Gold Prospectors Magazine - January/February 2023
Prospecting in the OffSeason
Jess Wilkinson 2022-12-28 10:20:36
Don’t hibernate this winter… you’re a prospector, not a bear! Winter weather might force your indoor retreat from the elements, but it’s not the time to hang up your gear and put your prospecting on hold. On the contrary, winter is the perfect season for improving your prospecting game — so it’s time to get prepared.
For those that don’t know me, my name is Jess Wilkinson, aka Prospector Jess. I’ve been a gold prospector most of my life, embracing my passion for rocks, minerals and gold, eventually pursuing geology alongside my broad engineering science degree and making it my career. I’ve dedicated the last 12 years to sharing my knowledge and experience with fellow prospectors all over the world via YouTube, social media, and podcasts. Using a few scientific principles and some commonsense methods, I’ve been very successful finding gold and I’m here to tell you that you can too — so let’s get into it!
Whether you’re off-season or off-site, take advantage of the time that winter affords you and use it wisely to improve your future prospecting season. Research your sites, learn new techniques, sharpen your recovery skills, make improvements/ repairs to your equipment, dig deeper into the geology of your area, collaborate with other prospectors, and compile everything into next season’s prospecting plan.
Now you’re probably asking, “Why would I do all this work in the off-season, Jess?” Two words: Gold recovery! As with any hobby, sport, skill, or trade, your input determines your output, and prospecting is no different. In this article I’m going to discuss five specific areas of prospecting that I’ve found to have a significant impact in your gold recovery. If you focus on these skill areas and improve them by as little as 10 to 15%, you’re going find huge result for your small efforts.
Find more gold during the off-season by focusing on these skill areas
1)Tools and Techniques
2)Collaborate with other Prospectors
3)Site Selection & Research
4)Gold Prospecting Knowledge, Geology, Hydrology, Rocks, and Minerals
5)Prospecting & Mining Plans
This improvement plan works in a systematic way by stacking five easily connected focus areas to grow your gold recovery ability exponentially. Deploy all five of these actions this winter, and by next spring you will stand a much better chance of having a great season finding gold.
Look at it this way, if all five areas of skill-building improve your gold finds by 15%, that gives 15% improvement multiplied for each skill-area five times over. That improvement compounding result is 1.15 to the 5th power, or 201% more gold recovered!
If you were also to pick two of these skill-areas, like “#1 Tools & Techniques” and “#3 Site Research Maps & History,” and increase those two percentage improvements from 15% to 50%, the results can grow to 342% more gold!
Of course, your mileage may vary, but these actions stack the gold finding odds more in your favor.
If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you got (unless things at your gold site change). Even experienced prospectors can benefit from changing up their game in the off-season.
The accompanying graph shows exponential improvement curve for five areas at 15% gives compound improvement results.
And at 10-15% per area that’s a mild improvement. Imagine what you could do if you took one of these areas and became 2x better at it, because it happens to coincide with the type of gold deposit you’re looking for and the gear you are using. Now that you have a site selected that has a particular type of gold, and you’re using a particular type of equipment when you tune for that equipment, that improvement action gets exponentially more gold. Get the picture?
Skill Area 1: Tools and Techniques
How can you improve your gold finding results with improved tools and techniques?
All we’re looking for here is a 10% to 15% boost from this skill area. That’s not so big a deal, is it? Tool use is one area where you can improve your gold recovery even more than that!
Let’s chat about panning. Your gold pan is your first, most basic and most crucial tool in prospecting — as are your panning skills. Before using any other major gold recovery techniques or tools, your gold pan allows you to sample material, and then help you understand what that sample is telling you about gold there.
One simple way to improve the gold recovery while panning is to learn to pan faster while retaining all your gold in the pan. A common problem many prospectors have is that they’re afraid of going too fast with a pan. They’re afraid of losing the gold because they’re inexperienced with how gold behaves when panning. Fear of gold loss while panning is a real energy and gold recovery problem. The best way to overcome that fear is to practice holding the pan correctly while performing the right gold separating motions quickly. With a little practice, you can move very fast through material and still recover all that gold, making your panning game much more efficient. Who doesn’t want twice as much gold in half the time?
The best way I know to improve panning recovery is to learn to speed pan. It’s pretty straightforward, start by panning a handful of steel BBs or flattened lead split shot, some mud and gravel into a wide tub of water. Pan them, then count the BBs recovered and record the time your recovery of the BBs took. Repeat the cycle, working your panning time down while keeping all those BBs in your pan. This way you can quickly discover just where your gold panning performance challenges are and perfect them over time. After all, time is gold when you are out prospecting — don’t squander it with inefficient panning techniques. Step up this improvement process by panning a bag of pay dirt over and over into a safety pan. Look at the fine and coarse recovery you get while checking for missed gold in your safety pan.
Another tool and technique where that slight 10 to 15% improvement can make a huge difference in your recovery is in your sluice box. While working with one of my prospecting students, I recognized the often overlooked but crucial step of tuning the sluice box. If you’re running fine gold-bearing material through the sluice box too fast, you’re likely pushing the gold right out the back end of your sluice, and poof, it’s gone!
When recovering fine gold, take a moment before you begin to reduce the angle on the sluice and feed material slower, so that your material moves in a way that allows the flour gold to settle in the riffles without the sand or gravel covering them. Water friction is what drives gold.
Because gold exists in different shapes, sizes, and weights, it doesn’t all settle into riffles the same way or at the same pace. The heavier the gold, the quicker it settles, but fine flour gold weighs the least and has the most surface area for its weight. That increased area to weight means more proportional friction force on the gold due to water speed. That in turn means you’ll need a shallower angle to slow the water flow to allow your fine gold to make its way to the bottom of the riffles. Coarser gold, however, needs the sluice to move the heavy material out of the box to prevent clogged riffles, so a faster water flow and steeper slope angle is needed.
Moving on to all the metal detectorists out there, what are some ways that you could improve your recovery by 10 to 15%? Well, just like we tuned our sluice box, a metal detector needs the same attention in order to serve you more efficiently. Take time this season to familiarize yourself with your detector, its controls, and modes so you can quickly ground balance your unit. Listen intently for tone changes that distinguish gold, hot rocks, aluminum, and iron; and be able to distinguish them instantly. Think about when you’re listening to the radio, and you hear the first 5 to 7 seconds of a song and BAM, you recognize it! That’s the kind of knowing we’re looking for when it comes to tones of your detector. You can set your own stage at home in your own backyard. Avoid concrete floors with steel rebar. Practice your metal detecting with different-sized particles of gold and hot rocks buried in baggies.
The last thing I’ll offer about your detectors is maintenance! Like anything, if you keep good care of it, it will last longer! Post hunts or trainings, wipe down your detector shaft and coils with a damp cloth, or dust rag for those not waterproof, and allow all units to completely dry out before storing them in covers. Also, it’s advised by some manufacturers to remove the batteries from the control housing to keep them from running down or potentially leaking into the control housing. By next spring, you won’t wonder if your detector powers up properly, where the batteries are, and you’ll know those tones better than your favorite rock song — no pun intended. Detect with confidence and see the results of your work.
When it comes to using heavier power equipment such as high-bankers, suction dredges, and air pumps, you need to keep them running all season long. For that matter, backhoes, dozers, etc. require the same. You’ll want to spend a considerable amount of your time during the winter tuning and cleaning your mining equipment properly. The cost of not doing so is potentially catastrophic to your whole operation… as seen on TV.
The last thing any prospector needs is a seal blowout, a leak in hose connections, or a carburetor clogged with gunk to put a quick and expensive halt on your prime gold-getting season. All that equipment is just sitting there earning you nothing so you might as well spend your down time tuning it up and cleaning it. So, this season tune it or lose it!
Skill Area 2: Collaborate with other Prospectors
We’ve all heard the sayings “Two heads are better than one” or “The more the merrier,” and this is precisely my point in skill area #2. Like-minded individuals oftentimes amplify their results by simply sharing notes, ideas, and demonstrating techniques to each other. There’s nothing like a good show-and-tell to learn a new skill, especially if you’re a kinesthetic or visual learner.
Ask your questions of other prospectors. Sometimes they can be gruff, and their responses a little curt or colorful. That’s OK, the real thing you want is to learn what they know about gold prospecting and mining. Put on your best Mark Twain roughing it personality and keep the conversation going.
Listen to the useful stuff in between the occasional obnoxious, colorful comments. Find a few prospectors that will take the time to help you, respect their time and the tendency to be rather private. Think about how they see gold’s value and the need to protect that at all times. Gold fever does that to people.
Don’t quite know how to break the ice and meet other prospectors? Your local GPAA chapter is a great place to start. Local chapters and clubs are established precisely to meet like-minded people, learn from each other, and ultimately FIND MORE GOLD! Whether it’s a meeting, gold outing or educational presentation, local chapters keep the prospecting community connected and resourced.
The beauty of collaboration is that you have an entire buffet of suggestions, opinions, and methods to choose from! Many ideas that are shared by miners are based on their personal experiences and can take some evaluation by you to determine whether or not it works for you, but at the end of the day as long as you’re “open to interaction and sharing,” you’ll walk away with more perspective and tools than you started with.
Learning new skills will require some trial and error on your part. You’re going to learn what works for you by making what appear to be mistakes; there are really no mistakes. They are simply trials with knowledge learned from the good or bad results you get.
When learning from others, don’t be afraid of trying something new, it can lead to a breakthrough. Keep in mind that real breakthroughs are rarer than hen’s teeth. More often than not, you will get better gold-finding results by simple repeated practice. Many a prospector makes the costly mistake of chasing the latest breakthrough equipment more than gold.
One thing you’ve got to be careful of here is to watch out for the legal, monetary or safety risks that occur during these trials. Sometimes you can get yourself in a whole lot of hot water without realizing it simply because it’s something told to you by someone else. Always check the risks before diving into a new prospecting or mining situation.
Skill Area 3: Site Selection and Research
Among many locations, which ones will you explore, GPAA or otherwise? And why? See the previous research that you did for tips on how to choose based on that research.
What access rights do you have? Are you a GPAA member, are there other claims that you need to get agreements for? Do you own your own claim, and do you have that legally notarized, etc.? An advantage of being an active GPAA member is these pesky access and legal issues are all taken care of.
Remember, claim jumping is illegal and can lead to serious consequences.
Some questions you should use to perform site research include:
1.Where is the site located?
Get a detailed map of the claim, including boundaries, access points, location and permits. If you’re a GPAA member, this can be found in your print and online versions of the Claims Club Mining Guide
2.What gold has been found near there?
• Use the USGS - Mineral Resource Data System (MRDS) https://mrdata.usgs.gov
• Pay special focus to the uphill, upstream areas from your prospecting location.
• Are details of those gold finds mapped?
• What is the quality and nature of the gold finds from those locations?
3.What is the local geology and minerology of the area?
Use the USGS geologic maps resource to see maps of major geologic features and likely minerals to look for. Mindat.org has a great online portal for searching mineral data and rock images.
• Do you have maps of the local geology?
• What are the geologic records telling you to look for when you get to the site?
• Do you have books or online descriptions near that location?
4.What about the hydro-geomorphology?
That’s a fancy word for how water cuts rocks and soil. That’s the river and streamflow. Even in the deserts water carves the material up and moves it around in such a way that produces gulches and canyons by pulverizing rocks in the floods path. Gold lode-bearing stone gets reduced to placer deposits and so forth.
Use the USGS topo maps resource to help see these water-cut slopes and streams.
5. Is the gold found in the area special?
The nature of the gold you find while sampling tells you a lot about the gold source and what mining and recovery techniques to use. Club members may have insight into this as well as USGS MRDS data.
• Does it have an interesting purity or factor about the purity?
• Are there unusual nuggets?
• Is it fine or flour gold?
• Is it crystalline?
• Does it contain unique indicator minerals?
• Is it loaded with hot rocks making detecting a pain?
You see, this can be something very much worth paying attention to before you go to your site, because then you know what you’re looking for in the way of gold indicators. Oh, speaking of indicators, what about indications of other values? Would you know platinum, a diamond or sapphire specimen if you came across it?
The rock outcrops that are common or uncommon can tell you a lot about the particular stuff you’re looking for, what minerals are associated with it. You will see these various indicators well before your pan shows gold. It is better to start gold prospecting by looking for the more common visible indicators first. Then sample those areas with the best indicators.
Skill Area 4: Gold Prospecting Knowledge, Geology, Hydrology, Rocks, and Minerals
To get more gold, take some off-season time to become proficient about the following gold finding and recovery topics:
1.Gold prospecting, gold mining and recovery — Learn these topics so that you become better at knowing why gold hides and where to look as well as how to recover it efficiently.
2.Geology of gold-bearing regions — Learn to identify the geologic changes that go with gold; these are your first-level indicators of where gold is likely to be found.
3.Hydrology and hydrogeomorphology — This topic will help you understand the effects of water flow as a gold vehicle. Once you see the clues of prior floodwater flow, you will be able to trace gold’s likely movement and gold traps better.
4.Gold-related rocks and minerals — Often gold is found with specific minerals and rock types. These indicators are much more plentiful than gold, so focus on that first and let the mineral indications lead you to more gold.
5.Your gold gear owner’s manuals — These are frequently tossed aside and never read after the “Box opening” ceremony. Don’t do that! Especially with new technologies like metal detectors and gold recovery machines. Learn what makes it tick and how to use it for your specific gold recovery needs.
These are all topics well worth spending time studying, especially visual learning, where you look at different rocks and minerals. And by the way, oftentimes a rock or a mineral may look one way under some conditions, and under other conditions will look totally different. Think of how some wet rocks look very dark while others not so much.
As for color changes in the rocks and minerals you are looking for, consider the effect of iron oxidation where the minerals can turn red, yellow-orange or even blue just because of how iron oxidizes when exposed to air. Quartz gravels from the gold-rich “Great Blue Lead” in Northern California show this based on how long they are exposed to air once they are dug up from an ancient river channel. As these recently dug anoxic gold-bearing quartz, blue-gray colored gravels are exposed to air, they change color. What was once blue-gray will turn ugly reddish brown. That means either color is fine to search for as they both can contain rich gold within them.
Familiarize yourself with the range of these mineral appearances so that you can learn to spot them in your pan or spot them on the mountainside. It’s important to be able to detail those things to know what clues they are giving you about where gold will be found.
Oftentimes those clue traces are what my students find difficult to understand. And once they do it makes a huge difference in where they go look. And then they start to find gold and that’s what you want to be doing. This gold-to-mineral indicator seeing ability changes your gold finding results drastically.
Visit www.goldprospectors.org for Prospector Jess’ full list of book and online resources to use. (You can also scan this QR code to take you right to the article)
Skill Area 5: Prospecting & Mining Plans
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’re invested in your success and that much closer to an exponentially greater spring prospecting season! Now that you have some ideas where to look, how to improve your recoverability, the importance of keeping your equipment tuned, and the resources to dig deeper into gold prospecting, it’s time to compile all of this information into your gold operations plan. This is a crucial part of this whole process that is easily skipped over, but don’t!
Make a plan based on everything you learned in the previous four steps that will allow you to go out into the field with confidence, work your sites efficiently, and recover the gold fast. Without that plan and without that preparation, you’ll likely be a bit lost, and you’ll have a big problem spending a lot more time and a lot more effort not finding much gold. A simple plan before you go to your site goes a long way to fix that problem.
Here’s one way to put this plan together and make your next season’s gold recovery great:
1.List the gold sites you are interested in
2.List sites to which you have access rights or the site or club owners to contact for access approval
3.Pull additional site info from source data, club logs, county records, mining group websites and blogs
5.Pull together USGS data regarding the following:
• Map your site for gold and related mineral finds nearby, especially those within a 1mile radius of your site (USGS MRDS gold finds database is a great resource for this)
• Topology (USGS Topologic maps will tell you the slopes and channel cuts through the region)
• Geology (USGS Geologic maps will give you a rough outline of locations for gold-related indicator minerals for the area and potential underground lode sources)
6.Use geology and minerology of the area and https://Mindat.org to pull together descriptions of rock and mineral types from your sites geologic region and save images of different gold indicator minerals that you will be looking for
7.Prioritize the sites based on the recorded quality and quantity of gold in each one. Keep in mind that the site may have been thoroughly worked but not necessarily with modern equipment.
8.Begin tracing out the few selected sites and look at the topology and waterflow for areas that would cause gold to enter from upstream and uphill historic gold sources. Remember to use Prospector Jess’s 3D rule: “Gold goes Downhill, Downstream and Down to bedrock.” Mark areas down from the source that look like water will slow down and trap gold. These gold trap areas often include but are not limited to: widening stream flow, rapids or boulder fields, faulting or slate bedrock changes.
9.Add sequence numbers to the map to prioritize your first through your last sample location based on your evaluation of how likely each spot is to have gold using your research data. Refine this selection when you get to the site and based on what you do or don’t actually find. Keep sample records and pictures with this information as you explore and prospect/mine the site.
10.List all required equipment for the expected initial sample and mining runs, include fuel and water estimates as needed. Modify this tool and support list as you learn based on actual finds and data.
11.Schedule your lodging and travel dates.
12.Have Fun and Go Get That Gold!
Until Next Time… Happy Prospecting!
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Prospecting in the OffSeason