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 and Claims

There are two ways to get a placer claim of your own... There are aspects and possibilities beyond simply paying cash for a claim...

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 quickly loses its charm. 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

Some people pay thousands of dollars for a gold detector. In good ground with good equipment and skill, and a lot of digging, you can find a lot of gold nuggets. You may also be able to detect whether a crack in bedrock has any gold in it.

This section is about using gold detectors to find lost nuggets away from the creek. The next section is about Sniping along the bank - it includes a little about metal detectors.

Good ground for a gold detector is ground where a lot of nuggets have been lost. 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.

You also want to go where there are people working their claims. If you can't find a claim owner, you can't get permission to work on the claim. A claim owner may agree to you working on his or her claim if you give them half the gold you find.

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.) I think it is where there is the biggest concentration of people actually working claims.

Work with a gold detector can sometimes be registered as work to renew your claim. There are two ways. You can register it as physical work if you did as much digging as a person that was digging and feeding and tending a sluice box with pump. You can register it as the Technical Work of Prospecting, if you did it in a very organized way, and you can write up the work in a Prospecting Report.

Sniping Along the Bank

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.

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.

A metal detector can be used for sniping - to find nuggets and maybe to check to see if a bedrock crack contains any gold.

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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