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Gold Detecting Mistakes and Pitfalls

Seecrets of Metal Detecting Failures

In the old detecting days of the eighties, the failure rate for beginners was much higher than it is today. That's because detectors were cantankerous and difficult to use. Modern detectors by comparison are very user friendly; however some unfortunately do give up this alluring hobby. In this article I want to analyse some of the reasons why some people fail. Here are the nine secrets for gold detecting failure:

Unrealistic Expectations Gold prospecting has always been linked with powerful imaginations and unrealistic romantic expectations. Some beginners have somehow imagined that they will find a chicken egg sized nugget every day with the occasional Emu egg when they get lucky. So when they arrive at the gold field, they tear around, looking for the golden eggs and swinging their detector at a terrific rate. That night around the campfire, his or her depression and disillusionment dampens everybody's spirit. If they are prone to learning, after a few days detecting they discover that the average sized nugget is smaller than a lizards egg and even pea sized pieces aren't always easy to find. I have found that the most successful beginners are those who are realistic. They have read enough to know that there is plenty of gold still out there, but that they might not find a lot in the first week. They realise that it takes time to learn how to find productive spots and to make best use of their detector.

Human nature hasn't changed. In the peak of the Palmer River gold rush, hundreds were enthusiastically wearing out boot leather on their long hike to the Palmer River from Cooktown. On the well worn track they met hundreds of returning miners, bitterly claiming that there was no gold left. They persuaded a surprising number to turn back. This was far from the truth, of course. The Palmer was one of the world's truly rich rivers, and for years its gold filled many a billycan. The problem was that many of the first arrivals expected to pick out the nuggets like hens eggs out of a nest. . The more persevering ones kept trying until they hit a worthwhile patch. Perseverance and realistic expectations pay off. It's no different today. Some of the more enthusiastic have too high an expectation and give up too soon, claiming, “ It's all gone.” Others are content to pick up a few pieces here and there until they hit a rich patch, which always seems to come along, sooner or later.



Listen To The Locals Local knowledge can be a good thing if the locals are clued up, and, if willing, can lead you to potential areas. The problem is that the locals at the pub or caravan park often don't have a clue what they are talking about, and haven't found a nugget in their lives. Or if they have, they may wish to get rid of the tourist who has come to take their gold, so they paint a negative picture. How would they know about how much gold is found in the area anyway, Most operators keep their mouths shut about any big finds they make, so the local bloke only hears the hard luck stories.

Last year a beginner bought a detector from me and was going to head to North Qld to find gold. He had heard of place where plenty of nuggets had been found over the years, so he drove the 3000 kms on his own, with his brand new detector on the back seat. When he got there he met up with some locals who told him that the gold had all gone years ago. Discouraged, but not totally deterred, he located some old gold mines and looked around. His heart sank when he saw that there were quite a few detector holes scattered about. Hadn't the property owner told him that he would do no good? Well, he had travelled a long way, so he swung the detector for the rest of the day. He emptied his pockets of what he had found: An assortment of nails and wire. The heat started to get to him a bit too, so the poor bloke decided that he had had enough and he drove the 3000 kms south again where he called into my shop and saddened me with his story.

Yet I keep contact with a few detector operators who are working that same North QLD gold field. Camped in scattered locations, they are happy with the few ounces they each average per week. Week. Getting well above wages, they lead a carefree healthy lifestyle, full of anticipation and adventure. That particular gold field, like many others, is comprised of several smaller fields covering a 30 km area in each direction. There is enough ground left for the patient operator to detect for decades to come. Maybe some of the locals aren't aware of what is being found behind the scenes. Or maybe they aren't talking, but in any case it's disastrous to take what they tell you about your chances seriously. I had told the disappointed customer all this before he left on his trip north, but while he listened I don't think he heard. It takes time to get to understand a gold field and it can be disastrous to believe everything the locals tell you.

Buy The Wrong Detector Fortunately, most dealers will guide the beginner to the appropriate detector for his needs. But it is important to purchase from a salesperson that is not only honest, but also an experienced operator, or you may find yourself with an excellent treasure hunting detector, which is a poor gold field detector. Out of the dozens of models available there is only a handful from which to choose.

Often an inquirer will phone me at my detector shop for my opinion. He has decided to spend 6 months on some serious travelling and prospecting during his retirement. He had just spent a significant portion of his retirement package on a caravan and a four wheel drive vehicle and yet was reluctant to spend more than about $1,500 on a detector. I point out to them that for such serious prospecting a Minelab GP3000 or at least a SD2200d would be the best investment. Although the initial outlay is high, over a period the investment return would be much greater than if they had chosen the cheaper machine. In fact, experienced operators are finding that the SD & GP series of detectors on average, will find three or four times more gold than a conventional detector. On the other hand, a beginner may only be intending to put in a few weekends a year, and may be under financial pressure. I wouldn't encourage them to buy the top of the range, as it would put him under too much pressure when he is unable to put enough detecting time in to be sure of recouping his money and forge ahead. The most successful detecting is generally unhurried relaxed detecting, where there's no pressure to find enough gold in a given time. Intelligent relaxed detecting is the most productive. It's not impossible to find gold with a cheaper coin detector or a mid eighties gold detector, but it stacks the odds against you, as they don't handle the mineralisation nearly as well as modern detectors. Many coin detectors have no ability to ground balance and should be excluded from most gold fields where this facility is essential.

Hire Rather Than Buy Although I constantly hire detectors out, and people do find gold and lost jewellery etc. with them, I don't think hiring is the best way to go when you want to get a bit serious about finding nuggets. The reason being that it takes a bit of commitment to find more than just that lucky nugget. Generally novices who hire, for a weekend think that they will get two days detecting in. But they discover that it takes time to drive to the gold field, time to set up camp time to find the diggings and get permission from the property owner, and time to get used to the detector. By then there isn't a lot of time left for productive detecting and the weekend is half gone. It often takes a few trips to get onto worthwhile gold and as hiring isn't cheap

You are better off buying a detector. So just hiring a detector for a day or two leaves you little time to get into the swing of things and often fails. It takes commitment to become successful at any sport or hobby, and hiring often means there is very little commitment involved. That's why hiring often fails. If you buy something, you are saying, “I'm getting serious about this.” There are exceptions however; I remember I met a fellow camper on a gold field. We started to chat and I offered to lend him my spare detector. We drove to some nearby diggings that I hadn't visited before, and I spent a few minutes showing him how the detector worked. We parted and went either side of a wide gully. I heard his scream through the bushes and my first thought was. “Is he bitten by a snake?” so I ran toward him and I found him dancing about with a Half ounce nugget in his hand. Sometimes luck overrules dedication.

Not Digging The Quiet Signals Another mistake beginners make, is to just dig the clear signals. Generally, the louder the signal the less likely it is to be gold. 98% of screechy surface targets are bits of rusty wire, nails, horseshoes, tin cans and the like. Gold is particularly heavy and sinks deep into the ground (if there is depth to the soil) over the years. The signal is likely to be soft and mellow. Those faint compact signals are much more likely to be gold.

At times when I have been detecting in high junk areas, I have simply ignored the dozens of surface signals and only dug the quieter ones, some of which have proven to be deeper nuggets. However at times I have been surprised by an exception to the rule. I remember once when I was cleaning up a ten ounce patch, where all the signals where in deep quiet ground and the nugget ranged from 5 to 60 grams. One signal was a loud surface signal and I dug it sceptically, expecting it to be junk. I spotted the two ounce nugget only four inches down, resting on some protruding bedrock! So you do have to be careful, especially when you are in the goldfields.

Not Being Thorough Another common mistake of the beginner is in haphazardly scanning the ground. Rarely will you see a beginner carefully covering all the ground alongside some old diggings. There may only be two or three pieces of gold on a quarter acre patch alongside some diggings. If you only weave a zigzag course over the patch a few times, you have probably only covered 10% of it, and your chances of hitting three faint signals are pretty small. Not finding a nugget, the beginner then moves onto another patch and repeats the same few runs over it, again with a negative result. The idea is to look at the ground adjoining the diggings and say to yourself. “There's got to be a nugget there somewhere, but if I'm not thorough, Ill miss it.” Then cover every square meter of it. Often gridding and thoroughness produces results. When people come back from an extended trip to a good area with poor results I know their methods have been wrong.

Choosing Ground That's Too Deep In my “Nugget Finding Secrets” videos, I demonstrate the different techniques in discovering the depth of the soil. There's no point in detecting an area if the nuggets are all covered by a meter of topsoil. Yet it's common for operators to detect the flats on the banks of a river where the gold bearing layer of bedrock would have to be at least three metres under the surface. Beginners generally have no concept of the importance of understanding soil depth. Most of the nuggets that are still in the ground are well out of detector reach. On average, the old timers had to dig at least three metres down to reach their gold bearing layer. We need to concentrate on areas where the ground is shallow enough to detect. The average sized nugget is rather small and would be measured in grams rather than ounces. Even the most powerful detector will only detect a nugget of a few grams weight at about a maximum of depth of around 30 cm.

Larger nuggets of a few ounces in weight can generally be detected at well over twice that depth with the right detector, however they are far less common.

Adopt "The Too Much Junk" Syndrome This has been the cry of many a failed operator. In most gold fields you have to be prepared to dig an assortment of metal junk for every nugget you find. If you are realistic about this annoying fact, you won't get discouraged over handful of nails and bullets. On average, I dig a couple of dozen junk items for every nugget I find. And this is after leaving most of it undug and in the ground when using the GP Extreme discriminator. There's a strange false rumour that was circulated by the press that certain gold detectors will beep on gold alone. But that miracle hasn't been invented yet, so we have to be prepared to dig quite a few useless targets. But when you think about it, fishermen who chase barramundi sometimes return quite a few unwanted fish before landing their prize. And they don't give up fishing because of it. The day will come when detectors will only beep on gold, and won't that be a great day! But that day hasn't arrived yet, so we have to dig the junk trail that leads to the golden prize.

Not Doing Any Research I remember a totally inexperienced bloke drove up to the shop with a flash prestige car and bought a SD2200D detector. He didn't buy any maps or accept tuition but taking his detector and pick he sunk in his leather seat. He attached his battery charger into the cigarette lighter socket and rocketed to the nearest gold field, which is rather a poor one. Arriving at the field, he drove through some frightening thick scrub and picked up a grand's worth of scratches. Luckily he came to an old gold mine. As he only had a few hours of daylight left he started swinging his detector. Would you believe it! That afternoon he found several nice nuggets totalling about two ounces. There was no research, no map studying, and there were few questions asked. He was really lucky (except for the scratched metallic paint that he wasn't too concerned about) But I mention this story because it was rather an unusual exception. In most cases you need to do a little research, do a bit of reading, watch the odd video, or talk to experienced operators.

There are some excellent publications available which are good guides for both beginners and the experienced. The ‘Gold and Ghost’ series of books by David deHavelland, have, on several occasions, lead me to really good gold. Unfortunately they only cover Qld and WA at the time of writing.

Every well equipped detector shop should have an assortment of maps from which to choose.

There are many other reasons that contribute to failure, but they are not within the scope of this brief article. The point is there are REASONS for failure. If we can isolate them then we can do something about them. Lady luck is not really such a trustworthy friend.

Happy hunting! See you out there.

-Jack article courtesy of jacksgold.com


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