If you have done your research, identified a good area to start searching for gold nuggets, and you have a good quality gold detector that is up to the task. You’ve got all the gear that you need, and you’re ready to go out and dig some gold! There is still one more thing… it’s time to learn how to use that metal detector.
Read the Manual
This should really go without saying, but reading the manual is extremely important step that so many people just don’t do. The user manual is such a valuable reference for you.
Metal detectors are complex pieces of electronic equipment, they aren’t like a blender or a stereo that you can probably just take your chances and get it set up properly. If you “wing it” with a metal detector, you are not going to learn all of the complexities of the unit, and you are not going to understand all the features and capabilities that the metal detector offers.
Some metal detectors are more complex than others. Some are more “user friendly” than others, but they are all challenging to learn and master. Reading the manual is the first step to becoming a skilled gold hunter.
A good gold detector must have the ability to ground balance. This allows you to even out the threshold of your detector over highly mineralized ground so that you can hear the subtle sounds of a gold nugget. Again, check your manual to understand how to ground balance properly.
Most prospectors do not ground balance their metal detectors frequently enough. Ground conditions in the goldfields chance drastically, and continuous ground balancing will help you maintain a smooth threshold in these conditions. If your detector becomes erratic and chatters too much, it will be hard for you to hear the sound of a nugget.
The Risks of Trusting Your Discrimination
Most metal detectors have some sort of discrimination feature that help you distinguish between the sounds of gold versus the sounds of “junk” targets.
On the average coin detector, a discriminator is a very valuable tool. When hunting for coins in a park, it is fairly easy to distinguish between the sound of most coins and the sounds of iron and aluminum trash.
The problem with using discrimination on a gold detector is the varying ground conditions that area found in gold country. Detecting coins at the park is completely different than detecting for gold, and discrimination can be very unreliable on a gold detector for a variety of reason.
Gold nuggets are all different shapes and sizes. They may be located in a pocket of rich iron ore, or may be very small. The same can be said for trash targets that are found in gold country. Iron trash may be as large as a stove pipe or as small as a boot tack or tiny bit of wire.
Trial-and-error is the best way to check your discrimination and decide for yourself how much you want to rely on it. Most of the goldfields have an abundance of historic and modern trash targets, from rusty nails, boot tacks, wire, musket balls, bullets, brass fragments, rusty cans, mining tools, etc. Just about anything you can imagine can be found in the goldfields. Often there are hundreds or even thousands of pieces of trash for every piece of gold that is out there.
Because of this, using discrimination may be the only viable option in some areas. Just understand that discrimination does have limitations. They are never 100% accurate, and there is always a chance that you could walk past a gold nugget because your detector says that it is trash.
Running a detector in discrimination mode makes it less sensitive than operating it in all-metal mode and it is possible to miss small targets that you would have heard otherwise.
For these reasons, most experience gold detectorists do not use the discrimination feature on their detectors. Instead, they dig all of the targets, or rely on their ears to determine if a target is worth digging or not.
Selecting the Best Search Coil
Most models of gold detectors come with a few different options for types of search coils. Search coils come in different shapes and sizes, and are some work better than others in various situations.
Large search coils will detect targets deeper than a smaller coil will. This added depth may be important if you are detecting in a hard-hunted area, or if you need to be able to detect deep to get down to bedrock where the nuggets are located.
Small search coils won’t reach as deep, but they do have some advantages. In very trashy areas, a small coil can work well to distinguish between different targets. Sometimes nuggets are found in very trashy areas, and a small coil can pick out the nuggets amongst all the rubbish.
Small coils also work great in very rough environments that are very brushy or have a lot of cracks and grooves in the rocks. A large coil may be difficult to maneuver in these places, but a small coil will work nicely here.
Coils come in round and elliptical shapes. Round coils will generally detect a little bit deeper than a similar sized elliptical coil, but they are less maneuverable around rocks and brush. It can also be a bit easier to pinpoint targets using an elliptical coil.
Whichever coil you decide to use, I recommend that you choose one and stick with it. All coils will sound a little bit differently on your detectors, and react differently to ground conditions. It is best to find a coil that you like and stick with it until you grow comfortable with how to use your detector and the different sounds that it makes.
Check out our post: What is the Best Coil for Your Metal Detector? for more detail about coil selection.
A Few Tips…
The best way to learn to operate a gold detector is to actually get out into the field and use it. Since each detector is different it would be hard to go into much detail on using each specific make and model of metal detector on the market. There are a few tips that do apply to all detectors that help you get started on the right foot, and help you avoid some common mistakes that people make.
Turn down the sensitivity on your detector! This setting is often called the gain, and higher setting will increase the depth that your detector can hear a target. The problem is that a high gain will also make your detector act more erratically in mineralized soils.
Most beginners make the mistake of cranking the gain up WAY too high. Start out at a modest setting and move it higher as you become more comfortable with your detector and the sound that it makes.
Keep all of your detectors settings fairly moderate at first. Not just the gain, but the other features on your detector that affect the stability that it operates. You may get a few inches of increased depth out of your detector if your settings are all cranked up, but the chatter that it creates will probably mask the sound of a gold nugget anyways.
Don’t get too carried away playing with all the different settings and features on your detector at first. Find setting that work well for you and try not to change them too much. As you get more comfortable with your detector you can adjust, change, and experiment more with different settings, but when you are just starting out it is best to find some good, moderate settings that you are comfortable with and stick with them.