That First Nugget
January 2017 by Ray MillsI met my hunting partner George and his son-in-law Kaleb at our arranged parking site. George, as some of you may know, is recovering from a very serious medical condition and is making a great comeback, and he says “hello” to all his detecting friends. This was our first trip together and after such a long period of inactivity, George was ready to hit the hills.
After getting all the gear together we headed up the old road that led us to an old ground sluice site. George and Kaleb were using lightweight VLF (very low frequency) detectors. I carried a newer technology unit that is just a tad coil-heavy in the front. We had plenty of water as the temperature was supposed to hit over a hundred degrees. Our walk took about twenty minutes until we could start detecting. We came to a place where we split off from each other at the top of a hill. We call this place the Line Pit.
The Line Pit, an old ground sluice site, is a small gully that leads off some high ground and produced some nuggets close to an ounce when we first detected the area. The pocket gold comes from a series of clay lines that run from the northwest to the southeast. To most people the appearance of the Line Pit would not jump out or stir any emotion, unless a person was told what had been detected there years earlier.
I walked by this same area many times on the way to “better ground.” If I remember right, I was with another friend, Ron, years ago, and as we walked by it he asked me about it. I don’t remember if he detected it that day or on another trip, but he found a beautiful piece that was almost an ounce. We started looking at the area harder and found some other areas nearby that produced lots of nice nuggets.
The Line Pit was the area that George and Kaleb were going to hunt using their VLFs. I headed down an old roadbed to the bottom of the dry creek bed and crossed to the other side. As I walked up the slope I was in very familiar ground. I stopped to drink some tea, and as I was looking around I began to reminisce about nuggets that I had taken out of this washed off area years earlier. Using my old 3000, I had pulled many ounces off this small slope and the surrounding area. All of the gold was very unique in character and there were many pieces from 2.5 pennyweight on up to twelve pennyweight. There were also quite a few “earring pieces” and larger that came out of this area.
Dave, another friend, found a beautiful 14+ pennyweight nugget in a pile where it had been thrown out. The nugget was shaped like a Christmas tree. It is one of the only areas I remember where all the signals were gold for the first few days. It was fun but it’s getting harder to find areas like this anymore. It takes boots and time on the ground, but there are still places out there. Remember—three square feet can make you really happy.
The first time into this particular area I found several old steel plate grizzlies that had one-inch holes for classifying the material that was being washed by the old timers. The size of the screen holes gave me a good idea as to what size gold may be in the area. I found six of these old steel plates lying around a widespread zone so I was pretty content that I had found a paying piece of ground of a decent size.
I was ready to start detecting and at the same time telling myself not to expect too much out of this old digging as it had been hit hard over the years with many detectors. I hunted for about an hour and had picked up a few small pieces of old white lead and it was starting to get hot. I took another break and could hear George and Kaleb talking as they were coming down the old road.
George knew where the shallower ground was located and put Kaleb on it, hoping he would find his first piece. George moved up the slope and began to hunt. I figured at least one piece would have been found by now by one of us.
I moved around the small knob that was the hilltop, went down the slope a bit and located a nice spot where the ground leveled out some. I started detecting and immediately got a nice, mellow signal from below the pine needles and leaves. I scraped the debris away and found that the target was still in the ground. It also sounded louder and more distinct, which I was happy about. After about three scrapes and about six inches deeper, I got the target out of the dirt and as I dropped the soil onto the coil I caught a glimpse of yellow—Yes! I guessed the nugget to be about 1.5 pennyweight. I started swinging the coil again and got a small but subtle target response that only could only be heard when swinging one direction. This was a smaller piece, I could tell already, and I figured it was only a few inches down. It was a small piece and it turned out to be about eight grains.
I heard some noise and looked up to see George and Kaleb standing above me on the slope. I still had another target in the ground and I began to dig it out.
This one sounded like the first one and actually was almost three inches deeper than the first nugget. It turned out to be right at one pennyweight even.
I stopped and turned my unit off and asked the guys if they had found anything. Kaleb still had not gotten his coil over a piece of gold yet and neither had George. I told Kaleb to come on down and swing over my little hot spot. He did and he got a signal right on the edge of my first hole. After showing him the good and bad points of digging and removing the soil, he proceeded to finish up and had the target in the pile. We went over the pinpointing process and I showed him a few tricks that would save him time in the future.
As he dropped the material I spotted a small glint of yellow as the target hit the coil. He still did not see it so we showed him how to move his fingertip around till he heard it or saw it. Upon seeing the yellow he was very surprised, and now I had to find a vial for him to put it in. Those pesky vials—I remember the first few days in here years ago when the gold went into my pocket. Back then I would listen to the gold “sing” to me in my pocket as I walked back to the rig. An ounce of nice nuggets make their own particular clinking and I long for that sound again!
The heat was getting unbearable and George was ready to go, so we headed out to the rigs. It had been a nice morning hunt and some gold was found with friends, and one friend even got his first nugget of gold. My friend George is getting stronger every day and I think we will be back to full days shortly.
Overall, it was a good morning. Take someone out and show them what you do, you may find a new friend.
With the high price of gold, there are many new prospectors out in the hills all over the United States, and while we would all prefer to be finding those larger nuggets, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes all that is available is nothing more than a few small flakes. The truth is, new prospectors are sprouting up all across the planet—especially in the developing nations.
I’d like to offer some practical comments about staking and maintaining mining claims. Owning your own claim is the dream of many prospectors. I’ve made good money off my mining claims, both from the minerals I have found on them as well as from leasing out some of my claims to larger mining and exploration companies.
Depth is not an issue unless the site is thoroughly cleaned of shallow trash, and it is far easier to isolate and remove targets using a small coil in a target rich location.
Over the years, I've noticed a pattern in the type of rocks associated with the best gold deposits in Midwestern glacial gravel.
In October, five of us decided to take an exploration trip into an area called Green Valley. This was perhaps ten miles upstream from where we had gone in September and the difficulty was access. One would think that based on the name it was an easily accessible area not far from a nearby town. This couldn’t be more wrong.
The amount of gold in the traces from the low-grade scattered veinlets may be much more than the traces from the small but rich pocket, at least until the pocket hunter closes in on the rich pocket. Further confusion arises if the prospector stumbles across a placer deposit on one of the higher peaks.
Imagine for a minute the year is 1850. You’ve read and heard that gold was discovered in California and the creeks are so rich you can just scoop it up with your hands.
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