So you’d like to go metal detecting and you have so many questions and so few answers? I hope this basic guide might make it clearer for you.
Firstly I will ask you what you want to go looking for, coins and treasure or gold, and most people will say both. The detector used for treasure hunting are usually vastly different from gold prospecting units, a bit like cars in that a highway car is different to a hill climbing 4wd even though they are both cars. There are a few machine that will do both but they are usually a compromise on performance for one of the situations, and that is usually gold prospecting. Those that want to do both and are keen about it, will usually have a good treasure detector and a separate good gold prospecting detector.
My budget is only $X but I’d like to find enough gold to pay for a good detector.
Many new enthusiasts have a low budget and that’s fine. Finding a detector to suit that budget is the difficult part. Balancing performance against your budget may be tough especially if you want to spend only a few hundred dollars. You get what you pay for is an old saying that even holds true for detectors, so in theory the more you spend then the better your chance of some good finds. Now we have all heard about the guy that waltzes out to the goldfields with his $50 “special” and scores a huge nugget, but we don’t hear about the many that don’t using the same “special”.
I suggest to all those that ask me about finding their fortune, that it is possible, and I know many who have done extremely well with detecting, but if they expect to do that then they might be disappointed. In my mind, detecting should be regarded as a hobby with the chance to get out into the peace and tranquility of the Australian bush, get some exercise and adventure, meet new like-minded people, relax enjoy the surroundings and any gold nuggets found are a bonus. Detecting is not about getting rich quickly, it is more about lifestyle, and those that are expecting to “strike it rich” have entirely the wrong attitude to succeed. Detecting is a hobby and if you happen to make it pay, then that is a bonus.
What type of detecting do I want to do, coin detecting or gold prospecting?
I suppose this will tie in with the comments above. The 2 main types of detector are the VLF (very low frequency) and the PI (pulse induction). Each type has its own merits. VLF detectors are more sensitive to very small gold and also can have an accurate discrimination feature, especially true for coin machines. Some of the coin detectors are able to target a specific coin and have tools to ignore almost all other targets. PI detectors generally will have superior depth advantages especially in the mineralized soils found in our goldfields, and as a part of that will also run more quietly on these soils ignoring a vast amount of ground mineralization in comparison to a VLF detector. It is likely that a good deal of the available detectable gold in the known goldfields has already been found but there are always nuggets lurking deeper or smaller easily missed pieces waiting to be found. The performance advantage of a PI detector in regards to outright depth needs to be considered if the operator wants to target these areas. Conversely, decimal coins and rings etc are or can be replenished wherever people gather on their recreational activities, so detecting the same areas time and time again may still net a decent return.
Do I really need the expensive detector or can I start out with a cheap one?
People can and have started out with a cheaper machine and upgraded as ability and fortune dictates. For gold prospecting, the later technology detectors in my opinion are the easier to operate and decipher as opposed to the earlier machines. For example, the GPX range of Minelab detectors have timings that will eliminate almost all ground noise (soil mineralization) and make the job for a new chum much easier as he/she is not bombarded by a myriad of sounds and confused by it all. Conversely the GP series (and SD series also) are switch machines and not menu driven, with far less choices to make in regards to detector settings, of which some people find easier to understand. The release of the SDC2300 has really made detecting easy as this detector is extremely user friendly, dead easy to use and has excellent performance, allowing it to locate nuggets that’s the others leave behind. This leads me to saying that the most important part of detecting is an intimate understanding of your detector. The operator who takes the time to learn what the detector is saying should do well.
If we put new operators in a well detected area with an SDC2300, a GPX5000 and a GPZ7000 then I would expect the order of gold finds to be in the favour of the GPZ7000, followed by the SDC2300 and the GPX5000 last. If we give these to experienced operators and put them in some virgin country I would still expect the GPZ7000 to win followed by the GPX5000 and the SDC2300 at the tail. The SDC2300 is an excellent beginner machine and will mop up those difficult to get nuggets that the better detectors find hard to see while still having decent depth. The other 2 detectors have more depth capabilities on the more solid pieces and so, will get the bits that are just out of reach for the SDC.
What detector do I get then?
Most of the requests for information I get are from people wanting to try the hobby, but they don’t know what to look at. The first consideration is what targets they want to search for. Most people are interested in finding gold (no surprises there), and some have done the research and know exactly what they’d like. Some are traveling around the country as retirees and are interested in both prospecting and coin detecting. The choices of detector vary with the targets they seek. As a quick rundown we will use the Minelab detectors as a base because they are the most plentiful and popular detectors that are easily available for gold prospecting.
The SD series of detector are basic machines consisting of the SD2000, the SD2100 and the SD2200.
The GP series comprises the GP Extreme, the GP3000 and the GP3500.
The GPX series include the GPX4000, the GPX4500 and the latest GPX5000.
The SDC is one to consider for a beginner as it is exceptionally easy to use and find nuggets with. Being Pulse Induction it has excellent ground cancelling properties and also is very tolerant of EMI (electrical interference).
The latest detector is the GPZ7000 and is the top of the line for prospecting. This detector is proving to be one that can find all sizes of nuggets that are currently not being detected with other detectors using any coil size they choose. It is capable of finding the small bits like the SDC2300 can, but deeper, and also nuggets that the Minelab SD/GP/GPX leave behind. I believe the last detector made in each of the above series is generally the best of that series, and know that many arguments can start over that, but it is my genuine opinion. I offered my opinion to a friend that was getting into detecting a decade ago that the GPX4500, at the time, was the best for him and he baulked at the price at the time, eventually settling on one though. It was gratifying to hear him tell me in later years that it was the best advice he had been given even after the weeks of research he had done.
How do I use it?
The internet these days is a wonderful tool. Answers to a huge amount of questions are available if you take the time to sift through and find the right answers, and there are many videos that can be found on the subject. Instructional DVD’s can be purchased but to my mind the best instruction is to go with someone who knows and prospects themselves, as they can show the correct procedures from the start. Then, DVD’s are a useful tool to confirm what you have seen and learned. Most dealers will have available instructional days for clients that purchase machines and need to learn how to “fly” it. Some people offer tours and advanced instruction, so if in doubt, ask the question. Practice makes perfect, so once the basic functions are understood then the best teacher is to get out and swing your machine. Youtube also has more and more videos on detecting, tips, finds etc.
Where do I go detecting?
This will vary from State to State as rules differ. In Queensland most of the land is privately owned and permission is needed from the landowner to get access. A Fossicker’s Licence is needed to permit you to recover gold from all Queensland ground (information is available on this on the Department of Natural Resources and Mines website). There are General Permission areas set aside in parts of the State, information on which can be Googled. Other States have differing rules and permit structures, so it is best to contact the Government Department for each State to get the correct information.
What does gold look like?
Gold is a very heavy metal that is approximately 7.5 times heavier than Quartz, a rock that it is closely associated with. Gold is heavy like lead, yellow in colour and usually quite dull in native form. Its specific gravity is 19.32 and the melting point of gold is 2,063 degrees Fahrenheit. There is 31.104 grams of gold in one Troy ounce. Gold is very malleable and will flatten easily without shattering. Gold has many uses one of which is a very thin, see-through covering on Astronauts helmets. The main use for gold is in jewellery, where it is usually alloyed with other metals to make it hard enough to not be easily worn away. About 10 billion tons of gold are estimated to be held in suspension in the oceans of the world.
Lastly a quick tip for the newbies who have some "gold" that they need someone to verify. Iron Pyrite (fools gold) can trick you into thinking you have hit the motherload. If you put a sample of pyrite on a vice or steel plate and hit it with a hammer, it will shatter and turn white. If you put a nugget on the same plate and hit it, it will flatten. The more you hit it, the flatter it will get. That is the easiest way I know to show someone the difference. Happy hunting and may you find the elusive yellow metal for yourselves.