By SARAH REIJONEN
For the GPAA
If there’s one ornament Bill Southern does not want to see hanging in your home this holiday season it’s a “closet ornament” in the form of a high-dollar metal detector.
Think exercise equipment — a graveyard of barbells and fat-burning contraptions. The same can happen with prospecting equipment as dusty dredges get bogged down under car parts and Christmas decorations and metal detectors sit propped up next to umbrellas and folding chairs. The answer to keeping your expensive equipment out of the closet is education and a little bit of matchmaking, said Bill Southern, owner of Nugget Shooter in Morristown, Ariz.
“The best equipment is what you can afford. That’s what I like to tell people,” said Southern, who is also a Minelab dealer. “If you buy a detector and it isn’t the machine for you, then I’ve done a disservice to you by selling you an $8,000 machine that’s just gonna sit in the closet and you’re wife’s mad at you forever. It’s a lot easier to choke down an $800 closet ornament if it turns out not to be for you.”
While Southern said it would be easy for him to sell the high-end detectors to every client for more profit, that’s not the way he does business.
“Metal detecting is individual specific, and if you’re not able to figure out what the customer needs, I really don’t think you have any business selling these things,” Southern said.
Not the ‘Hoagie’ he expected
Southern, who picked up prospecting after watching George “Buzzard” Massie on Gold Fever in the late ’80s, met Gold Trails host Kevin Hoagland around the same time, but when they first met it was on the back of Harleys, not with detectors in-hand.
Actually, Southern contacted Hoagland by way of mistaken identity. Southern had a friend back in Illinois with the same name, whom he referred to as “Hoagie,” so when Southern was researching gold in the early days, he ran across Hoagland’s forum at the time and thought maybe, just maybe, it was his old pal.
“I ended up sending him an email and saying, ‘Hey, are you Hoagie?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, they call me that.’ I said, ‘Where are you from? You can’t be the same Kevin Hoagland I know from Illinois that I’m thinking of,’ ” Southern said.
It wasn’t the same “Hoagie” from the Midwest, but the two quickly became friends and started prospecting together, though they were generally scouring different parts of Arizona. Still, Southern said he and Hoagland still try to cross paths whenever they can even now, nearly 20 years later.
“We meet up as often as possible. I love that man to death. I call him a brother,” Southern said. “I hunt with Kevin ’cause I trust Kevin.”
But, both Hoagland and Southern are busy teaching the prospecting masses these days, Southern said.
“Our problem is that we’ve both gotten involved in educating people and working the other side of the prospecting thing to help other people find gold. And, it takes way more time to train other people to mine and find gold than if you do it yourself,” Southern said.
Though he first started out with a drywasher, Southern now prefers metal detecting — mostly for the payoff, but also for the process.
“For me, it’s the challenge, finding spots other people haven’t been able to find. Actually, I get as turned on by the research and locating areas that don’t necessarily show any signs of mining,” Southern said. “I suppose I like getting mine in chunks, as opposed to flour. I can go out and hunt, and sometimes it’ll take me three weeks to get into a new patch, but then you pull out five ounces of gold in three days, and that’s a lot of fun. I’m better at detecting than finding spots to run my drywasher. I quickly learned that I’m better at finding nuggets than processing fine gold, and it’s a lot easier.”
The making of a prospector, entrepreneur and educator
While he has a brick-and-mortar store in Arizona, Southern started out online with the Nugget Shooter forum — an idea greatly influenced and encouraged by Hoagland.
“Bill started the Nugget Shooter forum to not only learn more about prospecting, but also to help others avoid some of the pitfalls he faced when starting out. He wanted to help fellow prospectors realize their dreams of finding gold,” Hoagland said. “Over the years, Bill’s website has become not only one of the largest Internet forum sites dedicated to gold prospecting and helping others, but it also has grown in to a rather large full-service prospecting equipment company selling all the major brands of detectors and all the equipment you need for prospecting and small-scale mining.”
It was Southern’s initial detector purchase that opened his eyes to a need in the prospecting community, said Hoagland, who helped Southern develop his forum.
“When Bill and I first met around 20 years ago, he shared with me a story about buying his first detector and the training he received, which was virtually none, and how he walked away wondering if detecting was right for him,” Hoagland said.
“Instead of giving up, he dug in his heels and used his forum to learn as much as he could, help others and create relationships with seasoned miners across the world.”
In 2003, Southern found another way to help people interested in metal detecting become successful; he became a full-line detector retailer. And, he specialized in one facet that he knew would help his customers — training.
“Since that time, Bill has offered ongoing training for hundreds of his customers for free, and to others for a nominal fee to help them find gold,” Hoagland said.
“Bill’s attitude and passion for training is something we share and one of the reasons we’ve been great friends for all these years.”
Southern headed out on his semi-annual prospecting outing Nov. 9.
“I do two outings every year. It’s a potluck-style outing, and I have demo machines, geared toward teaching people,” Southern said.
“We let people get a sniff or two of what it’s about. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just a public service I do. It gets me business, but it also helps people learn.”
Riding the GPAA Gold & Treasure Show circuit
Southern has even joined the GPAA’s Gold & Treasure Show circuit, speaking at events across the West Coast.
Southern, who recently joined the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association, has been speaking and training LDMA and Gold Prospectors Association of America members during outings, along with offering special packages for LDMA members, Hoagland said.
“The packages he puts together are based on his customers’ needs and each is tailored to the type of prospecting the customer will be doing,” Hoagland said.
Similar to 2016, Southern plans to return as a speaker at the GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows in California, Arizona and Nevada in 2017.
“GPAA President Brandon Johnson gave me a platform where I can get up there and blabber for an hour or two and teach people,” Southern said.
“And, nothing thrills me more than having some of those people call me up from those seminars I do and say, ‘Thank you, I found my first nugget.’ ”
GOLD PROSPECTING TIPS
RULES FOR GREENHORNS
• Use available resources: Aside from the GPAA Mining Guide, the Bureau of Mines also releases geological reports for each state. So, check the reports to learn more about the deposits on a claim and what kind of gold has come out of the area. “Once I started researching and learned why I was in that spot, it made sense,” said Bill Southern, expert metal detectorist and owner of Nugget Shooter Metal Detector Sales in Morristown, Ariz. Southern also recommends Jim Strait’s book, titled Follow the Drywashers: The Nugget Shooter’s Bible, which is available on Amazon.
• Join a club: “By not getting in a club, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. It’s invaluable. That’s the first thing I tell people right off the bat,” Southern said.
• Buy top-notch equipment: Southern said the best equipment is what you can afford, whether it’s a low-end detector for a few hundred dollars or a high-end Pulse Induction detector such as the Minelab GPX for more than a few thousand dollars. But, before buying the equipment, decide how serious you are about prospecting. “Sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet and buy some of the better equipment if you’re prepared to do the research and are serious about it,” said Southern, who offers a 10 percent discount on detectors to GPAA members.
NUGGET SHOOTER METAL DETECTOR SALES Morristown, Arizona
• Phone: (623) 910-0345
• Go online to contact Bill Southern at www.NuggetShooter.com or call to make an appointment to visit the showroom. Please leave a message.