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An Introduction to Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets


10 Things That Every Detectorist Should Know Before They Start Hunting for Gold


Finding Gold with a Metal Detector


1. Metal detecting for gold is harder than coin hunting


Most people get started by metal detecting at the park looking for coins and other lost items. Hunting in parks and playgrounds is pretty easy since coins are large targets they are easy to hear.

Looking for gold nuggets is much different. Gold country presents a lot of challenges, the most obvious being that you won’t be casually walking through well groomed grass! We’ll discuss some other challenges below.


2. Most Targets you dig are trash


One of the most frustrating things about metal detecting for gold nuggets is the huge amount of rubbish that you will find. Even in rich gold country, the ratio of trash to gold can easily be 100-1!

You’ve got to dig that trash or you will miss gold, and there really isn’t any way around it.

Read: This is the ONLY TIME I use Discrimination on my Gold Detector


3. You’ll need a Gold-Specific Metal Detector


In most types of metal detecting you can probably use a relatively cheap multi-purpose detector with good results.

However, in the goldfields you are going to need a high quality gold-specific metal detector. The average coin detector isn’t going to be able to handle the iron-rich soils that gold nuggets occur in. A cheap detector will give you fits.

The price of a good basic gold detector starts at around $500 and goes up from there.


4. Not All States have Gold Nuggets


Unfortunately not all places are created equal in regards to gold prospecting. While most states in the USA do have gold, relatively few of them produce gold nuggets that are large enough to be detected.

Most of the western states have places that you can find gold nuggets. Several states in the southeast in the Appalachian Mountain Range also have some nuggets. Alaska is another state that is great for gold detecting. Most of the East Coast and Midwest aren’t going to be good places to detect, and you are better off using traditional placer mining techniques that will find smaller gold.

Read: The 5 Best States to Find Gold Nuggets

And: Gold Prospecting in the USA – Where to Find Gold in all 50 States


5. Most Gold Nuggets are Tiny


Little gold nuggets like these are way more common than their bigger cousins.

Even when you are in a known gold nugget producing area, most of the time the gold nuggets themselves are going to be very small. There are countless more sub-gram nuggets than there are big ones.

Beginners usually make the mistake of listening for big, booming sounds from their metal detector. Actually, you want to train your ears to listen to the subtle signal of small gold nuggets. If you only dig the loud targets, you will spend all your time digging up big iron trash targets and pass right over all the gold nuggets.


6. Research is more important than actual detecting


You’d probably thing that the most important part of gold detecting is getting out there and hunting hard, but it’s actually the research that you do before you leave the house that will make the most difference.

Now don’t get me wrong; to be successful at metal detecting for gold you will need to work hard. But you also need to make sure you are hunting in a place that has gold nuggets.

To find these areas you need to read books and literature about the early mining in your area. Make note of areas where the old-timers were mining. You can go there and still find gold today.


7. You Should be in Good Physical Condition


Grubstake gold miner

Anyone who says gold mining is easy probably hasn’t actually done much of it…

You are going to have a lot more success at this hobby if you are in good physical condition. You are going to do a lot of hiking, and digging holes all day can wear anybody out.

Now that isn’t to say that you have to be Hercules to be successful. I know plenty of guys in their 60s and 70s who are still digging lots of gold, but they are still fit and in good shape.


8. Very, very few people Make Money looking for gold


Check you expectations before you get started in this hobby. There are some guys that find a lot of gold, and there are even a handful of guys out there who do it for a living, but it is a hard living.

Beginners often have dreams of big gold nuggets and piles of gold. The reality is that you will spend days and days out in the field without even a crumb of gold to show for it.

Metal detecting for gold is a lot of fun, but to truly do it for a living, expecting to replace a 40 hours-per-week job simply isn’t going to happen. Especially not for a beginner with little to no experience.

Read: Supplement your Income with Gold Mining


9. Even the Pros get Skunked Sometimes


As you gain more experience, you will probably start finding more and more gold. You will learn to identify indicators, both natural and man-made, that will lead you to productive mining areas.

Even with a lifetime of experience, you will still get skunked sometimes. Maybe another prospector already beat you to the spot and dug up all the gold nuggets? Or perhaps the area just doesn’t have any large, detectable gold nuggets. Believe me, sometimes the best looking areas sometimes come up empty.


10. Even finding a place to detect can be Challenging


One thing you will find out pretty quickly is that some of the best areas that you want to explore are either on private lands or they are already claimed by another miner.

Don’t be a claim jumper. It is both unethical and also illegal.

Read: You Don’t Need a Mining Claim to Find Gold

And: Abandoned Mining Claims are Great Places to Find Gold

There are still plenty of areas open to metal detecting where you can find gold nuggets, but you need to do your research (remember #6?).




Metal detecting for gold is one of the most exciting hobbies there is. I’ve always felt that the rush we get from actually finding treasure is something that is part of our DNA. We tell stories about it and dream about it when we are kids.

While the likelihood of discovering a pirate’s booty probably isn’t too likely, finding gold nuggets is absolutely possible and prospectors are doing it every day!

Unearthing a gold nugget that has been hidden for millions of years is a rush unlike any other. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from getting into this great hobby.

At the same time, I like to give people a real expectation of what they can expect rather than some fantasy. Some of the points above might seem a bit “sobering,” but I’m here to tell you that you can go out and find gold nuggets with a metal detector.

Don’t hesitate to get yourself a good gold detector and hit the hills in search of your own piece of treasure!

Detecting Gold Nuggets

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