When I first started metal detecting for gold nearly 15 years ago, I can clearly remember the struggles and frustration I experienced prior to finding my first nugget.
Day after day I wandered the deserts of Arizona hoping that the next swing of my coil would bring salvation. I covered many miles and dug countless targets, unfortunately none of them were yellow.
Despite my lack of success I had grown to enjoy everything about metal detecting, but as the months passed I found it increasingly hard to justify both the time and the money I was spending on my weekend outings.
Feeling thoroughly discouraged, I went to visit with an old friend who was at the time living in Black Canyon City, Arizona.
Richard was a veteran prospector with many hundreds, if not thousands, of nuggets under his belt. He was one of the few experienced people willing to offer a helping hand to a greenhorn, so I turned to him for advice. I explained that I had been swinging my detector at least two days a week for the past eight months with zero luck in known gold-bearing areas, but all I had to show for my efforts was an enormous collection of trash.
I had found every sort of bullet and piece of scrap iron imaginable, but not a single piece of gold. He listened patiently to my story and towards the end began to smile.
Chris, I went through the same thing myself, so have many others. The first nugget is always the hardest one to find. I cant explain why, but its true. Stay focused, practice with your detector and, most of all, dont give up. Find the first one and its all downhill from there. I took his advice to heart and continued my search for the elusive metal. Every free moment of time I had was spent out in the hills. I hiked mountains, wandered the gullies, and poked around every old mine I encountered, but no gold ever came my way.
Then one afternoon something amazing and totally unexpected happened.
It was a warm summer day and I was out combing an area north of Phoenix. I had just run out of water, sweat was dripping into my eyes, and the gnats buzzing around my face were driving me crazy, so I decided to call it quits.
Out of habit, I kept my detector on as I walked back to the truck. Less than 100 feet away from where I had parked I picked up a strong signal. I had already dug a pocketful of trash and knew without a doubt it was going to be another bullet. For whatever reason, I decided to dig this last target before heading back to town. When the unknown target was in my hand, I sorted through the soil looking for the familiar silvery sheen of lead. When I eventually spotted the source of the noise my heart stopped mid beat. This was not a bullet in my palm, but rather a shiny 3-gram nugget! Eureka I had finally struck gold!
It had been a long yeara very, very long year, but all of those hours of hunting had finally led up to this day.
It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had and also a bit eerie, as I realized just how close I had come to walking away from my first nugget. It had taken me over a year, but the wait had definitely been worth it.
I continued my quest for the precious metal with a renewed enthusiasm and I discovered that Richard had been right. For whatever reason, after I overcame the first nugget hurdle my collection grew rapidly. I added another 35 nuggets to my poke in less than two months. What is even more unbelievable is that these nuggets came from ground I had already detected. I have spoken to other detectorists about this phenomenon and heard similar stories.
One gentleman from Nevada also spent over a year searching without luck. When he finally found his first nugget, he went on to find another seven pieces in less than a month. I am not 100% sure what causes this, but I do have a theory. In my case, I do know for a fact that I cannot blame my lack of success on the ground I had been detecting. There was gold there all along, because I eventually found it.
And I cant blame it on metal detector malfunction either, because I had found every bit of junk known to mankind.
So why was it such a struggle to get that first nugget? After giving it some serious thought, I now firmly believe the real problem was within my own mind.
As new detectorists we are often unsure of our own abilities. We dont really know where to look, how to tune the machine properly, or what to listen for. All of these things leave us feeling doubtful of both our equipment and ourselves.
My days of wandering the hills had done just that. The longer I went without gold the more my motivation suffered. My confidence faltered, my patience dwindled and, ultimately, so did my state of mind. However, the moment I dug my first nugget something inside me changed.
I didnt realize it at the time, but that moment significantly altered the way I viewed metal detecting in a very positive way. The little piece of metal in my hand was more than a nugget; it was physical proof that, despite overwhelming odds, persistence had eventually paid off. More importantly, instead of thinking it might be possible to find gold with a metal detector; I now knew it was possible. This knowledge alone did wonders for my confidence and most certainly put me on the fast track to becoming a successful nugget hunter.
Finding your first gold nugget will most likely be a challenge, however, there are a few things you can do to stack the odds in your favor.
The first way to improve your chances of success is by using quality equipment. It is important to understand that not all metal detectors are the same. Some are built for gold, others for seeking out coins and relics or for searching underwater. In order for a person to consistently find nuggets their metal detector must possess certain characteristics that are only found in a dedicated gold machine. What sets these detectors apart from the rest is their ability to cope with the highly mineralized soil found in the goldfields.
High performance gold machines have enhanced ground balancing capabilities which allow them to eliminate most of the ground noise, thereby allowing the user to discern between desirable signals and those simply caused from the ground or hot rocks.
True gold detectors also have increased sensitivity and depth capabilities. A good gold machine should be able to sense nuggets as small as 1/2 gram (or smaller) while still being able to punch down a foot or more on larger chunks. The second thing you can do is put yourself in a known gold-bearing area. Once you gain more experience you will want to get off the beaten path and go prospecting, but in the beginning it is more important to hunt those places that have already been proven.
In other words, go where gold has been found before, especially those areas which have yielded large nuggets.
Most of the historic gold producing regions of the U.S. are well documented and a person can learn their locations by reading books, exploring the Internet and forums, looking over maps, watching videos and, of course, by talking with other prospectors.
Another option, which I highly recommend, is to join a prospecting or detecting club. These clubs typically have their own mining claims that can be worked for a small annual fee. Joining a local club is a great way to quickly gain access to gold-bearing properties, learn more about the hobby, and perhaps make some new friends.
At the time of this writing, one of the largest prospecting clubs in the nation is the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA). They have thousands of acres of claims all across the U.S., and offer memberships at a reasonable price. For more information on the GPAA visit their website at www.goldprospectors.org The third thing you can do to give yourself a leg-up is to practice target recovery. When it comes to locating, digging, and recovering a buried target, speed is the name of the game. It is all about numbers, and the more targets you can dig in a day, the better your odds of finding a nugget. For instance, lets say we have two people go out detecting for five hours. One of them is able to recover 40 targets, while the other can only recover 20. It seems reasonable to assume the person digging 40 targets has doubled their odds and, therefore, stands a better chance of finding gold.
Target recovery is not a skill that is acquired quickly; it takes practice. However, the more you do it, the more efficient you will become. The fourth thing you can do is to give yourself as much time as possible.
For most of us, finding time to explore like the old-timers is impossible. In fact, finding any free time at all can be difficult. Between work, children and other obligations, the weekends are often the only time we can sneak away to pursue our hobby.
If you fall into the weekend warrior category, its not a bad thing, it simply means you will have to work that much harder than someone who has four or five days a week to dedicate towards prospecting.
If your time is limited, you will need to make every minute on the goldfields count. Be out there when the sun comes up and dont leave until it is too dark to hunt. Take frequent breaks during the day to refresh your mind and body, but keep your coil to the soil as much as possible.
Also, have a good idea of where you will be prospecting before leaving the house so precious time isnt wasted looking for an area to hunt. Like any skill, learning to find gold with a detector takes practice, and the more time you spend looking for it the quicker you will overcome the first nugget hurdle.
If you are still searching for that first elusive nugget, the best advice I can leave you with is dont give up! I came close to it several times that first year, but looking back I am so glad I stuck with it.
If you find yourself becoming discouraged, dont shove the detector in the closet; just take a break for a week or two. This will give you a chance to regroup and come back fully charged. Gold is hard to find, but if you are swinging quality equipment and are putting yourself in a known goldfield, there is no reason that you shouldnt find it.
And when you do unearth that first shiny nugget, I promise all those hours of blood, sweat and tears you put in will seem a small price to have paid for such a grand achievement. As a wise prospector once told me, Get the first piece under your belt and its all downhill from there!
I wish all of you the best of luck with your detecting!
To learn more about the exciting hobby of metal detecting, visit the authors website at www.ArizonaOutback.com
The rewards of overcoming the first nugget hurdle!