The Nugget Hunter #2
by Richard Delahanty
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"Can you really find gold with a metal detector?", I am often asked when a person finds out that I hunt gold as a hobby. Well, why not? Metal detectors detect metal and gold is a metal, ergo, a metal detector can detect gold. Can any metal detector be used to hunt for gold? Yes, but some will do a better all around job than others. Since the introducton of Fisher's Gold Bug in 1987, all the major manufacturers have come out with their own version of specialized gold machine. This came about because over the years certain attributes of the machines in use at the time proved to be valuable in the hunt for those elusive nuggets while other features were of less importance. Here are those attributes that I feel make for a top notch gold machine:
All Metal Mode: In the quest for gold nuggets, you always hunt in all metal because your targets can, and do, come in all shapes and sizes from tiny sub-grain size to lunkers of an ounce or more. Since most of the gold out there is smallish in size, any discrimination will mask the small bits and cause you to lose the only nuggets that you may come across in that area. If your machine has a discriminator on it, this is an added feature that makes your detector a better all around machine, and in certain very rare instances, can be useful in extremely trashy areas if you're willing to forgo the small stuff. I have done this exactly once in seven years to give you some idea of how often one uses discrimination. Also, all metal is the only mode you will use because the number one rule of nugget shooting is: DIG ALL TARGETS! Please let me repeat that because, if you're going to be successful at hunting for gold you absolutely must DIG ALL TARGETS!
Ground Balance: The more you can control the response of your detector to ground mineralization, the better you will be able to hear the tiny variations in the sound of your threshold that can signal a small, faint target under your coil. Manual ground balance was the only way to go until just the last couple of years. Some of the prospectors I hunt with still prefer having full control over their ground balance function as there are times when a slight positive setting can give you a small increase in depth and a slightly negative setting can sometimes null out certain types of hot rocks while still enabling you to hear any targets which may be under or around the hot rock. I used a manual ground balance machine my first five years and found that a neutral ground balance was the best all-around setting for me.
Automatic ground tracking has improved to the point now that there is virtually no ground that it can't cope with. I'm using two detectors right now that have auto ground tracking on them and find that, for me, they do a perfectly fine job and they are a lot easier to use. What this all boils down to now is that it is really a matter of taste. Do you want full control over your ground balance or are you content to let the machine do it for you? You can't go wrong either way!
Autotune and Threshold: To the best of my knowledge, all of today's gold detectors have some means of keeping the threshold tone at a constant level automatically. A good machine will have a threshold control so the operator can set the sound to his or her liking. The best setting, I have found, is just within the range of hearing. Some manufacturers install a fixed rate, the faster the better, some have a seperate control which allows the operator to adjust his or her own rate. If your machine has a variable control, a good rule of thumb is, the heavier the mineralization, the faster you want it to retune. SAT stands for self-adjusting threshold and is the same as autotune.
Sensitivity: A must. You always want to run your detector at the maximum sensitivity that the ground will allow. There are some areas, however, that are so heavily mineralized that a setting of one half or less is the best you can hope for if you want to keep your sanity. Do it! You won't be giving up all that much depth and the smoother operation of your machine will enable you to pick up those whispers that say " nugget" which otherwise would be masked by falsing . Believe me, some of those nuggets give just the tiniest whisper of sound..
How can you tell if your Super Duper Sweet Swinger III would make a good gold machine? Try this: Scotch tape a pellet of #7 or #8 birdshot to a three by five card or something similar. Place it on the ground and, after carefully tuning your detector, see if it will pick up the birdshot. If it does than your machine is sensitive enough to find the smallest piece of gold out there. Another good test is to bury a nickel at 6 to 8 inches and if your detector will pick it up with no sweat then it has the makings of a good nugget shooter.
Figure 1 is an example of an excellent auto ground balancing machine, the Lobo SuperTraq, pictured with the kind of find you might make once in a lifetime if all the gods are smiling upon you and you got up on the right side of the bed that morning. The gold pictured was gathered in a period of four hours in the afternnoon of the day I stumbled upon the patch and four hours the following morning when I decided to pack it in and go home to share my excitement with moma. Total take for this eight hour period is about 50 to 60 ounces. I can't be more exact because a good deal of the take, besides what is pictured, is in dozens of pieces of the vein material. This find was made in the Dale mining district just north of Joshua Tree National Park and south of Highway 62 to the north. Dale is in the desert of Southern California and has givern up numerous nuggets to myself and members of the First Class Miners Club of Twenty-Nine Palms, Ca.
Figure 2 is a more complete photo of all the nuggets from the Dale patch. Four and a half ounces of these went towards purchasing a half interest in a Minelab SD2200d gold detector, another outstanding auto ground balancing machine.
Figure 3 is a pic of the SD with a slight modification that I made shortly after obtaining it. I put the control box and coil on a Goldmaster S rod because I hated that straight rod abortion that it came with. For me, it is very well balanced and I can swing it all day even with the 14" Coiltek mono coil on it without having to resort to using the bungee cord which came with the detector to take some of the weight of the machine off your arm. Also didn't much care for the battery holder with all the shoulder straps and stuff so I resorted to using one of my wife's castoff fanny pack purses to hold the battery and it works just fine for my purposes. Don't even know the battery is there.
Two fine manual ground balance machines that I have experience with are the Goldmaster V/SAT which I used during my first five years of nugget shooting and, after trading in my beloved V/SAT, the Gold Bug 2 which is a great nugget shooter in it's own right with some capabilities that the V/SAT doesn't have. Both machines, because of their higher operating frequencies, will pick up tiny, sub-grain pieces of gold with no strain. Something the SD2200, for all its wonderful depth capabilities, just isn't able to do. The smallest piece I've ever managed to garner with the SD is about two grains with the 14" mono of all coils. Figure 4 is a photo of the GB2.
Figure 5 a close-up of it's controls.
Even though the Lobo SuperTraq has a lower operating frequency than the V/SAT and GB2 (17.8 KHz), it will pick up pieces of gold every bit as small as the other two. Keep on walking and swinging and, as Doc says, "Be careful out there." RD