Gold Prospecting With a Metal Detector: Quick Introduction Guide

Written by on June 21, 2019 in Stuff with 0 Comments

So, you want to start gold prospecting but have no idea how it works, what to do, and what equipment you’ll need. Luckily, we’ve compiled a small guide for beginners which will help you understand the basics and start your hunts efficiently and without wasting time or money. Let’s do this!

What is gold prospecting?

Gold prospecting, also known as “gold nugget hunting”, is a type of activity where one looks for gold deposits on the ground.

Historically, this has been done for several centuries in mining environments, usually with gold pans, picks, and other equipment. Nowadays, it’s very common to use metal detectors to find gold deposits, along with other gold prospecting tools. This method is known as “electronic prospecting”.

Using metal detectors, so many incredibly large and valuable gold nuggets have been found through History, like the legendary Hand of Faith (weight: 876 troy ounces), the Boot of Cortez (weight: 389 troy ounces), the Mojave Nugget (weight: 156 troy ounces), or the Butte Nugget (weight: 75 troy ounces).

Who knows? This might be your chance to make History!

The basic rules

  • Do proper research to see where it’s worth going. Look for areas that are well documented as nugget hunting sites and ask for permission from the owners if necessary.
  • Practice a lot. This is very important, especially in electronic prospecting. In order to able to efficiently use a metal detector to search for gold nuggets, you need to be extremely comfortable using your equipment and know how to adjust to every circumstance that you might find while on the field.
  • Know your targets. You’re looking for gold flakes, nuggets, and accumulations, big or small. Usually, the larger the gold piece, the stronger the signal given off by the metal detector.
  • Don’t wear jewelry, watches, or any other metal pieces on your body while hunting. This is to avoid any false signals on your detector.
  • Detecting gold is not easy, especially if it’s small. So, while using the detector, sweep slow, and overlap your sweeps. Keep your coil as close to the ground as possible.
  • If you’re prospecting near water, carefully remove the portion of the ground where your detector gave off a signal and put it into your gold pan. If you’re prospecting on dry land, use a plastic cup to place small portions of the ground and carefully look for your target.
  • Gold is usually concentrated in a given area. So, if you find a gold piece, search the area a few more times, since there’s a high probability that you will find more gold nearby.

Choosing a metal detector

This guide is not meant to show a full analysis of which type of metal detector is best, but to give you an overview of the types and characteristics of the metal detectors available so you begin to make informed research and end up with a good purchase.

There are many different types of metal detectors out there, each with its own purpose and a selection of features according to that purpose. Because of this, a metal detector used for common “treasure hunting” might not be efficient in electronic prospecting, so you need to do some research beforehand to see what the best metal detectors are for electronic prospecting.

For gold nugget hunts, there are three types of detector technology to be considered:

  • Beat Frequency Oscillator (BFO)
  • Very Low Frequency (VLF)
  • Pulse Induction (PI)

BFO detectors are usually less common and simpler than VLF detectors. This type of detector allows you to discriminate between metals like gold and minerals like the ones found on the soil. However, they are prone to interference caused by highly mineralized grounds, meaning that the minerals on the soil or rocks may trigger the detector and block-out signals from small buried gold particles. Since gold nuggets are usually common on highly mineralized ground, using BFO detectors might be a bit challenging.

VLF detectors, on the other hand, are the most common types of detectors out there. They usually have ground balance and sensitivity features, which may facilitate the task since they work by canceling-out a few of the effects of highly mineralized ground if adjusted correctly.

PI detectors are usually even more efficient at canceling-out interference from highly mineralized areas but aren’t as effective at finding small gold targets as VLF detectors. Therefore, they are more suitable for larger gold pieces.

Most detectors, no matter the technology, don’t usually pick up gold signals as well as, say, iron signals. For this reason, there are metal detectors specifically designed for gold prospecting. One thing you can do, if you have the opportunity to test possible metal detectors before deciding which to buy, is to take a small piece of natural gold with you and see if the detector gives off a signal, and how strong it is. To test depth, try wrapping it around other materials and see if the detector gives a signal. This is not the same as detecting buried gold, of course, but it may at least help you find the detectors that won’t react to gold. If you’re serious about this activity, you should take your time searching for and consider investing in a specialized piece of equipment.

Other equipment

Other than the metal detector, there are a few other things you can take on your hunts to help the task:

  • Headphones to better hear the detector signals and cancel-out the external noise;
  • Extra batteries for the detector;
  • Plastic gold pan for wet areas;
  • Plastic cup/tray for dry areas;
  • Small shovel;
  • Tweezers;
  • Small pick;
  • Trowel with a serrated edge or a small knife to cut roots if necessary;
  • Toolbelt to keep equipment like the pick, trowel, and shovel;
  • Backpack to carry your belongings and equipment;
  • A powerful magnet to pick up iron trash;
  • Zip-log bag to keep any gold you find;
  • Vest with a lot of pockets, or a pouch to keep the trash items (don’t put them back on the ground!).

More importantly, remember to follow safety and etiquette rules (fill the holes you dig, so no one trips and get injured), and don’t give up if you don’t find anything on the first few tries. Practice makes perfect!

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