There is a lot of discussion, theory and “gospel” about where to find gold in a desert wash. Most people have heard about the usual suspects such as finding gold on an inside bend, downstream from a boulder, gold nuggets settling within 1 foot of the gut of the creek, looking for the flat dropouts and so on. All these general rules can and do often apply to a given location where we might suspect to find placer gold. Learning to recognize and “cherry pick” these hot spots in a wash can lead to quick discovery of previously uncovered ground or ground previously covered by less experienced nugget hunters. However, there are a few situations where this cherry picking method of detecting is best left behind.
Awhile back when I was new to nugget hunting, I received a powerful lesson while out detecting with Travis Brown of Pro-Gold Prospecting in Youngtown. We were out testing some claims that Kevin Hoagland had acquired in the eastern Bradshaws near Bumblebee and Cleator. A lot of really nice nuggets had come off of these claims in the past and I got chance to see a collection of several ounces in the possesion of the former owner which had been found with a Fisher Gold Bug. Of course these claims had also been hit heavily with Minelab’s as well. Travis, who is a great detectorist and teacher, agreed to let me tag along with him and we went for a hike. Both of us had Minelab detectors. I was using my SD2100 with a stock 11″ DD and Travis had a nice new (at the time) GP3000 with a Coiltek 11″ DD Pro. After trying several areas we dropped down into a wash on the far corner of the claims which looked really nice. The wash was not to wide, and had lots of exposed bedrock. It wasn’t devoid of trash targets either and so seemed to have a good potential for gold. Travis kept preaching to me to be methodical and slow in my approach. We were leap frogging and I was in a rush. This was definitely a case of the tortise beating the hare because in the end, he got 2 gold nuggets and I got none. Travis later recovered at least 3 more and one of them was, humiliatingly recovered out of one of my dig holes.
With beginners, there is a tendency to rush. This applies most especially when the novice has not yet found a gold nugget with his or her detector. It’s really a mindset problem. Because the novice nugget hunter has so many challenging hurdles to overcome, coupled with the intense drive to find that first elusive piece of gold, missteps can occur when trying to follow the general rules. The novice might tend to try and use the cherry picking method before they really know where the cherry spots are. Being in a rush, they actually tend to not only skip over really good places to find gold in the wash, they also don’t detect the areas they do decide to scan very effectively. New detectorists also tend to gravitate towards the old spots. They might spend their first few times out or even longer detecting club claims or open ground in the more known placer gold areas. The thing about these places is that all the usual spots have already been detected thoroughly, sometimes 100’s of times. Not that there aren’t gold nuggets left to be found in choice spots, it’s just that thinking outside of the normal mode of operation is necessary to find gold more frequently.
If you are new to nugget hunting, try this excercise next time you go out. Choose a wash where gold has been found in the past. Perhaps it’s that really nice looking wash on a club claim which you’ve never found a target in. Or, maybe it’s the trash filled wash that nobody seems to want to deal with for more than 2 minutes. Pick your starting point and fire up your detector. Take your time because this is not rush work. Make sure your detector is well tuned and ground balanced. Set your threshold just right. If you don’t know how to do this, fake it like you are an expert and just trust that it is the best it will be. Look at the wash ahead of you and just breathe. You know there is gold left in this wash. Now, look down at your coil and begin to scan, slowly. Start on one side of the wash and make sure you overlap your swings. Detect up the banks as far as your detector will go. Shove the coil up under that brush. Turn the coil on edge and pinpoint in between any bedrock cracks. Move into and across the wash, slowly overlapping as you go. Check every thing you hear. If it sounds like it might be a target, boot scrape the sand and check it again. If there is a rock in the way, kick it out of the way and detect again. Dont just detect around the obstructions, get rid of them! Move all the way to the other bank and detect up the side and then move forward. Zigzag up the wash slowly, digging every target and detecting every inch of ground between your starting point and the headwaters.
If you are methodical, you will find out how much gold is left in the wash. At least for the coil and machine that you are using. Move forward in this way over many washes in the usual placer areas and you will find gold. It should go without saying that if you do find gold in a wash that it should be thoroughly pounded with whatever coils or detectors you might have at your disposal.