Here are 51 nugget hunting tips and metal detecting strategies that can help increase your chances of finding gold nuggets with a metal detector.
1. Use a metal detector designed for gold nugget hunting. These gold metal detectors are worth the price.
2. Many areas noted for fine gold will also have larger nuggets. You have a better chance of finding them with a metal detector, than did the early miners. Don’t avoid these areas, just because they are known for fine gold.
3. If you find jagged pieces of gold that are not very worn, you are probably close to the source.
4. Remember that where you find small nuggets, there are often big nuggets.
5. If you see a patch of erosion that is not part of the normal gully, then it may be the remains of an old diggings site. Because the old timers removed most of the overburden, these areas can produce some nice gold at shallow depths.
6. When metal detecting in a new area, try the gullies to see if there is even gold in the area. You can do this with your metal detector or even a gold pan.
7. Search areas with high grass in early spring when the grass is shorter or after a grass fire so that you don’t lose a lot of depth. When the grass is short, it won’t wear you out as fast.
8. Ridges are a good place to search because there is usually less soil covering the bedrock where the nuggets will concentrate.
9. Look for outcroppings of dirty colored quartz, especially if it is on a ridge.
10. Look for a series of gullies where there is evidence of early mining. Then search the ridges between the gullies as well as the fringe areas some 100 yards away.
11. Dig a test hole to find the depth to bedrock so you don’t waste your time. Also, look for pieces of dirty quartz in the hole.
12. Try exploring some of the gullies that are within a mile of the actively mined area. Look for rocks and sediment that look similar to the mined site.
13. If you are detecting in a gully, look for the stretch that is just below the really steep sections. The steep part of the gully will have a hard time trapping gold, while the lower stretches will have too much overburden.
14. If you know that a gully was never worked by the early miners and you don’t find any gold, then chances are you will waste your time if you detect the ridges right next to the gully.
15. Look for patches of gravel with small worn pieces of quartz; this can indicate the remains of an old wash that could hold some gold.
16. If there are sandy patches mixed with soil patches, then the land may have been altered which means you are likely to find junk metal at deeper depths. This may not be the best place to metal detect.
17. If you come a cross a sandy section in a gully, dig a small hole to see how deep gravel is buried. If the sand is deep, then move on.
18. Lots of old nails and iron junk suggests that the old timers may have worked the area. Search the fringe areas.
19. If an area does not contain any iron, then it is probably unworked ground or has been cleaned out. Look for any indication of a previous nugget hunter’s dig holes.
20. If you come across a gully that has been worked and you see that the overburden was piled on the side of the gully, scan these piles, as the deeper layers of gravel will be on the top of these piles.
21. If you run your threshold too loud, you can drown out a good signal. Too quiet and you can miss some targets.
22. Larger pieces of gold tend to be farther down the slope from the quartz outcroppings.
23. Most of the gold tends to be between the old timers diggings on up the hill to the base of the steep sections of the mountains.
24. If you see sticks piled up or small mounds of larger rocks, then it is possible that another nugget shooter cleaned up the area to search for nuggets.
25. Shallow depressions can indicate a nugget hunters dig hole.
26. If you are searching a location that has been heavily worked, avoid the really shallow areas as much of the gold will have already been recovered. These areas are easier to avoid when using a pulse induction metal detector.
27. If you see a cut in the ground, look for the following layers: Soil above gravel wash above clay above bedrock. Much of the gold will be in the wash layer.
28. You can tie a few feet of rope to your belt and tie a foot or two of medium chain on the end and drag it behind you. This will help you grid the area. If you come across these kinds of marks, then you know that someone has detected there since the last major rain storm.
29. If you find a lot of dig holes, then it is best to move on. If you only find a few, then there might be some leftover nuggets.
30. If you cannot see any pieces of bedrock protruding from the soil surface, then try and determine if there is a shallow clay layer to prevent gold from sinking deep into the ground. If there isn’t the clay layer and the bedrock is no where to be seen, then it will be harder to find gold.
31. Red dirt comes from iron mineralization. Gold is often associated with mineralization.
32. Get in between the brush and bushes. Often, detectorists avoid these areas, especially around cactus.
33. Course tailings piles from dry washers can produce nuggets. The fine tailings are less likely to produce gold and most of it will be very small.
34. A small hand rake is useful for raking down old dry washer piles.
35. Iron stone is often associated with gold. It responds to magnets and can frequently be tuned out. If you find ironstone, gold may be near.
36. Keep your coil close to the ground to get the most depth possible.
37. Sweep your coil parallel to the gravel layers, not across them. This allows the metal detector to better cope with the mineralization.
38. Clay containing iron can cause a false signal so break up clay chunks to see if it they are causing the signal.
39. Time spent researching locations can really pay off. It is an important part of being successful when gold nugget hunting.
40. If someone has worked the area previously and there is still a lot of trash, they were likely careless and left behind some nuggets. It may be worth metal detecting at this type of location.
41. Don’t immediately grid an area, use a zigzag or similar pattern until you find a target and then grid the area surrounding the target.
42. Just because a mound of dirt / tailings pile does give any signals, doesn’t mean you can’t find gold nearby.
43. If the target is deep in hard packed gravel, there is a good chance that it is a nugget.
44. Many people will spend all their time at the old diggings even though there may be more gold nearby. When you aren’t finding anything, don’t be afraid to search the fringe areas.
45. Kick some rocks out of the way in a productive area. The extra depth you gain may pay off.
46. Use a test nugget of around 5-6 grains to make sure your machine is tuned right, it will also help you to not doubt your machine on days when the targets are far and few between.
47. Caliche is a hard packed material that can act as a false bedrock. If it is within your metal detectors depth reach, then search the area if it looks promising.
48. It does not hurt to ground balance regularly. In fact, it can be very helpful.
49. When searching fringe areas, go where the mineral are the same as at the diggings. Don’t go where the ground mineralization is significantly different.
50. Avoid the areas immediately adjacent to old gold towns, as they will be covered with trash. If you are patient, you can probably pull out some nuggets. If you aren’t patient, the trash will drive you crazy.
51. As the saying goes, “gold is where you find it.” If you aren’t finding much, try the places that gold doesn’t normally concentrate at. In gold country, these areas do break the rules from time to time.
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