As featured in the 2018 March/April Edition of the Gold Prospectors Magazine
by Kevin Frew
This past summer, I and two of my regular detecting partners made plans for a few hours of nugget hunting the following day, something we ordinarily do once or twice each month.
By morning, one of my friends had to cancel, so J.B. and I headed into the hills in my Jeep Cherokee, the two of us in front and my dog Roxie in back trying to find a place to sit in between the five metal detectors and other light gear that we had with us.
Five metal detectors for two people? Sure, why not?!
I approach metal detecting like other people might look at fishing; when I leave the house, I might not know exactly where I am going to detect or what the ground conditions are going to be because I am always prospecting for new ground. In fact, the standard conversation in the Jeep, once we are on our way, with our mugs of hot coffee steaming up the windshield, almost always starts with the same two words: “Where to?” Those are immediately followed by: “I don’t know. Any ideas?”
And because I don’t know what type of ground I am going to find, I take along a VLF machine (White’s GMT is my favorite) as well as a PI, and one or two accessory coils for each detector, especially when I am detecting alone. It can be easier when I go with someone else if that other person also has different setups, because we can check over the ground simultaneously with different coils in order to discover if gold is present, and if so, how big it is and how deep. In other words, What are the fish biting on?
This is probably a good place to note that whenever I buy an accessory coil, I like to also buy an extra lower rod for the detector so that I can have the coil already mounted and just need to “snap on and plug in.”
This is, again, where the comparison to fishing comes into play. Rather than sitting in a boat or on the shoreline changing setups to see what the fish are biting on, it’s easier and faster to just grab a different pole, right? I consider time sitting on my butt changing setups to be time wasted, time that could be used to find more gold nuggets.
On this particular day, I remembered that J.B., who is more of a researcher than I am, had once mentioned an area pretty much off our normal grid, so to speak. It had been written about as a site where some good-sized gold nuggets had been located in the 1960s and earlier in western Nevada. It was about a 2 ½-hour drive from where we were, but that didn’t matter; once the idea was brought up it was “Game on! Get more coffee and give the dog a bone! We’re on our way!” And we headed east over the Inyo Mountains through Westguard Pass.
After arriving at the spot that GPS sent us to, we unloaded the gear from the Jeep and went on a little walkabout to recon the area. We saw some evidence of old-timer diggings here and there, but it was obvious that no activity had taken place in the area for a very long time. That fact can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.
On the one hand, some, but not much activity could mean that the area has never really been prospected seriously and there is a possibility of lots of nuggets waiting to be found. On the other hand, it could mean that there is nothing to be found and whoever had been there had given up and moved on.
We also noticed that the top ground layer was heavy with decomposed granite (DG), which is something that usually convinces me to go somewhere else. We might have done just that except that we also could see the occasional piece of quartz float spread around. Plus, we had driven a long distance and we were going to detect, no matter what.
We determined that the location where the books said the large nuggets had been found was most likely on a ridge just west of where we were standing. Looking east, we saw low decomposing hills with several drainage furrows between them that seemed to lead to nowhere in particular or even have a definitive starting point. Certainly, there was no obvious sign of ancient creek beds, bedrock or even a possible source for any gold to have eroded out of anything. However, those criteria are not always obvious and could still exist below the surface.
We quickly developed a plan to head east and eliminate that area, then work our way around to the south and west, eventually arriving at the spots that seemed, according to historical record, the most promising.
So we set off, J.B. and I in search of gold, Roxie in search of lizards and other critters. It was a classic summer day with temps in the 60s and climbing fast. There was no wind to speak of, so for me it was a perfect day for nugget hunting.
When I finally turned my detector on I was about 100 yards east of the Jeep and J.B. was south of me by about 50 yards. After about 20 minutes, I hit my first target, which turned out to be a small piece of iron. I was using a very large coil that I didn’t have a lot of experience with and was pleased with how I was able to pinpoint the small target with it. It wasn’t long before I hit on another target, deeper and larger this time, that turned out to be a square nail.
A few minutes later … BAM! A rusty wood screw on the surface just about blew my headphones off my head! Three targets, three pieces of trash. Not great, but I was happy with the way the oversized coil was working, and I noted something else — the DG was not very deep and below it was some pretty good looking reddish-brown dirt mixed with some light gravels. Plus, each of the targets was above the little creek bed, not in it, so I focused my hunting along that same line.
After another 20 minutes I got a new signal, faint but consistent. Using my boot, I moved some dirt and the signal became stronger but was obviously not close to the surface. “Clear the bridge and grab the pick…we’re going deep!”
So I kept digging and checking the hole every 2-3 inches. The target signal was getting stronger. By the time the hole was more than a foot deep and just as wide, I was on my knees digging. I didn’t know it, but J.B. had come over to my location and was quietly watching. I was pretty sure that I would be pulling out a piece of iron junk, but he told me later that he had been watching from a distance and once he saw me digging from a kneeling position, he got a good feeling and wandered over to see what I had.
At about 18 inches, I pulled out my handheld TRX pinpointer and stuck it in the hole and it went nuts. J.B said, “Wow, it’s still in there!” and startled the hell out of me. I was so focused on the target that I never saw him standing there.
I scraped away some more dirt and re-checked with the TRX and the target had moved! It was now in the small pile just below my knees, so I grabbed some of the dirt with a plastic digger and checked it, and yes, it was in the digger! So I stuck the pinpointer in and it hit something hard while signaling loudly! That is when I first saw about half of the target. My eyes must have been like quarters. I looked up at J.B. and said, “That’s a nugget!”
“ I know!” he replied.
“FISH ON, BABY!”
I could hardly believe it. We spent the next 15 minutes taking turns holding it and arguing about its weight. J.B. was adamant that it was at least 3 to 4 ounces. I was more pessimistic and guessing more like 2 to 3 ounces. Finally we came to our senses and resumed our hunt. Gotta be more, right? We each hunted for about another hour to no avail, so we returned to the Jeep, still debating about the weight, and eventually deciding to we had to go home and officially weigh the darn thing.
The scale showed that it was a 4.095-ounce nugget. Incredible! After a few days I sent a photo of the nugget on the scale to an acquaintance, who congratulated me and politely pointed out that my scale was set on metric ounces, not troy. Well, crap! So, it is actually slightly less than 4 ounces — an honest mistake and also a very good lesson. I have never had to set my scale for anything more than gram weight! So my point here to everyone would be: Learn where the troy ounce reading on your gold scale is; you just might need it someday.
Kevin Frew is a GPAA Member based in California