Adapted from

Steve's Guide to Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets

The best detector for each area will depend on how much ground iron is present, how large the gold is, and how much trash is in the area. Operator expertise has by far the greatest effect on success. If you purchase a second detector, having a low frequency model and a high frequency detector will give you more versatility. Identical detectors will also interfere with each other electronically and must be kept far apart, whereas differing models can work side by side.

The most important accessory item you can own is a quality set of headphones. A good set will muffle outside noise, enhance the faint sounds most nuggets make, and be comfortable for hours on end. Audio quality is of extreme importance. Insist on trying several headphones with your detector before you buy. The differences can be amazing. Make sure that the headphone has its own volume controls and matches your detector for mono or stereo operation.

Other important accessories include a stout digging tool, such as a stainless steel trowel or a short handle pick. A magnet can easily pick up small steel trash items that may be found and are hard to locate exactly. A plastic scoop or cup is indispensable in helping to separate a small nugget from the soil by scooping and waving the soil over the detector search coil. Snap plastic search coil protectors over the bottom of your search coil to protect it from wear. Carry spare batteries and a plastic bottle for your finds. Check into the possibility of using a belt or chest harness with the detector control box to protect it and remove the extra weight from your arm.


Here are a few facts and tips to get you started:

  1. Today's machines can detect gold as small as a half a grain with ease. The depth of detection grows with the size of the target. A one grain nugget may be found at two inches, a match head size nugget at four inches, and a quarter ounce nugget at ten inches. Only the largest nuggets will be found at depths over a foot. Metal detectors will not normally find buried accumulations of fine gold directly.
  2. The higher the operating frequency of the detector, the more sensitive it will be to small gold, but with the penalty of also being more sensitive to iron minerals. This can result in more false signaling and difficulty of operation in highly iron mineralized areas. Lower frequency detectors are generally less sensitive to small nuggets, but handle iron ground better. Frequencies on today's nugget detectors range from a low of 3kHz to a high of 71kHz. Pulse induction (PI) detectors are a special type of unit that act like they are extremely low frequency detectors. PI detectors main strength is in ignoring the worst ground mineral conditions and finding large gold nuggets at maximum depths.
  3. Most models feature manual ground balance controls, which allow the machine to be adjusted for the general iron content of the ground. When the ground being searched is relatively homogenous, these controls require minimal adjustments and work well. When the ground being searched has wildly varying iron content or many out of place mineralized stones (referred to as "hot rocks") then these manual controls will have to constantly be adjusted to maintain proper performance. Detectors that feature automatic ground balance will require less adjustment and will have less false ground noise.
  4. Nugget detectors find all conductive metals. Most units have the ability to tune out many common iron and steel trash items. Pulse induction detectors are not so good at discriminating out trash items.
  5. Any gold located should be treated as an indicator, since rarely will a nugget occur by itself. It is much more likely that more nuggets are nearby, and gold smaller than the detector can locate or beyond its immediate depth of detection is present. Such leads should be followed up with further excavation and sampling.
  6. A metal detectors greatest advantage is that it needs no water, a near-universal requirement for most methods of placer sampling. Use this to your advantage to easily check material that is far from water, such as arid locations or deposits located well uphill from the stream.
  7. Large nuggets sing out with a loud signal, but since most targets will be small, train yourself using the smallest detectable nuggets your machine can find. Learn the faint but very distinct sound that small or deeply buried nuggets make. Always use headphones to enhance your ability to hear these faint targets.
  8. Coil control is one of the most important aspects of proper metal detector technique. Small items may only be detected at a few inches or fractions of inches. Hovering the coil any appreciable distance over the ground is one of the most common reasons for gold nuggets being missed. The detection field projected underground resembles an inverted cone, with the deepest depth of detection in the center of the coil. At maximum depths only a tiny area is seen by the detector, and so overlapping the sweeps is important when detecting a productive area or "patch".
  9. To find gold go where gold is found! Metal detectors can be used to prospect new areas but do not expect to find much gold in areas where gold has never been found. Instead, research and frequent areas with past known production of the kind of gold you want to find. Research is a real key to success. Remember to always obtain permission to detect on mining claims or private property and be aware of any possible restrictions on public lands.
  10. Commit yourself to learning your detector. Do not make the investment if you do not plan on spending some time to properly give the method a chance. It will be time profitably spent. The one thing that sets successful detector operators apart from the crowd is their patience and persistence. They enjoy the hunt itself, and consider the day well spent even if no gold is found. Consistent success will only come with practice.