Story as featured in the February/March 2016 Pick & Shovel Gazette
By SARAH REIJONEN
For the GPAA
Bill Southern will tell you that a metal detector and a shovel are equals.
Just let that simmer for a minute, because once you understand that concept, you’ll get where Southern is going with his bold and seemingly absurd statement.
“I sell machines that start at $10,000 and go all the way down to $600 to find gold with, but that $10,000 machine isn’t for everybody, and it’s not what you need to find gold,” said Southern, who has been gold prospecting for 25 years and owns the Nugget Shooter shop in Morristown, Ariz. “The machine’s a recovery tool—you have to find the gold yourself. It’s no different than a shovel. It’s just a fancy shovel that beeps and tells you where to dig. You still have to get the machine over gold to find it.”
Southern, who has been a Gold Prospectors Association of America member since the late ’80s and has close ties to Executive Director and Gold Trails host Kevin Hoagland, said he owes the GPAA for getting him excited about gold all those years ago. As a thank you and to pay it forward to other miners, Southern speaks at various GPAA gold shows, including this year’s Pomona, Calif.; Las Vegas, Nev. and Phoenix, Ariz. Gold & Treasure Shows. Respectively, the shows are Feb. 20-21, Feb. 27-28 and March 12-13.
“I’ve gotten to the point now that I’ve found so much gold that it’s more about being able to share that with other people,” said Southern, who made an appearance in an episode of Gold Trails in 2015. “And, I guess I’m probably more inclined to share it through the GPAA, because years ago in the late ’80s I saw Buzzard on TV with Tom and Perry when they were both just little whippersnappers, and I got hooked, so I’m just trying to return the favor.”
Not only did the GPAA inspire his treasure hunting, but Hoagland was the instigator in getting Southern to start up his Nugget Shooter forum online.
“Kevin has always been into prospecting because of his family, but I was more just riding around on motorcycles. I had a chance to meet Kevin way back when then I had a chance to meet him again through gold prospecting, and he was actually the one who encouraged me to start the Nugget Shooter forum,” Southern said. “Then Minelab approached me and wanted me to sell machines for them, and I said, ‘OK.’ It’s all downhill from there, I guess.”
While he has an online store as well as the traditional brick and mortar building in Arizona, Southern said his real focus is on education.
“It’s a one-word thing for me. Everything about the gold show, everything about the seminars; I mean, you get people who do this stuff all the time, but the point of it is bringing people who are new to the hobby somewhere to focus and get the education that is so hard to digest at first,” said Southern, who stressed the importance of attending gold shows for that purpose. “When you first start out at this, if you aren’t in a club or GPAA or something along those lines, you have to do this on your own. Especially the way gold prices are, nobody wants to hold your hand anymore.”
Plus, you don’t want someone who will hold your hand and just point to the ‘X’ on the ground—you want to be able to find the gold on your own, Southern said.
“If you come to me tomorrow with a new detector and you want to find gold and I take you to a spot and I get you over a nugget and you leave that day, all you’ve learned is that I know where to take you to find gold. But, what if I’m not with you the next day?” Southern said.
Be prepared to put in the time and research, he said.
“I try to instill that in people, that you’re really not looking for somebody to show you where to find the gold,” Southern said. “You’ve got to be willing to do the research and learn about how to understand your detector and how to trust it, and that’s basically it. My talks are to teach people how to have the success that I’ve had, and my success is directly related to being willing to sit there and do the research to find gold.”
But, fellow prospectors and clubs, such as the GPAA chapters, also make good resources, Southern said.
“A lot of people don’t realize the chance they have when they join the GPAA or some of the other clubs out there—you’ve got a chance at education,” Southern said. “It surprises me constantly how many people are members of a club that have never looked at any of the materials that is out there and readily available that tells you how the gold was found, where it was found, who found it, the characteristics of the gold, whether there’s nuggets or not, the whole bit; it’s in the book, and a lot of people never do the time to do the research.”
Not only is there plenty of knowledge to be gleaned from the GPAA’s Claims Club Membership Mining Guide, but the gold locations are already mapped out and secured for you, Southern said.
“That’s the advantage of being in a club ... you already have a claim, so somebody’s already doing the research to show you there’s gold there. It’s up to you to learn why that gold’s there then seek it out and find it,” he said.
But, it’s not just about finding the gold; it’s about making the best use of your time by building a foundation of geological and historical knowledge.
“If you don’t understand why the gold was there in the first place and you don’t know how it was deposited and all of that, you’re not taking full advantage of your time and the ability to go out and hunt those claims,” Southern said.
Southern starts his research by scanning maps: geological maps, placer deposit maps and Google Earth.
“Generally, when I start researching a spot, I go see where gold has been found before, and that’s the same thing GPAA preaches, the same thing I preach, the same thing Kevin preaches—anybody that’s been at this any period of time, that’s the best place to start,” Southern said. “But, you have to learn why you’re stepping in that spot. That’s the key. If you don’t know why the hell you’re standing there, pardon my French, you don’t have the information needed to be successful.”
And, Southern has certainly been successful during his last quarter-century of nugget shooting throughout the Southwest deserts.
“I had a huge piece that was a 27-pound specimen that had 19 ounces in it,” Southern said. “I’ve found multiple multi-ounce pockets over the years. I never kept track. I probably should have—and I sell most of my gold, but I’ve found multiple pounds of gold over the years. I couldn’t even take a wild guess at how much, but it’s over 20 pounds.”
He’s also helped fellow prospectors find their first gold.
“The nice part is when I do talks, I constantly have people calling me up and thanking me because they found their first gold, and that’s what it’s all about for me,” Southern said.
Though Southern has found his fair share of gold, he doesn’t recommend that newbie prospectors quit their day jobs to search for the shiny, yellow mineral.
“I actually bought most of my property here with gold, but I sure don’t recommend anybody go out with that in mind,” Southern said. “I learned the hard way. After I started watching Buzzard I thought I was gonna be a big-time gold miner, and the worst thing that could have happened happened to me; I got out on a club claim and I found six ounces in one pocket dry washing.”
That doesn’t sound like a bad deal, but the well of beginner’s luck dried up quickly.
“I ended up moving out there and selling my property in Apache Junction, because I was gonna be a gold miner. I never worked so hard for $15 a day in my life, and it went on for about six months before my wife divorced me and I ended up moving into town and got a real job and got into prospecting as a part-time job instead of a full-time job,” Southern said. “You’re making the money, but in a lot of cases it’s coming sporadically. You’re getting a chunk here, a chunk there. It’s not like you’re getting a paycheck every week.”
A chunk here, a chunk there—and sometimes, no chunks at all—but Southern always encourages greenhorn prospectors to stick with it.
“I tell them to never give up,” he said. “There’s a certain percentage of us that are cut out for this and will stick with it no matter what. And then there’s a percentage that it’s a flip of a coin. If they don’t find anything right away, they give it up.”
As Southern emphasized, it all comes back to education.
“In most cases, I find that they aren’t educated properly and that’s my whole purpose,” he said. “When I run into people like that, I ask them a series of questions to find out what their education level is and see if they’ve actually taken the time to find out how to find gold. After getting to know the person a bit, I also find a way to politely tell them they’re screwing up and that they need to apply themselves.”
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gold & Treasure Show
Bill Southern, featured speaker
WHO: Bill Southern, owner of Nugget Shooter
WHAT: Get Southern’s secrets to gold mining success
WHERE: Pomona, Calif.; Las Vegas, Nev. and Phoenix, Ariz.
WHEN: Feb. 20-21, Feb. 27-28 and March 12-13
WHY: Learn how and where to find gold!
HOW: Attend the GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows
FACEBOOK: For more information about the GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows, go to www.facebook.com/GPAAGoldShows. Then, click on the Events tab near the top of the page, and don’t forget to invite your friends.
NUGGET SHOOTER: Check out Southern’s website and forum at www.nuggetshooter.com