Getting Started

Basics of Gold Prospecting

Places to Search

Once you find a spot that you think has some gold, then you must decide where to look. So, unless you find a treasure map (and we are assuming you did not buy one - see hoaxes), most likely your research will turn up something like the following quote:

"Safford: (1) E. 14 mi on U.S. 70 and 7 mi. N on dirt rd. to Bonita Cr., area upstream from mouth along the Gila R., the Gila River placers (richest deposits within arcs of some curves): a) all stream, bench, and terrance gravels, placers (flake to wire gold); (b) on N side of the Gila R., between Bonita and Spring crs., numerous placers (e.g., the Neel, Smith-Boyls, Hammond-Serna and Colvin); (2) NE, in SW part of Gila Mts., the Lone Star district: (a) the San Juan and Lone Star mines; (b) in mts. to N, the Roper, West, Wickersham, Merrill and other mines, in quartz veins - free gold."

Excerpt taken from: The Gold Hunter's Field Book by Jay Ellis Ransom, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, p. 96 (Note: The Gold Hunter's Field Book has a wealth of information about how and where to find gold. Unfortunately, this is an older book. We recommend Barnes and Noble for finding out of print copies like this one. Click here to go to their site to order The Gold Hunter's Field Book.)

While this information give a general location, it is imperative to understand the nature of gold and natural forces that will effect its location. So, let's start with the properties of gold.

Properties of Gold

Gold is one of the rarer elements on earth, which is one of the reasons why gold is so highly valued. Of the total earth's crust, gold makes up less than 0.000005% of it. In other words, if you were to process 500 tons of dirt (1,000,000 pounds) with that concentration of gold and recovery all the gold (which you can never do), you would end up with 0.9 ounces of gold. Obviously, we want to locate for areas of high concentration like mineral deposits.

Gold is an extremely noble metal. What that means is, gold does not react chemically or electrochemically easily. To dissolve gold takes a solution with a complexing chemical like cyanide, thiourea or chloride and an oxidizing agent like oxygen or nitric acid. Since the conditions necessity to dissolve gold rarely occur in nature, most gold will be found it is native form.

Finally, gold is a very dense material. The specific gravity of gold is 19.3, which means that gold is 19.3 times heavier than an equal volume of water. It is also about 7 times more dense than quartz and 3 times more dense magnetite, a common iron mineral that makes up most of the black sands found in miner's pan (more on that later). Most recreational gold recovery methods utilize this property to seperate gold from the surrounding dirt, (a fancy word for the waste material is "gangue"). The greater density of gold also leads to its concentration in nature as a placer deposit.

Placer Deposit

As recreational gold prospectors/miners, we most frequently focus on placer deposits. Placer is a term applied to deposits of one or more minreals that have accumulated in "quantities of economic importance" through the natural processes of weather and concentration. Obviously as a recreational miner, our level of economic importance is much lower than company who have to turn a profit. Generally, placer deposits form as heavy, robust minerals are freed from the parent rock through erosion and weathering and then are transported, sorted and collected into workable deposits by the action of water.

There are several types of placer deposits. Eluvial deposits are placers that are found close to the parent rock. Thus free gold found in the ground on a hillside below the outcrop of a gold-bearing vein is eluvial. Alluvial deposits are the broad term applied to placers formed by the mechanical action of moving water of streams, lakes, or oceans. There numerous sub-type of alluvial deposits, such as beach placers (placers found on the beach of a lake or ocean), gravel bar placers (placers that have concentrated in a gravel bar of a stream) and bench placers (placers that were once along a stream that now are higher than the existing stream due to erosion or uplifting. One can tell how close the alluvial deposits is to the source vein by the appearance of the gold. As gold is trasported, the flakes become rounded and flat. Therfore, the more angular the gold flakes, the closer the deposit is to the original source. The source, however, may be less concentrated in gold than the actual placer deposit. Most recreational mining involves alluvial deposits along stream beds.

Gold, being heavy, will settle whenever there is an area of slow moving water. Areas that typical concentrate gold are the inside bend of a curve, behind large boulders, etc. For a thorough and easily understood description of where placers form in stream beds, we highly recommend Gold Mining in the 1990's by Dave McCracken. This is an EXCELLENT book that contains a wealth of information, but is hard to obtain. Click on the title to try to order the book from Barnes and Noble. Other general prospecting books are listed on our books page

Simple Prospecting Techniques

Crevice Mining

When first starting, crevice mining offers an easy and inexpensive way to get started. As explained above, gold is heavy. It finds its way into the nooks and crannies of the bedrock. Therefore, these are good places to look. To mine crevices you will need:
1) long tablespoon
2) long teaspoon
3) old flathead screwdriver with the tip bent at a ninety degree angle 2" to 3" from the end
4) tweezers - to pick out the gold flakes and nuggets
5) wide mouth plastic jar or bottle - to put gold in
6) small magnet - to separate gold from black sands
7) small shovel - I prefer a folding army style shovel which can act as a pick or shovel
8) small hand pick
9) garden trowel
10) flashlight
11) small metal bucket - to carry tools to the site, to sit on if need be, to carry rock to nearby stream
12) gold pan

Find a crevice in area you think has gold. For ideas on locations go to where the gold is. Dig out the crevice using your small shovel, trowel, and spoons. You may need to loose the dirt or enlarge the crevice with the bent screwdriver or hand pick. REMEMBER, gold is heavy and likes to gravitate to the bottom of the crevice, so don't give up too easily. Place all of the extracted material (rocks, plants, clay, etc) in your pan or bucket and carry it to the nearest stream. Now, you are ready to pan for gold!


Here are two sites with very thorough explanations of panning along with images to show you how to do it. Gold Panning for Begineers and How to Pan

DocCopper's Gold Prospecting Pages

DocCopper's Gold Prospecting
  Where the gold is
  Gold Locations East of the Rockies
  Getting started - Gold Prospecting Basics
  Advanced methods of gold recovery
  Gold from Black Sands
  Leaching of Gold
  Beware the hoaxes
  Beyond Prospecting
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