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A how-to guide on gold panning

Posted: Sunday, February 04, 2007

Skilled gold panners used 14-inch metal pans, but recreational panners often use 10-inch plastic pans with ridges to help separate material.

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Scoop up half a pan of gravel from a likely spot. Swirl the material around in slow moving water to wash away what doesn't settle out. Sort out the bigger rocks by hand, and keep swirling.

Don't hurry, it's a slow process.

Finally, when nothing is left but fine particles, drain off the water and sort through what's remaining for specks of gold.

Useful tools include a shovel to scoop up dirt and gravel from the riverbed, and spoons and screwdrivers to scrape likely looking material out of crevices.

This time of year, rubber gloves are a must. Tweezers are handy for picking up specks of gold, but some say a dry fingertip works just as well.

And for the optimistic, little glass vials for holding gold are also popular.

The old-time miners used copper gold pans which could be coated with a film of mercury. The mercury would adhere to the copper, and tiny gold flecks that would otherwise be almost impossible to find would attach themselves to the mercury. The mercury could then be squeezed out of the gold.

The process was efficient, but a lot of miners also suffered from mercury poisoning.

The Regulations

Throughout Alaska, there are two sets of mining regulations to be familiar with - state and federal. Pamphlets describing the respective requirements of each can be obtained from mining information offices of the State Division of Mining, Land & Water or the Bureau of Land Management.

Land status is perhaps the most important item confronting the would-be miner or prospector and often the most frustrating. State, Federal, Native, and private land ownership all affect recreational miners, warns the state Department of Natural Resources. Many streams have claims on them and miners can be touchy, even if you're just a recreational panner, the department warns.

In Juneau, the office of Habitat Management & Permitting can tell you how to avoid protected salmon-spawning streams. It is located at 400 Willoughby Ave., 4th Floor, and can be reached at 465-4105.



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