Dry panning

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From the Canadian Rockhound, August 1978

I became interested in learning to dry pan for heavy mineral elements, such as gold, after reading an article about Australian prospectors.

According to the article, the lack of water in many parts of Australia, makes dry panning the only feasible way to check beds for the precious yellow metal.

Therefore I resolved to teach myself to dry pan, in spite of the fact that it would seem ridiculous that anyone living on the west coast of British Columbia, should worry about not finding enough water to pan for gold in the conventional way.

So I decided to experiment with my gold pan, on the off-chance, that I would one day be in an arid area near a promising looking creek bed.

To prepare for this, when I next went panning for fold on the Frazer River near Hope, I saved all the black sand (magnetite), after extracting the gold flakes.

When I arrived home, I dried the black sand and placed it in a jar, preparation for the experiment.

Then early one Sunday morning, I decided to try my hand at dry panning; sneaking out of the house to the end of the garden, with the jar of black sand and my gold pan.

Glancing round to make sure I wasn’t being observed, I scooped up a pan full of sand and rocks left over from a concreting job, then poured the contents of the jar on top.

Slowly I proceeded to swirl the mass around in the pan, removing any rocks that appeared on top.

When I figured that all the black sand had found its way to the bottom of the aggregate, I then started to tilt the pan, letting the lighter materials slop? over the edge, as I swirled.

If a wind had been blowing, I would have propelled the contents into the air, a few inches above the edge of the pan; this would have removed most of the fine sand particles.

But a wind wasn’t blowing, so I had to be satisfied with eliminating most of it over the edge of the pan.

About this time, I began to hear voices and laughter nearby, so halting my labours I glanced up to find that several of my neighbours were leaning over the back fence watching me; they must have been there for several minutes.

The ensuing conversation went something like this.

He #1. “What are you doing?”

Me. “I’m panning”

He #1: “Have you found any gold yet?”

Me. “No”.

He #1. “Why don’t you try drilling for oil? ... You’ll have as much change striking oil as finding gold in your garden!”

He #2. “You’d better watch out for the men in the white coats with the butterfly nets.

He #3. “Be careful, the squirrels will get you!”

With these parting remarks, me neighbours left shaking their heads.

I then retreated unabashed to the water tap at the side of my house, to see if I could locate any black sand in the small quantity of material left in the bottom of the pan.

The addition of the water revealed about half of the black sand that I’d poured on top of the aggregate, was still in the pan.

So I felt that my experiment was a success and I was very happy, in spite of my neighbour’s comments.

My advice to anyone contemplating dry panning is to do exactly as I did to prove that it works. Then when out in the field, the addition of a bottle of water to the diminished contents of the dry pan, would help to locate any gold.

Remember, gold is almost four times heavier than black sand (magnetite) so it should be easier to pan.