Modern Day Gold Prospecting

by Mark Cook, Northwest Gold Prospectors Association


My first thought is I’m not going to say “there is gold in them thar hills”.  I hate that saying with a passion! It just reminds me of old guys in worn-out clothing, etc.


But what I will tell you as a gold miner, is that there is still gold in our local mountains and once in a while someone makes a pretty good find.  Just last summer, one of the miners in our prospecting club found a sizable nugget which I actually saw and held in my hand! The nugget was found in our local mountains. Like any good miner though, directions and locations were carefully avoided in the conversation.


What is it about the allure of finding gold?  I’m sure it goes back thousands of years, and there are as many reasons why as one can dream. But for me, it’s the satisfaction of finding a precious metal like gold that has been in the ground for literally millions of years, and I found it! And there is always the possibility of what could be in the next shovel…you never really know!  I’m happy to admit gold prospecting is a passion and an addiction! I guess that’s why they call it “Gold Fever.” Like many other people I know, prospecting is another great reason to get out into our great Idaho outdoors. Another thing I enjoy about today’s gold prospecting is the contemporary mining technology now available for the small scale miner like myself.


Although many things have stayed the same since the initial gold rush days of the 1870’s, there have been many improvements in the area of collecting gold. Improved designs with “catch mattes” that line the sluice boxes we use have come a long way in recent years and are proving very effective in catching gold, especially fine gold. Many of these improved new designs weren’t even thought of until a few years ago.


They say the old timers got all the “easy gold” because they were the first to work the ground.  This is true to some degree. However, make no mistake, they did not get all the gold. Even though it was the so-called “easy gold” it was still hard work then, and there wasn’t really anything EASY about finding it. Today prospecting remains hard work.  Like I tell everyone, “don’t quit your day job yet”.

Mark Cook’s Summer Mining Crew


Another area of improvement for the modern gold prospector is in the reduction of “clean up” time. “Clean up” is when you empty your sluice box of the “concentrates” that contain the gold. Some of these new “gold catch mattes”, along with some new clever designs, reduce the amount of time it takes to clean up your sluice box creating less downtime and more time mining!


There are so many new and updated items and accessories available for the modern gold prospector it is almost hard to keep track. This includes gold pans and accessories, all types of sluicing equipment, metal detecting, fine gold recovery equipment, dredges and more.   One thing is for sure: Do your homework, talk to other miners, watch some YouTube, go to the various Miner’s Forums and read what people are saying before you buy or lock into what you think might be best for you. My best recommendation is to join a local Gold Prospecting Club and get access to their Mining Claims. Talk to the club members and benefit from their knowledge and experience.  Like hunters and fisherman, they may not tell you their favorite spot, but they are usually more than happy to share their knowledge.  Remember, you can’t just go anywhere and start prospecting. There are lots of Mining Claims out there that DO belong to others, as well as no-mining areas. In some locations, there are also defined seasons. Don’t lose heart! There are lots of places to prospect. You’ll learn to be aware of the rules and regulations and learn a few basics and be more than fine.


Small Scale Mining and Prospecting is a great family fun activity.  You can learn much about our local geology, our environment, and our rich local mining history. Best of all, you never know what you might find!


Mark Cook is a member of the NorthWest Gold Prospectors Association. For more information call 208-262-6518.


The NorthWest Gold Prospectors meet the second Wednesday of every month at the Rathdrum Senior Center, Rathdrum, Idaho.  Guests, visitors, and new members are always welcome to attend and check it out!


There is also a Gold Prospecting & Treasure Show (Expo) being held March 17th and 18th at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d’Alene, ID. Lots of Information, Prospecting Supplies and Equipment will be demonstrated and for sale. There will be a small-scale mining equipment display, hourly door prizes, gold panning and much more.  Admission to this event is $5.00 for adults at the door, and children 12 and under are always free.