It is getting pretty close to dredging time, and if you are anything like me and the many other dredgers I know, you are probably just itching to get started.

My partners and I, from past experience, now spend the necessary time and energy, before the dredging season starts, in getting all of our equipment repaired-to avoid the otherwise often confrontations with Murphy’s Law.

Some of the standard things we go through are as follows:

Engine and Pump: We always replace the spark plug, motor oil, points and condenser and air filter at the beginning of every season. We also pull the pump impeller to make sure it is not worn or damaged, and to make sure nothing is lodged in it. And we check the pump seal and replace it if it looks the least bit worn.

Air Compressor System: All of the compressors I have seen on gold dredges have reed valves. These are stainless steel plates which allow air to only flow one way through a chamber. These reed valves ought to be cleaned, polished and straightened at the beginning of every season. Some compressors have rubber diaphragms and some have piston rings. These ought to be checked and replaced if necessary. Rebuild kits are generally available for each type of compressor-usually from your local prospecting equipment dealer.

We always open up our regulators and blow them out with compressed air. You will want to check to make sure there are no holes in the rubber diaphragm, and make sure the rubber exhaust seal is working properly. If you have problems with water getting inside your regulator, it is almost always because of a worn out rubber exhaust valve. These are easy to obtain and replace.

It is especially important to open up and clean any check (one-way flow) valves in the air system. We also always soak our air lines in a very mild bleach-water solution before starting a season. We let the airline sink in a tub of the solution to allow the bleach to kill off any fungus which has grown inside the airline. This is to avoid potential respiratory problems from the fungus. The line needs to be thoroughly rinsed with fresh water afterwards.

We check all of our airlines and fittings to make sure everything is working properly-no leaks, and no weak connections!

We thoroughly clean out our air reserve tank to make sure there is no rust, fungus or other substances which could potentially cause problems.

Dredge (Structural): And, of course, we go over the sluice boxes, dredge frame and jets to make sure there are no holes, cracks or other structural problems. And if we find problems, we fix them on the spot. No need to wait until it becomes a more serious problem during the season.

We hit all of the steel with a wire brush and follow up with a fresh paint-job every spring. It’s nice to start the season off looking good!

We go through all of our rope and make sure all of the weak points are cut out and spliced back together, and all of the ends are spliced or melted so there are no frayed ends.

Diving Gear: We go through all of our diving gear, replacing anything that is worn out, patching holes in suits, etc. No need to be any colder than necessary during the early spring!

While fixing up the dredging equipment is not as good as using it, I personally gain a great deal of satisfaction getting it all prepared for the season. And, it’s always a good feeling when I do get out on the river when I have it all together the way it should be. And when “Mr. Murphy” comes knocking at my door, at least I know it wasn’t because I failed to plan ahead.

 

By Dave McCracken

It is common to find rich gold deposits in shallow streambed material out under the fast water where nobody has ever ventured before!

Dave Mack

Something we have known for quite some time is that pay-streaks, often very rich pay-streaks, exist in the fast water.

At first, this may seem contra­dictory to our general understanding that high-grade gold deposits form in areas of the waterway where the water slows down. However, we must keep in mind that pay-streaks are created during major floods. During a major flood, a sudden drop in the bedrock can cause a very good gold trap, like the riffles in a sluice box, but on a very large scale.

If you turn on a garden hose at slow speed, the fast-water area is found directly where the water flows out of the hose. But when you turn the water-pressure up, momentum forces the water farther out. This condition also occurs within the river during a major flood. Areas where the water runs fast during low-water periods are likely to be drop-zones for gold during high water. The heavy momentum/velocity area will be forced farther downstream, leaving a drop-zone for gold just below the bedrock drop. This explains why you can often find pay-streaks under rapids when the river is flowing at low-water levels. It also explains why you seldom find pay-streaks within the first slow-water area below a set of rapids when the river is running at low levels.

Another reason why you are likely to find gold in fast water is because dredging in fast water is more difficult. Therefore, others are less likely to have mined there before you – including the old-timers. For this reason, fast-water areas can often be virgin territory — meaning places where the original streambed material remains in place from thousands of years of natural geologic activity.

  

What exactly is “fast water?” This depends upon each individual person’s viewpoint. It is primarily a matter of the diver’s comfort level. To some people, if the water is moving at all, it is already too fast to dredge. Other dredgers are able to dredge in water moving so fast that the air bubbles created by the turbulence eliminate all visibility. After diving in really turbulent water, a person’s equilibrium can become so disoriented that he/she can hardly stand up without weaving around, as if intoxicated.

Several years ago, a friend and I were operating a five-inch dredge in some very fast, shallow water. Because of the extreme turbulence, one of us would work the nozzle, while the other would hold onto the dredge to keep it from flipping over. The water was so swift that my friend was swept out of the dredge hole time after time. Once, he was carried away so fast, he didn’t have time to untangle himself from his air line before he reached the end of it. The air line was tangled around his neck! There he was, flopping around in the current, like a flag snapping in a stiff breeze, tethered by the air line around his neck and struggling, unsuccessfully, to regain his footing in three feet of water. After he got safely to the bank, we both laughed so hard that tears were streaming down our faces. That was emotional stress blowing off. Fifteen minutes later, I was the one bouncing in the current behind the dredge, facing backwards at the end of an air line caught between my legs. Needless to say, my friend thought this was pretty funny, too! Dredging in fast water can be fun and exciting (not to mention the gold you can find). But, you must be aware of and prepared for the dangers involved. There is very little margin for error if you get into a situation that is beyond your ability to manage. We all have our limits!

SAFETY

Notwithstanding all the excitement and gold, safety should always be the most important personal consideration. You are the one out there in the field with the responsibility for using good judgment about what you can safely do, without cutting your margin for error too close. The river does not have any sympathy for people who “get in over their heads.” I’ve known several dredgers who lost their lives by over-stepping their personal safety boundaries. It only takes a single mistake. The rest can happen very quickly. Even I have come close to drowning on more than one occasion! All the gold in the world is not worth dying over!

For the sake of safety, it makes good sense for you to not dredge in water that is faster than you are comfortable with. You will have to decide what that is. It is best to practice first in slower water, to gain experience and confidence.

One important thing you should remember about working underwater: Everything may be calm and under control right now; but five seconds later, you can find yourself in the most life-threatening emergency you have ever experienced! This is even true in slow water. But, fast water gives you less margin for safety if you make an error or anything goes wrong. You should not dredge in fast water if you are unable to control the various problem-situations that could develop. You need to anticipate each problem that could possibly arise and work out your response, in advance.

Contrary to what many people believe, being swept down river by the current is not the major concern. This is a normal-happening in fast-water dredging. As long as you have your mask clear and your regulator in your mouth, being swept down river by the current is generally no big deal. That is, of course, unless you are dredging directly above a set of falls or extremely fast water.

In most cases, the “fast water” you are in is not a steady flow of current. It is usually turbulent, varying in direction and intensity. A swirl can hit you from the side and knock you off balance. Or, sometimes it can even hit you from underneath and lift you out of the dredge-hole and into the faster flow. If you get swept down river in fast water, you usually just need to grab hold of the river bottom and work your way over to the slower water, nearer to the stream bank. This movement is normally best-done by continuing to face upstream, into the current, while you point your head and upper-body towards the river-bottom. That posture will nearly always drive you to the bottom where you can get a handhold on rocks or cobbles to anchor yourself down. Then, you can work your way upstream, through the more slack current near the stream bank, and back out to your work-site again. This is all pretty routine in fast-water dredging.

Getting a hole started is one of the most difficult challenges in fast-water dredging. Once you even get just a small hole started into the surface of the streambed, the suction nozzle in the hole can serve as an anchor to help hold you there against the current. There will also be several cobbles behind you to use as footholds, which also make it easier to hold a position there. After the hole has been expanded to the point where you can get at least part of your body inside, you will find significant relief from the effects of the current’s flow. But, it can sometimes be a real challenge until you do get to that point! At times, you may find it necessary to start your hole in slower water, then gradually work your way out into the faster current.

One of the main concerns when dredging in fast water is having your mask and/or your regulator swept or knocked off your face. This situation is one that can cause a person to panic, especially when both mask (vision) and regulator (air) are lost at the same time.

PANIC

There is not a single a person among us who won’t panic, given the right (wrong) situation. People who say they will never panic under any circumstances are just not facing reality and, obviously, have never come close to drowning. I believe it is better to understand and acknowledge your limitations before you get into trouble. The closer you cut your safety margin on safety issues, the more aware of your limitations you should be. And, the more important it is to plan in advance how you will react to certain types of emergencies. It is already too late to make such plans the moment something bad happens!

For me, it takes a lot of personal discipline to stay under control when an unexpected rush of turbulent water jerks my mask off and drags me, blindly and chaotically, down river. This has happened to me on several occasions. I know that under those circumstances, it would not take much more confusion (e.g., air line getting snagged, my body being banged against something, losing my balance, getting a breath full of water from my regulator, etc…) for me to totally lose control and freak out (panic).

I have worked with several guys who have a higher tolerance from panic in the water than I do. And, I know others who feel panicky as soon as they put their heads underwater, even under perfectly-controlled conditions. We are all different, and we each have our own particular point at which we will panic in different circumstances. Everyone has a limit. These limits can actually change from day-to-day, depending upon what other things are happening in our lives. It is better that we not delude ourselves about this. If you allow yourself to get overly-confident, and continually put yourself into situations that can take you beyond your limit, sooner or later you will almost-certainly find yourself tested in a life or death situation.

Panic is a survival-mechanism that takes over when your mind is convinced that your life is in grave danger. At this point, your animal instincts take charge and deprive your intellect of the ability to reason things out. Panic tells you that there is no time left, that you are literally fighting for life just before unconsciousness. The situation demands that you spend your last/maximum physical effort to remove yourself from the danger that is about to mortally injure you or cause you to lose your life. Panic is a horrible, terrifying, and, sometimes, embarrassing experience that happens when your normal, rational self loses control, and the animal-part of you takes over.

There are milder versions of panic. Someone might “panic” and do something silly or foolish in a business or a personal setting. That is not the type of panic that I am talking about here. I’m talking about the raw physical panic that grips you at the moment you realize you may be at the point of losing your life.

There is always a chance of getting into serious trouble any time you are working under the water. Trouble underwater is serious because humans cannot breathe water. There is no margin. You are either breathing air or you are not. It is an immediate emergency when there is no air. Such emergencies can happen in a split second, any time you are in a dredging environment.

TAKING EXTRA PRECAUTIONS

Other types of underwater vulnerabilities are especially present during fast-water dredging activity. Some of this vulnerability is because it is sometimes necessary to weigh yourself down more-heavily with lead weights to stay on the river bottom. Extra weight is needed to give you the necessary stability and leverage to control the suction hose and nozzle and to move rocks and obstacles out of your way. The demands of dredging activity require divers to be so heavily weighted down, that it is impossible to swim at the surface without first discarding the weights that hold you to the bottom.

One of the most serious dangers to a dredger is the possibility of being pinned to the bottom by a heavy rock or boulder. All of the oversized rocks that cannot be sucked through the dredge nozzle must be moved out of the hole by hand or with the use of winching equipment. When undercutting the streambed, or taking apart the dredge hole, there is the possibility of larger rocks rolling in on top of you. This possibility increases when you are working in turbulent, fast water. The erratic changes in the pressure that the water exerts on the exposed streambed material, inside and around the dredge-hole, can cause boulders to loosen up and roll into the hole. These same boulders, if located in a streambed where the water is running more slowly, might not loosen up the same way, if at all. For this reason, a fast-water dredger must take extra precautions to remove all larger-sized rocks when they are exposed. One of our mottos is: “You have to get the boulders before they have a chance to get you!”

When working in fast water, all of your normal safety precautions, preventative maintenance measures, and common sense instincts must be scrupulously observed. Fast water may be thought of as a liquid flow of energy that is constantly challenging you and your equipment. Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) is always at work in fast water. It is hard enough to deal with the things that you cannot anticipate will happen. You will have enough of these as it is. But, if you neglect to take action with respect to those things that you can reasonably expect to go wrong, you will almost certainly fail in your efforts to dredge in fast water. If it is wrong, fix it now, before it gets worse!

 

OPERATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

My dredging partners and I have found that it is physically possible to dredge in water that is too fast for the safety of our dredge — even the kind of dredge that has been designed for fast water. Therefore, the need to operate in an environment that is safe for your dredge is one of the major limiting factors in fast-water dredging.

Most fast-water dredgers add more flotation to their dredge platforms to give more stability. This can be done in different ways, including additional pontoons, inflated tire inner tubes, PVC pipe material, Styrofoam, etc.

One of the main considerations when adding more flotation to a dredge is to avoid increasing the drag against the current. Additional drag causes problems in two ways:

1) The fast-water current puts more strain on your dredge, frame, and tie-off lines.

2) More importantly, the surface-tension caused by all that additional water dragging around the dredge makes it difficult to work near the dredge when you are in the water (which can be a particular problem when you are trying to knock out plug-ups from the suction hose near the dredge).

Another goal when adding flotation is to keep the floats as narrow as possible. A wide set of floats is more likely to be tossed or dragged around by the turbulent flow of fast water.

Generally, when working in fast water, I try to find a location for the dredge where the water is a bit slower, just next to the fast water where I plan to work. This way, I can enter the river in slower water and work my way out underneath the faster water, adding suction hose as necessary.

Otherwise, if we position the dredge directly in the fast water, it will become necessary for the divers to contend with fast water when entering the water from the dredge. This can be done; but it makes the operation more difficult – especially, when the dredgers need to climb back onto the dredge.

Also, the buildup of cobbles and tailings near the dredge can add to the surface-tension and create an even faster current flow under and around the dredge.

When you are set up with the dredge positioned off to the side in some pocket of slower water, your suction hose will be running perpendicular, at least to some degree, to the flow of the fast water. That much hose exposed broadside to the current creates enormous drag, which can cause the suction hose to kink usually within a foot or so of where it attaches to your power jet. Hose-kinks will cause continuous plug-up problems, so they must be avoided. Therefore, you may find it necessary to disconnect the suction hose and cut off the section that has been kinked. However, you cannot shorten your suction hose very much before you lose the amount of operational flexibility you need for freedom of movement while dredging.

Suction-hose kinks can usually be avoided by setting up a special harness to support the hose in fast water. This is often done by rigging one or two extra ropes down from your main tie-off line. The ropes are fastened to the suction hose at points which will allow the hose to be flexed back by the current, but not to the critical kinking point. You must allow the hose to flex back. It is the bend in the suction hose which allows you the movement to expand the size of your dredge hole.

It is best, when rigging a fast-water harness, to rig it in conjunction with your main dredge tie-off line. This way, the entire dredge and suction-hose harness will move together, as a unit, when you need to move the equipment forward as your dredge-hole progresses.

Suction hose support booms are standard equipment on the commercial Pro-Mack dredges.

Larger and commercial dredges may be equipped with booms, which can be extended out in front and used to secure a suction-hose safety harness. In this manner, when the dredge moves forward, the suction-hose safety harness moves with it, as in the situation above.

Another concern in fast-water dredging is to keep your suction nozzle and hose from being swept out of your dredge hole. Sometimes, the current will put so much drag on the suction hose that it takes all of your strength and energy to get any nozzle-work done at all! In such a case, you can relieve the main strain of the drag by tying a section of the suction hose to a large rock at the rear of the dredge hole or some other anchor point further upstream. When doing this, always leave enough slack in the hose to allow you to move the suction nozzle forward as your dredge-hole progresses. Also, be sure to remember to untie the suction hose from the river-bottom before you move the dredge. Otherwise, you can damage the hose by causing kinks in the middle! If you kink the hose in the middle, you will have to replace the hose!

We have also worked out a way to extend the suction hose, swing it out on a pendulum line, and anchor it in place using a spare weight belt.  This method nearly eliminates all of the hose drag for the person managing the nozzle.

When you take a lunch-break or knock off for the day, you can anchor your hose and nozzle by either piling rocks on the suction nozzle or by tying the nozzle to a large rock in the bottom of the dredge hole. It is not any fun to start a production-dive by having to work against the current to get your suction hose back up into your dredge hole, because the fast water blew it out after your previous dive. But, of course, all fast-water dredgers get many chances to experience this. It is a normal part of the routine!

One important safety point: When using ropes underwater, it is a bad idea to use any more than is absolutely necessary. A lose rope is poison to divers underwater, especially in swift water! Always cut off any excess rope or pile rocks on top to hold it down. If there is a length of loose rope flopping around in the current, something (like your air line) always seems to get tangled in it. Loose rope under water is dangerous!

Your air line can be another source of problems when dredging in fast water. Always be sure to get all the loops out of your air line before starting your dive. Otherwise, the current can pull these loops into kinks, which can immediately cut off your air supply. Not fun!

When you turn around in your dredge hole to roll boulders, toss cobbles, or do any of the many other things associated with production dredging or sampling, get into the habit of exactly reversing your turn when you face forward again (turning back counterclockwise is “cancelled out” by turning forward clockwise). This practice will help prevent you from putting lots of loops in your air line during the course of the dive. Each loop is a potential kink that can cut off your air supply in fast water. Each loop also increases the amount of drag being brought to bear on your air line in fast water.

If you should get a kink in your air line that cuts off your air supply, you can usually get some immediate relief by pulling your air line in toward your body and letting it go. When you let it go, the pressure is temporarily removed from the kink, and you can usually get a single breath of air. I always try this once, quickly, when my own air is suddenly cut off. If that does not give me immediate relief, I crawl right over to the surface so I can properly correct the problem.

If you are experiencing any difficulty with a kinking air line, your best course of action is to immediately remove every single loop in the line. Getting rid of the loops will require you to rotate yourself in circles, going in the appropriate direction, until the air line is straight again.

Several years ago, I was dredging in fast water with a guy who had to repeatedly dive out of our dredge hole because of a kinking air line. After about the fifth time, I suggested that he take the time to straighten out his air line to fix this problem. This remedy only worked for a short time, because he had developed the habit of turning around and around in the dredge hole as he was moving rocks, which just created more and more loops in his line. Fifteen minutes later, he was diving right back out of the dredge hole again.

These days, you can buy a heavier-type of “safety” airline that will prevent kinking in all but the swiftest of fast water. I recommend this heavier air line to anyone who plans to dredge in swift current.

By the way, your air line is also your direct connection to the dredge and to safety. When you connect your air line to the dredge, even in slow water, it should be wrapped around the dredge frame several times before being attached to the air fitting on the dredge. Most air fittings are made of brass. If you should need to use your air line to pull yourself to the dredge in an emergency, it is better that you not have to depend solely upon the strength of a brass fitting!

Nearly all experienced dredgers are aware of the fact that their air lines are an extension of themselves while under water. Especially in fast water, it is very important that you not allow your air line to tangle around parts of the dredge, underwater obstacles, and/or the air lines of other divers in the dredge hole. If you cross over the top of another diver’s air line, keep that in mind, so you will be sure to cross back over it again when you return. Each time you go to the surface, to remove a plug-up or for whatever reason, take a moment to untangle your line from anything it may have wrapped around. As a standard practice, all dredgers should always untangle your air lines each time you return to the surface for any reason. I personally never end a dive without first freeing my airline completely, so it will be ready for the next dive.

One of the persistent problems of dredging in fast water is the heavy drag on your air line. This can normally be solved by pulling some slack-line into the dredge hole and anchoring it against the current with a single cobble placed on top. This will allow some slack air line between you and the cobble. You want to be sure that your cobble-anchor is not so large that you cannot quickly free your air line in an emergency. Also, when you leave the dredge hole, don’t forget to first disconnect your air line from your anchor.

Full face masks are generally not well-suited for diving in swift water. Since they are larger, with substantially more surface area, they are more likely to get accidentally dislodged from your face. This can happen when the mask is bumped on another diver, or an obstacle, or when turbulent water catches it, especially from the side. To further complicate matters, when a full face mask fills with water, the regulator usually does as well. Having to clear the water out of your mask and regulator at the same time can be more difficult and contribute to a panic situation. I personally find that I am more prone to feeling panicky when something goes wrong inside of a full face mask. If your reactions are similar to mine, you may want to avoid using a full face mask in fast water.

DO’S AND DON’TS!

In any kind of a dredging operation, fast or slow water, it is wise to become familiar with your surroundings as your first priority. Before you begin work, make sure you know the easiest and most direct route to crawl over to the surface in the case of an emergency. Don’t wait until an emergency happens before you think about this. By then, it is too late!

Here is some really good advice: Do not tie yourself into a dredge hole in fast water to keep from being swept down river. It is bad enough having a heavy load of lead attached to your body! If you have to tie something, tie the suction nozzle from a point further up river (with no loose rope flapping in your face). Then hold onto the nozzle to keep yourself steady and in place, while you get the hole started. Get rid of the rope as soon as you have a hole started!

Generally, the most effective way to maintain your position in fast water is to streamline your body properly, with your head and chest close to the river-bottom and your rear-end slightly elevated. This posture allows the water-flow to push you down, toward the bottom, so you can get a better footing. Begin creating your dredge hole as soon as you can. The hole will help anchor you in place. The larger you dredge the hole, the easier it gets.

Some dredgers try to solve their stability problem by putting a lot more lead on their weight belts. Sometimes in turbulent water, more lead can be a help. But, be extra careful when walking out of the water on the slippery bottom, so you don’t overload your ankles and knees and injure yourself.

Most importantly, it is very unwise to solve your fast-water buoyancy/stability problem by adding a bunch of additional weight belts. Take it from me; it is hard enough to get one belt off in a hurry, without compounding the emergency with three of them! Sometimes, you cannot manage the needed extra weight without 2 weight belts, but you must understand that a second belt substantially reduces safety margin in an emergency. Additional belts tend to shift around so that the quick releases are in different places, often behind you where it is more difficult to release them during an emergency. Difficulty in finding them in an emergency can contribute to a panic situation and put your life at risk.

Whatever else you do, early in your dredging career, it is wise to discipline yourself to never try and swim for the surface in an emergency while wearing your heavy weight belt. It just doesn’t work! In a panic situation, your body will want to go immediately for the surface instead of removing the weight belt. I have personally saved two people from drowning who were trying to ”swim for it” with their weight belts on. By the time they realized swimming was not going to work, they were in too much trouble (panic) to get their own belts off!

This does not mean you can’t get a good footing on the bottom and jump up to the surface for one quick breath of air. You can do that in an emergency, as long as the water is not too deep or fast. But, if you cannot crawl over to the surface quickly, your first priority should always be to get the lead weights off as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that you usually cannot see the quick-release buckle on your weight belt while underwater. This is because your face mask blocks your vision at that angle. So, it is important to practice locating the quick-release buckle by feeling for it. It is also very important to keep your belt from shifting around, so that the buckle always remains directly on the front of your body. One of the problems we already noted when wearing more than one belt, is that the top one tends to shift around. There is not much you can do about that. So with two belts, you should be prepared to find the top buckle behind your body!

You may also find that it is better to first remove your work glove before trying to release your buckle in an emergency. When I get in trouble, the first thing I do is get rid of the glove on my right hand!

These are all things you must be able to do quickly and instinctively before venturing into fast water. A wise skydiver would never jump out of an airplane without first receiving enough practice and instruction in how to find his rip cord. Similarly, a dredger’s life should be just as well protected by having a confident ability to release your weight belt quickly in an emergency.

Some of the weight belts on the market also include a suspender harness. The only ones I recommend are the ones that have a quick-release, D-ring on one of the suspenders that allows the shoulder harness to come loose on one side when you release a single waist belt buckle. Otherwise, in an emergency, you may find it too difficult to get out of the suspenders, even if the waist belt is released.

All this advice is coming from a guy that has devoted a large part of my life living on the edge. You can sit there in the comfort of your computer reading this stuff and feel quite certain that you can manage any or all of these things if they should come to pass when you are out dredging. But when the severe emergency happens, you are not the same person. You are a maniac!

You should always keep an eye on your diving buddy while dredging in fast water. When we dive with multiple dredgers on an operation, it is standard policy for us all to keep track of each other. If one person needs to leave the dredge-hole or go to the surface for some reason, he always lets someone know he is leaving. Otherwise, when a diver suddenly disappears, we immediately go looking for him. A person in serious trouble underwater only has about 30 seconds to get it together. This is not much time. What good is diving with someone else for the sake of safely, if you are not paying attention to what is happening with him/her, especially in fast water where there is so very little margin for error? A tender, or anyone else resting at the water’s surface, should be paying close attention without distraction when there are dredgers down working in fast water.

If all of this has frightened you, that’s good! That means I have accomplished my goal of alerting you to the dangers inherent in fast-water dredging. Being alert to, and fearful of, those dangers is the starting-point for making your own preparations and contingency plans for dealing with them – before you start working in fast water.

What is fast water? It depends upon the individual. An experienced dredger might be much safer in a typhoon of fast, turbulent water, than an inexperienced person would be in slow, shallow water near the bank. The key for each person is to begin learning in a safe and comfortable environment, gain valuable experience over time, and never attempt to do anything that you cannot easily manage, with safety.

 

 

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 ANTHONY “LITTLE TONY” STEURY, SR.

 

As usual, I awoke to the sound of a mother osprey’s loving shrieks giving instructions to her two young ones who had not yet mastered the art of flight. The sun was just coming over the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, quickly cutting the chill from the night air.

I could tell by the thundering sound of the rapids below my camp that the mighty Klamath River was rising at an alarming rate. The flood gates at the dam were being slowly raised, and I knew my time was limited. I felt that I must get down to bedrock under the rapids in order to find the gold that I knew had been waiting there for a gold dredger with modern equipment since the earth was formed millions of years ago.

As I quickly prepared a hot breakfast to help brace myself for the cold water I would have to endure, I reflected on the past two weeks dredging with my 6-inch dredge slowly moving yards of material, throwing cobbles, and moving small boulders to bore my way down to bedrock and get deep enough to escape the white water force that kept blowing me out of the hole. I was now at a point where most of the turbulence went over the top of my head, and I no longer had to work on my stomach with my face next to the nozzle intake to see. When I first started this hole, I was using 85 pounds of lead around my waist. One slight turn of the head would mean getting my mask or regulator ripped from my face by the turbulent force of the rapids.

I was snapped out of my interlude by the smell of burning bacon and a beautiful eagle gliding gracefully up the river taking full advantage of the thermal river canyon updrafts. Had I known then what events waited for me at the bottom of the river this day, I would have stayed in camp and dreamed of all the gold I had found in the years past.

As I put on my wet suit, my dog “Treasure” was already in the truck patiently waiting to go to our dredging operation as she had done so many times before. I think she knew our time was running out, and swimming the river to work our claim would soon be impossible.

I finished suiting up and grabbed all my gear. Twenty minutes later we were at the dredge, gassing up and getting ready to dive.

I took a quick look at my water marker, and it showed that the water had progressed 18 inches higher since yesterday. Not a good sign in the life of a fast-water dredger. Just as I started my engine and was preparing to slide down the suction hose into my hole, an ominous black cloud came from nowhere and totally blocked out the sun. It gave me a strange feeling as I looked up the side of the mountain and saw the old growth trees bending to a heavy wind by its awesome power. The cold, fast water slammed into my body.

As usual, my gallery was waiting for me in the bottom of the hole. Two ugly eels, three big suckers and many small fingerlings.

Without the sun, and because of a heavy flow of algae, it made visibility less then ten inches. I grabbed the nozzle and started plowing my way deeper around the base of a large boulder that I knew was lying on bedrock. Every day I had tried to move it with an 8-foot pry bar without success. “Today,” I vowed it would move. I threw caution to the wind and felt if I moved enough overburden from around its base, the force of the water would drop it on down behind me to the bottom tier of the rapids.

After steadily working for an hour and a half, I took a quick look at my watch and saw I had ten minutes of gas left. I was just about to go up and refill when the sun came from behind the clouds, allowing me to see that I had finally reached bedrock. There was a one-inch crevice starting at the base of the boulder making it a natural riffle. I took my small pry bar from my belt and pried into the crevice. Yes, I was right! Out came the gold into my suction nozzle. I had found the paystreak; I had outsmarted Mother Nature once again.

Just as I turned to go up and refill the gas tank on my dredge, I heard the familiar grinding sound of falling rock. A breathtaking pain shot up my leg causing me to spin around and grab my calf. As I did so, my mask and regulator were torn from my face. Experienced reflex made me grab my air hose to quickly retrieve my air source which I shoved back into my mouth, blowing out the water so I could breath God’s clean fresh air again.

At this point, after diving rivers and lakes clear back to when I was a young boy, I still panicked, causing me to hyperventilate. My mind started spinning to warn me I was about to black out. From out of nowhere, a voice was telling me to slow down my breathing, lie still and think things out before I became another one of the river’s many victims.

As my mind cleared, I started to run my hand down my leg, since without my mask, I could see only a few inches in front of my face. As I did so, again came the full force of pain which I was now more prepared for. After a quick search, my hand told me my ankle and foot were pinned under the large boulder that I had released with my foolish dredging around its base. I lay back again waiting for the pain to subside. Fighting panic, which would only bring me death, I took off one of my gloves and started to feel around behind me knowing my 8-foot steel bar lay somewhere near-hopefully close within my reach. It was the only chance of freeing myself, and a slim one at that. After groping around as far as I could reach, I was about to give up when my fingers touched steel. I arched my back and got three fingers around the point. Grabbing it the best I could, with my leg killing me, I pulled it toward me far enough to get a better grip and have total control. Just as I got it under and behind the boulder, I heard the engine stop from above.

I knew that there were only fifty-two seconds of air left in my holding tank. I twisted my body allowing me to put my unpinned leg against the boulder while, with arms above my head, I grabbed the top of the bar with both hands. I knew there would be only enough air for one chance to free myself. My mind raced back through my past. I thought of all the sporting events I had won in my youth. All the brave men who had died for their country telling me of all the things they still wished they could do. My family who still needs me and all of life’s battles I had won.

I felt a surge of power entering my body along with that gut feeling one always gets just before a win. I sucked in the last remaining air in my tank, pushing with my leg and pulling down on the bar with the 180 pounds of power that my body had to give.

Instantly, I fe1t the boulder move and I wrenched my leg free. Without hesitation, I ripped open my lead weight buckle release and shot out of the hole and down the rapids at breakneck speed.

In times past, this trip would mean a one-mile walk back up the river along a very rugged river bank, plus a one-hour delay swimming back across the river, floating down to my dredge, and retrieving all the gear I was forced to drop.

This day as my body was bounced along the bottom and slammed into boulders, I felt only the breath of joy while thanking a power greater than myself for this gift of life that was once again given to a mortal such as I. In a matter of minutes, my high-speed float trip was over, after being hurled into a slow water eddy which allowed me to drag myself up on a pile of cobblestones left by the old-time 49’ers.

As I laid back, totally exhausted from the pain and nerve-wracking experience, thinking about the fantastic gold deposit I had located, I looked up into the sky just in time to see my friend the eagle drop a wing tip to catch another updraft. He was, as always, looking after me and all of those who respect and love the river, saying farewell until another day dawned fresh in the life of the fast-water dredger.

 

BY SAM LONG

 

Dry-washing, in many ways, puts me in mind of eating at a Chinese restaurant with chopsticks. It’s fun to try; but you can’t move material from one place to another very fast, even if you’re good at it. That’s why it’s so important to pick out an area with a theoretically high concentration of gold. Of course, down here in Arizona, you’ve got about as much chance of finding an area like that as a one legged man’s got at winning a kicking contest!

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try. I always do so with this theory in mind: Billions of years ago, when God was putting tons of gold in Alaska, South America, Russia, Australia, the Yukon, and even California, he accidentally spilled a couple of pounds over Arizona. I always think of that after I’ve worked through a pile of rocks and sand big enough to shade an elephant, and not come up with enough gold to fill a tooth. All the expert mining techniques in the world won’t come up with a speck of gold where there’s none to begin with. So, the place to start is history.

I know you’ve read it a thousand times. Now you can say you’ve read it over a thousand times: It’s usually better to begin your search for gold in an area that has produced it in the past. The more the better.

From that point, go to maps. Study them religiously. I take my topographical maps to an office supply that has an enlarging copier. I have the section I’m interested in blown up two or three times. This really helps in seeing all the side washes, forks, bends, and places of slowing water that are the obvious holding spots for gold.

Now, you’re ready to hike to these areas. Of course, on your way to and from these spots, keep your eye open for any likely looking area you might have overlooked on your map. There are a zillion of them, so you’ve got to learn to be very selective.

Remember, you want to shovel rocks, sand, and gold through your dry-washer, not just rocks and sand. It doesn’t matter to your shovel. It doesn’t matter to your neighbor. It only matters to you. Take your best shot before you ever crank up your machine, and you won’t have to deal with the disappointment of getting skunked.

And, just how do you do this? Sampling. That’s right— sample, sample, sample. If you’re diligent about it, and do it correctly, when you finally start dry-washing, your question won’t be will I find gold? It will be how much will I find?

Starting up your dry-washer in a likely-looking spot without sampling, makes about as much sense as a dog barking at a knothole. Sure, sampling is a lot of extra work and it takes time. But, when it’s all said and done, you’ll end up with some gold along with the new blisters–instead of a sour attitude and the new blisters.

This isn’t to say you can’t set up anywhere and get some color. But to my way of thinking, that would be pure luck; and I haven’t experienced enough of that to feel qualified to write about it. If you have, and can make it work time and time again, I’d sure be willing to learn.

So, here we are in a gold producing area, walking up a wash that had some likely-looking gold-holding spots on our map. How do we sample? Well, as with most things, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I use a Goldspear. It’s proven itself to me to be an accurate, time saving, prospecting tool. I know lots of folks don’t think much of them, but usually they haven’t ever owned one, or don’t understand how to use them to their advantage. Granted, they’re not some super tool that can automatically find gold. But used correctly, they can sure save you a lot of needless digging. And, at the price of shovels these days, you don’t want to wear out any more than necessary.

For now though, I’ll skip the use of the spear and explain a few points of how I sample without one. Again, this isn’t the only way to sample or dry-wash, but it works for me. Adapt it to your own personality and tools, as you see fit. In my pack, my basic tools are: Two pans, a small kitchen sieve; and, because we’re prospecting dry washes, a wide-mouth plastic gallon jar of water. Needless to say, never go anywhere without your rock pick.

With these basic tools, slowly work your way up the wash, visually sampling as you go. In your mind’s eye, continually look for the places gold is likely to accumulate. The more of these types of places you can recognize, the more success you’ll have in sampling.

Likely gold-holding areas would be the inside of sharp bends; areas where the wash levels and widens, indicating slowing water; areas of red and blue clay; pockets of iron pebbles, which show the water’s inability to carry heavier minerals; or a zone of magnetite, hematite or quartz. All these are good visual indicators that gold will likely be present.

After finding a place containing as many positive indicators as possible, roll over the biggest boulder you can in that area; and using one pan to hold the water, screen some material from under the boulder into the other pan and go to work. If you’ve done your homework right, this should yield you a few colors. Jot down how many on your map at the place where you found them. If more than just a few colors materialize, try a couple more pans before moving on. Continue in this manner for the rest of the day. You should have a few different areas that are somewhat better than the others.

Now that you’ve picked a good spot to work, and packed in all your equipment, the last important point is the speed at which you run the material through your dry-washer. It’s a big temptation to drop your riffle board too low so you can process material faster. But by doing this, you’ll lose a lot of finer-sized gold. As you either know, or will soon find out, most gold in the dry washes is very small. Unless you keep your riffle board only slightly lower than level, a good portion of the fine gold won’t have time to settle. It will end up going over the end instead. You can’t feed any more material in than is going out, so be careful not to overfeed the hopper. Otherwise, you’ll end up with gold in your tailing pile. Nothing will make you feel ankle high to a frog in a post hole quicker than your neighbor coming by, to run his Goldspear through your tailing pile, and getting enough beeps to make a liar out of you, when you tell him you were planning to run it through again a second time anyway.

The biggest hindrances to running your machine are laziness and rain. If you’re the type who does more spitting on the handle than shoveling, you’ll probably welcome the rain. If not, the folks around you will surely think you were raised on sour milk. It takes the fun out of dry-washing when you just get going good, then it rains and stops your operation. That’s what happened to us this winter. With my Keene dry-washer, I could work wetter dirt than everyone else because it blows hot air. But after the fourth cloudburst, it was even too wet for me. We switched it to a re-circulating water system and kept going.

So, if you pick the right spot and don’t push your machine, you’ll get some good gold. It might not be the most gold you’ll ever get in a day, but that desert-gold is some of the prettiest you’ll ever find. Since gold is more ornamental than useful anyway, you ought to be happier than a fly in a raisin pie

 

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!

 
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By Dave McCracken

Always set up a dry-washer downwind of where you are working!

Dave Mack

 

Deserts consist of huge deposits of sedimentary material which have been affected by ancient ocean tides, ancient rivers, glaciers, floods, gully washers and windstorms. They are literally a gold mine of placer deposits.

There is also an enormous amount of gold-bearing mountainous dry placer ground which has remained relatively untouched by large-scale gold mining activity because of the scarcity of water required in those locations to support wet recovery methods.

Generally speaking, dry methods of gold recovery are not as effective or as fast as wet recovery methods. Yet, dry methods do work well enough that they can produce gold well if the ground is rich enough. Recent developments in dry washing equipment have made it possible for a one or two-man operation to work larger volumes of dry placer ground without water, and obtain good results in gold recovery.

Dry processing recovery systems generally use air flows to do the same job that water does in wet recovery systems. Under controlled conditions, air flows and mechanical motion and vibration can be made to effectively get rid of lighter, worthless materials. This causes a concentration of heavier materials similar to what occurs in wet processing.

SETTING UP TO WORK AN AREA

Sometimes a road can be bulldozed to your spot. Sometimes you can drive right in with a 2 or 4-wheel drive truck. In these situations, you might consider screening pay-dirt into the back of a truck and hauling it to a wash plant to be processed elsewhere. Actually, this is just slightly more difficult than shoveling directly into a wash plant. The hardest part is breaking the material away from the streambed and classifying it. It takes a little more time to haul the material to the wash plant, but that depends upon the distance and the condition of the road. It is also more difficult to shovel up into a truck. Some small operations use a portable conveyor belt to lift the material into their truck. Feeding the material from a truck into a wash plant is not as difficult, because it is usually down hill. An average one or two-person team should be able to move the equivalent of a pickup-sized load of screened pay-dirt and process it through a wash plant at another location in the period of a full day’s work-perhaps even two truckloads, depending upon the distances involved. If the material is paying well, they could do well at it, too.

DRY-WASHING PLANTS

If conditions do not allow you to truck the pay-dirt to a nearby water site to be processed by wet methods, you will have to consider processing the rich material by dry-production methods.

While dry-panning and winnowing do work, and have been broadly used as a means of production during the past, they are not normally as effective as some of the modern dry-washing plants which are available on today’s market.

Dry-washing machines use an air blowing fan or bellows-type device to blow a controlled amount of air-flow up through the dry material that is being processed. Air flows help blow off the lighter materials and allow the heaviest particles and gold to collect.

Dry-washing plants are available which can either be operated by hand or by lightweight engine and air-fan assemblies.

“Non-motorized dry-washing unit”

A hand-operated dry washing plant usually includes its own classification screen as part of the unit. Raw material can be shoveled directly onto it. The bellows air-blower is usually operated by turning a hand crank, which is often conveniently located so that one person can both shovel and alternately work the bellows at the same time. Under ideal conditions, two people working together can process up to a half-ton of gravel per hour by taking turns, one person shoveling while the other works the bellows.

Some units also have a 12-volt electric conversion kit to allow you the option to either hand-crank in the field or connect to a 12-volt battery for automatic bellows operation.

Various gasoline motor-driven dry concentrating units are available on the market which utilize static electricity and high-frequency vibration to help with gold recovery. Most commonly, there is a high-powered air-fan which pumps air through a discharge hose into the concentrator’s recovery system. The air currents which pass through the recovery system are adjustable so that the proper amount of flow of lighter materials through the recovery system can be obtained-similar to a sluice box in wet-processing. The purpose of the steady airflow is to “float off” the lighter materials through the box. Heavier materials like gold will have too much weight to be swept through the recovery system by the flow of air.

The bottom matting in this type of concentrator is usually made up of a specialized material which creates an electrostatic charge as high velocity air is passed through it from the air discharge hose. Fine pieces of gold, while not magnetic, do tend to be attracted to surfaces which have been electrostatically-charged, similar to the way iron particles are attracted to a magnet. So the bottom matting in these concentrators often attract fine particles gold to itself and tends to hold them there.

Some motorized dry concentrators also use a high-frequency vibrating device to keep the entire recovery system in continuous vibration while in operation. The way to get gold particles to settle quickly down through other lighter materials is to put the materials into a state of suspension. The vibrating device on this concentrator helps fine particles of gold work their way down through lighter materials that are being suspended by air-flows.

Here follows an excellent video demonstration which shows exactly how motorized dry concentrators work:

A motorized dry-washing machine is excellent for the production demands of a one or two-person operation. Under ideal conditions, it is able to process up to about a ton of raw material per hour, which is the equivalent of what a medium-sized wet sluicing operation can produce. This is as much or more than one or two people can usually shovel at production speed when working compacted streambed material. Most motorized dry-washers do their own screening of materials and almost everything else automatically. This leaves the operator free to produce at his or her own comfortable speed.

Total weight of the average motorized dry-washer is about 75 pounds, but the units do break down into separate pieces which can usually be carried around by a single person. So the electrostatic concentrator can be carried to a hot spot if it is worth a few trips to do so. They usually get about 3 hours to the gallon of gasoline.

SETTING UP A DRY-WASHER

There is no fixed formula for setting up the proper air flows and downward pitch on the recovery system of a dry-washer. A lot depends upon the nature of the material that you are processing, how heavy it is, whether or not the material is angular or water-worn and the purity (specific gravity) and size of the gold being recovered. Each of these variables is likely to affect how you must set your recovery system in each different place that it is operated.

The main thing to remember is that the machine needs to separate the gold from the lighter, valueless materials. If you only have a small amount of air-flow running through your dry-washer, then you will need more pitch on the recovery system-and you may need to feed the material slower. Too much air flow can also be a problem. Normally, you would compensate by adjusting to a lesser pitch on the riffle board.

Watch how the material flows over the riffle board. You should see the dirt rise up in an orderly fashion and flow over top of each riffle. It looks an awful lot like water. It is best to keep a steady feed of material going through a dry-washer at all times. The riffles should be filled about half to three-quarters, with a steady flow moving from one riffle to the next. The material in the riffles should have a fluid look to them; they should not be packed solid.

This following very important video sequence demonstrates how to set up and operate a motorized dry-washer, and it shows exactly what you should look for while making flow adjustments to obtain optimum gold recovery:

It is a good idea to shovel lower-grade material into your dry-washer while adjusting for the proper air flows and pitch. Once set, you can shovel in the pay-dirt.

One thing about dry-washing is that because it is generally slower than wet methods, the pay-dirt must have more gold. High-grade areas in the deserts certainly do exist! This is all the more reason to make sure your recovery system is set properly before processing pay-dirt. Chances are that you will not see any gold that might be discharged into the tailing pile through a dry-washer recovery system.

Another thing about setting up a dry-washing production program is that you always set up a dry-washer downwind of where you are working!

Once gold falls into the dead air space within the riffles, it will usually stay there. The air-flows are generally not strong enough to push gold out of there. There is a limit to this, however. Just like a water recovery system, a dry-washer will concentrate the heaviest materials which it processes. After some time, the heavier concentrates may require stronger air flows or a steeper pitch to keep them in suspension. At this point, it is probably time to clean up the recovery system and start all over again. If you are keeping a close eye on your recovery system, you can see when it is time to clean up. The fluidity of the material inside the riffles becomes more concentrated and slows down.

DRY-WASHING AND CLAY-LIKE MATERIALS

Material to be processed must be thoroughly dry to get the best results out of any dry-washing plant. Sometimes you will run into moist clays when out in the dry regions-just like you do in the wet streambed areas. It is also possible to find a pay-layer associated with the clay. Clays make dry-washing procedure more difficult, because they must be thoroughly dried out and broken up before being processed effectively by dry methods.

Sometimes this means the material needs to be set out in the sun to dry for a full day or more before anything further can be done with it. Sometimes it is necessary to dig clay a couple of days ahead of the processing stage. You can alternate spending a day digging and laying out material to dry, and then a day processing dried material. Sometimes, the dried clay can harden into clumps, which then must be broken down into dust and sand before you can recover the gold out of it. When necessary, all of these requirements require more time and energy. But if a good pay-streak is involved, you will find yourself doing whatever is necessary to recover the gold out of it.

It may be necessary to use rock-crushing machinery to break up hardened clay-like material and crush it down on any kind of a production -scale.

The clean-up of concentrates from a dry-washing plant is accomplished best by wet-processing methods. Usually, if you have room-enough to haul around a dry-washing plant in your vehicle, you will also have room for enough water to pan down your final concentrates, too. The following video sequence demonstrates how and when to perform a final clean-up during dry-washing:

If water is not available to you out in the field, the clean-up of your dry concentrates can sometimes be accomplished quite effectively by running them through your dry-washing plant several times. Final cleanup procedures can then be done to separate the gold from the last bit of remaining valueless material.

DESERT PLACER GEOLOGY

The chances of finding a hotspot out in the desert, or in some other dry region, are probably just as good or as your chances of finding a hotspot in the watersheds of the gold-bearing mountainous areas. These chances are pretty good, providing that you are willing to spend the time, study and work that is necessary to implement a good sampling plan.

Probably your best bet is to start off with a “Where to Find Gold” book and study the geological reports which apply to the area(s) of your interest. There has been some small-scale mining activity out in the dry regions. Much of it was lode mining, but some placer activity took place, as well. A good portion of prior activity is recorded information today. It can be of great value to you to know where gold has already been found. It is almost a sure thing that the areas which were once worked for gold at a profit were not entirely worked out. They might be worked again with today’s modern equipment at a profit. Any area which has once proven to pay in gold values is a good generalized area to do some sampling activity to see if additional pay-dirt can be found.

The desert areas were pretty-much left alone by the large-scale mining activities of earlier times because of the accessibility problem. Often, during earlier times, there was not enough water to sustain life, much less to process gold-bearing material.

But desert prospector should not limit him or herself to only the once-proven areas. Most of the desert regions have gone pretty-much untouched by past (effective) sampling activity because of accessibility problems, lack of water, and not having adequate equipment to do the job up until recent years. So the desert prospector has access to a lot of ground, and there are not that many competitors to worry about.

A single large rain or wind storm can change the entire face of the desert in just a few hours. There is very little undergrowth in these areas to prevent a good-sized rain storm from causing an incredible amount of erosion. And so you hear all the old-timers’ stories of finding bonanza-sized gold deposits, marking their position, going out after tools and supplies, and then returning to find the desert entirely changed and the bonanza apparently gone. Undoubtedly, some of these treasure stories are true. After all, many of those old-timers had gold to go along with their stories. Many of them spent the rest of their lives looking for their “lost gold mine.”

All of the placer geology concerning wet areas also applies to desert placer deposits (most which were developed during wet storm events). The same remains true of eluvial deposits-which is the gold that has weathered from a lode and been swept some distance away by the forces of nature. Eluvial deposits in the deserts (called “Bajada placers”) tend to spread out much more widely, and in different directions. This is because they are usually not eroding down the side of a steep mountainous slope. Therefore, they are sometimes a little more difficult to trace back to their original lodes. But it can be done. The answer is to do lots of sampling.

History has shown that one of the best locations to look for gold is where the hills meet the desert and fan out. This is where the water slows down during flood storms and drops gold in the gullies and washes. There also are likely to be more gold traps further up the hillside.

When doing generalized sampling in the desert, concentrate much of your activities in the washed-out areas, where natural erosion has cut through the sediments and created a concentration of heavier materials. Dry-washes, dry streambeds and canyons are good for this. Get an eye for the terrain, looking over the high points and the low points to get an idea of where the water flows during large flood storms. Areas where the greatest amount of erosion has taken place are areas where the highest concentration of gold values might be found. Remember that we are looking at many thousands of years of erosive impacts.

Bedrock will be exposed in some low areas, as in canyons and dry washes. These are ideal places for you to get into the lowest stratum of material-where the largest concentrations of gold values are often found. Large and small canyons have been formed by many years of erosion and are likely spots to find paying quantities of gold.

Caliche is cement-like false bedrock which is commonly found in desert placer areas.(photo USGS)

The desert and dry areas also commonly have a “false bedrock” layer specifically called “caliche.” Sometimes (often), this caliche layer is only a foot or two thick. In some areas, gold is concentrated along the caliche, just like on top of bedrock.

After a storm in the desert, in some places you can find small pockets of gold in the gravel traps, under rocks and under boulders which rest on top of the caliche. Sometimes the gold is pounded directly into the caliche and needs to be removed with a pick or crevice tool. Caliche layers which are close to the surface allow small-scale dry-washing operations to be economically feasible, because of the lesser amount of gravel and material which needs to be shoveled off the gold deposits.

Streambed material can be recognized by the smooth water-worn rocks. Anywhere in gold country, where streambed material is present, is a prime area to be doing some preliminary sampling. Such material indicates that it has been exposed to a substantial amount of running water. This means concentrating activity took place with those same materials. It is possible that the material was once washed out of an ancient river.

However, gravel and material does not need to be water-worn to carry gold in the desert areas. Rough and angular gravel, which has not been greatly affected by water, also sometimes carries gold in volume amounts. Testing is the key.

Sometimes it can be worthwhile to do some sampling in the different layers of desert material when they are present and exposed. Gold concentrations in and between flood layers can happen even more in the desert. This is because of the flash floods which can occur there.

Sometimes substantial gold concentrations can be found just beneath boulders which rest upon bedrock, or up in a layer above bedrock.

When you find a gold deposit in a dry area, whether on bedrock or the caliche, you will want to thoroughly clean the underlying surface upon which the gold is resting. Seldom will you visually see gold in dry placer material-even when there is a lot of gold present. Use a whisk broom or vack machine to clean all of the loose material. Sometimes, it is also productive to break up the surface of the caliche or bedrock with a pick or other crevicing tool.

Occasionally, in dry washes, you can actually see stringers of black sand along the bedrock or caliche-especially directly after a storm. You can sometimes do exceptionally well by following these stringers and digging out the concentrated gravel traps. Do not forget to test the roots from trees and other vegetation in such areas. Vegetation requires a certain amount of mineralization to grow. Roots can grow in and around high-grade gold deposits. I have heard of single roots which have been dug up and produced as much as three ounces of gold!

Some electronic prospectors use their metal detectors to trace concentrations of black sand. Then they follow up by testing the areas which produce the strongest reads from their detectors.

Some desert areas, like Quartzsite, Arizona, also have gold just lying around anywhere-even on top of the ground. Such places are excellent for electronic prospecting and dry-washing. The deserts of Australia are famous for this. I have a number of friends who have been very successful in the Nevada deserts, using metal detectors to recover large numbers of nuggets, some very large, directly off the surface of dry desert ground.

If you find a piece of gold on the surface of a dry placer area, it is likely that there are more pieces of gold in the immediate area. Electronic prospectors call these areas “patches.” Gold generally does not travel alone-unless it was dropped there by mistake.

Sand dunes in the desert are usually not very productive. This is because they mainly consist of lighter-weight sands that were deposited there by the wind. However, sometimes the wind can blow off the lighter-weight sands from a particular location, leaving the heavier materials exposed behind. This is similar to what happens after a big storm at the gold beaches. This is something that should be watched for.

When prospecting around in the dry areas, when you encounter tailing piles from past dry-washing operations, it might be worthwhile to do some raking of the tailings and scan around with a metal detector. Sometimes old tailing piles can be productive enough to run them through a modern dry-washer.

 

 

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 Jude Colleen Kendrick

 

Dry washing1I remember, in my beginning days of prospecting, driving through the Upper Mojave Desert in Southern California, looking for mines to explore and tailings to scratch through. Occasionally, off to the sides of the road, I would spot small areas where dust and sand billowed up. At first, I thought that they must be “dust devils,” yet they never seemed to change position. In my imagination, I wondered if someone was sending up smoke signals, because that is what they appeared to resemble. One day, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and follow a dirt road up to the puffs of dust.

As I drove up, I saw an old man shoveling gravel into what I now know was a dry-washer. My own previous experience in gold mining had been with suction dredges, so I was excited at the possibility of another way to find gold! The gentleman was kind enough to show me how his dry-washer worked. He explained that he also dredged during the summer. But during the winter months, he headed for the more moderate desert-climates. The thought came to me that now I could prospect year-round, and that everyone in my life would really be annoyed at that. This was because I didn’t leave much time for anything else but gold prospecting, as it was!

For a more comprehensive explanation about dry-washing, please click here.

The old prospector’s machine was a “Nicks Nugget;” which, as I understand it, was constructed upon the design of an “Old Beck’s” dry-washer. It basically worked from a large bellows which was run by a small gas engine set up around 10-feet away (to separate the motor further from the dust). There was a 10-foot leather belt attached to the pulleys. I noticed that the pulleys were connected in such a way that the entire machine vibrated when the bellows opened and closed. The man told me that he would not have any dry-washer other than a Nicks Nugget I, of course, asked him where I could find one for myself. He told me, “Someone one has to die, because they are not made anymore and that’s the only way you’re ever going to buy one!” That is exactly what happened about a year later. An old prospector in the town of Randsburg passed away. I heard that his equipment was being sold and bought the Nicks Nugget!

Drywashing machineMy machine has great recovery. I have tested my tailings throughout the years; and to my knowledge, I have never lost a single speck of gold!

The desert is peaceful and quiet. At night, you can see the sky and stars in a way that is beyond words…

I should point out that dry-washing is a dirty way to prospect. No matter where you set up the machine so that the dust blows away from you, the wind figures out what you are doing. Then it changes direction so that you get a mouth-full of dust with every shovel-full of gravel! I suppose this is just one of Mother Nature’s many ways of making you pay dearly for her most cherished golden treasures!

Most of the time, I wear a bandanna, which helps a little. But when I go back to camp, I still look like “Pig-pen” from the Peanuts cartoons! Still, it has always been worth it.

Winter in the desert can be hard at times, because the temperature-changes are quite drastic. It will be a comfortable 70 or 75 degrees during the day. Then, the afternoon winds can gust up to 60 miles per hour, and the temperature can drop as low as 20-degrees during the night. I woke up one morning to find that all of my panning water was frozen solid. I could not believe it!

The desert also demands the most out of your creativity and imagination. Very often, we all forget some part of our equipment, no matter how careful we are about packing. Yet with a little thought, anything can be fixed. On one trip, I had forgotten my large panning tub, so I ended up digging a hole, lining it with a large plastic garbage bag, holding the edges down with rocks. Presto; a baby swimming pool! I used it to pan down and perform final clean-up on the concentrates from my dry-washer.

Another time, the worst possible items were forgotten; which were the legs to my dry-washer. Can you imagine? I was frantic! After a few moments of figuring my whole trip was for nothing, I looked over the poles from my picnic awning, and the light went on in my head. Shortly thereafter, I took two of the poles, broke them off at the length I needed, and punched four holes in the poles for the nuts and bolts. Within minutes, I was already cranking up the dry-washer. There is always some solution if you are in the right state of mind; you just have to find it! I’m sure this is all just a part of gold prospecting.

The beauty of the desert makes up for any discomforts which you may experience along the way. Usually, nobody is around for miles. It is peaceful and quiet. At night, you can see the sky and stars in a way that is beyond words. And the gold has always been there for me, from flour to nuggets of various sizes and shapes.

One of my favorite things to do while dry-washing is run my machine all day, collect all of the concentrates; and then at night, by lantern-light, pan everything out! There is something wonderful about working everything down to that glimmering, beautiful gold at the end of my day!

During my years of dry-washing, I have spent Christmas out in the desert a number of times. One year, I grabbed three friends (who have parents and family in other states), and took them to one of my mining claims for a “different” type of Christmas celebration. We decided we would cook our turkey on the BBQ and try to make the side dishes on the Coleman stove. A friend of mine had hooked-up an apparatus so that my rotisserie on the BBQ worked off a 12-volt battery. It was great!

My friends and I thought everything was under control until we realized we had bought too large of a turkey. So we ended up eating our Christmas turkey at 10:30 at night! By then, we had already eaten all of the side dishes as “appetizers.” After a few toasts of champagne, nobody seemed to care much about how or when the turkey was done! It was sometime during that evening that one of my friends decided to make a “snowman” out of three large round lava rocks. Even though there was no snow out there, we found ourselves making the best out of our situation. I’m certain that none of us will ever forget that Christmas experience!

Now-back to the important thing — gold! I have usually dry-wash alone; but when I do have a partner, it certainly makes things a bit easier on both of us. One person can be breaking-up the gravel while the other can shovel. During one of my trips, I ran into my friend Ed “Half-Bucket” Daugherty. So we decided to team up for a while. Later, when we realized that we were onto some good gold, he and I were both feverishly shoveling gravel into my machine so fast, that several times we crossed our shovel handles and sent gravel flying everywhere. To this day, I am convinced that it was those lost shovelfuls which had the big nuggets in them! I’ve often wondered if “Half-Bucket” ever went back out there to get them…

I once watched a young man with a whisk broom and dust pan going from one prospect hole to the next, left behind by other people. He merely swept the shelf completely clean and panned-out what he had collected. He found more gold that way than I did running yards of gravel into my dry-washer! So I started using this method, but took it a step further. I took a gas-powered vacuum, sucked up the layers left on the shelves by others, ran that material through my dry-washer, and then panned-down the concentrates. Trust me; by following this method, I have always recovered a lot of color and sometimes a small nugget or two. I nicknamed this method “dry crevicing.”

While I have not tried it yet, I have run across others in the desert who have made fantastic gold recoveries using modern metal detectors to locate pockets and “patches” of nuggets. I have this plan of trying to combine modern electronic detecting with dry-washing…

At the time of this writing, it remains a little warm to start working my mining claims in the desert. Writing about it, though, has me counting the days until the weather cools.

Until then, I’ll look at my gold from last season and imagine my bottles completely full for the next time.

But even if they aren’t full, the desert and dry-washing are wonderful for the winter months. I can’t wait! Good Luck!!

 

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Every successful gold miner will tell you he or she is absolutely willing to devote whatever time and energy is necessary to locate the next discovery!

Dave Mack

Why is it that some people are able to succeed well at gold mining on a continual basis, while others have difficulty making it work?

There are a multitude of factors which contribute to the success or failure of any operation, but there is one factor which I feel underlies all the rest. It has to do with time.

Upon close inspection, you will find that every person who is doing well in these activities, other than the occasional lucky person, has been willing to devote a great deal of time to his or her mining activities. While luck does contribute to some excellent discoveries, you will find that good luck comes around more often when you spend more time searching for gold.

Unquestionably, there are skills, techniques, and standard procedures to learn in order to succeed well in gold mining. It takes time to get through the learning curve.

People who get involved with the idea of getting rich quick are usually disappointed. People who are willing to devote whatever time is necessary to polish their skills, and who are willing to devote themselves to locating the next discovery, usually do pretty well.

And, it is not necessarily true that you need to spend a lot of time before you start making important discoveries. It is mainly the willingness to devote lots of time. We have seen many beginners, who were approaching the activity with the correct viewpoint, do very well right from the start.

Most good things in life take some time to develop. Get rich quick schemes tend to cheapen the value of an activity. More often than not, it takes time to do things the right way, to make things come out good in the end.

Older people, wise with age, often say that their most worthwhile accomplishments took lots of time and energy. And, for them, the time and energy spent was the best part of it!

There are few activities which are better, more exciting, and more rewarding than gold mining and treasure hunting. While it can be aggravating at times during the testing stages when you are not finding what you are looking for, this just makes the thrill of discovery all that much better.

Every successful gold miner will tell you he or she is absolutely willing to devote whatever time and energy is necessary to locate the next discovery. And this is a lesson we could all learn from.

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