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If you don't live near a beach and dream of shipwreck silver, you may live near an area with a history of gold mining, and dream of finding the mother lode!
Gold prospecting was one of the earliest uses for metal detectors, and despite all the technological marvels we have seen, remains one of the most challenging forms of the hobby.
The most apparent difficulty is the type of soil you will be hunting in. Gold is found in highly mineralized soil. This can play havok with a regular metal detector, even one with ground balancing. A related challenge is “hot rocks.” These are rocks that have a high iron or mineral content, but not enough to be considered ore (except by your detector!)
In addition to the high iron content of the soil itself, you will have to deal with a large amount of trash under the ground. Nails, old cans, bullets, bird shot, old nuts and bolts and tools, and God knows what else. This is a necessary curse that the modern gold prospector has to bear, because the best place to find gold, is where it has already been found!
Gold doesn't show up randomly in tiny bits and pieces. Where gold is found once, it it likely to be found again. With the help of modern science, you can go to these old mining operations and find the pieces the old-timers left behind.
Where to Look For Gold
Check your local and regional history. Talk to others who hunt, or remember old stories. Your county historical society may be a good place to turn up some leads. Old aerial topographic photos or maps are a good source of information as well, that can be found online.
Finding Gold in the Mountains
Check the exposed bedrock on the banks of creeks and rivers known to have had gold. Also check in the exposed tree roots along the riverbank. Work upstream and check the tributaries of known gold streams, to see if you can get closer to the source.
Look for old mining operations. Sluice sites along streams, or rocks stacked up along the banks of creeks and streams. In the hills and mountains themselves, look for old tailing piles, pits from above-ground operations, or channels in the ground from dredging. Finding a remote area with lots of old iron pieces probably means you've found an old mining site of one kind or the other.
If you can determine where the foundations of the old sluices or shakers are, you're likely to find gold that fell off the sides. Also check for old riverbeds or streambeds. Changes in topology and water tables can mean that a dry bed once transported gold placer deposits from higher up the mountain.
Finding Gold in the Desert
Again, you want to find the exact sites of old prospecting sites and mining operations. NEVER go into a mine shaft! Not only are they unstable, they are often filled with poisonous gasses and “bad air” that you may not be able to smell before you're rendered unconscious and dead. Look for washes and gulleys that could have pulled gold down from deposits, and dropped in dips of the bed. Also check the flowing streams, along the bank where you can get to the bedrock. Tailing piles can be a source of small nuggets that were overlooked because they were too small, or inside the rocks. One prospecting expert notes that most nuggets found by metal detectorists are about the size of a grain of rice. If you find one of these, take heart! If you found the tiny ones, you're certainly going to be able to find any larger ones!
Best Prospecting Metal Detectors
We took a survey across the nation of metal detectorists, as well as seeing what the experts had to say, to find out what the most popular metal detectors for prospecting were. While many people liked the Garrett Ace 250 and AT Pro, your best best is to get a detector built for prospecting. While the Ace 250 and AT Pro are great all-round machines, and very popular, prospecting machines operate at a higher frequency, to better cope with the highly mineralized soil.
Note that you aren't limited to only one detector to try and do everything with. Even the “old pros” will use a high-end PI detector to cut through the mineralization to find the big deep nuggets, then sweep over the area with a Gold Bug or Vaquero (which is very light) to get the tiny shallower nuggets.
Entry-Level Prospecting Metal Detectors
“Entry-Level” in gold prospecting is not going to be as cheap as for relic hunting or coinshooting. A capable ground balance is essential to keep you from tearing your hair out and tossing the machine out of a moving car.
Fisher Gold Bug: Fisher made their name by providing gold prospecting metal detectors, and the Gold Bug is their classic entry-level machine.
Tesoro Vaquero: Tesoro is known for their lifetime warranty and no-frills but very capable designs. While designed as an all-around detector, the Vaquero has the robust ground balancing required of a prospecting machine.
Mid-Range Prospecting Metal Detectors
Here we find the successors to the entry-level detectors, as well as some entries from other major manufacturers.
- Fisher Gold Bug 2
- Garrett AT Gold
- Minelab X-Terra 705 Gold Pack
- Tesoro Lobo SuperTRAQ
Best Prospecting Metal Detectors At Any Price
When you're serious about gold prospecting to the point where it's a second (or only!) job, you want the best machine possible. These machines are usually pulse induction (PI) detectors, able to see a good-sized target at more than twice the depth of the VLF detectors above. This performance comes with a price tag to match: Up to $5000 for a new model!
- Garrett ATX
- Minelab GPX 5000
- White's GMT
Other Equipment for the Gold Prospector
In addition to the machine itself, you're going to need some other things before becoming the next person to strike it rich.
Proper Clothing: You want a hat to protect from the sun, jeans that will withstand briars and thorns, and comfortable hiking shoes/boots.
Proper Supplies: Gold deposits are not conveniently located near the store (or civilization at all, in many cases.) You should have plenty of water to keep from being dehydrated, and a first aid kit.
Finds Pouch: You need something to hold the gold, once you're dug it! Don't trust that your pants pocket has no little holes. Also bring a bag to hold the trash that you will inevitably dig up. Don't leave it lying about, and don't leave it in the hole!
Earphones/Headset: Your quarry is usually going to be fairly small, and fairly deep. You're probably not the first person to swing a detector at most locations! You want a comfortable headset or earphones, to be able to hear that tiny signal of a hiding gold nugget. Don't rely completely on your visual display. Your ears can tell you a lot more!
Coil Cover: This is a plastic protector that snaps onto the bottom of your search coil. Since you're likely to be around a lot of rocks, you want to protect your coil from scrapes, cracks, and other damage.
Digging Tools: A pick, and handheld digger are essential tools. A pick can be used to spread tailings out to hunt them easier, as well as being used for digging. Many people will carry a gold pan as well.
Pinpointer: This is a handheld, short-range detector, that you use once you've started digging your hole. You can check the dirt you've dug out without getting up and swinging your detector over it, and you can check the hole to see if the target is in the walls of the hole, or is still buried deeper. A pinpointer can drastically cut the time you spend recovering a target.
Some of the most popular pinpointers are:
- Detectorpro Pistol Probe
- Deteknix Xpointer
- Garrett Pro-Pointer
- Vulcan 360
- Whites TRX
Today's prospectors have access to technological advances that gold hunters could only dream of, just 50 years ago. With practice and patience, you can become one of the next generation of “Miner '49ers.”
Garret Metal Detectors