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Ultimate Beginner’s Guide: How To Start Gold Prospecting

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There are many ways to find gold, from panning in rivers to using high-tech tools to help you find gold. In addition, prospecting gold mining is prevalent today and can be enjoyed by everyone. In this ultimate guide for beginners, we will help you get a good start on your journey. 

Although the gold rushes of the nineteenth century seem to be long gone, there are still many places where this precious metal can be found using shovels, pans, metal detectors, and other similar devices. Starting your gold prospecting journey depends on your seriousness and knowledge.

So if you are interested in gold prospecting, continue reading as we will talk about everything you need to know to get started. In the sections below, we delve deeper (pun intended) into how you can begin prospecting and some tips to get started.  

How To Start Gold Prospecting
How To Start Gold Prospecting

Can You Still Prospect For Gold

People still pan for gold, but it’s become a hobby in recent decades. Experts on the occurrence of gold and the development of gold mining districts agree that methodical examination of already productive areas, rather than the exploration of previously unexplored regions, offers the best chance of finding the precious metal.

Unfortunately, despite a dramatic increase in prospecting activity during the 1930s Great Depression, there has been no spectacular success. 

How Does Gold Prospecting Work?

Though experts believe that systematic studies of historically productive areas offer the best chance of finding gold, new and low-cost gold detection methods have increased the likelihood of discovering gold deposits previously undetectable by gold pan prospectors.

What Techniques Are Used To Find Gold

To obtain gold, miners must first extract the precious metal and its ore from the ground. Unfortunately, there is no easy method for extracting gold from the earth; instead, there are several methods that you can try. Here are the most common ways to find and harvest gold:

Panning For Gold

While gold panning is the quickest and easiest way to find precious metal, extracting gold from large deposits is not cost-effective unless labor costs are meager or gold traces are extensive.

Panning for gold is a manual process to separate gold from other substances. It entails placing gold-containing sand and gravel in a pan and washing the dirt with water. 

The gold gets extracted from the gravel and other materials by shaking and swirling the pan with water. This method works well because gold is much heavier than sand and quickly settles to the bottom of the pan.

The best panning material (pay dirt) can get found in stream beds near an inside bend or on a stream’s bedrock shelf. 

Placer Gold Mining

Placer mining is where you extract gold from areas where sand and gravel were displaced through erosion.

Because most placer deposits are composed of granular or sandy material, tunneling is impractical, and most placer mining techniques involve a lot of water by sluicing or dredging.

Dredge Gold Mining

Although suction dredges have been rendered mainly obsolete by more modern methods, small-scale miners continue to use them for some dredging needs. These tasks get completed with just one or two people and a small floating device.

A suction dredge comprises a pontoon-supported sluice box, a suction hose connected to the sluice box, and a miner operating the dredge from beneath the water’s surface.

Many states in the United States impose seasonal periods and area closures in their dredging permits for gold dredging areas to prevent conflicts between dredgers and the time of year when fish populations spawn. 

In some states, such as Montana, obtaining a permit requires a lengthy process that includes receiving approval from the federal government.

For example, the County Water Quality Control Boards in the United States of America. As a result, the Corps of Engineers and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are involved in this governance.

Mining Hard Rock Veins

Hard rock gold mining is the primary method of extracting gold worldwide. Instead of finding gold dust, this method focuses on the actual gold-containing rock.

After mining underground, the ore is brought to the surface by tunnels or shafts in some gold mines. However, most prospectors will not engage in hard rock mining since it requires significant investment in specialized equipment.

Sluicing For Gold

Gold prospecting and small-scale mining have long utilized sluice boxes to process placer deposits. The container is positioned in the waterway to alter the flow of water. Gold gets stored in the highest possible position within the container.

The volt is the region where gold and other dense materials settle behind the riffles, and the current transport the material. The less-dense material gets discharged from the box as tailings.

More significant commercial placer mining operations use screening plants to remove more extensive sedimentary materials such as rocks and gravel before concentrating the remaining material in a sluice box or gold jig and mineral plant.

Frequently, oversize diesel-powered excavators and bulldozers remove paydirt from designated claims and truck it to the jig plant.

TIP: The gold sluice box is a time-saving alternative to the traditional panning for gold. Check out simple and useful tips on how to use it in the article below:
Find More Gold: Tips On How To Use Sluice Box Properly

How To Start Gold Prospecting 

As a result of technological advancements, there are now a wide variety of tools available for recreational gold prospecting. More than a few regions have also been set aside for the ambitious prospector’s search for gold.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in searching for gold in a national park or other public or government land, you should contact the Bureau of Land Management to learn more about claims and prospecting rights.

Where Is Gold Most Likely To Be Found

You will always find gold in its pure, unprocessed form. From flakes of gold to large nuggets, it comes in all sizes. The best places to find gold are deep vein mining and placer deposits. Knowing the geological setting and the types of gold-bearing minerals like sylvanite and calaverite can help search for gold. 

In addition, quartz veins and the gravel of placer streams are shared locations where gold is uncovered. However, most gold is found in low concentrations and combined with other elements.

Consequently, experienced gold prospectors rarely search for gold, preferring to locate gold-bearing rocks and rock formations first and then go for gold. 

South Africa, the United States (specifically Nevada and Alaska), Russia, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are the other countries that mine it.

Quartz is a strong indicator of being in a gold-bearing region, increasing the likelihood of gold discovery there. Quartz can be found in river beds as small stones and large seams on the sides of mountains. In addition, quartz’s inherent whiteness makes it easily distinguishable in various settings.

Smaller pieces of gold and other materials are swept away by water and other forces and deposited in the beds of creeks, rivers, and other depressions as erosion continues. Gold tends to settle at the bottom of these deposits due to its relative weight to other elements.

What Are The Signs Of Gold In The Ground

Gold can be discovered in various environments, and indicators that work well in one setting might not be in another. Vein quartz, for instance, can be an excellent indicator of the presence of rare minerals in the ground in specific locations.

However, in some areas, there may be good gold but no vein quartz at all, while in others, there may be so much vein quartz that it is meaningless as an indicator.

The segment below gives a quick overview of some of the more common geologic indicators to look for; these will be useful in many situations, but not all.

  • Tiny quartz vein accumulations can sometimes indicate mineralization. 
  • As demonstrated by gossans and iron staining, not all veins yield a great deal of quartz. Both calcite and sulfides can create veins that contain gold. After exposure to the environment, pyrites in calcite and sulfides commonly oxidize, leaving iron-stained patches.
  • The presence of acidic mineral solutions can lighten the color of the rock in many places so keep an eye out for mismatching coloration. 
  • Understanding topography and geology will help you find suitable places where gold will most likely be. 
  • Black sand that is rich in iron is a good indicator of gold.

Where Do I Start Panning For Gold

Most family legends and old wives’ tales contain some truth passed down through the generations. That is true whether there is a designated family area, if you have heard stories about a particular stream, or if you trust your instincts. You can bet that all the rivers and creeks were tested and panned before when the gold rush was at its peak. 

Think again if you believe there is no more gold to be found somewhere because it has previously been panned over. Rivers and streams constantly carry upstream flakes and nuggets downstream when winter storms expose more gold, and you have the opportunity to claim it. 

Find places where the river bends or drops from a high point. If you can manage it, you could try to remove more significant boulders and check underneath them since most prospectors will go for the easy finds and move on. 

TIP: You need to know something about how gold deposits occur to understand which rocks to look for when prospecting. Find out more in the article below:
5 Rocks You Need To Look For When Gold Prospecting (+ Why)

What Tools Do I Need To Find Gold

What Tools Do I Need To Find Gold
What Tools Do I Need To Find Gold

You won’t usually find gold if you walk down a path just looking around, hoping to find it. Instead, you’ll have to go out and find gold using magnetometers and metal detectors.

On the other hand, suppose you intend to spend a lot of time prospecting. In that case, a gold metal detector is an excellent investment because it allows you to start discovering incredible artifacts and gold quickly and easily. 

Even though there is a lot of garbage in the world, some valuable metals can get hidden among them. Therefore, before you embark on your treasure hunt, here are a few tools that will help:

Gold Metal Detectors

Instead of manually sorting through soil and sand with a gold pan or filter, you can use a gold metal detector. You might get surprising results by using a metal detector in a lake, stream, or dry land.

These are expensive items necessary for a thriving gold or relic hunt if you intend to prospect extensively. However, you should invest in one to maximize your prospecting efforts.

TIP: If you are looking for the best gold metal detector I recommend checking out Bounty Hunter TK4 Tracker (Amazon link).

A Big 5-Gallon Bucket

Many have underestimated the value of having a 5-gallon bucket on hand to carry precious dirt from the side of a river to where the stream speed is better to pan or sluice. 

An Assortment Of Digging Tools

The first digging tool should be a shovel. You will need it to excavate dirt and rock from the river bed and place it in a bucket to the pan later.

The second tool could be a smaller shovel to transfer the ground from the bucket to the pan or sluice. We also advise getting a tool like a large screwdriver to pick dirt and sand between the rock crevices. 

TIP: If you are looking for the classic and smaller shovel I recommend checking out this classic shovel and this smaller shovel (Amazon links).

A Strainer/Filter For Debris

When prospecting in sandy or gravelly areas, a filter must sift through the material and remove larger rocks that may obscure valuable materials. The strainer, also called a classifier or sieve, helps you separate debris and larger pebbles, making your panning easier.

An Optional Sluice

A small portable sluice is a great way to quickly work through a large amount of dirt. In addition, it helps to classify the dirt into better concentrate further to pan easier. 

TIP: If you are looking for the best sluice box I recommend checking out Stansport Aluminum Sluice Box (Amazon link).

A Gold Pan

Pans have been used to search for gold for decades, if not centuries. This manual process necessitates using a small, lightweight pan designed explicitly for sifting through the earth in search of valuable rocks and metals.

You’ll need at least a gold pan to start in gold prospecting. Some people still believe in this ancient tool rather than using cutting-edge devices such as metal detectors.

TIP: If you are looking for the best gold pan I recommend checking out Stansport Deluxe Gold Pan (Amazon link).

A Snuffer Bottle To Collect The Gold

Picking the gold with your fingers or a tweezer can quickly become tedious. So instead, you can easily suck up the gold from the pan by using a sniffer bottle. It also doubles as a container to carry the gold home. Alternatively, transfer it to a glass vile.

TIP: If you are looking for the best snuffer bottle for gold panning I recommend checking out Stansport Snuffer Bottle (Amazon link).

Gold Prospecting Tips For Beginners

It can be a bit scary when you start gold prospecting for the first time, so we created this section specifically to help new gold prospectors. 

Starting With The Bare Minimum

A common problem with people who get into gold prospecting is that they think they will succeed if they buy all the best equipment, but this isn’t the case for most people.

So, try starting with the bare minimum and work your way up if necessary. Also, buying used equipment will help you get into profit faster.

Learning The Geology Of Your Area

You can find natural indicators in the most prominent mining areas, although they vary depending on location. Therefore, it is essential to learn the indicators of your specific area to help you find gold.

Finding gold is not easy, but you may increase your chances by studying which rocks could contain gold and which do not.

Look Online For Places To Mine

You can look for potential mining sites on the internet. Finding previous mining spots necessitated a trip to the library to examine dusty reference books and study dusty maps twenty years ago.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Thanks to cyberspace, it is now possible to access the information you need to find a good mining spot without ever leaving the comfort of your home.

Google Earth is an excellent tool to utilize if you’re seeking abandoned mines or other sites to go on a ground adventure.

Using the satellite image layer, check for signs of mining in the region to locate placer mining creeks, dredge tailing piles, hydraulic mine pits, abandoned mining shacks, and other features.

Finding Gold In Areas Other Than The Well-Known Locations

Hiking and getting away from popular mining locations are unquestionably the worst way to uncover new gold spots. The chances are slim, and you will need a good metal detector to find any gold. 


Finding gold is now more of a hobby than a profession, and gold prospecting has evolved dramatically over the centuries. There are various ways to gold prospecting, and your method should reflect the seriousness with which you approach the venture.

TIP: Not impossible, but it is rare to find gold in your backyard. Check out the best tips on how to find gold in your backyard in the article below:
Guide: PRO Tips On How to Find MORE Gold in Your Backyard