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How to Pan For Gold

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Step 4: Classify your Paydirt

Once you've found a likely spot to dig your "pay dirt", go ahead and start digging. This photo shows my classifier sitting on top of my gold pan. I have filled the classifier with material dug out from behind a big rock in the stream bed. The classifier really just strains out the bigger rocks. Classifiers come in lots of different mesh sizes. This one is 1/2 inch mesh, meaning that it will screen out anything larger than 1/2 inch. It's not absolutely necessary to use a classifier, but it does help a lot by keeping big junk rocks out of your pan and just letting through the smaller material more likely to contain gold. I do my classifying under water. I submerge the pan and classifier in the stream and shake and rotate the classifier over the gold pan which allows all the smaller material to fall through into the pan. The big junk rocks are retained in the classifier and can be discarded.

The second photo was taken after classifying. Now the gold pan only contains the smaller gravel and dirt. The big rocks are retained in the classifier.

One way to make life easier is to take the 5 gallon bucket and classifier to where you are digging. This kind of classifier is designed to fit on top of a 5 gallon bucket. You can classify your material into the bucket as you dig it and only carry the classified material to where you are doing the panning. That way you don't have to waste a lot of effort hauling the big junk rocks over there. Then you can take a break from digging, sit down, and pan out your bucket load of "pay dirt". To make classifying into the bucket easier, fill the bucket to the top with water. Classifying is easier in water. Wet dirt is real heavy though. So don't over-fill the bucket and dump out the excess water before hauling it to your panning site, or you will tire out fast and be really sore the next day. When these photos were taken, I just happened to be digging an area right next to where I was panning, so I classified directly into my pan.

Every source on panning I have ever seen has warned of the possibility of throwing away a big gold nugget with the rocks in your classifier. They all recommend sorting through and carefully examining the contents of the classifier rather than just tossing them away. I think the odds of tossing out a nugget too big to fit through my 1/2 inch classifier are astronomically low. So I don't waste a lot of time sorting through the junk that comes out of my classifier. I just pile it all up in a couple of spots and take the short-cut of running my metal detector over the piles at the end of the day, just to be sure. So far no big nuggets. But the day I don't double check will probably be the day one is there.
 
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