Use common sense and avoid dangerous areas or situations. If you plan to hike, notify someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Never go alone and never enter an abandoned mine. If you’re working underground or near cliffs, be very aware of potential rock falls. Don’t trespass on private property, and follow all the rules if you’re at a fee dig site or a mine dump. Finally, always drink water and wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
Without the proper gear, gem hunting would be futile and not much fun. For example, using your bare hands to chip out specimens or haul gravel could cause serious physical damage. Fortunately, geologic tools aren't too expensive -- items like gold pans and collection bags are very cheap, and even the most expensive tools can be had for under $50. If you're going to spend most of your time as a gem hound, it's worthwhile to properly outfit yourself (it'll make your gem-hunting expeditions more enjoyable and fruitful). Several geologic and mining suppliers sell their goods via the Internet, and popular mining areas usually have outfitters' shops nearby.
Here's the basic equipment needed for a proper gem-hunting expedition:
- Rugged clothes: Climbing, digging and hauling rocks require clothes that can get dirty. Sturdy boots and pants are a must. Work gloves will prevent blisters.
- Rock hammer: A geologist's hammer has a flat head at one end and a chisel at the other, perfect for splitting rocks. Longer hammers provide more leverage, while some gem hunters prefer to bring a selection of small chisels.
- Shovel: A folding shovel will help you collect the most stubborn of gems.
- Goggles: Hammering or chiseling rock can cause rock chips to fly up and enter your eyes -- wearing safety goggles can prevent this.
- Collection bag: You don't want to shove specimens in your pocket next to your car keys -- a sturdy collection bag will keep your findings safe. Don't forget to bring newspaper to wrap each gem so they don't bang together and chip.
- Labeling system: You can use an indelible marker and adhesive labels to note each find. Once the gem is numbered, you can mark the location and date of where and when it was found. Mark any other information you'd like to later add into your gem-hunting journal.
- Magnifying lens: A 10x magnification is very useful for examining and identifying specimens, especially once you gain some experience and know what to look for.
More advanced equipment is optional. A GPS device is helpful if you'll be hiking -- although a cheaper substitute like a map could suffice. If you're looking for a particular type of gem, you might need specialized equipment, such as a pan for gold. In many cases, fee digs have this type of equipment available.
Once you find some worthwhile specimens, can you walk off the property, gem in hand? Let's explore the legal issues surrounding gem hunting on the next page.