By Roy Lagal
The term “nugget hunting” is so ambiguous that no description of it could ever be complete. Countless books have been written about this method of searching. Weekend prospectors generally find their instructions too complicated. By condensing descriptions of target areas and summarizing the easiest searching methods for beginners to use, I offer you instructions that are simple but that employ methods proven successful the world over. Tools you may include:
- Gold pan or gold panning kit
- Gold tweezers
- Rock hammer
- Small bar
- Metal detector (suitable for use in mineralized areas)
The metal detector will unquestionably produce the best results in areas where gold abounds and large nuggets commonly occur, such as the western United States deserts, certain “mother lode” areas, Australia, New Zealand, China, Africa and other parts of the world where sizeable nuggets appear in nature. Fantastic finds with metal detectors are regularly reported.
Nugget Hunting Instructions
An electronic metal detector can be used effectively because gold is conductive and its presence will be indicated.
Unfortunately, so-called “hot rocks” contain an iron mineral content that is either greater than or less than the levels for which the ground-canceling detector has been adjusted. They present a constant nuisance to prospectors because they register as metallic (conductive) on a detector. Calibrated circuits used in modern metal detectors that allow easy identification and rejection of “hot rocks” are an absolute necessity in helping a prospector determine whether a rock contains gold or a predominance of iron. Make certain that your detector is a ground-canceling type that contains these special circuits.
In wet areas, start your search near water.
- Adjust your detector to the magnetic iron content of the area according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Pinpoint your target.
- Slip a shovel under the target and place it into a plastic gold pan. If the target is located in a bedrock formation, use your rock hammer and small bar to dislodge it. Then place the dislodged target into the pan for examination.
- Check the contents once again with your detector. If a “hot rock” is suspected, use the detector to determine if it is ore. If not, discard it.
- When the detector indicates gold is present, inspect the contents visually or follow panning procedures.
- When the detector indicates no gold in the pan, repeat Steps 3-5 until the target is located.
Metal detectors used for prospecting will also indicate large concentrations of black magnetic sand. Shovel the sand into your gold pan. Inspect for gold nuggets and save the black sand discards for later separation.
In dry areas, the procedure will vary only slightly. Locate the target with your detector, and dig carefully using your hands or a small tool, while being careful to not damage the nugget.
Metal detector headphones are an advantage in most areas, since small nuggets usually generate only a faint response. It is best to dig and visually investigate all targets unless they can be identified absolutely as “hot rocks.”
Electronic discrimination is a valuable aid but should not be relied upon entirely.
Dry areas with small, loose material make visual identification of targets more difficult. When searching such areas, shovel targets into a plastic gold pan or small plastic cup and check for electronic responses. When your detector indicates that a metal object is in the pan, use dry panning first to reduce contents. Then grasp a handful of the pan’s remaining contents with your hand (which must be free of rings and other metallic jewelry) and pass your hand across the search coil’s detection area. The material can be inspected in the same manner if you use a plastic cup. Make certain your detector is tuned correctly and move your hand containing the material across its coil. Continue until you get a response. Then place the contents which generated the response into another pan to avoid loss of the target.
Cracks and other sections of bedrock where gold may be trapped can be inspected in a similar manner. This is called “crevicing.”
In desert areas where medium-to-large nuggets occur, and water for testing them is scarce, the metal detector provides the easiest method of recovery. The introduction of VLF metal detectors has brought with it fantastic success stories. Natural elements continually erode mountains, allowing rich deposits to surface. Once a gold nugget of sufficient size becomes exposed, it can be discovered by a metal detector. These nuggets are rarely detectable by sight alone and the absence of water leaves electronic detection as the surest and most effective method for small-scale prospectors.
Gold is too fine for electronic detection in some areas of the western United States, so dry washing machines or dry panning must be employed for recovery. Almost all areas where gold is now located once contained an original vein or concentration of ore that weathered over the ages into a placer deposit. This means that nuggets may still be present even in areas where the gold has been too fine to register on metal detectors. Presence of such valuable nuggets is continually proved as successful searches are conducted with detectors in the dry washes, arroyos and canyons of arid locations.
Streams can be a valuable source of nuggets. In heavily-mineralized areas where productive mines are located, rich ore specimens are often deposited in streams by natural erosion. All targets should be carefully examined before assuming that one is merely a “hot rock.” Valuable coins can often be found in streams of old mining districts. The silver- producing areas of Mexico also produce large nuggets that can be easily recovered from creeks and rivers. Small streams created by the melting of large glaciers in Alaska and western Canada often contain nuggets easily found with detectors.
Searching underwater for nuggets with a metal detector is often not as profitable as in above-water areas. Considering the small amount of labor required, however, especially in comparison with dredging or panning, underwater exploration can be well worth the time and effort. Search slowly and carefully. Even though metallic junk is usually present in streams and rivers, you pretty-much have to examine all target responses from your metal detector. Hot rocks are present in water just as on land.
Very often, companions of dredge operators use their spare time to search streams for nuggets. Persistence and patience are the keys to success here.
Large nuggets encrusted with a black or dark coating have been found particularly on mountain tops. It is believed that volcanic action or oxidation of other minerals and materials encrusted gold with the black coating.
Such discoveries commonly called “volcanic gold” or “black nuggets” represent a rare opportunity for the prospector, and are almost impossible to locate except by electronic detection.
Literally millions of dollars in gold nuggets are being discovered all over the world. Metal detectors enable gold-bearing areas to be searched in a manner never before possible. It is reasonable to state that more nuggets have already been discovered with metal detectors than were ever discovered in all the old gold rushes. The use of a metal detector will provide the weekend prospector with many enjoyable and rewarding hours of activity, and have the potential to detect riches beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
Editor’s note: The preceding article is a chapter reprinted from WEEKEND PROSPECTING by Roy Lagal, used with permission of the author and Ram Publishing Company, copyright owners. For further information about the book, contact Hal Dawson, Editor; RAM Publishing Company, P.O. Box 38469, Dallas, TX 75238 (214) 278-6151.