloping at an angle of about 45º, and should be at least 15 inches in diameter.
Take your pan to a likely looking location along a stream in a known gold-bearing area.
You are looking for a gold trap – a place along the stream where the current slows down
enough for the gold to settle out. Good possibilities are the insides of curves of streams
(called point bars), areas where streams have overflowed, and on the downstream sides of
boulders or other obstructions in the water.
Once you find a good place, follow these steps for panning for gold:
1. Fill the pan about half or two-thirds full of soil, gravel, and small rocks from the
2. Put the pan under water, break up lumps of clay, and discard the stones.
3. Still holding the pan level under water with your hands on opposite sides of it, rotate it
halfway back and forth rapidly to wash out the clay and concentrate the heavy material at
the bottom of the pan.
4. Still holding the pan under water, tilt the pan forward, away from your body, and down
slightly. Rotate and shake it to let the light gravel and sand dribble out the front. Push top
material and large chunks of rock out with your thumbs.
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 several times until a deposit of fine-grained dark material overlain
by a smaller layer of light material remains at the bottom of the pan.
5. Take the pan with the residue and some water out of the stream. Rotate the pan in a
circular motion, and watch carefully what is happening. The water is separating lighter
from heavier material-and gold, if it is present and you are doing the panning properly, is
lagging behind the other material at the bottom of the pan.
6. Stop the rotation. If you are lucky, you will see a few flecks of gold in the dark
material that remains in the bottom of the pan. Carefully drain out water and let the black
sand and gold dry. Lift out most of the black sand with a magnet, and separate that gold
from the remainder of the sediment with tweezers.
All the shiny gold-colored material in you gold pan may not be gold.
Pyrite, known as “fools gold,” has fooled many before you. On close examination, however, pyrite does not really look like gold. Pyrite has a brassy color, is sometimes tarnished, and, because it occurs as crystals, changes shades as you rotate it in the sun. Gold is always gold colored, soft, and malleable or bendable.
If you see gold-colored flecks that either float on the water or are so light in weight that
they easily wash out of the pan, you probably have small pieces or “books” of mica, a
mineral that because it is transparent and heat resistant was once used in doors of stoves
so the fire could be seen. Mica has a tendency to break apart into flat sheets. It comes in
several colors, and the the gold-colored variety is sometimes mistaken for gold by
inexperiences gold panners.
If you are lucky enough to find gold in your pan, it can come in many shapes: small
lumps or nuggets, wires, feather-shaped crystals, or flat flecks. Pieces can range in size
from almost microscopic “colors” (very small pieces) up to fist-sized nuggets, but your
chances of finding the latter are pretty remote. However, gold panners are optimistic, and
you never know what the next pan will produce.