When I was back in Ontario I paid a visit to the local Ministry of Natural Resources office in Tweed Ontario and had a chat with the geologist there for a while. He told me he was happy to have a knowledgeable person come and ask so many questions and with a little coaxing explained himself. Apparently the influence of placer gold mining television shows has taken hold of the general public and the most frequent question he had been asked recently was where the best place was to go pan for gold. This demonstrates a basic lack of understanding about the nature of gold mining for Hastings County in Ontario has some famous gold deposits however they are for the most part firmly entrenched in the hard rock largely associated with quarts veining systems. Ontario is just not a likely province to go gold panning.
There is basically two kinds of gold mining claims, mineral and placer.
Placer: In my mind the benefit of placer mining is that any dummy could conceivably hit the pay streak. Placer mining largely involves the sifting of gravels (sometimes called quarternary colluvium=QC) which have been deposited by glaciers. In order to have a placer claim you would need to be in an area recognized as placer rich and is set aside by the government for such mining techniques. You don’t have to be a geologist to strike it lucky although research and an understanding of where old stream and gravel beds might be could help you. But all the same, if you dig up enough gravel and spend enough money your gamble of finding enough gold to make your operation profitable is at least a possibility. You could lease a placer claim yet the bed rock below it is considered available to those who might have the mineral claim for it.
To mine a mineral claim for gold would take a lot of extensive work to prove that the resources exist. This is not something that the poor in spirit or money should consider. I work on a hard rock gold claim myself. The beauty of a hard rock claim with a known gold deposit is that you stand on the potential source for the placer/gravel gold. For whatever reason that gold has been wearing down with the mountain, pulled out of the ground by moving water and deposited in the creek gravels or was deposited in the local gravels when the glaciers smashed the mountains and moved millions of tons of overburden around.
Step one for hobby gold panning is to make sure you are in a place that actually has gold in the gravels. In Ontario’s case this is not a common occurrence whereas here in Barkerville British Columbia people have continued to find gold for 150 years. Knowing the production history of the place you wish to pan in may help put you in a better location. In the case of Barkerville we now know that the source for a lot of the gold that made it to the valleys is in the mountains directly surrounding the valley. In Dawson City Yukon the source for the placer gold was unknown until recently where it now seems that a company has located hard rock gold with a similar signature.
It may sound redundant to say that it would help to know what the production history of a region was, however I have seen people panning for gold in places where I knew for a fact the mineralized trend did not continue, nor did the glaciers move the gravels from the source gold to the location being panned. To make myself clear as possible I will just say there is a reason no one has mined gold in the main range of the Cariboo Mountains and that’s because prospectors found NOTHING there.
Step two involves going for the gold. Once you find yourself in the right location it will now be up to you to use some brain power. If the source for the gold coming into the creek is somewhere in the valley that creek runs through you may be likely to find gold regardless of how many times people have combed the creek. In such locations the high water results in the probability that fresh gold will wash into the stream. So spring has passed and the water levels have come down and now you are able to start seeing gravel deposits in the creek beds, it’s time to start exploring.
The first thing you might want to do is start at the bottom of the creek, or perhaps in a place where the creek levels out and perhaps widens out. Down here you may find flecks and flakes of gold that has been carried down stream, larger nuggets (if they exist in the creek) will not have made it this far because they are two heavy. This is the beauty of panning is that the heavier gold should stay in your pan, sluice or rocker and the creeks behave much the same way. If you start looking at the gravels that pile up behind boulders in the creek or in major bends in the river you stand a chance to find some flakes of gold. Another good sign would be if you find other heavy minerals often associated with gold such as magnetite (black sand). If the black sand could land there you may be in a location where flecks of gold have also come to rest, the hardest part may be separating the magnetic black sand from the flecks of gold without a fancy wash table. Just keep that black sand in a big jar for a day you are poor, the tiny specks of gold in there may feed you when shit hits the fan.
If you find flakes of gold down there it might stand to reason that there are larger nuggets higher up in the creek bed so you start to work your way up hoping to find the place where the largest nuggets have come to rest. It’s not rocket science, a lot of dummies have made themselves money this way and nearly as many blew it all on ladies and strong drink.
Once you decide you want to get a free miners license and work a claim of your own you will probably need to move away from the creeks due to environmental regulations, research the work history of the claim and decide which way to proceed. In some case hydraulic mining washed huge sections of the mountain gravel out, yet using this technique much of the smaller gold escaped and is still out there somewhere. Maybe you will learn about an old stream bed that used to exist and start to excavate it. Maybe you will see old claim posts from the 1800’s and realize that no one mined the right of way between them.
There are places for an amateur gold seeker to go panning that do not require a free miner’s or prospecting license, the Cottonwood River between Barkerville and Quesnel is a good example of a place you can take your children panning without having to worry about being shot at by some agitated gold miner. Do not to trespass on claims that are being actively worked. However many holders of gold claims know full well they can’t work their machines in the big creeks and that you will never find enough in one day of panning ground that’s been worked in the past to threaten their operations. It never hurts to ask them permission, if they say no, they say no. If the claim is not being actively worked there’s a good chance no one will say anything if you are in the creek up to your knees panning.
That might change if you get a gas powered sluice or some sort of rocker. It’s best to not be seen with that kind of equipment. If you want to learn the techniques of panning you can learn about that on you tube. But if you are in the Cariboo why not take a trip out to Barkerville, go to the Eldorado, get a panning lesson and maybe even find a fleck of gold there yourself as many people have done in the past. It’s gold panning, not rocket science. If you want good locations all the information is available already, you just have to learn to manipulate the internet to find it.