Sluice boxes are the next step up from panning, but it’s a step that most halfway serious prospectors quickly make.
A sluice box channels water from a river or stream over gravel and allow a single miner to vastly increase his daily production compared to the amount of sand or gravel that a miner can wash with a pan.
Traditionally sluice boxes were made of wood, and wooden sluice boxes work fine, but they were heavy and hard to transport. Larger wooden sluice boxes essentially have to be built on site.
Fortunately, modern sluice boxes are constructed out of lightweight materials overcoming those issue, and are literally worth their weight in gold if you are prospecting in a region with good water flows.
The Proline 36 inch sluice box (seen to the right) is a good example of a medium size sluice box that’s light weight but still highly effective. It only weighs eight pounds, but it is a little bulky.
The easiest way to pack a sluice any distance is to attach it to a backpack frame like one of these at Uncle Sam’s. Actually, these frames are great for lugging anything you could possibly carry.
The East Coast mining regions in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia all have plenty of water for sluice boxes and so do most of the rivers of Northern California. In Montana, the principal placer-mining districts are in the southwestern part of the state where plenty of water makes the use of sluice boxes practical. Idaho was once a leading placer-mining state and has plenty of fast flowing streams and rivers ideal for sluice boxes as are the gold producing areas of Oregon and Washington.
This big 50″ Proline Sluice Box is a good choice when you want to go through lots of dirt and for those areas where you know you have plenty of water.
Minor amounts of placer gold have been produced in South Dakota, but it is generally too dry to use sluice boxes. And unless you know you have plenty of water sluice boxes are probably not a worthwhile investment in the arid regions of Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
The real advantage of modern sluice boxes is the ability to easily pack them far off the beaten path which is pretty much impossible with traditional wooden models. That allows a prospector to get farther from the competition and possibly into territory that has not been mined as recently or as intensely.
If you know you’re going really deep in the backcountry you should consider one of the sluices that wre designed for just that.
One of my favorite sluice boxes is a model made by Royal (see picture to the left). This thing folds up small enough to fit inside a 5 gallon bucket or small backpack. And it costs about the same as a non-folding sluice.
If you want to go even lighter you might consider the Tee-Dee E-Z Sluice which is made of polypropylene plastic. It weighs less than two pounds and costs about half what a metal sluice costs. I’ve never used one, so I can’t vouch for it’s sturdiness. Although it’s made from the same stuff my kayak is made of, and I beat the hell out of that!
Regardless, all of these sluices are a huge step up in efficiency over a gold pan and that’s really the name of the game.