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I'm a greenhorn when it comes to gold prospecting (hence my forum name). After spending the last hour reading these wonderful forums, I figure it's time to join up and ask some questions.

First, I'm starting as a "recreational panner". I love nothing more than heading into the mountains with a loaded pack and faithful companion (4-legged... they don't talk back). Parking my butt on a creek bed and panning is the fun part, any gold would be icing on the cake.

Second, I'm in prime prospecting area - southwest Montana. Alder Gulch is an hour away. And that's as close as I'm gonna get to telling you where I found what I found.

Last week, I headed to a gulch near an abandoned hard rock mine; I'm on the side of a mountain, say between 7,000 and 9,000 feet (How do you guys talk about location and specifics without giving it away?). Most of the creeks in the area have claims. This one doesn't. It's on BLM land. In the creek, which has good flow and is about fifteen feet wide, there's a shoal in a curve before a small waterfall. It's an area maybe twenty feet long and and four feet wide, nearly jet black sand and muck with tons of pyrite-like sparkles.

This area is rarely visited. In my travels, I was limited in by 4' snow drifts that were untouched since winter. I saw maybe one set of vehicle tracks, several days old. I'm pretty sure no one is prospecting here; a few fire rings and beer cans might be a sign, but might also be leftover from kids partying. Nothing from this year, though.

I have some questions, if you don't mind, and I could use some advice (as you can tell, I've been reading the internet).

Is the shoal where the black sands are located a good place to prospect?

Should I dig at the head or tail end of the black sands?

How deep should I dig?

Do I ignore the top layers, and dig down until I find something solid under the black sand?

The shoal is located about 3.5 miles down from the creek's headwaters. Would it make sense to work up the creek, possibly finding a better area?

Thank you everyone! I hope to be a regular here, even if my pan's full of pyrite. :)

The Greenhorn (a/k/a David)

Edited by TheGreenhorn
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Welcome! read Elderminers' recent post under "just keep prospecting". Gold will settle(fall down) any chance it gets So learn to recognize bedrock. Gold with sharp corners is probably from a near by source, smooth gold may have traveled for a long distance. There are exceptions to every theory so be careful to not outsmart yourself. Gold is where you find it but it's mostly where you don't. This group has a lot of very knowledgeable miners and can save you YEARS of experimenting.

I wish you the best of luck and enjoyment.

My drone told me where your spot is.


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Welcome to the forum, David. I'm pretty new to prospecting myself, so I'll leave it up to the more experienced to answer your questions. You won't find a more knowledgeable or entertaining cast of characters.


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This is all you need to get started.

The little shovel is a Danielson Clam Shovel 9-Inch Blade with 26-Inch Handle


Perfect for digging out a quick sample, to screen & pan out.

Trouble is if you are not on the coast, in a clam digging area. They are hard to come by.

Last time I visited the Oregon coast, bought a dozen @ a garage sale $5 each.

Now down to 2, as my prospecting buddies, talked me out of the others.

Google is your friend. There is a huge amount of info about placer prospecting online.

LOL, had my dog since he would fit in pie plate.


He is a better prospector than most people. Since he was a pup, he tagged along on all my field trips. Always had his nose in every pan.

By the time he was full grown (90 lbs solid as cast iron), he could wander a creek or gully & sniff out black sand.

If started digging, there was usually some color there.

To prove the point, on a feild trip, camped near an old mine.

He kept digging in the mine dump.

Dragged about 8 rocks back to camp one at a time, all high grade gold/silver ore.

He finally got tired & fell asleep WITH AN ORE SAMPLE STILL IN HIS MOUTH


The point being, if my dog can learn how, almost anybody can.

Edited by elder-miner
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Please note the recurring theme in all posts- BEDROCK is where it's at when just working a pan. Unless ya got a gold retrieving dog then ya just sit'n' the shade and wait for room service- :thumbsupanim cool pics of gold nugget hunting dog John

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Thanks for all the replies. I enjoyed elder-miner's "Just keep prospecting."

I'm heading back out this week with pretty much what's in that picture above, along with a lever bar if I have any big rocks to move.

No big plans, other than to head out, enjoy Nature, and satisfy my craving for discovery. Really don't want to start throwing money at another hobby...

... so, are there any decent gold detectors for under $200? :)

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The only good gold detectors for under $200 would be chancing upon a good deal on an old but the top of the line gold detectors of past years, such as any old White's Gold Master series (predecessors of the GMT), an older Fisher Gold Bug 2, the original Fisher Gold Bug, etc., but you would have to find a good deal even with these detectors, most of these will probably go for $200 to $400 depending on condition and accessories.

You could also find a good deal on older Minelab PI detectors, but they will run much more than what I mentioned above for the VLF gold detectors.

Here's are a couple of drawings that shows where gold is most likely to settle out of the flow of the average stream or river, these will not apply as well to waterways that have a dam upstream that will impede the natural flow of the stream, but will still help with areas to look at.

I can email these to you if you would like to have them to print out, you might not be able to save them to your computer from this forum.



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