By David R. Toussaint
Professional Gold Hunter’s Strategy Leads to Pockets of Gold
Preston poses with his collection which came from a pocket in northern Nevada.
A professional electronic gold prospector in Arizona has developed a gold-hunting strategy that has led to the discovery of more than 100 ounces of gold during the past few years. Preston Vickery, 42, of Kirkland, Arizona has used his gold-hunting strategy, which he calls “pocket hunting,” to find in-place gold in hard-hunted areas that have only frustrated other electronic prospectors. Now he’s ready to share his strategy with the world:
“Most others are stuck in the (placer) nugget mode,” says Vickery about other electronic prospectors. “They should be doing the whole area when they hunt for gold. You do placer and you do hardrock hunting.” Vickery has the right credentials to create his own method of gold hunting. While not a graduate of any mining school, Vickery got his education in prospecting from real-life experience and a family tradition. He’s been a professional gold prospector since his early-20’s and has also worked every facet of mining. “I’ve made a living,” Vickery says modestly. “I haven’t gotten rich, and I haven’t been on welfare.”
You might say prospecting is in the Vickery blood. Preston’s father was also a professional gold prospector and miner. The elder Vickery taught his son all he could about prospecting, including the geological indicators associated with gold formations. Now in his 90’s, Preston’s father is too old to get out much, but he still has a few things to teach his son about gold prospecting. Tracing the Vickery bloodline back even further, Preston’s grandfather was also a professional miner and prospector. Grandpa-Vickery spent much of his life working in lead and gold mines, and he wasn’t shy about passing on his knowledge to his son. Thus, Preston’s grandfather started a family tradition that has created three generations of prospectors and miners.
Now, when Preston goes prospecting, he uses the accumulated gold-hunting wisdom of three generations. Preston has been fairly successful over the years, but his gold-finds began to dwindle during the mid-1980’s. Most of the good nugget-hunting areas were being hunted-out, and it became harder and harder to make a living as a prospector.
It was about that time that Vickery bought a Fisher Gold Bug metal detector. “Once I saw what a Gold Bug could do, it wasn’t long before I bought one,” he remembers. One time out on the Arizona desert, Vickery watched a famous nugget shooter amaze a group of electronic prospectors. This top-notch nugget shooter waited until the other prospectors in the group were satisfied that a nugget patch they were hunting was thoroughly cleaned out. After asking permission, he swept the patch one more time with his Fisher Gold Bug, finding another two or three small nuggets. “He was the best I’ve ever seen,” says Vickery.”He worked quickly but thoroughly. He taught me how to clean out a nugget patch.”
Even though Vickery learned how to clean out a patch in the late ’80’s, fewer and fewer nugget patches needed cleaning out. It seemed like every place the old-timers found gold had already been hunted to death. Vickery could spend all day hunting and only find one or two nuggets. These finds might excite a weekend prospector, but they were not enough for someone whose livelihood depends upon finding nuggets. There had to be a better way. Contemplating his predicament, Vickery began to piece together things his father had taught him and things he had learned himself. The result was a new approach to gold hunting that he calls “pocket hunting.”
Using this new method, Vickery’s luck began to change; and he soon found three nice pockets of gold. What is a “pocket” of gold? “To understand this, you must first understand how gold ‘makes,’” says Vickery. The story begins thousands, maybe millions, of years ago. First, the earth splits, forming cracks and fissures. These fissures form an intricate structure of veins that sometimes reach a hundred miles across the earth’s surface. A second movement of the earth, such as an earthquake, is required to create the right conditions for gold to form within this system of cracks. If this second movement occurs, an “intrusive” can be formed, allowing chemicals and minerals to enter the crack. Gold forms if the right chemicals and minerals are present in the right concentrations. “Gold is just a quirk in the way nature works,” says Vickery. “All it is, is a big break in the earth’s surface. These cavities are usually cracks that develop into veins. Small veins sometimes pocket-out into kidneys. These fill up with solutions and sometimes gold is formed.”
These “kidneys” or “pockets” along the cracks in the earth are what Vickery looks for when he hunts for gold. He says that it is possible to predict the location of these pockets by visualizing the structure of cracks in which gold has a chance to form, or “make,” as Vickery says. These pockets of hardrock gold do not usually contain as much gold as the main vein that the old-timers mined, but 30 or so ounces of gold is nothing to sneeze at.
These cracks in the earth’s surface, which develop into veins, usually form along parallel lines, all traveling in roughly the same direction. To find the pockets of gold, Vickery extends the boundaries of his search area away from the historical diggings. He tries to visualize the system of cracks that gave the gold places to “make.” Many small pockets of gold could have formed along this system of cracks, sometimes up to 500 or more feet away from the original outcropping. “You go in the area where gold has already been found. Then you look for the way the structure (of veins) is running,” Vickery says. “You just try to put yourself in the area where gold has a chance to’ make.’”
“Smaller veins that formed parallel to the main vein were difficult for earlier generations of miners to find, especially without metal detectors,” Vickery says. The old-timers followed a vein by digging. If they did not see any more gold in their pan, they gave up and stopped digging the vein. If the vein picked up again farther on, or if a splinter vein made a small pocket of gold away from the main vein, the old-timers had no way to find it. “The old-timers would have dug along the vein for some distance to see if it would ‘make’ again,” Vickery explains. “The old-timers couldn’t get all the tiny splinter veins. Sometimes they were too far away. They didn’t have the technology to find them like we have today.”
Using his metal detector, Vickery found a nice pocket of hardrock gold on a prospecting trip to northern Nevada. But the trip did not start out on a happy note. Two days of hunting a well-known area near some historical diggings had produced only a few small nuggets. Putting his pocket-hunting strategy into service, Vickery found a 30-ounce pocket of in-place gold just a couple-hundred feet away from the hard-hunted old-time diggings. About four feet deep, the pocket had formed along a smaller vein that ran parallel to the primary vein which the old-timers had mined. Hidden four feet below the surface, the pocket gave off a strong signal when he passed his detector coil over it.
So what is the first step when pocket hunting for gold? The first thing Vickery does when he starts hunting an area is to climb a hill. Using binoculars, he studies the entire area and draws a map with reference points to provide bearings while he hunts. Next, he looks for gold indicators, cubes or clods of iron oxidation that form an “oxide zone” around the historical diggings. Patterns in the oxide-zone, like strings of red earth, that suggest a crack in the earth where iron formed, can also indicate a vein. Often times, if iron formed in a crack, gold also could have formed in another nearby spot along the same crack.
In particular, Vickery looks for any place that the red oxide lines shifted, forming a broken line. This shift could have created an intrusion that allowed gold to form a pocket within the crack. Visualizing the system of veins in the earth, he starts hunting, by searching right on top of the main vein, tracing about 400-to-500 feet to see if it picks up again in a spot unknown to the old-timers. If it doesn’t, he then drops downhill about 20 feet from the main vein and begins hunting in a line parallel to the main vein, now attempting to discover any pockets in splinter veins. Again, he hunts to a distance about 400-500 feet away from the original diggings. If his detector remains silent, he drops down another 20 feet and repeats the process.
If he finds any gold nuggets while searching, Vickery marks the spot and searches uphill to find the in-place pocket where the nuggets originated. If he finds a concentration of gold nuggets, he carefully works out where the concentration begins, where it occurs in the highest concentration and where it thins out. Then, using the edges of the concentration as two points of a triangle, he knows the third point of the triangle will be somewhere directly uphill where the nuggets originated. So he begins searching directly uphill from the highest concentration of nuggets. Vickery says he picked-up this method of triangulation in “Gold Canyon,” a novel by Jack London.
Pocket hunting for gold takes considerable concentration; it isn’t as easy as simply locating an old-time mining operation and swinging your metal detector around. You have to keep your hopes up, and not let yourself become discouraged. Pocket hunting provides the electronic prospector with a strategy for gold hunting that can result in more than an occasional placer nugget.