When gold nuggets were discovered in the Sacramento Valley in California in 1848, the "Gold Rush" was underway, and the hobby of gold prospecting was born. Over the next few years, more than $2 billion was extracted from the area by miners who traveled by land and sea in the hopes of striking it rich and changing their lives. Mortgaging their houses, selling all their possessions, and sometimes leaving their families behind in search of fortune, these miners later became known as the "49ers." With so many people flooding the area with picks and shovels in hand, the surface gold quickly became harder and harder to find, as most of it was already discovered. This resulted in more high-tech gold prospecting techniques, including hydraulic mining. While this technique made unearthing deeper gold easier and was extremely lucrative, it also damaged the surrounding landscape. Reaching its peak in 1852, the Gold Rush slowly faded away as gold became more scarce and evasive. During the California Gold Rush period, more than 750,000 pounds of gold was extracted from the earth! Today, gold prospecting is considered mainly a hobby for those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Does gold prospecting interest you? Read more about it below.
Where Has Gold Been Found in the Past?
Although most people think of California and Alaska when they hear the terms "gold rush" or "gold prospecting," more than 20 other states have reported gold production! The United States is full of hopeful gold prospectors. It has been more heavily prospected for gold than most other nations. It can almost be guaranteed that every stream in the United States has been panned for gold at least once. In the most famous gold locations, much of the sediment has been through gold pans, sluices, or dredges multiple times. States that have reported gold production include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
Where Can You Legally Prospect?
All laws and regulations must be followed by anyone who is prospecting for gold. If you desire to prospect on privately owned land, you must obtain permission from the land owner beforehand. This can be a time-consuming and difficult task, but it's one that must be done.
To determine where you can legally prospect for gold on public land, contact a Bureau of Land Management office near where you want to look. Since the agency is responsible for 700 million acres of mineral estate lands, a lot of commercial and recreational prospecting takes place on BLM lands. Most of this land is located in the western United States, as seen on the map above.
A placer deposit is a concentration of a natural material that has accumulated in unconsolidated sediments of a stream bed, beach, or residual deposit. In addition, its characteristically sun-yellow color makes it easily and quickly recognizable even in very small quantities.
Lode gold is very difficult to uncover unless you can invest a lot of money in prospecting. Lode gold occurs within the solid rock in which it was deposited. Areas likely to contain valuable lode deposits of gold have been explored so thoroughly that unless you're a professional gold prospector with heavy-duty equipment, your chances of unearthing it are slim to none.
Steps for the Beginner Prospector
Once you have determined where you will prospect for gold, there are a couple ways to go about trying to unearth this sought-after metal.
The first step is to purchase a gold pan. This large, shallow dish is usually dark in color to help you easily pick out the gold. Head to an area known to be rich with gold to increase your chances of success. Using your gold pan, scoop sediment from a shallow riverbed. If you've ever watched a show on gold prospecting, then you've noticed that there is a certain technique for separating the gold from the sediment. This involves a gentle swirling motion of the sediment and water in the pan. Since gold is heavier than sediment, it will sink to the bottom of your pan.
Using a Metal Detector:
If you choose to use a metal detector when gold prospecting, invest in one that is specifically designed to locate gold. Basic metal detectors will only frustrate you and waste your time by alerting you to rusty nails and other worthless metal objects. Metal detectors work by generating an electromagnetic field that is altered when it detects a metal in the earth and it alerts the user with a signal. Consider either the Fisher Gold Bug Metal Detector or the Garrett AT Gold Waterproof Metal Detector.
Basic Gold Prospecting Equipment
Before you head out on your gold prospecting journey, make sure you have some basic gold prospecting equipment. Here’s a brief list of what you will need:
- Protective clothing and footwear
- Plenty of clean drinking water
- Gold prospecting pan
- Quality metal detector
- Two spades (one large and one small)
- A mobile phone with coverage (or a radio communication)
- A map of your area
- A reliable compass
- Gold prospecting license (for the state you are in)