Beginner Guide to Gold Prospecting

Beginner Guide to Gold Prospecting

For those of us with even the slightest inkling of gold prospecting in our blood, we know there is no shortage of information out in the world on how to do it. Regardless of our individual experience on mining for gold, we all face the same conundrum on what to do with all the information and science that we come across. You can scour old textbooks and new web stories and you will find there are certain eternal truths of gold.

First and foremost, gold is heavy, really heavy. The bulk of gold that formed with the Earth in the early days of the solar system fell towards the core and mantel because it is simply heavier than most every other natural element. The only reason we find it on the surface is due to the internal movements of the planet and later asteroids that crashed into the planet carrying an abundance of elements. Many large gold strikes in the past have been attributed to these past violent collisions with gold inundated rocks from space.

Whether the gold was brought up in quartz created by magma or smashed into the world by an asteroid, it is found by the average prospector thanks to simple everyday weathering and erosion. Most of us start our gold searches with the common placer mining, that is searching alluvial deposits for evidence of valuable ores, gemstones, and minerals. Our planet has done the hard work of carving out rocks and sediments with glaciers and streams, taking millions of years, and we all get the simple job of reading the clues to find the best potential deposits of gold!

Ok, so it’s not simple, of course not. Because we are not just looking for streams, but signs of ancient rivers and other erosion to know where to look.  We also need to pay close attention to the flow of the river or stream. Any area where the water slows down, is going to be a great section to look for gold in. Remember, it is heavy, so the second that force of the water is no longer acting upon it, the gold will sink and sit… just waiting to be found. And while the specific science of placer deposits and stream reading can be very intense, some old fashioned common sense will help you pinpoint the places to start your panning, sluicing, dredging, and more.

Some of these signs are not always present the first time we check a stream out, after all a heavy spring rain will give us a different view of the water movement than a slow summer flow. However, the easier we can access the riverbed, the better our chances will be. At the moment many sites around the world are experiencing record level droughts, California being at its worst in many years. While this is harmful to agriculture, the economy, and the public health, it is a moment to be seized upon by the gold prospector. With rivers at their lowest we can step in and look for all the signs that others may have missed in previous years!

During these times it is easier to find the gradient of a stream and where more potential underwater obstructions may be. Its not easy to just look at a river and know where the current flows fast and slow, yes certain bends and curves show the water slowing, but there are many other factors that may be causing the heavy gold to drop off into cracks and crevices. Like many things in life and mother nature, gold is always looking for the easiest path and the least resistance. It will always fall closer to the inside of a river bend, and of course over years of erosion the shape of a river can change, leaving multiple points of where gold may have once settled. With the river low we can spot these signs much easier.

And with less water to contend with, we simply have a better chance at finding the gold that the stream has dropped. Places that were once to deep to dredge may now have much better access thanks to the recent weather phenomenon. The water being lower than normal will allow us to find more instances of bedrock, and that is where we have a higher probability of finding gold. Once the gold hits a position in the river where it can no longer sink any further, it will stay there until massive continental movement, or being found by the lucky prospector.

One of the biggest problems we face as gold prospectors happens to be the fact that much of the US has been searched thoroughly for gold. It doesn’t mean we can’t find any these days, it just implies that we have to use our knowledge and detective skills a little more to increase our chances. You can also improve your chances by getting one of the metal detectors we recommend for beginners.   The drought out west in some places is the worst on record for a very long time, long enough to mean that we can find spots that may have missed the scrutiny of past miners. There is still plenty of gold left to be found by the average prospector and hobbyist, we just have to watch for the right signs!