Placer Mining in BC

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Placer Mining Opportunities

Prospecting, Hand Mining and Machine Digging

I am not an expert on mining law - I am just trying to help. Use the information in this website at your own risk. See the Notice at the bottom of this page.
This page is about kinds of placer mining opportunities. You may also want to see the Placer Areas page.

Table of Contents

Placer Areas

With some exceptions, you can hand pan anywhere in BC - see the
Basic Rules.

For any kind of placer mining other than hand panning, you have to work on a placer claim. Claims are only available in Placer Areas - the linked page has a little information about some of the Placer Areas and regions in BC.

Money, Claims and Owner Information

There are two ways to get a placer claim of your own... There are aspects and possibilities beyond simply paying cash for a claim... A claim owner may agree to you working on his or her claim if you give them a proportion of the gold you find. This proportion might be less than 20% if you want to do machine digging or underground work or some other big project. It might be 30% or more to do hand mining. If you want to use a metal detector to find buried nuggets, it might be as much as 50%.

You might want to go where there are people working their claims - it can be sometimes be easier to deal with someone face to face. The Cariboo is sort of a good possibility - a lot of area worth working but a low proportion of claims with the owners around. The best area is probably Atlin in the far North West of BC. (By road, you have to come South from the Yukon.) It might be where there is the biggest concentration of people actually working claims.

Getting Claim Owner Contact Information

You can get claim owner contact information using the government's MTO System - Mineral Titles Online. You can...

Prospecting and Hand Panning

Anyone can go prospecting for gold in BC if they stay within the rules of
Hand Panning - No certificate or licence or citizenship or anything is required.

It is a great opportunity - exploring for gold - the most interesting part of placer mining. Shoveling gravel into a sluice box is not as interesting as prospecting. You can explore for the rest of your life and keep seeing and learning new things.

Most prospecting is done in placer areas, where you can you can get a claim if you have a Free Miner Certificate.

Prospecting can have one or more goals...

If your goal is simply to find gold - not a place for a new placer claim - you can work anywhere in BC. It doesn't have to be in a placer area.

Using a gold pan isn't as fast as using a sluice box, but you can use a pan in places you can't use a sluice box - when you aren't on a claim or when you dig in or within 3 metres of of a creek.

A good plastic gold pan costs $20 and weighs almost nothing. A sluice box requires a pump, hose, gasoline, etc.

Working on Gravel Bars

You can use a sluice box and water pump on a gravel bar on your claim. You can do this without a permit or a water licence if the suction intake is no larger than 1.5 inches or 38 mm and you work at least 3 metres from the water (at least 10 metres on the Fraser River) and you follow the other Basic Rules for using a sluice box.

Using a Metal/Gold Detector

Metal detectors can only be used on your placer claim, or on a claim owned by someone else if you have their

Some people pay thousands of dollars for a metal/gold detector. In some cases, it can be worth it. In good ground with good equipment and skill, and a lot of digging, you can find a lot of gold nuggets.

You may be able to detect whether a crack in bedrock has any gold in it. A metal detector might be used to find buried channels or benches by finding black sand.

In some cases, a post-hole digger can be a good way to dig when using a metal detector.

Note that work with a metal detector cannot be used to push out the Good-To date on your claim.

Using a Metal Detector to Find Lost Nuggets

Areas where nuggets have been lost can be good ground for a gold detector. This is maybe the one kind of work where you want to be where the most people have explored, worked, walked, camped, gambled, fought and, most importantly - drank. You want to go where there was the most action, preferably frantic scrambling to compete for claims, deals, partners, and often, enough to eat. You want the places with the most history.

The best areas to work are covered with claims, so you need to get permission from the claim owner if you want to work with a metal detector on his or her claim.

Sniping Along the Bank
(But be careful in BC)

Sniping is finding and gathering small deposits of silt and sand from bedrock cracks and other places that may have concentrated gold. A crack in bedrock can act like a riffle in a sluice box - catch heavy sand and gold better than lighter sand. Sniping could also include collecting the sand/silt/etc. from under and behind boulders, and other such likely spots.

In BC, you generally need permission from the local mining office to snipe inside high-water lines of a creek.

If the ground can act like a sluice box, then sniping is cleaning out that sluice box.

Tools for sniping include scoops, brushes, and hooks and other things to collect sand and nuggets from cracks and other tight spaces.

Working Above Stream Level

Individual miners today have a great advantage over miners in the gold rushes in the 1800s - they can use portable gasoline powered water pumps (on a placer claim). In the 1800s, it was very difficult to get water much above the level of the stream.

Even if a sluice box is not near a stream, most of the same rules apply.

Forestry roads can provide new opportunities if they expose gravel from an ancient channel. You might find more of the channel or more deposits at that level. Colors (very tiny flakes of gold in the pan) mean that gold was moving in the stream at that level.

Exploring for Hidden High Benches

Exploring for buried benches on the sides of the valley is an opportunity on some claims. A bench just behind some bedrock or around the inside of a bend is best - where gold would have collected when the water flowed at that level.

This sort of bench can be dozens or even hundreds of feet above the stream, where it flowed long ago.

Valley-side benches are only a good prospect if the valley hasn't been reamed out by a valley glacier (or the bench is above the level of any reaming). Glaciers will usually leave a valley with a U-shaped (rather than a V-shaped) cross-section (looking up or down the valley).

Using a sluice box on the side of a valley can be a challenge. You need to either use tubs and recirculate (most of) the water, or dig a pond for the output.

Machine-Digging Opportunities

Hydraulic excavators - loader-backhoes and bigger ones - are one of the two great advances in placer mining since the gold rushes. (The other is inexpensive portable pumps.)

There is an opportunity everywhere you would like to explore by digging a trench. You can profitably mine paydirt with an excavator that is too deep or not rich enough to mine by hand - on a bench, in an old channel or on a Fraser River bar.

Machine-Digging has disadvantages. It requires a permit (hand mining usually doesn't). The equipment costs a lot to buy or rent, and it costs to operate it - much more gold must be found just to pay expenses.

An opportunity for machine-mining must be rich enough and large enough to be profitable. Before mining begins, you may have to spend money to prepare the site and get the equipment setup out there.

Something Unusual - Moving A Creek

It is possible (sometimes) to get approval to move a creek over so that you can mine its channel. You can usually only do this where you can divert the creek into an older channel.

Getting the permit(s) and a water license take time. If anyone is going to go anywhere that is below the water table, you may have to have plans approved by a Professional Engineer.

Diverting the creek can mean mud and silt getting into the water. Presumably, it can only be done where there are no fish, or at least no fish breeding, for a distance downstream.

One aspect is that you can't work within three metres of the creek, so the two channels would have to be more than this far apart where you want to work.

Another potential problem is water seepage. Generally, the solution is to start excavating from the downstream end and working up the channel so that water flows away from the work. If necessary, water might be pumped from the downstream end into a settling pond.


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