By Dave McCracken

Specialized metal detectors will detect gold well-enough that they will sound-off on nuggets, deposits of smaller pieces of gold or even very small individual flakes of gold.

Dave Mack

 

 

Chrissy with her gold and metal detectorThere are many different kinds and models of electronic metal/mineral detectors to be found on today’s market. This is a guideline to give you the basic knowledge to help you choose the proper detector for your prospecting needs, and to help you use your metal detector as an effective prospecting tool.

There is a lot of electronic prospecting and gold nugget hunting activity going on at the present time. Consequently, there are different tools being used, along with several different popular approaches in how to properly-tune a detector and how to achieve the best results while searching.

It is important to point out that no two gold-bearing areas are exactly alike. An approach which might work better in one area, might not work very well in a different area. So, the purpose of this article is not to tell you what I think “the best” approach is. It is to give you information about each of the different approaches, so that you can gain a larger bag of tools to use when confronted with different situations out in the field.

I should begin by mentioning that the type of electronic detector used to find gold and other precious metals is not a “Geiger counter.” A Geiger counter is an entirely different electronic tool which is used to detect radioactive elements.

The type of electronic device used to prospect for gold is called a metal/mineral detector (“metal detector,” for short). Metal detectors are quite simple to use (once you understand them), and can be helpful in assisting you to locate gold or silver deposits or specimens once you have gained some personal experience in using one properly. While they are rather simple to use, it does take some practice with a metal detector before you can use one proficiently in gold prospecting activities.

There are many different models of metal detectors being offered on today’s market, most which are more useful to the treasure hunter than the gold prospector (two entirely different fields of detecting activity and procedure). Those detectors of most use to gold and silver prospectors generally fall under two separate categories: Beat Frequency Oscillator (“BFO”), and Very Low Frequency (“VLF”).

BEAT FREQUENCY OSCILLATOR

First we will take up the BFO, which is the simpler of the two—but is less-often found these days, due to the substantial electronic advancements of VLF detectors.

The BFO detector usually has two main settings, which are “metal” and “mineral.” As far as electronic detectors are concerned, the difference between the two is that “metals” are targets which are conductive of electricity–such as copper, gold, silver or iron. And, “minerals” are targets, or target areas, consisting of magnetic non-conductive materials such as magnetic black sands (Fe304). These are also known to prospectors as “black sand concentrates.” Electronic prospectors generally refer to them as “heavy ground mineralization.”

An iron object which has been in the earth for an extended period of time, and having thoroughly oxidized, will usually read-out on a metal detector as a mineral instead of a metal object–which it no longer is.

So the two basic settings on a BFO detector are “metal,” electrically conductive targets (gold and silver), and “mineral,” non-conductive magnetic particles (magnetic black sands).

The various models of detectors have different ways of sounding-out on reading targets. Some detectors have a light which turns on and off. Some have a meter with a needle on a dial–which will also give you an idea of the intensity of the signal given-off by various targets. Other detectors have a tone which changes in volume or pitch when passed over a reading target. Some newer-model detectors have an LED display which spells-out the different types of targets being encountered. Some detectors have a combination of these features.

Generally, the best type of metal detector for prospecting purposes is the type which includes an audio tone in which the audio pitch changes when the search coil is passed over a reading target, and which also allows a set of headphones to be connected. The advantage to using headphones while prospecting is that you can shut out the background noises from the surrounding environment and concentrate more intently on even the smallest audio changes which can and do occur while searching.

On most tone-changing BFO detectors, the tone will not only raise in pitch when the search coil is passed over a target for which it is set to sound, but it will also lower in pitch when the search coil is passed over a target of the opposite setting. For example, if a BFO detector is on the metal setting and is passed over a large gold nugget, the detector’s audio tone should rise in pitch. If the detector on the same metal setting is passed over top of a high concentration of magnetic black sand, the audio tone should lower in pitch. The same thing holds true in the opposite for the BFO detector which is adjusted to the mineral setting.

One other interesting thing to know about BFO detectors is they generally sound-out on the most dominant element, either “metal” or “mineral,” whichever is most present in the ground which the detector is being passed over. For example, if you are passing the search coil over ground which contains gold (this would read as a metal), yet there is a large amount of magnetic black sand in the same ground, it is likely that the BFO detector will read-out on the black sand as a mineral while ignoring the gold. Equal reading-amounts of both metal and mineral elements in a section of ground, in any quantity, will prevent the BFO detector from sounding-out on either element.

Because BFO detectors read-out so well on highly-mineralized ground, the presence of highly-mineralized ground tends to block-out reading traces of gold which lie in or under. This is known as “interference” in the electronic detecting field. Magnetite (magnetic black sands) has such a strong affect on metal detectors, that a concentration of only one percent magnetite in the ground may create a signal-imbalance which is hundreds of times stronger than the signal which might be given off by a small gold nugget.

So, a mineral reading on a BFO detector does not mean there is no gold present, only that there is heavily mineralized ground—which may be blocking-out gold readings.

One of the problems in electronic prospecting is that gold targets are often associated with highly-mineralized ground. Therefore, as a tool, the BFO has its advantages and limitations. In some prospecting situations, it can be very helpful to have a device which is good at pinpointing areas of concentrated heavy mineralization. The BFO does this exceptionally well.

This is further-discussed in my other article on this subject: Prospecting for Gold with a Metal Detector.

Some places where nuggets and larger flakes of gold become trapped do not allow heavy concentrations of black sand. One example of this would be a location (rapids) where the water runs fast over top of exposed bedrock during major flood storms. Such areas can be well out of the active waterway and directly accessible to metal detecting. BFO detectors can be very effective at helping to locate gold targets in places where heavy mineralization is absent.

GOLD TARGETS

Unfortunately, as a metal, gold is generally not picked-up very well by metal detectors. This is a comparative statement. Gold does not sound-off on a metal detector nearly as well as an iron object of the same size and shape. However, specialized metal detectors will detect gold well-enough that they will sound-off on nuggets, deposits of smaller pieces of gold or even very small individual flakes of gold.

No metal detectors are able to detect particles of gold dust at the time of this writing. This is probably a good thing, however; because there is so much fine gold spread throughout gold country that it would probably create additional interference problems on a sensitive gold detector.

Therefore, in electronic prospecting for gold, we are looking for flakes, nuggets and accumulations of gold. These are targets which will add up more quickly to something of good value.

It is important to understand that different makes and models of metal detectors are not equal in their ability to detect gold objects. Some detectors will just barely sound-out on gold objects. Others will not sound-out at all.

I highly recommend that any person who is buying a metal detector for gold prospecting purposes should bring along some samples of natural gold to test the various detectors before deciding which one to buy.

Small samples of natural gold and small nuggets are readily available by doing a search on the Internet or contacting a prospecting shop. This is to be sure that the metal detector you do buy will sing-out well when it is passed over natural gold objects, even very small gold targets. If a specific detector will not sound-out on gold held in the air, it will most-likely never detect gold targets located in the ground.

When testing-out the various detectors, it is better to use natural gold samples—like nuggets, flakes or a sample bottle filled with smaller-sized gold,. Some detectors will, and some will not, sound-off on small bottles that are filled with fine gold. Using natural gold targets is better than using a gold ring or some other type of jewelry. Jewelry is nearly always made of gold which has been alloyed with other metals (like copper)—which may read-out on a metal detector better than natural gold objects. Therefore, gold jewelry might give you a wrong idea about how well a metal detector will sound-out on natural gold targets.

The best detectors for finding gold are not necessarily the most expensive. Varying costs in detectors are sometimes in proportion to the amount of additional electronic circuitry that is built into the detector for extra features. These sometimes have little or nothing to do with the detector’s capability of locating gold targets.

Gold targets give a solid, mellow sound on a metal detector, similar to lead or brass. Pieces of steel wire and bigger nails usually give a stronger beep—or often a double beep.

The capability of a metal detector to sound-off on a natural gold target will partly depend upon what other metals the gold is alloyed with. Silver and copper make natural gold targets sound-out stronger. Nickel, mercury and platinum alloys make natural gold targets more difficult to find.

Metal detectors read-out on gold better as the pieces become larger. As an example, an average gold detector might sound-out very well when its search coil is passed over an eighth-ounce nugget from several inches away, yet not sound-out at all when passed over three times as much fine gold accumulated in a glass jar at the same depth or distance from the search coil.

Actually, it is not just the size of the target which counts. The object’s shape also makes a difference, and also the direction which a target is facing. A larger, more solid surface-area of gold will sound-out stronger. For example, a flake-shaped nugget is likely to sound-out better on a metal detector than a round nugget of the same weight, as long as the flat-surface area of the flake is facing in the direction of the metal detector’s search coil. Also, coarse and irregular-shaped nuggets, as commonly found in dry placer areas, residual and eluvial deposits, do not generally sound-out as well as nuggets which have been worked-over and pounded by flood storms in a streambed (because these are more dense and solid).

How tightly a gold deposit is concentrated also makes a difference in how well it will cause a metal detector to sound-out. Whereas a quarter-ounce of flake-gold inside of a jar might sound-out well on a particular detector, perhaps two ounces of the same flake-gold spread-out over a slightly larger area might not read-out at all with the same detector when the targets are at the same depth beneath the surface. This is one factor which is important for the gold prospector to realize: Any metal detector wills read-out on tighter concentrations of gold better than larger amounts of gold which are more widely dispersed. Metal detectors will also read-out on nuggets (larger solid pieces of gold) best of all.

DEPTH CAPABILITIES

How deep into the ground that a specific metal detector will sound-out on an object depends upon various conditions. Surprising to many, how much a detector costs may not have much to do with its depth-sounding capability. In fact, some of the less-expensive models are able to probe deeper, and pick up on gold better, than some of the more expensive detectors. The Federal Communication Commission has put a maximum limit on the signal-strength which can be used in metal detectors. So the idea that a more expensive model puts out a stronger signal to probe deeper is simply not correct.

The type of object has much to do with how deep into the ground that it can be located with a metal detector. Different kinds of objects have varying amounts of magnetic and electrically-conductive properties. Therefore, they affect metal detectors differently. Also, some detectors will sound-out on some kinds of objects better than others. As mentioned earlier, gold is not one of the better-reading metals, so cannot be picked-up with a metal detector as deeply as an iron object of similar size and shape.

Another factor which determines how deep an object will be picked-up by any detector is the size of the object itself. Whereas a 2-pennyweight nugget (1/10th ounce) might be picked up five inches deep into the ground with a certain metal detector, a 5-pennyweight nugget (1/4 ounce) might be picked-up eight inches deep into the same ground with the very same detector.

How much an object has deteriorated and has been absorbed into the soil is another factor in how deep the object will be picked-up. Iron objects tend to oxidize and become slowly absorbed into the surrounding material. This causes the target to appear larger and read-out more strongly, so it will be picked-up at greater depth with a metal detector. Once such a target has thoroughly deteriorated as an object, it will stop reading as a metal and start reading as highly-mineralized ground. Gold does not oxidize or deteriorate, so this factor does not apply to natural gold targets.

The size of a search coil on a metal detector is also a factor in how deeply the detector will locate objects. Larger coils generally are able to detect objects at greater depth than smaller coils. But they generally do not have as much sensitivity in detecting smaller gold targets. Smaller search coils have greater sensitivity to small objects, yet do not have the depth-probing capability that larger coils do. Medium-sized coils, from five to eight inches in diameter, often combine the features of having both a reasonable amount of sensitivity for the smaller objects, and acceptable depth-scanning ability.

One thing to keep in mind is that a larger coil will also increase the size of the area being covered by each sweep.

Many nugget hunters prefer to have a smaller search coil handy, because it produces the greatest small-object sensitivity (gold flakes), and because the smaller coils can get into tighter spots—like in and around tree roots and inside of exposed crevices in the bedrock, where nuggets are most likely to be found with a metal detector.

Almost all detectors today are made so that various-sized coils can be attached, depending upon what they are to be used for. When testing a detector, do not make the mistake of assuming that if the device sounds out well on a gold sample when using a coil of one size, it will also sound-out well when using a coil of a different size. Your best bet is to test the detector with the various-sized coils to see which work best for your particular needs.

One of the most important factors determining how deep a metal detector will sound-out on a gold object is how much mineralization (interference) is present in the ground that is being prospected. More minerals equal less depth. This is especially true of BFO detectors. Because black sands usually exist, and sometimes actually concentrate, within the very same streambeds or soils where gold deposits are located, metal detectors are not always used to directly detect gold in streambeds or material of substantial depth. They are sometimes used to scan places where there is a very shallow amount of gravel or material (if any) present over top of the gold (exposed bedrock).

One excellent use of the BFO detector as a prospecting tool is to locate concentrations of black sands in a streambed. Black sands often accumulate in the very same locations that gold does (pay-streaks). From your fundamental knowledge of placer geology, after potential pay-streak locations have been pinpointed, those specific areas can sometimes be scanned with a BFO detector to locate the increases in other heavy elements. Specific sites which sound-out heavily on the “mineral” setting can then be sampled by conventional gold mining techniques.

VERY LOW FREQUENCY DETECTORS (VLF)

The VLF detector is a more recent development in the field of electronic prospecting. Very Low Frequency detectors may come under other names or descriptive abbreviations such as VLF, GEB, MF, GCD and others. These are designed with circuitry which is able to cancel-out the effects which highly-mineralized ground has on a BFO detector. VLF detectors have the ability to look through or past highly-mineralized ground and detect metal objects (gold) that may not read at all on a BFO metal detector.

The VLF, being able to cancel-out interference caused by mineralized ground, is more suited for locating gold deposits and gold specimens directly. However, it still remains true that gold targets will have to be large enough, or located close enough to the surface, or deposits will have to be tightly concentrated enough, to sound-out on a VLF, just as with a BFO detector.

Just because a particular detector is of VLF design, does not mean it will sound-out well on gold. In fact, there are some VLF detectors which have difficulty in sounding-out on gold samples at all. So this type of detector must be just as thoroughly tested using natural gold targets before buying for prospecting purposes.

The VLF detector, being a mineralization-cancelling device, sometimes does not have the ability to detect the heavy black sand concentrations the way a BFO detector is able to. Consequently, a VLF is more often better-suited for scanning directly for gold, whereas a BFO is generally better-suited in helping the prospector locate gold deposits in an indirect sort of way, by finding the highly-mineralized ground within a gold-bearing area.

MULTI-PURPOSE DETECTORS & SPECIALIZED GOLD DETECTORS

VLF detectors are sometimes also constructed with discrimination circuits that are designed to cancel or identify specific types of targets—like bottle tops, aluminum foil and pop-tops. For the most part, this type of electronic circuitry is better-suited for treasure and coin hunters. When used in prospecting for gold targets, discrimination circuitry sometimes has a tendency to also reduce the detector’s depth-probing capability, especially in highly-mineralized soil or streambed material. Since gold targets are already difficult to locate, it can sometimes be better to not utilize additional circuitry which could hamper sensitivity towards gold.

However, some conditions do exist in which discrimination circuitry may assist a gold prospector. If using such a detector, always test it against a sample-nugget planted in or on the ground that you are probing, to determine whether or not you can trust the discrimination circuitry.

There is a lot to be said about having a small natural gold target along with you at all times when you are prospecting for gold with a metal detector. This way, each time you decide to try something new to try and get the most out of your detector under changing circumstances, you can confirm the results using a target which is similar to what you are hunting for. It is common for electronic prospectors to glue a test-nugget for this purpose to a poker chip, which can be tossed to the ground and easily spotted again.

Some of the newer, specialized VLF gold detectors are utilizing specific discrimination circuitry called “Iron Identifiers.” This does not necessarily reduce the total depth capability in the detection of gold targets. In other words, the circuitry will identify iron objects which are nearly certain to be iron. The downside to the use of such circuitry is that if an iron target is too deep or too small, it might still be identified as iron. Also, if the ground is highly-mineralized, the accuracy of iron-identifying circuitry is likely to be reduced.

The best gold detectors which use a meter or other display to identify different types of objects, do not route the discrimination function through the same circuitry that produces sound variations through the headphones. In this way, you can obtain optimum depth probing and object sensitivity to your ears, along with some added visual ability to pre-identify what is sounding-out on the detector. This is all about reducing the amount of trash targets that you must dig up while looking for gold.

Some experienced electronic prospectors utilize discrimination circuitry (turning it on and off accordingly) only after a target has been located. This way, depth and sensitivity is not forfeited during preliminary searching.

Other experienced prospectors insist that no discrimination circuitry is needed. Once you are familiar with the area you are searching, and know the specific audio tone changes of gold and/or trash targets, you will form your own judgment of which targets (sounds) to dig and which targets to leave alone. Different prospectors have different methods. Also, different locations often require different methods. Some experienced electronic prospectors simply dig every target (sound).

Some VLF detectors are made with circuits designed to analyze targets. This means they are able to tell you if the target is a nail, bottle top, a nickel, silver dime or a piece of gold. Such circuitry has only limited accuracy in electronic prospecting; because highly-mineralized ground tends to interfere with the signal and can give a false reading in the analyzer. Still, the added capability can be useful.

None of these circuits are a problem with multipurpose detectors, providing the special circuits can be shut off or bypassed—and/or providing the additional circuitry does not hamper the detector’s efficiency in locating gold and silver targets.

Some VLF detectors are designed with manual ground-balancing controls, and others are designed with automatic ground-balancing circuitry. Some prospectors prefer the manual controls. Others prefer automatic ground-balancing. There is nothing wrong with automatic ground-balancing circuitry in gold prospecting, as long as it is fast enough to keep up with the rapidly changing mineralized conditions of the different areas you intend to prospect—and as long as the additional circuitry does not hamper the detector’s ability to locate gold and silver targets.

Some VLF detectors have been specifically designed as gold prospecting tools. Since most specialized gold detectors operate at a higher transmitting frequency, have extensive ground-balancing capabilities, and have special circuitry to avoid sensitivity overload in highly-mineralized ground, they definitely do have some advantages in their ability to locate small gold targets over most multipurpose detectors—or gold targets which are deeper in the ground.

The high-performance of some of today’s specialized gold detectors even make pinhead-sized gold targets recoverable.

Which detector you choose to buy will depend upon what you plan to use the detector for. If you plan to only use it for prospecting purposes, a special gold machine is probably best for you. If you intend to search for coins, caches, artifacts and lost articles, as well as prospecting for gold and silver, perhaps a multipurpose detector is best—or two separate detectors. Only you can decide.

I would suggest you buy your detector from a dealer located in the general area where you plan to prospect for gold. The local dealer will know which detectors are performing best in that area. Local dealers will also introduce you to other prospectors, and perhaps a local prospecting and/or treasure hunting club or association.

Communication with local prospectors can be a very big help in determining which detectors are best for specific areas. You can also get tips from them on productive places to prospect with your detector.

No detector made is the best for all locations. Some machines work better than others in wet or dry conditions. Some work better in hot or cold climates. Some detectors are affected by alkali “salts” in the soil or gravel more than others. When any of these examples is the case, a smaller coil might manage adverse conditions better than a larger coil. Each area is different.

Another reason to purchase your detector from a local dealer is the help and support that you will receive. Success in the field comes from understanding the workings of your detector, and perhaps receiving inside information on good places to hunt. The money saved by buying from a discount mail-order house may not be worth the loss of support you would otherwise receive from a local dealer—especially when you are just beginning.

When buying a detector which you intend to use for prospecting purposes, keep in mind that probably the most important feature is the detector’s capability of cancelling the heavy ground mineralization found in most gold-bearing areas.

Practice makes perfect. You must start with good equipment. The rest will be up to you.

ELECTRONIC PROSPECTING DRILLS

The following is a set of drills put together to give the new (or old) owner of a metal detector some practice with his tool and to allow him (or her) to get a good grasp of what the detector’s gold-finding capabilities are:

DRILL No.1: Take a file or electric grinder to a piece of iron or steel (like a nail), and allow the fine pieces of metal to fall into a container. Pour some filings onto a piece of paper and pour some glue over the filings to hold them intact. Pour more filings on top of the glue and then pour on more glue. Continue this until the conglomerate is giving off a strong mineral reading on your detector. Make three different sheets of mineralization; one giving off a very mild mineral reading, one causing a medium signal, and one which gives off a strong signal.

If you are already an experienced gold prospector, and have some black sand concentrates lying around somewhere, use a magnet to collect some magnetic black sand and use these instead of iron filings. Sometimes, you can get prospecting supply outlets to send you a small package of black sand concentrates. You can also find bags of mineral concentrates (which usually include some gold) which various sellers on the Internet market as panning sands. These are better than using a machine to create iron filings, because they are the actual material that you will encounter in the field.

These different mineralized conglomerates will give you a good idea of how your detector will react to different degrees of mineralized ground.

DRILL No.2: Acquire at least a half-ounce of placer gold, preferably more, with a variety of fine, flake, and nuggets so a wide range of testing can be done.

Carefully place the gold in a pile on a clean sheet of paper in a location where there is no other metallic object reading on your detector. Scan the gold with your detector from varying distances to get an idea of your distance-capabilities when scanning a concentrated gold deposit.

Now spread the gold out over a slightly-wider space on the paper and scan again to check distance. Continue to spread the gold out wider and wider until it no longer reads on your detector—or until you are picking up on individual flakes of gold. This drill will give you a good idea of what sized pieces and accumulations of gold will sound-out at what distances. Try different coil sizes to see what their capabilities are.

Pay particular attention to the specific sound-readings that you get when scanning over gold targets. These drills should be done with headphones. With some practice, you will start to be able to tell the difference between gold and other metallic sounds by the difference in the strength, crispness and tone of the signal. Stronger-reading metals will give a sharper and louder change in tone, whereas gold tends to cause a softer and more indistinct signal–especially when located in smaller amounts or at a distance. Do the drill and see for yourself.

DRILL No.3: Using the flake-gold and nuggets in different accumulations, as done in drill No. 2, place the different sheets of mineralization over the top of the gold and note the responses on your metal detector. If you have a VLF, practice cancelling-out the mineralized sheets and test to see what size-accumulations of gold can be picked-up while doing so. Try more and more mineralization, combining the sheets together if necessary, to see how much mineralization your VLF detector will look through and still have sensitivity to gold targets.

Notice how even a larger piece of gold puts out only an inkling of a reading when covered by heavy mineralization and/or scanned from a distance. Recognizing these very light signals is usually the difference between success and failure in electronic prospecting!

If you are doing these drills with a BFO detector, try combining different amounts of mineralization with the various-sized accumulations of gold. Determine for yourself on your own detector how much mineralization it takes to block-out the different accumulations of natural gold.

I am certainly aware that sometimes it is difficult to come by a collection of gold flakes and nuggets if you don’t already have a collection of your own. However, the time spent in locating some natural targets to practice with, or in talking a friend into lending you his collection–or in talking him into doing these drills with you—will be worth many times as much time spent out in the field with your detector.

These drills will not teach you how to prospect for gold deposits. Only practice and experience out in the field will do that. But these drills will go a long way to familiarize you with your detector and give you certainty on the use of it. They will help you with the basics that you will need to learn to prospect for gold with a metal detector.

HELPFUL TIPS ON TUNING

Each model of detector has its own set of operating and tuning instructions which you should follow. And, I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with every aspect of the manufacturer’s instructions. In addition, here are a few pointers which have proven successful in the prospecting field:

Some manufacturers recommend that their volume-changing detectors be tuned to just below the hearing range. The purpose of this is so that the slightest reading will make a sound— which can be easily distinguished from the silence. But for prospecting purposes, it usually works better if you tune your detector so the audio signal is always within hearing-range. This will use up the batteries just a bit faster, but it is much better to be able to hear the signal at all times.

The audio threshold (“threshold”) of a tone-difference sounding detector should also be set just in the hearing range. When looking for natural gold targets, just the slightest change can mean the difference of finding or missing a gold target. Changes in volume and/or audio tone also are an indication of changes in ground mineralization and let you know when adjustments are needed to ground-balance again and again.

Sometimes the detector’s audio signal will drift off to a lower volume range due to temperature changes or loss of battery life. If the audio signal is tuned into the non-hearing zone and drifts into an even lower range, you might be scanning for several minutes without having the detector tuned properly. That would just be a waste of time.

Sometimes a warming coil will cause the threshold sound to drift upwards. A cooling coil might cause the threshold to drift downward. Hunting in and out of water environments, while scanning the banks of a stream, might cause threshold changes. You should make adjustments as necessary.

The main cause for a detector’s tuning to drift is loss of battery life. When this occurs, it is time to replace the batteries with a new set so you can get the best performance out of your detector—which is needed when hunting directly for gold.

It is always a good idea to bring along an extra set of batteries into the field when prospecting. Because when they quit, you are finished until new batteries are installed. Extra batteries should be kept cool and dry. Zip-lock baggies work well for this.

Prospecting for gold targets directly with a VLF detector should almost always be done in the “all-metal” mode.

Setting Sensitivity: It is important to stress that you do not want to set the sensitivity too high on your VLF detector while prospecting in a heavily-mineralized area. A high sensitivity setting while testing a nugget in the air will show improved perception—and therefore can give you a false impression of the detector’s scanning ability for gold targets in the ground. It is better to do your settings while scanning over your test-nugget on the ground that you will be searching over.

Turning the sensitivity up too high in mineralized ground is similar to using high-beam headlights in the fog. You get lots of flashback and irregular sounds and false targets. If your sensitivity is set too high, your detector will operate in an erratic manner. There will be many false signals which do not repeat themselves (“flashback”).

Consequently, less sensitivity can give you more depth-penetration in mineralized ground. There is actually a middle ground, depending upon ground mineralization, which will give you optimum sensitivity without too many “ground noises” which are confusing and prevent you from selecting the real targets. Try and run with the sensitivity as high as possible—until the steady tone of the threshold begins to give off an uneven, wobbly sound while you are scanning.

I usually do not recommend using the factory preset marks on your detector controls. Such settings are for average conditions. Prospecting for gold targets requires continuous adjustment to ground-balancing, and the threshold and sensitivity need to be set as accurately as possible to ever-changing conditions. You need to get the most possible out of your detector to avoid missing gold targets.

“Peak Performance” on a metal detector for nugget hunting purposes in most cases is: maximum volume on detector, threshold set in minimum audio hearing range, maximum sensitivity without receiving too much flashback, and ground-balance to the average ground being scanned. When you accomplish peak performance on your detector, the rest is up to you! By this, I mean you will have to interpret which signals should be dug up.

Ground-balancing: Setting the proper ground-balance on your detector, and keeping it properly adjusted while you search, is perhaps the most important factor in successful nugget hunting. I cannot overstate this point; because without proper ground-balance, you simply cannot find natural gold targets—unless you just get lucky. All of the skills we will talk about in this article, skills and methods which will make you good at finding gold targets, all depend upon your detector being properly ground-balanced.

Always set your ground-balance to the average soil or material which you are searching. You will find the majority of gold nuggets in average ground. If you ground-balance to specialized heavier-mineralized zones which are not the average matrix, you may forfeit some depth-probing capability or sensitivity to smaller or deeper gold targets.

Detectors which come with permanently-set, predetermined ground-balance are usually not especially good for electronic prospecting.

You should hear a low hum when your detector is turned on properly (threshold sound). As the detector is raised or lowered from the ground, the threshold hum should get louder or softer. This tells you what needs to be done to get a proper ground-balance. Handling the ground-balance knob or button on your detector is similar to handling the volume control of a radio. If the threshold hum is disappearing as you lower the coil to the ground, turn the knob up. If the hum gets louder as you lower the coil, turn the knob down. The basic idea is to adjust the ground-balance knob (or press the button) until rising and lowering the coil to the ground creates little or no change in the threshold hum.

Ground-balancing has to be redone on a regular basis while prospecting. The reason for this is because placer deposits do not contain uniform amounts of magnetic mineralization. Water-flows create low pressure zones and high pressure zones from one place to the next. These different zones accumulate different amounts of mineralization during flood storms. Often, you can see changes in mineralization just by noting changes in the color or surface of the ground you are scanning. Also, changing from gravel-like material to bedrock surfaces almost always changes the amount of ground mineralization. Get into the habit of re-ground-balancing about every 15 or 20 feet, or about every five minutes, or whenever the ground conditions change.

Your detector will tell you what is going on. If the threshold hum is getting louder, it usually means there is less mineralization in the ground you are now searching. If the hum goes softer, the mineralization is increasing. With a little bit of experience, you will gain your own perception of when it is time to re-ground-balance.

It is almost never a good idea to balance a detector over top of a piece of metal in the ground. Move around until you find a non-reading area to ground-balance.

When ground-balancing, move your coil all the way down to touch the ground if possible. I say “if possible,” because you occasionally run across areas with so much mineralization that you are not able to put the coil within a few inches of the ground! “Alkali salts” in damp soil can sometimes also create so much interference that the coil of your detector needs to be raised several inches above the ground to search for targets. Naturally, depth penetration is lost by doing this. But sometimes you have no other choice. Sometimes you can also get around this problem by making adjustments to your detector’s sensitivity. This will allow you to search with your coil closer to the ground; but the reduced sensitivity will likely eliminate some perception of smaller or deeper gold targets.

Sometimes, you can obtain better results by ground-balancing your detector a little on the positive side. A slight positive ground-balance increases the detector’s sensitivity to smaller gold targets when hunting in an area of lighter mineralization. This means that the threshold makes a slightly louder hum as the coil is lowered to the ground. When operating this way, be sure to keep the threshold in the audio hearing range. You don’t accomplish this by adjusting the threshold; reset the ground-balance as necessary to remain in the audio hearing range when lowering the coil to the ground. Just a slight positive ground-balance boost is all that is needed. Some experienced prospectors like to operate in a positive range all the time.

However, you may find instances when working around highly irregular ground, vegetation and/or rocks when a slight positive ground-balance creates a problem. Lifting the coil up and down and around with a positive ground-balance setting can create a similar situation as with too much sensitivity.

In highly-mineralized ground, when there are too many flashback signals which could be real targets, you can try ground-balancing your detector to a slightly negative setting with the coil on the ground. This may reduce your sensitivity to some of the smaller gold targets. But it is likely to settle-out your machine, and it might make it possible to locate targets which otherwise would not be accessible.

Always bring along your small sample natural gold target (about the size of a match head). This should be glued to a bright colored poker chip, or something similar, to keep it from being lost. Some prospectors go so far as to drill a hole and tie a string to the poker chip to avoid losing valuable time searching for lost poker chips! When in doubt about your tuning, toss down the sample gold target, cover it over with the ground in question, and see how your detector reacts. It might not be necessary to cover the test-nugget. Just placing it on top of the ground may be enough to test the tuning of your detector over that type of ground.

One thing which should be mentioned is that while you are searching around, your threshold hum is likely to change. The answer is usually not to reset the threshold; it is to adjust ground-balance and sensitivity as necessary to challenge the changes in ground mineralization. Your sample gold target will be the final test of whether or not your adjustments are working. If you don’t have a small natural gold nugget, you really should get one! Otherwise, a small piece of lead will create a similar target.

Other Tips on Tuning and Setting up a Metal Detector for Prospecting: When you are operating a metal detector, it is good practice to remove all rings, bracelets, watches and other jewelry from your hands and arms (ankles and toes). They can give a false read on the detector. This is especially true when you are testing a detector before buying, or when you are tuning your detector to sound-out properly on a special metal target while passing it over or under the search coil with your hand. Sometimes, belt buckles, canteens, knives and other digging tools or large metal objects carried on a belt can create false signals when using the more sensitive and specialized gold detectors. Even metallic eyelets on boots can cause problems when scanning too close to your feet. It doesn’t take much practice to figure out how to solve these problems.

Make sure to adjust the shaft-length on your detector to a comfortable position. Bending over too far will create uncomfortable back strain when hunting for extended periods.

Also, when the angle of the search coil on the shaft is changed to fit a new set of search conditions, the detector must always be re-tuned to correspond with the new relationship between the coil and the metal shaft.

Some prospectors prefer to mount the control box of their detector on their belt or hip. This lightens the arm-load during longer periods of prospecting activity.

It is also a good idea to wind the coil connection cable firmly to the shaft. This way, it is not flopping around, giving false signals or getting caught on objects and vegetation. Be careful not to pull the cable so tight as to break inner wires and create irregular operation of the detector.

OTHER IMPORTANT FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING

If you are looking over a metal detector you are interested in buying, test it to make sure that its tuning does not drift on its own. This test can be done by placing a good set of batteries into the device, turning it on, allowing it to warm up for a minute, tuning it in, and allowing it to sit and run for 5-to-10 minutes. If the audio tone drifts during this time, you ought to look around for a similar detector which has better electronic stability.

CAUTION: Wetness and dampness are not good for the control box of any type of electronic detector. Be careful to avoid getting yours wet when working around water. If you intend to use a detector out in the field on a damp or rainy day, you can cover the control box with a clear, loose-fitting plastic bag and secure it to the shaft of the detector. The bag should be loose enough so you can work the various control knobs without having to untie the bag and take it off to setup or re-tune the detector.

HEADPHONES

It is important in electronic prospecting to use quality headphones. This point cannot be over emphasized. Some detectors work just fine with the headphones which come from the factory.

There are different types of headphones. Some are heavy and cover the ears thoroughly. Some are light. What is best for you will depend largely upon the conditions where you are going to search. For example, the heavy type which thoroughly covers the ears might not be very practical in the hot, quiet desert environment. But they might work exceptionally well in a cooler environment—say along the bed of a creek where running water is making lots of background noise.

Areas which include the company of occasional rattlesnakes might require the use of lighter, less sound-proofed headphones!

The proper headphones for a specific hunting environment are another area where the local dealer or members of the local prospecting club can make valuable suggestions.

It is a common practice for prospectors to shorten the length of cable on detector headphones to about 3 1/2 feet. This helps prevent the cable from snagging on branches and other obstructions when working in brushy areas or climbing over uneven terrain.

Some detectors have volume controls and others do not. Volume on a detector while prospecting should normally be turned to maximum. Don’t confuse this with threshold hum, which should be set near minimum audio level. If maximum volume on the detector is uncomfortable to you, obtain a set of headphones which have volume control. Then, turn your detector’s volume all the way up and use the headphone controls to turn the volume down if you must.

Many electronic prospectors highly recommend “sensitivity enhancers”—like those made by DEPTHMASTER. These help enhance the soft target sounds from gold, while lessening the noisier signals caused by trash and iron targets.

OTHER HELPFUL EQUIPMENT

A plastic cup or tray is sometimes necessary to recover gold targets, even in dry terrain. A plastic gold pan is helpful to work down material where water is present. Sometimes a portable garden rake is helpful for moving smaller rocks and obstructions away from a productive hunting area. A small G.I. shovel is helpful in some hunting environments. A canteen filled with liquid; tweezers, needle-nose pliers for removing gold from bedrock traps; and a small pick for digging and scraping. Sometimes the ground can be very hard. This is especially true when finding gold on hard caliche layers in the desert. A wide belt with a carpenter’s loop (for holding hammers) comes in very handy for a small pick. This keeps it out of the way, but also makes it quickly accessible.

A lot of your gear can be left at your vehicle, or carried in a backpack which can be set down at the hunt site. It is usually better to not load yourself down too heavy while prospecting with a metal detector.

Many electronic prospectors are using empty 35mm film containers to contain recovered gold targets. These are unbreakable, and the large mouth makes it easy to get a piece of gold inside. Zip-lock baggies are also helpful.

A magnet can be a very big help while electronic prospecting. Sometimes you can recover a faint-reading iron target right out of the dirt with a pass of a magnet. Otherwise, you might find yourself losing valuable minutes picking through the material, looking for a small piece of gold. Animal feed stores commonly stock a special magnet used for cows (traps small iron particles, preventing them from entering and damaging intestines). These magnets are powerful, yet inexpensive. You can mount one on the end of your small digging-pick or tape it to the handle of a plastic or stainless steel garden trowel. This way, the magnet is handy when you need it. Some prospecting picks are available which already have a magnet attached; very convenient!

A serrated-edge on a garden trowel also is helpful when you find yourself digging around roots or brush. Some prospectors keep one edge of their trowel sharpened just for this reason.

When working bedrock areas, a small crevice tool can be a big help to open cracks and crevices which are sounding-out on your detector.

Some kind of pouch or pocket creates a location to dispose of small pieces of trash and iron which you dig up. You only want to dig it up once! It is much better to remove all small trash targets from the playing field. With the continuous improvement of electronic prospecting tools, you could find yourself going back over the same areas again at a later time!

Some prospectors are using fishing or photography vests—lots of pockets. These come lightweight or heavy, depending upon the environment where you plan to hunt.

 

By Jimmy Sierra

“What goes on in that metal box may be a mystery to most of us, but we all know it isn’t magic”

 

Metal detectingThe title of this article can mean different things to different people and thereby add to the mystique surrounding the entire field of metal detecting, for that is what “Electronic Treasure Hunting” is all about. The word electronic should mean the same to everyone. What goes on in that metal box may be a mystery to most of us, but we all know it isn’t magic.

The vast assortment of transistors, resistors, capacitors and various integrated circuits add up to a very sophisticated type of transmitter which broadcasts a signal through the transmitting coil of copper wire contained in the disc or loop at the front-end of the detector. This signal is affected by the electromagnetic field which is present around all metal objects. Thus, when it returns to the receiver-coil in the loop, this signal is changed. The change is interpreted by the complex circuitry in the detector box and lets us know that there is metal out there.

Depending upon the sophistication of the detector, this data can include the possible type of metal, depth of the item and even the shape or identity of the metal object. This may be an over-simplification of what goes on, but we need not worry about how it happens. Let the engineers who invent these devices handle that. The thing to remember is, metal detectors find metal. There are variables that create differences between detectors, and these variables will determine which style of detector is best-suited to the type of treasure hunting that we wish to do.

This brings us to the second part of the title of this article: Treasure Hunting. As I mentioned, this is the part that means different things to different people. To some, it means looking for dropped coins or jewelry in various places such as parks, playgrounds, backyards, beaches, picnic grounds or even old ghost towns. The locations change and the technique for searching varies a great deal, but the basic function of the detector to locate metal is the same. Some consider treasure hunting to be locating caches of buried coins or valuables, even sunken galleons. Again, the treasure and the location change, but the detector is still operated as it is de- signed, to locate metal objects.

To others, treasure hunting takes the form of searching old battle sites or ghost towns for relics of days gone by.

And yet, another select group of treasure hunters who call themselves “prospectors” direct their search for the elusive nuggets of gold, long sought by man to be used as a measure of wealth.

By now I hope it has become apparent that the common denominator linking most treasure hunters together is the electronic metal detector. The location may change and the targets may differ, but all respond to the initial function of the detector to find metal. It is only necessary to vary where we look, and to some degree, develop special skills unique to each type of treasure in order to change from coin shooter to cache hunter to relic hunter to prospector.

This might be a good time to clear up one particular misconception, one that has been brought to my attention hundreds of times over the years by those unfamiliar with treasure hunting. That is, the idea that metal detectors cannot find GOLD. This stems from some misunderstanding about the nature of gold. When I have questioned these people, I have found that most were not really sure if gold was a metal or not. Some had a vague idea that gold might be classed as a mineral. Most, however, were not sure what the difference was between a metal and a mineral.

In brief, the difference between a mineral and a metal is that a mineral is a chemical compound of more than one element, and a metal exists in its pure state as a single element. So, let’s just accept the fact that iron, copper, lead, silver, and GOLD are all metals and can be found free in that form, and that all of them can be located with a metal detector. We can surely begin to see why such mystery surrounds gold and gold prospecting, as well as treasure hunting in general.

I do not mean to imply that electronic treasure hunting or prospecting is as easy as falling off a log; only that it is not magic, and that the skills acquired while learning to hunt coins in a park with a detector are the same skills used when prospecting for gold nuggets in the Mohave Desert. The target and the location change, but the basic skill is only varied by the different types of hunting.

Up until several years ago, one of our most successful coin shooters from the Sacramento area in California had never seen a gold nugget except at the various gold shows where suction dredgers show off the treasures which they find at the bottom of streams and rivers. He had acquired the necessary skills over the years in the operation of his detector. He had learned to utilize the ability of his detector to cancel-out the ground mineralization caused by iron ore and salts which mask the ability to locate metal objects such as coins. He had trained his ear and slow searching techniques to hear those deep older coins. When he decided to give a shot to gold prospecting, he had little else to learn. He was successful right from the start. Of course, he didn’t look for the nuggets in the local park. But, he did find his first nugget in a dry streambed not more than 15 minutes from his house. He was bitten by the gold bug on that first day and will never be the same!

His biggest problem was to find a good place to hunt. He rightly concluded that the best place to start was where the old 49ers had found gold. If it was there then, it was surely there today. He was right. He began by going over the tailings left behind by old-timers. Gold was plentiful and the old methods of recovery were not perfect. Carelessness and lack of skill left plenty behind. He researched old maps and history books to seek out previous diggings. Sometimes, he went over old tailings. Other times, he searched dry washes and gulches near the diggings. Experience sharpened his skill and techniques, just as those many hours spent in the old parks had prepared him for this new approach to treasure hunting.

Averaging three days per week searching, he found more than 40 ounces of gold last year!

I do not want to paint too rosy of a picture here. The fellow mentioned above is a real experienced detectorist. He spends time hunting and looks for the right spots. Few of us will measure up to his success. But most who try their hand at treasure hunting will be pleasantly surprised at how fast they can become skilled in the use of this electronic device. Practice and patience are all that are required. Skill in tuning and operating the detector comes from reading the manual carefully and asking information from the dealer that sold the unit. Other users are a good source for acquiring special helps in learning to use the unit. I, as well as others, have written articles and books explaining in detail the tuning and searching techniques of metal detecting.

Joining up with others in a Club or association will gain you very valuable access to experience and places to hunt for golden treasure.

One of the unpredictable ingredients in the creation of a successful treasure hunter is LUCK!! The old adage that you have to be standing over a target to find it, is true. My friend and I were searching an old baseball field a number of years ago which was adjacent to an old Mission. We both found numerous coins, many silver, but all from this century. I was lucky enough, however, to find a 1778 Spanish half real dating back to the Mission Period. It was only 4 1/2 inches or so deep. It was luck. I was practicing the same learned skills as my partner and we both were successful. My old coin was there because I was standing over it.

I have a good friend with whom I prospect. We dig a lot of targets in order to find the elusive gold nugget. I have found many nuggets, most in the tiny-to-small size-range, but none really large. However, along with many smaller nuggets, this fellow has found a 6-ounce, a 9-ounce, and a 12-ounce piece of Mother Nature’s natural golden treasure. Granted, he hunts for gold nuggets a lot more than I do, but many who hunt as often as he does never find nuggets in that class. Wouldn’t you say some luck came his way? Each one of these nuggets was found with a different make and model of detector.

Many detectors are pretty equivalent in ability to find metal, but all metal detector users are not equal in skill — or in luck.

Another example comes to mind at this time: This one might seem pretty far-fetched, but it is true. A few months ago, a prospector-friend of mine called to announce that he had just found his largest nugget to date. It was a ¾-ounce piece, that’s 15 pennyweight. Now, that is a respectable nugget. Of course, he said he found it with the help of his faithful dog. You might call the dog his gold-hound at this point. While my friend was prospecting along the bank of a popular river, his dog was doing his duty near the water. As he noticed his dog scratching at the sandy shore, he caught a glimpse of something flashing in the sunlight. He went closer to investigate and spotted the aforementioned nugget with loop and all attached. Some luckless prospector had lost his prized specimen from around his neck. One man’s loss is another man’s gain, as they say. It goes without mention that this is one dog that will never want for attention again!

We have talked about learning how to use the detector, regardless of what the object of your search is. There is no substitute for expertise and skill. We have mentioned that buying the proper detector is essential and we have pointed out that a certain amount of good luck doesn’t hurt. The final ingredient is good old perseverance and perspiration.

My basic intent in this article is to clear away some of the magic from electronic metal detecting and show it as an acquired skill, which is what it really is. It is important to buy the best detector you can; one that has the ability to cancel the ground-mineralization. This is most important if you plan to use the detector for prospecting, because gold and silver are most-often found in highly-mineralized soil.

If you are going to use the detector in trashy areas (lots of man-made metal objects), you should buy a detector that has some ability to identify trash. Otherwise, you will have to dig every target that sounds off. This is not only tiring; but since you can only dig so many targets in a day, it diminishes the odds of digging good targets. You can see that this would not be important if you were relic hunting, where all items are potential treasures. But it is more important when coin hunting, where pull tabs and bottle caps are not desired, or in prospecting, where nails and tin cans left from former miners are tedious to dig and not as valuable as gold nuggets. Of course, if the area is virgin, one would not have a need for identifying trash.

Being able to identify a “hot rock” (a rock with different mineral content than the surrounding terrain) is also an important feature to be looked for in a detector to be used for prospecting. Have your dealer help you pick a detector best-suited for your needs, whether they be specialized or multi-purposed.

Good Hunting!

 

By Linda Haze Gabris

 

Gold nugget found while metal detectingI first wanted one when I read about a million-dollar nugget found in Australia by an electronic-prospector.” The captivating article told about an enormous lump of gold that was unearthed by a miner using a metal detector. Several stories later, one of these devices was on my “have-to-have” list. That was years ago. In 1988 I ordered an A3B-United States Garrett Gold Hunter.

My owner’s manual promised this unique instrument would help make all of my dreams come true! Well, here I am more then a decade later with good news. I can vouch for the fact; these strange-looking gadgets really do work! During these years I have unearthed some of the best treasures to be found anywhere in the country!

First of all, an “electronic-prospector” has to redefine the word “treasure.” To me, a treasure is almost anything that lies hidden and secured by earth or water.

While there is no thrill quite as great as finding a lustrous gold nugget wedged in a crevice of bedrock, or an old coin buried deep in pine needles along the trail, one can learn to appreciate other “finds,” too! “Beeping-out” and digging up simple objects like an old tobacco tin, a horse shoe or the remains of an enamel wash dish also contribute to my own “joy of the hunt.” A heap of old rusty cans behind a tumbled miners cabin, or a scrap of metal embedded in a gravel bar, offer reminders of those who traveled ahead of us-down the golden trail. Some hunters call these items “bad beeps.” I have learned to appreciate them as interesting bits of yesterday!

The first thing to do when learning how to operate a metal detector is to read all of the manufacturer’s literature. Make yourself familiar with the features of the model that you have chosen. You will receive maximum performance from your detector by studying its manual. Even if it takes days, I suggest you don’t hit the gold fields until you understand all of your detector’s functions and features.

When you head for the hills, make certain that you bring along a spare set of batteries!

The best place to get familiar with your new machine is in a “salted” area near home. Make sure you pick a place where you will not encounter buried power lines! You can build a test plot by planting several items at various depths, from two to ten inches deep, and about two feet apart.

Using bits of colored cloths tied to little sticks, you can flag the location of the different items; a nail, ball of tin foil, bottle cap, an old fork or spoon, a couple of coins, and a gold nugget or ring (be sure to mark the location well). Note the depth at which they were buried! Now you can scan the targets and listen to the detector “beeping out” its signals. If you listen closely, you will hear different tones for each metal.

Once you can tell the difference between the sounds, study the sounds in accordance with the depths. This adds a challenging twist to your learning curve!

Using lots of patience, try hunting for items in both the “all-metal,” and “discriminate” modes. You will want to wear headphones for greatest effect. Following your manual, try both automatic and manual tuning. Work with the instrument until you understand its unique workings. Practice, as you would with a guitar, until your detector is “tuned.” After you are familiar with all your model’s features, and you know what the different types of targets sound like, you can head into the hills with confidence and great expectations!

I find the equipment needed for electronic prospecting is very simple. You will need a tool for digging out the “buried treasures” as you discover them. I use a long, narrow-mouthed spoon in areas where the earth is soft. In areas of harder soil or cemented gravel, I find a sharp-nosed pry bar works best. If I am detecting for gold in gold producing regions, I always carry a plastic gold pan and miner’s shovel. When beeping occurs in gold-bearing gravel, I shovel the “scanned-over” dirt into the pan, and then run the detector over the pan to see if I scooped up the target; or if it is still in the ground.

Once I have the target in the pan, I sift or pan out the material to see what is reading out on my detector. Don’t use a metal pan, because you won’t be able to pin-point the target.

Don’t be disheartened if most finds only pan-out as old sluice box nails or rusty bits of metal. This is to be expected in some areas. Determination and patience will eventually lead you to precious golden nuggets for your poke! You will need a leather pouch or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid to put your new-found gold in. Zip-lock bags are also good for this.

I always carry all “dug-targets” back to camp with me, so that the search area will be fresh for my next hunt (or for other detectorists!)

When a nugget has been unearthed, I usually turn off my machine and hand-work the area by test-panning surrounding gravel that could (often does!) contain particles of gold or other nuggets too small or deep for detection. Until you know the full range of your model, this is a good practice to follow. All detectors have varying ranges of depth penetration!

I have discovered the most productive areas for metal detecting gold are in the areas around old workings. Some of my most prized nuggets have been “beeped” out of tailing piles left behind by the old-timers!

I have also unearthed nice nuggets from the “spillage” around the old recovery systems from bucket-line dredges, sluice boxes, and shakers. Using my metal detector, I have stumbled upon many clean-up” sites from big operations. A “clean-up” site is usually near water, where the heavy concentrates from an operation have been worked-down to just the gold. Concentrated material from an old recovery system contains black sand, rusty nails, bits of metals; and more often than not, a good amount of fine gold particles that were lost during the clean-up process. After my detector has sounded-out a “clean-up beep,” I pan it out before moving on.

In my years of prospecting for gold, I have not only unearthed a collection of remarkable gold nuggets, but I have also found other unique treasures. One such piece was a sad old iron that I was able to restore to good condition. This was located in a gravel bar, in the middle of the Manson, a noted gold producing river in British Columbia.

Other “treasures” include countless forks, knives, spoons, metal buttons, medals, coins, a silver-handled nail brush, and a pill box dated from the 1800’s. I have also found tons of rusty square nails, tin cans, scraps of screens, grates from old workings, and many tidbits from unknown objects.

Every target, whether it is a kidney bean-sized nugget, or a mere bean can, offers me the excitement of the dig; the thrill of discovering something that lay hidden in the earth. It is treasure; no matter how great or small! That’s what electronic prospecting is really about: The “beep” at the end of the search coil!

 

By Richard Doherty

“With the new instruments available today, millions of gold nuggets are within reach of the intelligent, properly equipped, electronic prospector.”

 

Hand full of beautiful gold nuggetsWhen I first heard about picking gold nuggets from the surface, or close to the surface of the ground, I really didn’t think it was feasible.

I made some halfhearted attempts at locating some of the precious yellow beauties with no success and much frustration. Finally, I buried a gold nugget down in the ground and attempted to locate it with my new detector. To my surprise, it wouldn’t detect the nugget, so I moved it closer to the surface and still couldn’t detect the target. It was almost on the surface by the time I was able to receive a very light audible signal. That did it! I quit!

Still, the idea of locating a gold nugget with an instrument really intrigued me, so I stayed in touch with the advances of metal detectors. In the meantime, I continued my more conventional prospecting activities in Arizona, where I was fortunate enough to associate with other prospectors who knew about gold deposition.

Years later, the metal detector industry began to develop detectors that would deal, at least somewhat, with the highly-mineralized ground associated with gold deposits. So I purchased one of the most advanced detectors on the market and went in hot pursuit of the elusive yellow nuggets. Hour after hour, I combed the ground; I searched everywhere the gold “had to be!” If it was there, I wasn’t finding it, so I pressed on.

Scorpion made from gold nuggetsFinally, after many, many frustrating hours, the first nugget succumbed to my detector, minutes later, another. I really got excited, and I decided to share this new-found activity with my friends. I helped them learn what I had learned, and then we developed new methods and techniques. Detectors were getting better, and I purchased the latest equipment, knowing that I needed every edge that I could possibly acquire.

We sorted out which instruments worked best and figured out how to get the most from the ones we decided to work with. Nuggets began to fall on a regular basis, and more friends became interested. We turned them on to the equipment we were using and the techniques we had developed. They began to find gold nuggets almost immediately. This surprised me; because after all the heartache I went through to locate my first nugget, my friends were quick to pick up what we had already learned.

Gold nugget hunting is not like coin hunting at all; it is a specialized field and requires specialized equipment and techniques. Once learned, it is easy. As you do it more and more, nuggets will yield to your detector more consistently.

First, there are three “musts” for any degree of success. Not one of them is any more or any less important than the others, because they are dependent upon each other:

1. The correct instruments must be selected. Selection is based upon the instrument’s performance relative to the size and purity of the gold and type of ground that will be searched.

2. Knowledge regarding the use of your instrument must be thorough.

3. Knowledge about where the gold is located. Most of this information is gathered through research and talking with others who already know.

Your degree of success depends upon how diligently each one of these three “musts” is followed, and it is that simple. If you decide to approach finding gold nuggets in this manner, it is not a matter of, “Will I find a gold nugget?” It is only a matter of when, how big, and how many!

Huge rough nuggetIt has never before been more possible to locate your own gold nuggets with the aid of a metal detector, than it is right now. It is not that there is more gold out there. In fact, each day, there is a little less. However, with the new instruments available today, millions upon millions of beautiful gold nuggets are now within easy reach of the intelligent, properly-equipped electronic prospector. You don’t need tons of equipment to haul around, nor do you need many thousands of dollars to get started. The exercise is mild; the air is fresh; and the pursuit of your own gold nuggets is done at your pace — no one else’s.

I would also like to mention some of the myths surrounding electronic prospecting. It is difficult to place these in any order, so I will just mention them according to the frequency of times I am asked:

“Are there still gold nuggets out there to be found?”

“Will a metal detector really find gold?”

“Didn’t the ‘old-timers’ get all the gold?”

“Why isn’t everybody doing it?”

“Isn’t all the land claimed up?”

“Don’t I need a specialized vehicle or mode of transportation to get to the gold?”

“Isn’t it hard work?”

“How can I find gold nuggets when I know nothing about geology, mining, mineralog, or electronics?”

“Won’t a detector find fool’s gold?”

Please don’t let these questions, objections or myths stop you from gathering your own gold. It’s a whole new exciting, profitable activity, and you can do it!

Public awareness is definitely on the increase, and hundreds are getting into the activity of capturing gold nuggets from the earth. There are pounds of gold being taken daily, and there is no reason why you cannot be taking your share!

Frustration and lack of confidence is the primary cause of failure. The reason most electronic prospectors fail is that they purchase inadequate equipment or don’t learn how to use it properly.

Hunting coins and hunting nuggets with a detector are quite different. Coins are a flat-sided target. Many nuggets are not. Also, many flat nuggets will slip sideways into a crack or crevice in the bedrock, which leaves very little target-area available from the surface. Shape, size, and lack of the “halo” effect can cause a gold nugget to remain a difficult target.

Of course, there are exceptions to this. Not too long ago, I found a 5/8-ounce gold nugget that was about one inch deep, lying flat. It sounded-off like a quarter! I was amazed to retrieve a beautiful nugget which was shaped like an eagle’s head!

Nugget hunters know how important good equipment is. I was speaking with a professional electronic prospector the other day, showing him a new detector. Before I could tell him what the detector cost, he said it didn’t matter anyway; because he was willing to spend any amount of money on the detector if it was significantly better than the one he was using. You see, he knows that good equipment will pay for itself, especially with the price of gold nuggets as they are.

I know coin hunters who dream of finding their first gold coin. Most never do. However, electronic prospectors, who follow the basic guidelines, will find hundreds of gold nuggets.

Where is the gold? This brings us to another reason why now is an excellent time to get started in this fascinating activity. There are clubs and various types of associations which you can join where you will meet other people who prospect. Some of these organizations provide mining properties for their members to prospect. The folks who run clubs are usually quite particular about the mining properties which they own, and they are also knowledgeable about which claims they should stake or purchase. One of the easiest and fastest ways to find gold is to join one of these clubs. Some even provide training programs or organize group mining projects where you can gain immediate, valuable hands-on experience. Talk with other members and the staff to gain information as to where you might begin your prospecting. This is the best way I know of to get started in any type of gold prospecting today.

As you prospect on these claims and talk with others, you will begin to get a “feel” for where the gold is and why it is there. Gold seems to be a lot easier to find if you already know it is there. If you are not sure, it could cause you to search halfheartedly, and that is not conducive for locating nuggets. You must know the gold is there; you must know how to operate your equipment; and you must know that your equipment will get the job done. If you have these three criteria well in hand, you will surely find your own gold. After that, it’s just a matter of spending some time doing it and improving your skills.

In the beginning, it may take you a minute or longer to recover a target you have established; but soon, these targets will be coming out of the ground so quickly that you will surprise yourself. My average recovery time per target is between fifteen and thirty seconds, depending upon digging conditions. I have seen it take as long as 30 minutes to extract a target, but these are more unusual conditions.

In Quartzsite (Arizona) last year, we had occasion to dig in some very old material that was as hard as concrete. This material had been deposited millions of years ago. There was no man-made metal present. But the gold was there! My detector sounded off, and we knew what it was; so we started to excavate. It was hammer and chisel time! You must be very careful not to scar the nugget, so digging has to be carefully-done. Almost 30 minutes later, out came a beauty. It weighed just over ½-ounce. It was detected under 13-inches of highly-mineralized, concreted earth and rock.

As you uncover a valid target, it will usually develop into a clearer signal or stay about the same. If it stays the same, you may also have passed over an area that is highly mineralized. Or perhaps there was some kind of hot fire in that spot during some time in the past. Sometimes, ashes will read very slightly on the detector. But the signal does not develop as you dig down on it.

If the signal disappears altogether, you have either moved the target, or you may have had a piece of rusting ferrous material that fell apart when you moved the soil. A magnet comes in handy to quickly isolate ferrous targets; it can be a real time saver!

Bullets, nails and other foreign metallic targets are some of the items you will learn to deal with. At first, they are nothing but a nuisance. However, let’s take a closer look at this: If you are digging metal of this nature, not only does it hone your recovery skills, but it tells you that the area has not already been searched-out (every smart, responsible detectorist has a container along to remove small metal trash-targets from the playing field).

If there are no previous dig-holes, you may be the first person to detect that area. But if there are dig-holes, and you are still finding metal, it tells you someone else did not do a thorough job. If they left trashy metal in the area because they were using an electronic discrimination mode, they certainly will have left nuggets behind, too! You will pick up the nuggets your predecessor left, because electronic discrimination seldom can be used effectively while nugget hunting. Only under certain conditions would you use discrimination, and that would be after many hours of experience. Even then, you could make costly mistakes. My advice is to not use electronic discrimination while hunting gold nuggets.

Meters, gauges, bells and whistles do not make a good nugget-hunting detector. I personally feel about the only function they serve to the nugget hunter is to add weight to the instrument — which is the last thing you need. Although I will admit that there are other good prospectors around who disagree with my opinion.

The following is a list of recommended reading material which may call for reading and re-reading. This is not a complete list, but the material suggested here is a must:

Willie Merrill wrote a book called, THOSE ELUSIVE NUGGETS; and he not only knows what he is talking about, he shares his knowledge in a very free manner. I have read the book no less than five times. Each time, I learn something new. Our minds are not always ready to accept all information the first or second time through.

Another book of importance is ELECTRONIC PROSPECTING by Roy Lagal and Charles Garrett, which will also require more than one reading. This book goes into the many avenues of electronic prospecting.

Any magazine articles written by successful electronic prospectors are definitely worth reading. Hundreds of articles could be written on the subject of electronic prospecting, and each one of them will have some hot tips for you. .

 

“An interview with Jim Swinney; one of the world’s most successful electronic gold prospectors.”

Jim Swinney

 

WHAT CAUSED YOU TO TAKE UP METAL DETECTING AGAIN?

About 20 years ago, I owned a Garrett metal detector. I used to suction dredge for gold, first using the metal detector to locate “hot spots.” At that time I never used a metal detector to search for gold nuggets.

DID YOU SAY YOU USED A METAL DETECTOR FOR DREDGING?

Yes, I would find a hot spot using a Garrett, and then I’d take the dredge the following weekend and dredge out the location.

USING AN UNDERWATER GARRETT?

Yeah. That worked really well, but I got busy doing other things for a good many years and eventually sold my Garrett. Then I met Gordon Zahara here in Happy Camp. We started trading information. He wanted to know how to find jade. He taught me metal detecting and his technique. In exchange, I taught him how to mine jade!

DID YOU LEARN A LOT OF SECRETS (“TRICKS”) FROM GORDEN?

Gordon is probably one of the most skilled detectorists I have ever seen. I don’t think there is anybody around that can beat him. He is the best, and I learned a lot from him.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN METAL DETECTING IN THE HAPPY CAMP AREA?

I think it’s been about five or six years in this area.

ABOUT HOW MANY OUNCES DID YOU AVERAGE WITHIN THOSE FIVE YEARS?

I generally average about 20 ounces of gold in a season. But I only do it during my off-hours from a normal job. However, last season I topped that at 72 ounces! My biggest find was a 14-ounce nugget, and ALL 72 ounces were local, Siskiyou County Gold.

DO YOU CONSIDER THIS AREA GOOD FOR METAL DETECTING?

This area is virtually untapped when it comes to electronic prospecting for gold! The old-timers got 10 to 20 percent of the gold, but many old places around here have been completely forgotten. There are vast amounts of old mines, tailing piles and old hydraulic-mining areas that people do not realize are here. Thousands of them! Most people generally don’t know what they are looking for. They will buy a detector, take it out, work it once or twice; and that’s the end of it. They don’t find anything. Then they stick their detector in their clothes closet and forget that they own it. This is the worst thing they can do! There are thousands of places in Siskiyou County where you can metal detect for beautiful gold nuggets. There is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the best areas available today! The New 49’ers Prospecting Organization possess many, many miles of really good prospecting areas for metal detecting. Most of it has yet to be carefully looked over with modern electronic gear!

WHAT IS YOUR SPECIAL, PERSONAL TECHNIQUE FOR DETECTING IN THIS “VERY HOT,” MINERALIZED AREA?

If you can hunt here, you can probably hunt anywhere. We have hot ground that is phenomenally hot. We also have ground that is not so hot. You have to pick your areas. If one detector does not work very well in a given area, try a different detector. All detectors work a little bit differently; even the same brands. Two (Whites) GoldMasters act a little differently. I don’t just use one detector. I use a number of machines that work for gold. I stick to a couple of brands that I know work on hot ground.

WHICH TWO BRANDS DO YOU USE?

I use the White’s GoldMaster and the Fisher Gold Bug II. Those are the two that I predominately use. As I said, I haven’t used the Minelab very much. But I know others are doing very well with them.

DO YOU PREFER A PARTICULAR TIME OF THE YEAR FOR METAL DETECTING?

I detect year-around, usually on the weekends. I do it right in the middle of winter; rain, snow, sleet or hale. My normal job is with the US Forest Service.

WHEN DID YOU MOVE INTO THE HAPPY CAMP AREA?

Ten or twelve years ago, but I’ve been coming to this area for about thirty years to hunt for jade.

DO YOU HAVE ANY GOOD ADVICE FOR A NOVICE WANTING TO GET INTO METAL DETECTING? WHAT MIGHT YOU SAY TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO KEEP GOING AND NOT PUT THEIR METAL DETECTOR IN THE CLOSET?

Yes; keep your personal hopes up. It’s vital to approach gold prospecting with a positive attitude!

Also, look for the little pieces of gold. Find those little two and three-grain pieces. Those are your “bread and butter” pieces. If you can find the little pieces, you are not going to miss the big ones! Look for the “ochre-colored (bright red dirt) pockets.”

WHAT POCKETS?

The ochre pockets, which are rich, deep-red, mineralized dirt-mainly, iron pyrite pockets. In this country, the natural gold targets you are going to find with a metal detector are often mixed-in with iron pyrites. These pockets can contain 20-40% gold! Ochre pockets are superb! If you find one nugget, like the 14-ounce one we pulled out; don’t just pull that one nugget out! Carefully remove it without disturbing too much of the ground. Literally three feet around that one nugget there will be twice as much weight in smaller disseminated gold. Don’t walk off with just that one nugget! Take the ground around it with you!

Most people won’t be looking for the red (ochre) dirt. They think it is iron. They will bypass it with their detectors because it is not easy to detect in. If there is gold there, their detectors will pick it up anyway. This ochre-colored dirt is what the Indians used for war-paint.

CAN YOU THINK OF ANY OTHER METAL DETECTING TIPS?

Yes, learn to identify hot rocks in every detecting area. After a while, you will be hunting 20 feet ahead of yourself. You’ll know what rocks are hot for your detector and you can kick them aside. You won’t have to run your detector over them; because you will already know they are hot. You’ll be able to identify them. That’s one “trick” I use quite a bit to save time.

Mineralized ground is where your gold is. Most people try to find an area they can hunt comfortably. They bypass highly mineralized spots, not realizing that’s where the gold is!

When old-timers hydraulically sluiced the ground; they moved it. Look for old races, older mines and boom tailing dumps. Don’t go in tunnels. There’s too much slippage; they’re unsafe! They’re not shored up-Stay Out! Detect the dumps and tailing piles. Find out where there are hand-cobbled piles. If they hand -cobbled every piece and didn’t see any gold, they threw it down unless it was really heavy. If they couldn’t see the gold, nine times out of ten they just chucked it! Most of the ore out of the high-grade mines was hand cobbled; each piece was examined. Find these areas. Then find a comfortable spot with a little pile of rocks. That’s where they sat and looked at them. Almost every old mine will have one.

THAT’S A REALLY GOOD TIP! WHAT ABOUT LOCATING OLD ARRASTRAS, TOO?

Yep; you can do that, too. There aren’t many left here in Siskiyou County. There are a few, but not many. The older Geological Surveys, especially the circa 1945 issues, can give you an idea of where some of the older mines exist. Talk to the old-timers-the old folks. They are a wealth of information! Go to a rest home to find them if you have to. I’m serious! The more information you get regarding your areas, the better off you are. Those old folks; they really know the area. Their minds are as sharp as tacks, nine times out of ten, even though their bodies aren’t. They remember things, and are a wealth of information.

DO YOU USE ANY SPECIAL TOOLS?

Yes, I use a Tupperware plastic cup for finding the nuggets. I use a small hand rake (teeth on one side, flat on the other) and a couple of small shovels. Primarily, you just need hand tools. Once you scrape the ground to find your nuggets, you also must have a plastic cup. Your detector is so hot, it picks the salts and metals from your hands.

SO, YOU DON’T WEAR ANY JEWELRY?

No; I don’t wear any jewelry. I don’t even wear a belt buckle. I wear tennis shoes to avoid metal eyelets. Don’t carry keys in your pocket. Definitely, don’t wear steel-toed boots! Occasionally, you’ll forget and leave a ring on, and you’ll register false targets for a while, but you won’t find anything. Suddenly, you’ll look on your finger…OOPS! I’ve done that.

If you are walking up a steep hill, swinging your detector with your belt buckle on, you might pick up your belt buckle! On steeper slopes, you can even start picking up your keys –and even the gold fillings in your teeth! It’s those little things that can throw you completely off course. Can you imagine; the signals you are receiving might just be caused by the fillings in your teeth!

COULD A MOUTHPIECE BE INVENTED TO MASK “HOT TEETH?”

I don’t know about that. I do know one thing, however: One of the areas where I go to detect, we do find some good, visible gold. You can pry it out with a pocket knife, but it will not register on any detector. I have tried four different brands of detectors, but there was something in the rock that literally “nullified” the signal. It is undetectable!

HAVE YOU IDENTIFIED THE HOST ROCK OF THIS GOLD?

No. I don’t have a clue what it is. I have found two deposits like this, so far. It’s amazing! You know that your detector will pick up two small grains of gold, but you are looking at a large rock loaded with gold and your detector won’t pick it up. I suspect it might be a graphite-like substance, but I really don’t know.

So, if the rock feels heavy, I would suggest that you take it home and break it open, just like the old-timers did. Sometimes detectors won’t pick gold up when it is associated with certain types of mineral. This is true for all brands.

I LIKE THAT…”IF IT FEELS HEAVY, TAKE IT HOME!”

Yep, if it feels heavy, take it home. Gold is heavy. It’s amazing! You find a small clunker and drop it in your hand. It feels like a small fishing weight

We also have silver in this area. Sometimes you can pick up native silver on your detector. A lot of the time, you’ll have a mixture of silver and tellurium with the gold. This makes a beautiful specimen. It is gorgeous! You can literally pour a bar of silver out of it.

DOES YOUR WIFE METAL DETECT?

Yes. I took her to the beach the other day and she found her first target! She found a truck-a little toy truck. She was very excited.

If both you and your partner like to mine, go ahead and get two detectors. Sooner or later you will need them both. If you run two detectors side-by-side, use two detectors such as the GoldMaster V-SAT. The GoldMaster V-SAT has two different frequencies. You can change the frequency, and then work side-by-side. Otherwise, you have to stay about 20-feet away from each other, maybe even farther. This is one reason I use different detectors. In the past, they didn’t make detectors with changeable frequencies. Now they do.

The iron indicator on the GoldMaster 2V-SAT probably can’t be beat. If you have iron shale that is close to the surface, don’t believe any of your iron indicators. Dig every target. If that nugget is lying on iron shale, you will read iron, and you will not register the target.

DO YOU PREFER TO HUNT ALONG RIDGES OR IN STREAMBEDS?

Anywhere, there are old diggings! That’s what I look for …old diggings.

DO YOU DO HISTORICAL RESEARCH?

Yes. As I said, I talk to the old-timers wherever I can find them. Go to the libraries, historical societies and newspaper offices. Research old books! Some of your older libraries have a wealth of information, even diaries. I once found a diary of a Jesuit Priest written during the gold rush days. He came to this country from Trinidad. I had this diary for a good many years. I have almost memorized it!

You definitely have to do research. That metal detector doesn’t find the gold. You find it! So, if you are in an area that is highly mineralized, your chances are much better than if you are in an area that is not. Those old-timers were pretty smart. They found a great many of the gold areas.

The old-timers worked from the creek bottoms upward, at the time of the discovery of the Classic Hill Mine. While panning for gold in Indian Creek here in Happy Camp, miners found that deposit by a method called “loaming.” The largest nugget found at the Classic Hill Mine was 65 pounds…not troy weight…65 pounds! Makes you wonder what went through the grizzly and ended up in their tailings!

It can take quite a bit of time to do research properly. Recently, I ran into two brothers, both in their 80’s. They were trying to find a certain cabin between the Oregon and California border. The cabin was still standing. Their grandfather built the cabin. I knew of its whereabouts. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a camp. Their grandfather mined gold there. Somewhere around that cabin is a mine. It hasn’t been examined in a hundred years. It is in a good-producing area, an area I haven’t looked in before. This is the type of thing that really gets me going!

IS THERE ANYTHING UNUSUAL ABOUT OUR LOCAL GOLD?

A lot of our gold here is covered in manganese and consequently appears black. We also have gold which is copper-colored. This is due to a copper coating. I even know a couple of guys that worked all summer on Indian Creek above the West Branch campground. They found a quart-jar full of “green stuff.” They chucked it in the river! They just threw it away!

About 50% of our local jade also contains visible gold. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is white or green jade. The founder of Kraft Food Products (cheese) made his initial fortune by selling Happy Camp jade from the Chan Jade Mine to buyers from around the world. Some of the jade was so clear that it was used in stained-glass windows!

DO YOU HAVE ANY FINAL COMMENTS, JIM?

Learn about geology. Look for volcanic activity. In fact, distances of seven, eleven and twenty-one miles from major volcanic activity produced mineralized zones. These correspond to the classical geological ore models of hyper-thermal, meso-thermal, and hypo-thermal zones respectively. Look for dolomite. It acts like a filter. Most people think gold comes from quartz. This is true in some geological areas. But a lot of the time, particularly in our area, you will find gold in the calcite. I can honestly say that every place I have found gold, calcite is also present. Some of the highest-grade jade on earth, both nephrite and jadeite, comes from the Happy Camp area! Very few people know this.

 

By Marcie Stumpf

It was March, but it certainly didn’t look like spring in Happy Camp. Snow was falling, and it was thick and heavy–but it was warm enough so that it wasn’t sticking very well. But, because it was still cold and damp, we were all standing around the large wood stove warming up.

We were watching Gordon Zahara as he paced back and forth, back and forth, while he told us about the find that he and Lars Larson had made detecting several days before. His pacing was due to his excitement, and the restlessness caused by the weather outside, which was preventing him from being out with his detector.

In late January of this year, when poor weather prevented Lars Larson from mining by his usual methods, Lars bought a Minelab GT16000 detector. He wanted to get right out with it and do some detecting. The problem with that was that there were very few people in Happy Camp during the winter who had time to go out detecting, and Lars wasn’t sure where to go.

The area around Happy Camp is not well-known as a good detecting area. Most of the people who come here come to dredge or high bank, sluice or pan. The very heavy mineralization of the soil in this area prevented most people from finding any nuggets, until two years ago. At that time, several people who were very good with detectors used the Minelab GT16000 and the Fisher Gold Bug with good results. Interest has been growing ever since then. There are some quite rich old hydraulic areas that have yielded some good nuggets during the summers, but no one had done any hunting in the winter.

Before commitments took him away from detecting for awhile, Gordon spent some time on the creek claims last summer, and found several nuggets in high bedrock crevices. That really enthused him about the possibilities for detecting in this area. All the creeks in the area are known for their nice nuggets. There are also all the hydraulic tailings on the river, to say nothing of the high bedrock areas of the river to check out!

His return from a two-month trip coincided with Lars’ purchase of his new detector. The two wasted no time in teaming up. Gordon has a Garrett Groundhog that he has had quite a while, and uses a Depthmaster for enhancement. He knows his detector so well, and has such good results, that he is reluctant to change.

Lars, who is new to detecting, was enthused to have someone who was experienced to give him some tips. Unfortunately, the weather turned really rotten, and for two weeks there were never less than six inches of snow on the ground, so the two of them turned to other things, trying to accomplish as much as possible. This would allow them to have more time for detecting as soon as the weather cooperated.

Eventually it did, and we had a week of beautiful weather. By this time, Gordon had so many ideas that he wanted to try that he and Lars did not know where to begin. However, since Lars was new, they tried some of the areas that had produced nuggets in the past, and turned up a few.

The second area they worked was the one that first started producing nuggets two years ago, and has been worked heavily during the last two summers. To enhance their chances, they took along a special rake developed for nugget hunting several years ago. It allows you to go over an area that has good response, working very close to the soil. It has a deep flat edge so that once you’ve gone over it, the surface rocks can easily be removed with minimum disturbance of the soil. After covering the area closely, and removing the targets, the other side is used, which has wide, rounded teeth for removing the top two inches of soil. A large point on one end removes more deeply embedded stones. A flip of the rake to your flat edge again will smooth out the soil, and, “voila,” you essentially have new ground to work. Experienced guys can find nuggets weighing about two tenths of a grain, and you don’t detect those very deep!

Well, they made all their arrangements, and the first nice day they packed a lunch, told everyone not to expect them until late, and headed for their target area with their equipment.

It was a beautiful day—deep blue sky with a few puffy clouds, bright sun, and just a few small patches of snow here and there. You have to experience the air here to believe how sweet it smells, and all this just added to their happiness at finally getting out to detect.

They started out using their rakes, to see if this technique would yield up more treasures; and sure enough, Gordon found a nugget right off. Lars was detecting in an area nearby, but after Gordon hit the third nugget just a few minutes apart, he accepted Gordon’s offer to work the same area.

The day passed very quickly as they continued to work the same area over and over, using the raking technique. They were amazed when the light started to fail, because they were still in the same spot. They had worked all day in an area no larger than 3 feet by 10 feet, and they were still getting good responses at day’s end. Their take for the day totaled 27 nuggets, the largest of which weighed over 6 pennyweights.

They went back to the area for three more days, before the snow hit once again. All in all, they had a total of 44 nuggets, with a total weight of over 25 pennyweights, all from that little tabletop area—and with the help of their rakes. They each had one nugget that weighed over six pennyweights, and they were beautiful.

This happened just a couple of weeks ago, as I write this; and the two of them are still out there looking every chance they get. They aren’t in the same area, of course. They haven’t hit another spot as good as that one, but they are having success. An opportunity to get in on the beginning of something that could be very good does not come along very often, and they want to take full advantage of it.

This is such a new area for nugget hunting that there are many possibilities. Their enthusiasm is boundless, and Happy Camp, which has seen several “Gold Rushes,” just may be in for another one. This time, however, for metal detecting nuggets.

 
 

by Scott Langston

As I waited for our group to gather for The New 49’ers Metal Detecting seminar I poked around in Dave McCracken’s mining store.

This place fascinated me. Dave had every imaginable gadget, machine and accessory that could be linked to gold mining. The walls and display cases were filled with the exotic paraphernalia of this subculture I had recently discovered.

When the seminar got underway, our instructor (Gordon Zahara) began by giving us some basics about metal detecting and admonished the “coin shooters” among us to slow down! The targets would be much smaller and less conductive than coins in parks and school yards. He counseled patience and slow, overlapping sweeps of the coil, as near to the ground as possible.

His instruction on ground balancing was practical, simple, and effective. He advised us to think of the knob as the volume knob on a radio. If the sound increased on the down-stroke, then do what you’d do if the radio got too loud. Turn it down (to a lower number). If the sound on the down-stroke got softer, turn the volume up (to a higher number).

After a lunch break we drove to an area where extensive hydraulicking had been done. On arrival we gathered at the base of a hillside for some field-testing exercises, using a “test nugget” (about 5 grains) encased in plastic for easy recovery.

We took turns listening to the sounds produced by that target, and also compared the sounds made by other targets we were likely to encounter in this area: nails, tacks, hot rocks, pieces of iron, and nails reporting a loud, brassy sound. The signal from the gold, however, was a much softer, yet firm, “zip zip.”

I then headed off toward the steep, exposed embankment at the far end of the clearing. I could see the hydraulickers had done their work there, and I hoped to find some good targets in the soil at the base of the slope.

Although I tried several areas around the edge of the clearing that afternoon, I had nothing to show at the end of the day. Nothing.

After striking out the first day I fought the feelings of letdown and focused on positive thoughts. I was looking forward to the next day.

The second day began in the field, and I carefully worked in 5 or 6 different areas, taking breaks every hour or so. I found square nails, boot tacks, cans, foil, miscellaneous pieces of iron trash, and a multitude of hot rocks.

I was finding everything but what I was looking for. I needed another internal pep talk.

Toward the end of the day, the good news spread that Porky, from Arizona, had found a little nugget. It was a three-grain beauty shaped somewhat like a grain of rice.

He and Margy were heading back to the campground, but they gave me directions to the area of his find and wished me luck.

I did my best to follow his directions, but I never did feel confident I made it to the right place. Anyway, I worked in that general area for an hour or two before I decided to pack it in myself.

The next day I was supposed to go dredging with Chuck Tabbert. He had very graciously offered to help me learn about gold dredging by allowing me to work with him on his 5″ dredge. But, due to the river level and weather, we decided to wait one more day.

Driving back to the RV campground I thought about Porky’s good fortune. The more I imagined the thrill he must have experienced, the more I wanted to nugget hunt again. Especially now that I had an unexpected free afternoon on my hands.

I began walking down an old overgrown road in the same direction as the day before. But this time, I veered off to the left and finally saw signs of recent diggings and some of the landmarks Porky had mentioned. As I continued on, I came to a place where the ground dropped off into a gully.

Rainwater runoff had caused some erosion here, which reminded me of something else I had read. Gold, being heavy, tends to move down soil slopes with the action of wind, rain, and weathering. For this reason, the force of gravity produces more concentrations toward the base of the slope.

I decided to work both slopes of the gully, but to give special attention to the trough in the middle and the lower ends of each side. I began at the high end and worked my way down. Halfway down the length of the gully I registered an interesting signal about 5 feet up the west slope. It was a good, solid, repeatable target that gave exactly the same response from all directions. Not loud, but a soft, firm “zip zip.” I felt my pulse quicken. I pinpointed and with 3 or 4 trowel scoops I had the target in my plastic gold pan.

As I went through the separation process my excitement level increased. With only a thin layer of soil left in the pan, the signal remained consistently the same. I pushed the dirt around with my fingertips until I felt a small, round kernel of hardness. I picked it up, cleaned it off, and looked at a small piece of lead bird shot!

That was my first piece of lead, and I was amazed (and disappointed) at how it sounded exactly like the test nugget. I rested for awhile to do a little daydreaming and recover after being seduced by these tiny lump of lead.

I continued working my way down the gully and hit another target about 10 feet away. This one seemed to be a carbon copy of the first one.

It made sense. Some hunter had unloaded a shotgun blast into that hillside and, naturally, I would be finding more than one pellet in the same vicinity.

I went through the separation process and was not surprised to get down, again, to a thin film of dirt without seeing anything of any size. Again, I probed the layer of remaining soil with my fingertips until I touched something hard. As I picked it up with my thumb and forefinger, I felt a jolt of excitement.

This lump was not round! It was larger than the lead pellet and had an oblong shape. But it was still covered with dirt.

I pulled out my canteen and poured water over the thing in my palm. The color of gold flashed in my eyes, and my heart pounded in response. I felt my face take on that same silly grin I had seen on Porky just the day before.

As I drove back to Happy Camp I could hardly contain my excitement. I had to show Porky and Margy. I marveled at how much our two little nuggets looked alike. Same size, and same shape. Looked like twins. We would celebrate the family reunion.

That night I slept well. I dreamed of hearing soft, firm, “zip zip” sounds and things that flash golden to the eye. I felt satisfied and very grateful to have found this small piece of God’s most beautiful basic element, created so long ago and waiting just for me.

How could such a tiny little dot, worth less than $5 in the marketplace, cause this much excitement? For me, and I suppose for most small-scale gold miners, the value of such a find is not determined by any market. The value is in the thrill of the hunt, the chase, the effort put forth, to feel a bond with so many who have gone before. And, to share in just a taste of that which drove the old miners.