The Complete Guide to Gold Prospecting

Editor’s note: One of the most common requests we get from the metal detecting community is for tips on the best way to detect for gold, information on the different types of gold detecting technologies and our recommended gold detectors. To get answers to these questions, we turned to our resident gold expert, Don Newell.

Don, who lives in Arizona, has been gold detecting for more than 12 years. The purpose of this guide is to help you figure out which gold detector you should buy based on your prospecting area, the type of gold you want to find and your budget.

The most important question you need to ask when deciding on a metal detector for gold nuggets is what type of gold you have in your prospecting area. Everyone wants to find large gold and strike it rich, but in reality, about 95 percent of gold fields have small nuggets.

Read More: The Complete Guide to the Best Metal Detectors

Choosing the right gold detector will help you find these smaller nuggets, which all add up in the end. We’ll let Don take it from here.

Best Metal Detector For Gold

When I first started detecting early in my mining career, I had the opportunity to detect a 100-year-old underground gold mine that had never been detected.

Those old-timers that built the mine tunnels didn’t have metal detectors!

I started out with a Minelab GPX series detector and found clusters of gold nuggets scattered all over the mine. There was one area in particular that had bedrock loaded with gold nuggets. I cleaned this area out… or so I thought.

Minelab GPX 4500

This detector features SETA technology and is immune to interference. SETA stands for “Smart Electronic Timing Alignment.” Noises that are caused by magnetic interference are minimized in each of the six timing options, and each timing option can be independently adjusted and operated for greater efficiency.

This detector has many special features. It has a backlight on the screen so you can detect at night or in dark areas. The stabilizer provides you with a smoother threshold to pick up the faintest of signals, and the “iron reject” option lets you filter out junk metal.

  • Weight: 5.3 pounds
  • Frequency: Bi-Level, Advanced Pulse Induction
  • Waterproof: No
  • Warranty: Three-year limited
Pros
  • Workhorse: Best general-purpose gold & relic machine
  • Excels in highly mineralized ground (pulse induction)
  • Full range of coils for finds buried deep
Cons
  • Heavy weight
  • It is not waterproof
  • Battery life tends to decline over time
Learn More

About five years later, I acquired a Minelab SDC-2300 detector and found a few more ounces of gold that the GPX detector had missed in the same exact spot. This was a wakeup call for me as I thought the GPX was getting 98% of the gold and only leaving a few crumbs of gold too small to be worth recovering. I never expected there to be so much chunky gold left behind by my main detector.

Minelab SDC 2300

The Minelab SDC 2300 gold metal detector is built to perform in the toughest conditions. Features easy-to-use controls and no assembly is required. Includes headphones and an 8″ round mono search coil.

Weight: 5.3 lbs
Frequency: Pulse Induction
Waterproof: Yes, fully submersible up to 10 feet of water
Warranty: Three year limited

Pros
  • Picks up on gold left behind by previous models
  • Compact
  • Waterproof
Cons
  • No junk discrimination
What Our Customers Say
  • The more I use this detector the happier I am with it and its finding good gold for me. I took my brother in law out with me and with the external speaker gave him a few lessons in nugget detecting. There were a bunch of old 22 caliper brass shells at this one place, and I told him we needed to get these out of the way because they would shield us from hearing any smaller targets. Sure enough, we got them out of the way, and right in the middle of where they were was a fainter target. I told him that while larger nuggets would sound like those brass shells near the surface, most gold would sound like this fainter target. We found three small nuggets. - Anonymous
Learn More

About a year later, I detected the same area with a high-end VLF gold detector and found a little over an ounce the SDC detector had missed. Currently, there isn’t one detector that detects every size and type of gold.

There is always some gold left behind when metal detecting. This gives the electronic prospector armed with new technology hope to find more gold in areas already detected by others. There are many different types of gold out there: from large to small hammered solid nuggets, wire gold, prickly & porous gold pieces, foil gold, specimen quartz float with fine gold inside, and more.

There is always more to be found and new technologies will light up these different types of gold.

The Basics of Gold Detector Technology

There are two main types of gold detector technologies: Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Pulse Induction (PI).

The VLF machines are usually focused on finding small shallow nuggets. For VLF, your coil needs to be within a few inches of a tiny nugget to hear a signal. They do not handle hot rocks or highly mineralized ground very well.

You need to work slowly to hear the whisper-small nugget signals among all the ground noise of the gold field. Occasionally, you will find a medium or larger nugget in addition to all the small stuff. These detectors work best when scanning bedrock with the overburden (ground) removed or only a few inches deep. VLF will usually miss deeply buried, larger gold.

On the other hand, a PI machine will go deep on both medium and large gold. But, if that size of gold is not there, you won’t find it.

They handle highly mineralized ground very well. With a pulse induction machine, you can cruise through a mineralized area quickly to find the deeper medium and large “sitting duck” nuggets and move on.

Remember, about 95-percent of gold is small. Spend your time chasing the gold that exists where you detect. The bigger stuff might be long gone or may never even have existed in your location. This is why many people opt for a VLF gold detector. In addition, a VLF detector is a much smaller financial investment, especially when first starting out gold prospecting.

New Technology: Minelab GPZ 7000

Minelab’s latest flagship detector is based on new Zero Voltage Transmission (ZVT) technology, which is a hybrid between VLF and PI. The 14” coil uses 3-winding (1 transmit, 2 receive) and is called a Super-D coil. While I won’t go into details about the technology inside, the end result is a machine that will see a variety of gold types at great depth. I mention this machine separately because it’s the first of its kind and does not fit into the VLF or PI category. The GPZ 7000 is incredible for both large and small gold. If Minelab comes out with a smaller coil, it will really be a vacuum cleaner on the gold fields, getting most of the gold!

Minelab GPZ 7000

With the Minelab GPZ 7000, you’ll find even the smallest gold nuggets you might miss with other detectors. The Super-D Smart Coil consists of a central transmit winding and two outer receive windings, which greatly decreases interference from magnetic and/or mineralized soils. This detector finds nuggets that are up to 40 percent deeper than previous Minelab GPZ models.

This is the most expensive metal detector in our guide, but we think that the payoff is worth it for this pulse induction machine.

  • Weight: 7.32 pounds
  • Frequency: PI
  • Waterproof: No. Certain coils are waterproof.
  • Warranty: Three-year limited
Pros
  • Deepest detection depth on all types gold
  • Electronically updateable via Minelab’s website
  • Full range of gold timing for all situations
Cons
  • Very heavy
  • Only 2 coils offered, incompatible with 3rd party coil manufacturers
  • Not waterproof
Learn More

VLF vs. PI on High Mineralization

Most gold is formed in highly mineralized, iron-stained ground. Detector engineers designed the VLF and PI gold machines to handle noisy mineralized ground so that you can hear the faint nugget signals in the mix. On a PI detector, most hot rock signals are either ignored or minimized so that you can work quickly, not wasting time chasing “ghost signals” from ground noise.

This is where PI detectors shine and VLF detectors struggle. A VLF detector is best on bedrock or in mild to medium ground. If using a VLF in high mineralization, work slowly to minimize the ground noise and hot rocks.

Trash Discrimination

Unfortunately, some gold prospecting areas are loaded with trash. If your area has this common problem, use a VLF detector to try and weed out some of the iron junk targets like nails, rusty tin cans, and old wire. But be careful, as mineralized ground wreaks havoc on target IDs, and some deep gold nuggets can read as iron. When in doubt, dig it out!

Unlike VLF, most pulse induction units do not discriminate trash well, even though some manufacturers make claims about it. Treat your PI detector as a “beep & dig” detector. And use some time-saving strategies — for trashy areas, if the target is in the top 2 inches of dirt, it’s probably junk. Don’t waste your time!

Most serious prospectors/miners own both a PI and VLF detector. Just like tools in a toolbox, there are detecting tools to match each situation. If you want to get all the gold, you need several detectors. If you are hitting a mining claim known for large whopper nuggets, use a PI detector. If you are on bedrock with tiny cracks known to hold little gold “pickers” or tiny nuggets, use a VLF detector. Take the detector to match your spot or bring both!

Remember: If you’re looking for small, shallow gold, use VLF. If you’re looking for large gold in medium deep locations, use pulse induction. PI detectors will usually signal well on any nugget more than .3 grams. VLF detectors will find that size and smaller.

All About The Metal Detector Coil

Selecting the right metal detector coil will improve your chances of success. Match your coil to the terrain and remember, low and slow is the best way to hunt for gold. Keep your coil scrubbing on the ground (low) or slightly above it to maximize detection depth. Detect slowly or at a moderate coil sweep speed. Rushing through an area will miss faint signals that just might have been that big nugget!

Round vs. Elliptical Coils

Round coils usually go deeper than the equivalent elliptical-shaped coils. Use round coils whenever possible. However, elliptical coils can get down in between rocks and scrubby terrain better, or cover more ground per coil sweep. Use the coil size that makes sense for your area that will get the coil as close to the ground as possible.

DD vs. Mono Coils

DD coils have two D-shaped windings inside the coil. One is a transmit coil and one is a receiver. The mono coils have one winding inside that acts as both transmit and receive.

Most VLF detectors for gold will use DD coils to deal with the mineralization. Mono is described as a concentric coil in the VLF world.

On the PI side, DD coils are known to handle mineralization a little better than mono coils, but the cost is about 20-percent less in detection depth compared to a similar size mono coil. When possible, use mono coils to maximize your detection depth. The mono coil also has edge sensitivity all around the coil’s edge, while the DD only detects down the center strip of the coil. This edge sensitivity will score nuggets in tight spots like mine tunnels or under rocks.

Large vs. Small Coils

The larger the coil, the deeper it will detect, but at a cost. The large coils will lose sensitivity to small gold. Use large round coils for maximum depth when hunting medium and large nuggets. Use the small coils for maximum depth on small nuggets or in rough terrain.

It’s very difficult to use a big round coil on rocky or brushy ground, while the small coil will get in between rocks and brush. Match the coil to your terrain. Also, larger coils pick up more electromagnetic interference. This EMI will cause noise and cost detection depth.

Gold Detecting Expert Picks

Budget Friendly

If you are on a budget, just starting out, or an experienced prospecting/miner wanting a VLF gold detector in your toolbox, I recommend the Minelab Gold Monster 1000 as the top choice.

Minelab Gold Monster 1000

Minelab’s Gold Monster 1000 has a gold chance indicator, so you can know the likelihood of whether there is gold before you start digging.

The controls are easy to use, the coil is waterproof up to 3-feet, and the control box is rain proof. It also comes with your choice of coils, battery options, and shaft configurations.

The intermediate 45 kHz frequency and high-speed signal processor boosts sensitivity to gold, no matter the size of the nugget. 

  • Weight: 2.94 pounds
  • Frequency: 45 kHz
  • Waterproof: No. Coils are waterproof.
  • Warranty: Two years for control box and coil
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Great at picking up fine gold
  • Light weight
Cons
  • Not waterproof
  • Does not handle mineralization well
  • Not as deep as pulse induction machines
Learn More

I would also recommend the Whites Goldmaster 24k as a good second choice for nugget detecting. And lastly, the Minelab Equinox 800 wins as a great multi-purpose (coin, jewelry, relic, gold nugget) machine. It will hunt gold nuggets and you can use it at the park and beach, as well.

Serious Prospectors & Miners

If you aren’t limited by budget and want a serious detector for deep gold. I recommend the Minelab GPZ 7000 as the best choice and the Minelab GPX-5000 as a less expensive alternative to the 7000. Both of these machines are incredible gold detectors that will find a pile of gold nuggets.

For a middle of the road detector, I also recommend the Minelab SDC-2300 for small gold only. It’s a super-fast PI machine, so it will ignore all those pesky hot rocks. It will also hit some types of gold that no other PI detectors will find. This makes it a special-purpose machine and a joy to use. But for deep large gold, go with the 5000 or 7000 mentioned above. The SDC was designed to be hot on small gold that’s not too deep. Plus, the SDC is waterproof up to 10 feet!

Here are some other great gold detectors that are worth considering.

Nokta AU Gold Finder: A great sleeper machine, works very well on nuggets. Uses VLF technology.

Nokta Makro AU Gold Finder

The Gold Finder is designed to find gold nuggets in any terrain, at multiple depths.

Users can set the detector to “fast” mode for gold hunting in fields with high mineralization or significant quantities of conductive rocks. This mode improves target detection and recovery speeds in areas where there is a lot of trash.

“Deep” mode gives the user a two-tone discrimination setting designed for gold fields with less mineralization or magnetic rocks. It provides an increase in depth performance while still able to pinpoint large and small gold nuggets.

  • Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Frequency: 56 kHz
  • Waterproof: Search coils are waterproof
  • Warranty: 2 year limited
Pros
  • Super hot on tiny gold nuggets!
  • Best of class mineralization handling for VLF.
  • Iron discrimination & deep all metal mode for maximum depth.
Cons
  • Ground balance always in tracking, no fixed setting.
  • No target ID numbers, only iron reject and “gold chance” meter.
  • Dedicated gold detector, not multi-purpose.
What Our Customers Say
  • Nokta did it right, they listened to the detectorist and built into one detector what we have been looking for. High frequency response with the ability for hitting small (sub-gram) gold nuggets, auto and manual ground balance, precise sensitivity adjustment capabilities, reliable and clear threshold and the sheer ability to handle iron ground minerals were the requirement. The fact that the Gold Finder is lightweight, hip-mountable, has long battery life and a decent price tag, well that’s just more gold in the poke. - Kevin H.
Learn More

Whites TDI SL: Excellent inexpensive alternative to the PI machines mentioned above. Uses PI technology.

Whites TDI SL

White’s TDI SL metal detector meets the demands of gold prospectors looking for both extremely small and extremely deep nuggets. It’s simple to operate. Includes 12″ dual field search coil, one Lithium Ion rechargeable battery pack and a two-year warranty. A 7.5 ” dual scan coil is also available.

Weight: 3.5 lbs.
Frequency: PI
Waterproof: No
Warranty: Two-year

Pros
  • Very stable in salt water
  • Simple rejection switch for metal conductivity
  • Lightweight
Cons
  • Low discrimination ability
  • Not waterproof
What Our Customers Say
  • I bought my TDI in September of 2014. I use this machine to hunt wet sand on beaches for coins and jewelry and it is awesome for deep finds and mineralized wet sand. WARNING!!! It finds everything made of metal!! It's not uncommon to fine a bobby pin at 18 inches. But... that could have been a gold ring too! I use the "HIGH" setting in parks to look for coins and it finds silver very well. Many quarters and dimes and some medium sized rings but not many pennies at that setting and very little iron or pull tabs. It is a high producer in heavily trashed ground. Where it really shines is when I prospect for gold nuggets. I've found several here in Oregon and it has no problem in tailings and mineralized ground. It's light weight and extreme sensitivity make this a real go-getter of a metal detector. - Dennis P
Learn More

Garrett ATX: Use the solid coils for best performance. Uses PI technology.

Garrett ATX Pro for Gold

The Garrett ATX is a ground-balancing PI system that emits 730 pulses per second using a non-adjustable multi-frequency technology that operates between 0-73khz.  The detector uses multiple internal coils working together simultaneously as both transmitter and receiver. Each of the 730 millisecond-long pulses create a magnetic field within the object being detected, which then immediately collapses and sends a response pulse back to the coil.

Weight: 6.9 lbs.
Frequency: Emits a maximum frequency of 730 pulses per second
Waterproof: Submersible in up to 10 feet of water
Warranty: Two-year warranty

 

Pros
  • The ATX has notch discrimination capability
  • Features both a manual and automatic ground balance/tracking capability
  • The extremely rapid pulse lengths allow the ATX to penetrate highly mineralized ground that traditional VLF can not
Cons
  • Rapid pulse lengths can't be easily separated and measured
Learn More

Pro Tip: Gold Detecting On a Budget —the “Scrape and Detect” Method

Are you stuck with a VLF detector due to budget constraints? Then use the “scrape and detect” method. Use this method when you are on a nugget patch. This is either an old nugget patch or a new patch you have stumbled upon while out prospecting a new area. Choose an area maybe 20’x20′ or smaller to focus your detecting efforts.

  1. Detect the top layer of ground, remove all target signals with your VLF detector and put them into a 5 gallon bucket.
  2. Remove and discard 3-4 inches of the ground in the same area.
  3. Re-detect the freshly uncovered ground and remove all new target signals into  the bucket.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 until you reach bedrock or go past the gold bearing layers.
  5. Make sure to thoroughly detect the bedrock. This is where most of the best gold will be hiding.
  6. Gold pan out your bucket of dirt containing all the targets; some will be gold nuggets and some will be trash.

This method will allow you to get all the gold without using multiple expensive detectors. You can always buy a more expensive PI detector later with all the gold you will find using this method!

In some locations, 99 percent of the gold will be on bedrock. In these cases, remove the top overburden completely and just focus on detecting the bedrock targets.

Work smarter, not harder!

Have a gold detecting question for Don? You can reach him directly at [email protected], or call Kellyco Metal Detectors at (855) 216-3771 and ask for Don.

How to Find Gold

  1. Research:

    Research can be 90% of your success.  It is easy and a lot of fun.  Research will guide you to the best gold producing areas within a particular region. Your research should consist of reviewing old records from a region viewing maps, reading books, talking to local people and finally checking local libraries, information centers, government geological surveys, state universities with mining programs and historical societies.

  2. Ask an Expert:

    Your local detector supply shop will be familiar with the gold fields in your area. Ask about local prospecting clubs you can join and inquire at your State Mines Department.

Where to Find Gold

A. Virgin Ground:

This is an area of ground which was never worked by the old-time prospectors. This may have been because the area was not rich enough to warrant the labor or was just not ever discovered. Virgin areas are often areas around the fringe of known, worked goldfields.

B. Surfacing:

This is where large areas of ground have been removed from several inches to several feet deep. These are usually located in areas of shallow ground and can be easily recognized. These were areas of rich gold deposits in their day.

C. Shallow Diggings:

This is where the gold rushes of the early 1800’s took place. Small shallow shafts were dug with pick and shovel, the gold-gearing gravel on the bottom was then processed. These diggings tended to follow the lowest points in an area, like gullies… They are very fertile prospecting areas and generally, due to poor equipment, the old miners discarded more gold than they found.

D. Deep Leads:

These are ancient river beds that over time have been buried. There are both ‘deep’ deep leads, search mainly the waste material from a mine. When detecting ‘shallow’ deep leads, search both the waste material and the ground in between.

Overall, Adequate soil research is crucial to finding gold. The best gold prospecting metal detector cannot help you find gold if you are not looking in the right place! Use the resources around you such as the internet, library logs of your area and soil, or a book about gold nugget hunting. Learn about your area, and be sure to verify who owns the land where you are searching, and gain the proper permissions. Have fun! Enjoy the hunt for hidden treasures, and may the journey be as fruitful as the results.

 

AU Gold Finder

Gold Prospecting Techniques

A. Gridding:

This technique involves dividing an area into a number of small grids and thoroughly sweeping each grid slowly and methodically. In dry country, it is common to see detector operators dragging a chain behind them so they can easily see the line of their last sweep. This is particularly useful in dry desert country.

B. Marking:

This involves tying colored ribbons or string to trees to mark an area where you previously found gold. Also try to mark these spots on maps to ensure that you can return to them at a later date. The use of pocket-size Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can be used to plot and store your position to within a few meters.

C. Traversing:

When detecting a hillside or slope it is often better to detect across the slope rather than up and down. This gives a greater chance of cutting across a ‘gold run’. These ‘runs’ are gold nuggets, which have broken off their source and carried downhill by gravity and erosion.

Gold Weight Table : Gold is weighed and sold in Troy ounces which is a heavier weight than the Imperial ounce.

  • 1 Imperial ounce = 28 grams
  • 1 Troy ounce = 31.1 grams
  • 1 Troy ounce = 20 (DWT) pennyweight
  • 1(DWT) pennyweight = 24 grains
  • 1(DWT) pennyweight = 1.55 grams
  • 1 grain = .06 grams

Gold Metal Detectors – What’s the Difference and Do You Need One?

In case you haven’t noticed, the price of gold is skyrocketing. There are many reasons for this, all of which are too long to discuss in this guide, but there’s no denying it – Gold is going up, up, up! And the more us detectorists find, well, the sooner our metal detectors are paid for!

gold nuggets

Do You Need a Metal Detector to Find Gold?

So it’s no surprise that a question we’ve gotten a lot lately is: “Do I need a detector specifically made to find gold?”

The answer: “Yes, if you’re looking for gold nuggets, gold flakes and gold veins. Not necessarily if you’re just looking for gold jewelry.”

Difference Between A Standard and a Gold Metal Detector

First, you’ve got to understand the difference between your regular metal detector and one that’s made to search for gold – Don’t worry, it’s easy.

Gold detectors like the Minelab X-Terra 705 Gold Pack, and Minelab Gold Monster 1000 or the Fisher Gold Bug DP and Gold Bug Pro as well as White’s GMT and the Teknetics G2 Gold are made specifically to find natural gold – That is, gold nuggets, completely untouched or changed by man. These gold detectors are optimized to be more sensitive to natural gold and traditionally have higher frequencies.

1 Gold Detector + 1 Gold Search Coil = 3 Gold Detectors.

Minelab X-Terra 705 Gold Pack is the same as having 3 separate Gold Detectors when using optional search coils. The X-Terra 705 Gold Pack comes with the 5×10″ (18.75kHz) Double-D elliptical coil as standard,to give you effective depth and ground coverage out in the field. Using 5×10″ (18.75kHz) as the standard frequency coil, the X-Terra 705 Gold Pack is especially configured for gold prospecting by allowing the detector user to add optional different size coils with difference frequencies (3kHz) and (7.5kHz) to search the same, or different ground to find Gold nuggets of all sizes. With advanced Iron Mask Discrimination and Ground Balance functions, 705 Gold is perfect for detecting in mineralized goldfield ground.

gold coins

Higher Frequencies and Better Ground Balancing Circuits.

In addition to having higher frequencies and better ground balancing circuits, these detectors also have special coils that are optimized for the highly-mineralized soil that is predominate where gold nuggets can be found (think of ‘black sand’). For example: The Garrett AT Gold features 18kHz AT circuitry which gives you the power to detect treasure within heavily mineralized soil and sample ore as well as those dreaded ‘hot rocks.’ And when you’re looking for pure gold nuggets, a more sophisticated circuitry is crucial.

Advanced Metal Detectors

If so, Professional Gold Hunters throughout the world choose the Minelab GPX 5000 and GPX 4500. Both detectors are the latest in the Minelab SD, GP and GPX series that can locate all sizes of gold nuggets from surface to very deep depths. During the last five years, GPX Gold detectors have produced huge amounts of gold in Africa, Russia, China and sparked a new gold rush in the United States. Other choices include the excellent Nokta Golden Gate and Garrett Infinium, an all-purpose detector that can hunt gold in or out of the water. For deep gold veins and large gold targets at depths of 12 to 15 feet, Garrett GTI 2500 Pro with Treasure Hound Eagle Eye Search Coil is highly recommended.

All-Purpose Metal Detectors

If you are not at the expert level yet, all-purpose metal detectors can be used to find gold Gold detectors as well as Coin detectors can pick up gold jewelry because it has a much greater mass then gold nuggets. Gold jewelry is also easy for many all-purpose metal detectors to pick up because of the other metals that are used to make a specific piece. And while just about any machine will pick up gold jewelry, some of the higher priced models will have twice the sensitivity for gold jewelry – the Minelab X-Terra SeriesMinelab SDC 2300 and Fisher’s F75 and F4 are just a few off the top of my head that are excellent for finding gold jewelry. The Garrett GTI 2500 and Garrett ATX are also well-known for their gold jewelry capabilities

Meanwhile, if you have a submersible detector like the Minelab Excalibur SeriesGarrett Infinium LS and Fisher 1280x, you’re even better off. These machines are made to balance through salt water and highly mineralized ground, so they’re highly effective at finding gold jewelry.

So the moral of this story: Gold prices are going up and chances of your gold detector or all-purpose metal detector finding gold jewelry are a lot better than your chances with no machine at all.

Click here to check out our selection of Gold Metal Detectors!

Metal Detector Features

Gold Prospecting Search Coils

Types: Gold Prospecting Search coils are separated into two main categories. Concentric search coils that excel at soil discrimination, and Widescan search coils that are perfect for navigating harsh soil conditions effected by ground mineralization.

Size: Search coils come in a wide variety of different dimensions. A good rule of thumb is this: the larger the coil, the wider the search area. The smaller the coil, the higher the sensitivity. How does this affect your search? With a larger coil, you will cover more ground, but you will sacrifice some of the smaller finds in the process. A smaller coil means added sensitivity and increased small finds, but you will not be able to cover as much ground.

Depth

Having an overall understanding of your target search depth is key to purchasing the correct equipment. As the depth increases, so does the size of the gold nuggets you can find. Most contemporary prospecting detectors can detect pieces of gold as small as a half a grain. From there, the larger the pieces of gold, the deeper the search area. Single grains of gold and gold flakes can be found in as little as 12 inches of soil; a nugget the size of a match head can be found at approx. 35 inches; and nuggets as big as a US half dollar can be found at much deeper levels closer to 911 inches. As the depth increases, the features of the metal detector need to be able to search those depths effectively, and the accessories need to be more specialized. For example, a Pulse Induction style detector can seek gold that is over a foot in the ground; this type of detector would need to be accompanied by digging accessories that would allow you to retrieve your find.

Ground Balance

Ground balance is crucial to a gold prospecting metal detector. Since gold is generally found in highly mineralized soil, the detector must be able to adjust the ground balance, allowing you to filter out iron and other minerals. Consider the available features on the gold prospecting detector you have in mind. If you would like to adjust the ground balance less frequently, select a metal detector with automatic ground balance; if you would like to have more control, choose a model with manual ground balance adjust.

Metal Discrimination

While gold prospecting metal detectors can assist you in filtering out junk such as iron and steel, the detectors are designed to find all metals, since gold also contains other metals in its composition. A Pulse Induction detector will not filter out trash items; a high-frequency VLF metal detector will provide some added tuning features.

Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets

Every detectorist dreams of finding valuable treasure when they go out hunting. One way to make those dreams come true is to hunt for gold nuggets. While finding gold with a metal detector may seem simple – hunt in location where gold has been found, swing your detector, hear an alert, retrieve gold nuggets – it can actually be pretty challenging. Of course, it can also be the most lucrative.

To help you with your gold hunting, we have put together a list of facts and tips that will make your searches more productive and efficient.

Most Important Tips for Finding Gold Nuggets

To reiterate, consider the type of detector to use. While most detectors can detect gold, using one that is specifically designed to find gold will net you more finds. The average detector will do fine locating a gold ring in the ground at the park, but for gold nuggets that may be extremely small, you need a detector that is designed specifically for gold.

Now that you have the right detector, let’s look at some more facts and tips:

  1. Today’s detectors are able to detect gold nuggets as small as half a grain, and the depth to which they detect depends on the size of the nugget. The largest nuggets may be found as deep as a foot, while smaller pieces can only be detected closer to the surface. For example, a one grain nugget can often be detected at two inches deep, while a match head sized piece will be detectable at four inches.
  2. The higher the operating frequency of your detector, the more sensitivity you will have to find small gold. However, it will also make your detector more sensitive to iron minerals. If you are hunting in an area with high iron content, you may have more false alerts. Detectors with lower operating frequencies will be less sensitive to gold nuggets but will handle the iron minerals in the ground better. Your best bet may be using a pulse induction (PI) detector. PI detectors act like they have a very low frequency. Their main strength is that they are good at ignoring ground mineral conditions and can find larger nuggets at greater depths.
  3. Many metal detectors have manual ground balancing controls. This allows you to adjust the detector for the iron content in the area you are hunting. When the ground you are searching is fairly consistent, you won’t have to do much adjusting. However, when you are searching an area with widely varying iron content or many scattered mineralized rock, you will be adjusting constantly. Using a detector that has an automatic ground balancing setting will require less adjusting and have less ground noise.
  4. Detectors that are designed to find gold will also find all conductive metals. However, most machines also have the ability to tune out many of the common steel and iron trash targets. PI detectors are not always as good at discriminating trash.
  5. Gold nuggets rarely occur alone. That means that when you find one, you should treat it as an indication that there is more. It’s much more likely than not that you will find additional nuggets nearby. Follow up these indicators with more searching and excavating.
  6. Most methods for finding gold require the presence of water (panning, etc.). One of the main advantages of metal detecting for gold is that you can search areas that don’t. You can check areas that are away from water, including arid locations and deposits that are uphill from water sources. These areas are less likely to have been searched.
  7. To find gold nuggets, you have to go where gold is found. You can certainly use your detector to prospect in new areas but keep your expectations low and don’t expect to find much where it hasn’t been found before. Rather, do your research and find areas that have a known production of the type of gold you wish to find. Researching for prime areas is the key to success when it comes to gold nugget hunting.
  8. Always remember to obtain permission to metal detect on private property or mining claims and be mindful of restrictions on public land. It’s also important to be responsible and fill in your holes and remove any trash that you dig up. This keeps the hobby of metal detecting protected and makes it better for all detectorists.

Final Thoughts on Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets

While it may be one of the most challenging types of metal detecting, hunting for gold nuggets is a lot more exciting than digging up clad coins in the park. Gold nuggets are usually small, the ground may be highly mineralized and difficult to work with, and you’ll undoubtedly have to dig some trash. But, when you find your very first gold nugget, you’ll be hooked forever!

Last Updated on

About The Author
Don Newell
Don Newell enjoys hunting for gold, lives in Arizona, has been gold detecting for almost 15 years.