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How to pan for Alaska Gold on the Kenai PeninsulaThe key to recovering placer gold from gravel is the weight difference which allows gold to move downward (concentrate) when agitated. The simplest placer mining tool for this purpose is the pan. [Note: The figures referred to are on the following page.]
Shovel gravels into a grizzly positioned over the gold pan (see Figures 3a and 3b). Agitate the material through the grizzly. Check the over-sized material for nuggets, then toss. Totally submerge your 1/2-full pan in water. Panning may be done from a squatting or sitting position at the stream edge, in gently moving water, holding the pan between the knees.
Keep pan riffles pointed away from you to catch any gold that might slip over the lip. Liberal water, agitation, and patience are required to persuade gold to settle to the bottom of the pan. While the pan is submerged, break up any clots of dirt and wash any cobbles that may have clay that can trap placer gold. The clay has been removed when the water in the pan starts to clear. Pick pebbles from the pan to get them out of the way. Look for heavy pieces with unusual color or shape. You might find a gold nugget or a gold-bearing piece of vein quartz.
Hold the pan level under water and shake it with a sideways or circular motion. The gold will settle to the pan bottom. Occasionally tilt the pan, to let the sand-sized material wash out. Dipping the pan in and out of the water with a slightly forward motion while tilted, will wash lighter material away (see Figure 4). Alternate underwater swirling and dipping until only a few spoonfuls of heavy minerals remain. When dark, heavy mineral grains (black sands) are present, the panning is being done right (see Figure 5). Black sands may be a variety of heavy minerals including magnetite, garnet, scheelite, zircon, cassiterite, and platinum. Precious and semi-precious stones are uncommon in Kenai Peninsula placers, but keep an eye out for them. If it's heavy, keep it and seek identification from a geologist or miner.
Beginners are often impatient to find gold quickly. Take your time. During the panning motion, black sand and other fines concentrate in the crease or riffles of the pan. Gold can be separated from black sands by rolling water in the pan with a combination swirling and rocking motion. Lighter material moves to one side, gold stays put. For safety, do the final panning over another container to keep gold from being lost. Dry the fines. Use a magnet to separate magnetic grains and tweezers, a knife blade, or a dry finger to pick up small gold pieces. Save the gold in a water-filled vial.
Examine your gold. Rough, nuggety gold is near its source. Gold that is flat and smooth has traveled some distance from its point of origin. Flour gold has been flattened to a few microns thickness and will float on water.
Panning is a relatively slow method for recovering gold. Experienced panners can process about 10 large pans per hour. A sluice or suction dredge can increase productivity.
Suction dredges. Regulations for suction dredges are imposed on some streams by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). A free ADF&G permit is required to dredge streams that are important for salmon spawning habitat. For information on permits, contact the ADF&G.
The Chugach National Forest considers a suction dredge, 4-inch diameter or less, operated within the active stream channel, a recreational activity.
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