By Michael Greyshock
When I began metal detecting, the gold fields looked so vast I thought it would take a lifetime to explore all the ground. It didn’t take me long to realize that much of it had already been gone over many times. Footprints and dig holes were everywhere.
Soon, I began to learn that even many of the places that looked untouched had been worked years prior and all traces of earlier prospecting had been washed over by rain. For awhile, I was discouraged. But, I quickly realized that for a variety of reasons I could still find gold where many had gone before.
A virgin patch is easy pickin’s at first, but it doesn’t take long before (sometimes just a day or two) the gold becomes slim. The good news I’ve learned is that it takes a long time before the gold deposit is really exhausted, if ever. Different techniques and a little more work may be necessary, but old dig holes don’t scare me off.
Expand the patch
Nuggets are often concentrated in patches. When you’re on a patch, you naturally stick with the best concentration of nuggets. This might be in the low spot of a waterway or where a pocket has eroded near its source. Whatever the case, start near the concentration of gold or dig holes and work your way out. The further away from ground-zero the more area opens up.
It’s a rare case when at least some gold doesn’t break free or get separated a short distance from the rest. My best find ever came from the opposite side of the wash where all the other gold in the patch had been discovered. We had worked that patch hard and went a day or two with no gold. In trying to extend the patch, I was swinging downstream and noticed a small three-foot stretch of drywashing, likely a test from prospector at least a century earlier. Those drywashers did do me a big favor by screening out a specimen with over a troy pound of gold and then throwing it out on the opposite side of the wash.
Think a little outside the box while looking at a pounded patch. It’s likely that the previous prospectors have been content with the easy pickin’s and left you with a prize or two.
This mainly applies to those metal detecting. If a patch is an acre in size, look at your coil and think of how much time it would take to cover that entire acre. Then ponder this: Many targets are faint and, perhaps, only can be heard over a sweet spot the size of a 50-cent piece on that coil. Some nuggets will only be heard if you hit them at the right angle.
So many variables come into play when metal detecting that certain nuggets will always be overlooked. This is good news for those willing to take a deep breath and slow down. Be sure to overlap your swings and swing slow. If you swing your coil too fast, it’s extremely easy to miss faint small or deep nuggets.
It seems obvious that he who works hardest finds the most success. As I mentioned, the first one on the gold gets the easy stuff and if you were fortunate to be the one who found it, it’s easy to give up once it becomes more difficult. Every nugget patch has its obstacles. Look under the bushes and around the rocks. If you can determine where the good gold was, dig a little deeper. If you don’t find gold at first, endure a little longer.
One friend of mine was pointed to a patch by a fellow prospector who had found about a half-ounce in a small gully. The one doing the pointing thought he had done a thorough job of cleaning the spot out. Turns out my friend went through it again and found almost an ounce-and-a-half of gold, nearly three times as much as the original finder. He worked about five times as hard though.
The overlooked key to finding gold is confidence. If you have confidence, you are willing to work harder, go slower and endure a little longer. The tough part is gaining confidence. That’s why I actually enjoy seeing pounded places. If someone has taken that much time in working a spot, I know there is more gold. Dig holes don’t discourage me; they excite me!
Have confidence in knowing there is still gold to be found and put your new found self-assured attitude to work.
An important piece of advice in prospecting a district or specific spot that has been well worked is to be sure you are not stepping on someone’s toes or worse — claim jumping. People like to claim land where they’ve made a good discovery, so be diligent in making sure you are in the clear. Even if the land is not claimed, you may not want to work it. If a buddy points you to a spot, be sure it’s OK with your friend before you go digging or turning over rocks. Work out a split or discuss terms for who keeps what before you start. Friendship is worth more than gold.
The goldfields are getting more and more “crowded,” but don’t let that keep you away. The gold is still there and all it takes is a little know-how and extra effort to keep filling your poke.
Michael Greyshock is a full-time prospector and freelance writer based in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org