My Method

First off - let me say that what I am about to describe works for me and hopefully, will work just as well for you.  The key to finding gold is “research”.  Knowing where gold was found before greatly increases your chance of finding gold there again.  The old timers recovery rate was poor and they lost a lot of gold in the process.  This web site is devoted to providing the tools you need to to do your research.

When I first started, I spent months in libraries researching potential areas.  In my early days, I was a suction dredger and was not concerned about the size of the gold.  Quantity was my driving factor in selecting a location.  I turned to metal detecting in my later years, although I do occasionally dust off my dredge and return to the water in search of that yellow gold.  Now I am more interested in the size of the gold rather then the quantity.

Over the years I have compiled enormous amounts of data relating to the location of gold in the United States and offer it up for use by you so you don’t have to spend valuable time in the libraries doing your research. 

TOOL #1:  My computer.  It stores all the knowledge I accumulate in the quest for gold.  The information is acquired from libraries, purchased books, the internet and my own personal field notes.  It all gets stored in my computer and is backed up on redundant storage devices in case the computer crashes.  I scan all the printed material, with a flatbed scanner connected to my computer, and store it as a complete document.  The documents are put in folders organized by state, county and/or quadrangles.

I use both a desktop and laptop computer.  But if I was limited to just one type, it would be the laptop so I can take my knowledge with me.  Desktops aren’t very mobile.  I use my laptop as one of my backups to the desktop.  That way the information is secure and the same on both. I don’t live close to any gold bearing areas so I have to travel a considerable distance to hunt.  As a result, the laptop travels with me.  If I lived in the heart of gold country, I would be able to get by with just a desktop.

TOOL #2:  National Geographic state TOPO maps.  I load the entire state series of maps on my computer.  These maps show many of the old trails, roads and mine locations and provide WGS84 GPS coordinates when you place the cursor over any place on the map.  I like pictures.  The Topo maps provide a “birds-eye-view” of the geological lay of the land once I put the coordinates for all of the gold locations on the map.  These locations include both lode and placer, as well, as copper, silver and iron locations.  Gold is often times associated with these other metals and can be present in detectable sizes even though the area is predominantly known for metals other then gold. 

Some of the best detecting I have done has been in the area of old copper mines.  Gold wasn’t present in sufficient quantities to interest the old timers so they past the area by.  Modern nugget hunters tend to gravitate toward known gold locations and rework areas that have been hammered for years by earlier enthusiasts.

It is not necessary to purchase a state TOPO series from NGS.  You can use Google Earth in the same way.  The only difference is that you get real aerial view of the land rather then a Topo map and it’s free.  Plus you can add overlays of roads, points of interest etc. to home in on the exact area you want to work.  The big plus to Google Earth is that the resolution is great enough so that you can see disturbed earth caused by mining.  This allows you to refine your GPS coordinates so they are “dead on”.

What I do is plot everything on the NGS maps and save those point as a .gpx file which I can open using Google Earth.  Now I have an satellite view of the area with the mine coordinates marked.  If they are off a little from an obvious mining disturbance I will correct the coordinate on the NGS map so I have a database of very accurate data for my books and for my use in the field.

To demonstrate how effective this technique is, I will need to tell you a real story of an experience I had in Arizona.  My nugget hunting friends who live in the area I was researching had heard of a mine I was trying to located but had not been able to find it themselves.  I used Google Earth to look at the area the mine was suppose to be located in and saw a small area of disturbed earth.  I recorded the coordinates and put them in my handheld GPS.  I was able to navigate right to the location using the gps and found an old spanish working up a very narrow side wash that was over grown my mesquite too thick to get through.  Knowing the coordinates were just on the other side of the mesquite, I was able to find a round about way in, ending up at the mine entrance.  The days effort produced five, 1 pennyweight nuggets.

TOOL #3:  Handheld GPS. I have used many handheld GPS units in my life and have found my favorite to be the Garmin Rino.  It is a mapping GPS that accepts the Garmin high resolution topo maps so you can see exactly where you are on the map.  It is also a 5 watt radio so you can stay in contact with your hunting buddies.  And, it will send back to you, the location of you buddy marked on you rino’s map so you can see where he or she is in relation to you allowing you to find each other at the end of the day or in an emergency situation should one of you injure yourself. 

When I am nugget hunting with my partner we will become separated by considerable distances during the course of a day.  It is eye-watering, how far two people can drift apart in just an hour.  A couple of years ago, while we were hunting the Arizona desert, my partner slipped and sprained his ankle.  He thought he had broken it.  He tried to describe to me where he was to no avail.  I looked two hours for him and never got close based on his description.  Tired of waiting for me, he managed to hobble a quarter mile from where he was to the main wash we had started together in earlier that day.  When he described his new location to me, I knew exactly where he was because I had passed there earlier.  If we had both been using a rino, I would have been able to see exactly where he was as soon as he contacted me after hurting himself.  Two years later, my partner got lost in a maze of small side washes and could not find his way back to where we had parked the 4x4s.  Using the rino, I was able to see where he was on the map and guide him back to where we were parked.  My nugget hunting buddy isn’t very skilled when it comes to navigation and understanding the working of a mapping display on a gps.

TOOL #4:  Metal detector.  I have three and will use the one best suited for the conditions and size of gold I anticipate finding in the area.  No one detector does it all.  That’s why I have three.  I use a Minelab 4500 much of the time, but this detector isn’t the king in all situations.  On one outing we four-wheeled 4 hours to get to a foot path that led to the area we wanted to work.  I had my 4500 and my partner had a Gold Bug 2.  He hit gold right way while the 4500 remained silent.  The gold was too small for the 4500 to detect.  My partner got 25 little pieces that day and I got none.

It doesn’t really matter what detector you use as long as it is capable of detecting gold in its natural state.  When you do your research, pick an area that suits your detector and the size of the coil you are using.  If your detector is only capable of finding shallow gold, don’t go to a place where the gold is a foot deep.

TOOL #5:  Transportation.  There are all kinds of contraptions to get you to where you choose to hunt.  I have had just about all of them.  In this day of increasing costs I tend to favor economy.  Most of my hunting buddies use a pickup hauling an ATV or dirt bike to get them as close as possible.  The ATV gives you an excellent vantage point and can get you as far as legally allowed by the governing land agency.  If you stay in the 300cc - 400cc engine size you burn the least amount of fuel without giving up capability.  If you are like me and base camp from the pickup truck or motorhome, fuel is everything.  Something that burns a lot of fuel requires more frequent trips to town to resupply and that translates into less days in the field searching for gold. 

TOOL #6:  Apple iPad/iPhone.  OK - I hear all you manly guys out there laughing your heads off when I listed the iPad as a tool.  And I may be wrong.  But, I think it has great potential as a gold hunting tool.  First, you can carry all your knowledge into the field with you because it’s a computer.  Plus it has built in GPS and a cellular data radio.  So, you can see exactly where you are on Google Earth if in cell phone range.  I use it exactly as I would a laptop running high resolution topo maps except that the iPad always knows exactly where you are on the map, just like a rino does.  It is really hard to get lost with this things.  You can see where you are and where your destination is on real USGS topo maps.  It takes the guesswork out of which trail to take at an intersection of trails.  If all else fails, you can sit in the middle of nowhere and email your buddies about what a great day you are having.  The iPhone is just a smaller version of the iPad but would provide the same resources without having to run out and buy an iPad.  Are they necessary tools, probably not.  But they may give you that extra edge in your quest to find gold.

If you really spend the time researching prospectives areas to hunt.  And hunt within your and your equipments capabilities, using good tools to give you the best advantage - then maybe you will be lucky enough to find one of these: 5.9 Troy ounces.