A loud buzz cuts through the silence causing you to jolt upright in bed. The hazy red numbers on the alarm clock read 5:30 a.m.; time to get up and go. It is a brilliant Saturday morning and you have been eagerly waiting all week long to go detecting. After a quick shower and an overpowering cup of coffee, you pull out of the driveway and start the adventure.
The rough dirt road takes nearly two hours to navigate in your pickup, but in a few moments all those bumps will have been well worth it. You grab your metal detector and climb to the top of the nearest hill. The country below looks and smells of gold; it’s going to be a good day.
Smiling to yourself, you reach down and flip the On/Off switch on the detector. You wait a few seconds, but nothing happens. A few more clicks of the switch, but still no sound. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks - the batteries…you were supposed to change the batteries last night! Nooo!!! Looking back, it’s actually kind of funny, but this isn’t a made up story; it has happened to me on more than one occasion.
Forgetting to bring something along on an expedition is not all that unusual; after all, there is really a lot of stuff to keep track of. Once I forgot to bring my pick; another time I left behind the headphones. I have even gotten a few miles down the road before I realized the metal detector was still propped against the kitchen wall!
All kidding aside, forgetting an important piece of equipment can be annoying and put a damper on any trip, but what happens if you get into the backcountry and realize you have forgotten something really critical? How about no water? Now that enjoyable prospecting trip has become potentially dangerous. All of this hassle can be easily avoided with a little preparation and planning.
So what is the easiest way to ensure you don’t leave home without everything you need? Believe it or not, a simple checklist jotted down on a piece of paper can work wonders. Since I have started using one, my little forgetful episodes have decreased dramatically. Personally, I like to list out everything I will need and use a checkmark to show when a particular item has been packed away. Keep it simple. Once you have made the checklist it will need to be kept somewhere handy where it will be easy to spot. One of the most reliable places I have found is stuck to the outside of the refrigerator door, but anything of the sort will do. On the fridge door, bathroom mirror, on the side of your detector, or even taped to your forehead; put the checklist in a spot that it is not likely to be missed in your haste to hit the goldfields.
Speaking of haste, it is always a good idea to pack and organize your prospecting/detecting gear the night before. This way you are less likely to feel rushed if you are meeting friends for a morning hunt. It is also wise to keep your gear together in one location. I purchased several large plastic storage containers from Wal-Mart, which works great for this sort of thing. The more organized you are, the less time you will waste looking for something that should have been in its place.
With that said, let's move along to the meat and potatoes of our Detectorist's Checklist. Keep in mind, this list is geared specifically towards the metal detector operator or electronic prospector. If you are involved with other types of gold prospecting, such as dredging, sluicing, dry-washing, etc., you will most certainly need to add or delete items from this list. Here is a brief description of the key tools you will need, along with a list of additional items I recommend you pack for an outing:
The Detectorist's Checklist
Metal Detector: the detector, or beeper as our friends Down Under call it, is the most crucial piece of hardware for any detecting trip. When packing your detector, make sure it is well padded from the bashing it is likely to receive as your vehicle rumbles down a bumpy dirt track. Never place your detector unprotected in the bed of a pickup truck! This is the quickest way to rattle the internal components and fill them with dust. If possible, try to always keep the machine inside the cab with you.
It is also a smart move to use some type of padded control box cover to help keep the machine from getting scuffed and banged around when setting it down to dig targets. They can be purchased from most detecting shops and usually cost less than $25.
Another inexpensive item that can offer protection for your metal detector is a cheap, plastic grocery bag. If I head out on a cloudy day I will stuff one of these in my back pants pocket. If the rain starts falling, I can quickly wrap the control box and buy myself enough time to get to shelter without worrying about water damage.
Headphones: this is another critical component of any detector operator’s arsenal. I never leave on any trip without at least two pair of headphones. They can be unpredictable; a snag on a sharp tree branch can sever the cable and leave you twiddling your thumbs. Some detectors are outfitted with an external speaker, so even if the headphones take a spill it is still possible to hunt. Some of the higher end gold machines do not have external speakers, so it is even more important that you carry a spare set when using them. Whatever brand you go with, make sure they are comfortable with good clarity and volume.
Batteries: without these your metal detector is a bit like Frankenstein before receiving his life-giving bolt of lightning. Without them you are up a creek; even a low set that still has enough juice to provide basic operation may end up costing you valuable depth and sensitivity. Always keep a fresh set in your vehicle or pack. If you swing a Minelab GP or SD Series detector, I highly recommend you purchase an additional back up battery and keep it topped off. Don’t gamble on wasting a whole day in the field - keep a spare battery with you at all times!
Coil: also referred to as a head, disc, or loop, this component is an integral part of metal detection. It is in essence what allows us to locate the metallic objects buried beneath our feet. Coils influence three crucial aspects of detecting. These are depth, sensitivity, and stability.
When discussing depth and sensitivity, the following general statements can be applied. Large diameter coils achieve greater depth penetration and ground coverage than those of a smaller size. While big coils get good depth and coverage, they do lose some sensitivity to tiny objects. Smaller coils won’t punch as deep, but their heightened sensitivity makes them great for seeking out small shallow targets.
Now let’s talk about stability. We can divide ground into two classes: noisy and quiet. In noisy ground (i.e., those containing large amounts of iron bearing minerals) a Double D or Wide Scan coil will prove the most useful for smoothing out the mineralization. In soils that are quiet or lightly mineralized, a Monoloop or Concentric coil will yield maximum depth and sensitivity.
It is important to never underestimate the importance a coil can have on your success. Simply stated, they are the most effective means of enhancing the performance of any metal detector, which is why most experienced hunters usually have a collection of coils to choose from. I generally take at least two, sometimes three, with me on an outing because I never know what conditions I might encounter. In my opinion, aside from a quality detector, if you are going to invest any money at all it should be in coils.
Pick: the prospector’s pick can take many shapes and forms. Some hunters grab something from their nearest hardware store, some buy a pick specifically designed for detecting, and still others decide to craft something of their very own. The digging tool you carry will depend upon the type of detector you swing and the country you detect in.
Generally speaking, if you swing a VLF detector, a smaller sized, lightweight pick will be suitable. However, if you are swinging a PI-type machine, plan on carrying an oversized pick for those deep holes you will most certainly dig!
Nugget Container/Finds Bag: Now that you have secured all the necessary detecting gear, you are going to need something to put your finds in. If you are hunting gold, a nugget container, or poke as the old-timers call them, will do the trick. A small plastic medicine bottle works well, as does a 35mm film canister. Stay away from anything made of glass. The reason for not choosing glass is obvious, drop it and say goodbye to your hard-earned gold. If you use a zippered pouch to put your coins in, make sure the zippers close properly. Sporting good stores sell waist/ or fanny packs that are excellent for storing finds and rubbish.
Other items you should take along with you:
Water - at least one gallon per person per day
Food for normal eating and high-energy foods for emergencies
Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
Wide brimmed hat, sunscreen and sunglasses
Hiking boots with good ankle support
GPS and cellular phone
Detailed maps of the area you are hunting
Spare power cable if you use a Minelab GP or SD detector
First Aid Kit
Matches and a lighter
Snake chaps; a must anywhere in the Western U.S.
Flashlight (don’t forget to check the batteries!)
Flathead screwdriver - can be handy when prying nuggets from exposed bedrock.
I know this is not a survival article, but I will say it again anyway: water, water and more water! I cannot stress enough the importance of carrying and drinking plenty of water. If you are detecting anywhere in the desert regions you will need at least 1 gallon per person per day, plus extra water for your vehicle.
I leave an extra 5-gallon container in my vehicle at all times, and a spare canteen just in case I have to hike back to a main road. A simple vehicle malfunction can leave a person stranded in the backcountry for hours, if not days. Without adequate water this could quickly turn into a survival situation. Don’t let it happen to you.
Thus far we have talked about creating a checklist, the type of gear that is needed and the importance of water, but I have neglected to discuss the very thing that carries us into the goldfields - our vehicle! Back road travel puts your vehicle under greater stress than normal highway driving. Before you begin any trip, make sure your vehicle is in top operating condition.
Pay particular attention to fluids, hoses, belts, battery, brakes, steering linkage, suspension system, driveline, and anything else exposed under the vehicle. Inspect your tires carefully, also making sure you spare is inflated. If you plan on working in remote areas, you must be self-reliant – don’t count on anyone else’s help. Try to anticipate what can go wrong and prepare accordingly.
As I mentioned above, no single list can be all-inclusive. You must be the final judge of what you need and what you don’t. Create your own checklist, or use the one I have provided here as a guideline, modifying it to fit your own personal needs.
Take a few moments to review your list before jumping behind the wheel. Verify the items with checkmarks are actually packed, and do one last look around. Its the last thing anyone wants to do when they are anxious to go metal detecting, but trust me, a few moments of time in the beginning will save you a lot of frustration in the long run. I wish you the very best of luck with all your detecting! For additional information on metal detecting, visit the authors website at www.ArizonaOutback.com