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Goldin Montana Panning ARTICLE AND PHOTOS BY PATTI ALBRECHT

Many of us live in Montana because we love being outside and, as parents, we’re always looking for new family fun. Panning for gold checks both boxes AND might get you a little extra cash. Even young kids will be able to do it. Simply put... gold is heavy. This fact explains how proper panning swishes away the lighter stuff and leaves the gold at the bottom of the pan. The list of stuff you need to get started is short compared to a lot of other hobbies: gold pan, vial or pill bottle to hold gold, shovel and 5-gallon bucket. The bucket is handy to haul dirt and great to use as a stool while panning. You will want to do a little research when deciding where to prospect. The best places to start panning today are spots where placer gold has been found in the past: gulches around Helena, Butte, Deer Lodge, Townsend, Norris and Emigrant. The final ingredient needed is water. You will want to narrow your search down to the gulches that have a stream to pan in. Reading the water flow in the stream will help to determine the best place to dig. Where the water slows is where gold will be found. Good choices are the inside bend of a stream, the downstream side of boulders or spots where a narrow stretch widens out.

Once you pick your spot, push aside rocks and dig down as far as you can or until you hit bedrock or a hard clay layer. Scoop some of this material into your pan, submerge the pan in water and continuously shake it back and forth while slowly raising and tilting the pan so water runs out. There are countless different styles of panning but the basic idea is to agitate the sediment in the pan so the heavy gold will settle to the bottom. Finally, move the pan so water washes out the lighter top portion. Repeat these steps until only black sand and, hopefully, gold are left. A fun way to practice and to see how gold settles is to mix fishing weights, BB’s or marbles into some dirt and then pan in a tub or pool in the backyard. Experiencing how easy it is to keep this faux gold in the gold pan will boost any panner’s confidence. With gold fetching $1,800 per ounce, a family outing could make memories and a little cash. Patti Albrecht is the owner of Earth’s Treasures Fossil and Mineral Museum Gallery in Downtown Bozeman.

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