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Dig, dig--miss, miss--Booyah!

Lanny in AB

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The Golden Rooster and His Corn

This is an unlikely sounding title for a gold tale; however, it really is a gold story, even with its puzzling name.

To back up some, twenty-four hours before any gold trip begins, the first eight hours are the usual tasks: organizing grub, bedding, tools, fuel, equipment, firearms, and other essentials to sustain life for several weeks in the unforgiving, deep northern woods.

After our supplies were packed, we loaded the mechanized equipment on the flat-deck trailer: a small wash plant, a variety of pumps, various lengths of hoses, and a small home-built backhoe.

As with any remote mining expedition, we'd packed a white canvas wall tent for living quarters. Furthermore, we packed the wood-burning stove with its lengths of stove pipe. For, even in summer, there’s ice on the water in the fire bucket some mornings.

In the back of the ¾-ton diesel, we stowed the pack boxes of food, the duffel bags of bedding and clothes, and the chainsaw and axe. All items were snugly arranged around the four-wheeler in the truck bed.

A bit more about our transportation, I have always loved the sound of that Cummins engine; its throaty song was comforting and reassuring; its performance and reliability, uncompromising; its very sound a symbol of summer gold hunts in the immense wilderness.

To elaborate, there are places where topping a mountain, there is nothing to see but deep-green soldiered ranks of pine, fir, and cedar in undulating waves of forest that march ever onward to rugged peak after endless ridge, until the distance melts all and blurs it into one surreal horizon.

This endless view contains no sign, no hint of human disturbance or occupation. No power-lines, no cat-trails or cut-lines, no excavation scars, nothing but the vastness of untamed nature. The sight always leaves me feeling insignificant, yet equally awed by its savage beauty and unspoiled majesty.

All packed, and after a sixteen-hour drive through the night and continuing well into the next day, we arrived at the gold fields of North Central British Columbia. The black flies, the No-Seeums, and the mosquitoes were having a banner year. So, before stepping from the 4X4, I grabbed the bug dope, ready to hose myself down as soon as I hit the ground.

I also tucked the bottom of my pant legs into my socks, then sprayed dope on my shirt cuffs, collar, and the hair on the back and top of my head. Next I sprayed my hat brim and put on a pair of gloves. It’s the only way to keep the bugs at bay.

After protecting myself, I grabbed the Minelab and fired it up. It gave a reassuring hum, telling me it had survived the brutal last leg of the trip. (The last leg takes five hours, all over unforgiving logging routes: roads wash-boarded, pocked with holes, and mined with obstacles. Said obstacles include moose, elk, deer, black bear, grizzly bear, wolverine, bits and pieces of lost freight, and of course, logging trucks.)

My detector was outfitted with the standard eleven-inch DD coil, and my headphones did nothing but annoy the bugs by denying them a taste of my tender ears! Furthermore, on an earlier trip, I’d learned to keep my mouth shut to avoid a meal of flying protein.

Making my way to an abandoned site, I discovered exposed bedrock. There was a small shelf that stepped down from a larger formation above. This was a minor site, one deliberately worked where the bedrock had faulted. Black graphite-schist met a harder iron-red formation, and the wall behind it was a combination of piles of slump, along with sheets of broken, black slate all tumbled from the canyon-wall above.

The sentinel pines topping the wall were oblivious to our efforts. The songbirds among the pines filled the air with their ageless melodies. Mountain flowers gently tossed their heads in the slight breeze at the foot of the pines as they scented the air. An iridescent humming bird zipped past my head to feed on the blossoms.

What a glorious place to look for gold.

I was eager to detect where the two bedrocks met. There was folding and faulting to create gold traps. This site, abandoned but a day earlier, was a small piece of a Tertiary channel, one composed of virgin bedrock from dim eons past. With slim hopes, due to its small size, I slid down some slump to start detecting the bedrock. The lower portion of it was already covered with water, seepage from an unseen spring slowly drowning the site.

I scrubbed the coil over the bedrock, and after only two sweeps, I had a signal. However, I've learned over the years that detecting old workings may promote madness, the madness from dealing with unwanted signals: bits of blade and track; the head, tip or entire body of a square nail; rusted bits of can, chunks of wire, brass from bushings, bits of lead, etc.

Regardless of past disappointment, I scanned again, still had a solid response. I scraped the bedrock, scanned again, and got a sweeter signal. I couldn’t see anything exciting, so I drug a super-magnet over the bedrock to check for ferrous, no friends. Swinging the coil again produced a nice, low-high-low sound. My pulse increased.

With sniping tools, I chipped carefully around the signal. I broke out a piece of cemented bedrock, baseball-sized. The signal was in the chunk of rock! Tapping it carefully with the flat side of a hammer, a golf-ball-sized piece broke free. A nice, steady signal hummed from it. By hammering carefully, out popped a nice nugget that looked like a rooster's head, complete with a comb and beak! It was a five-gram piece of Mother Nature's finest craft.

I scanned the area again while expanding my search. About a meter away, another nice signal, this one longer in its length. An old square nail? I scraped but found no such thing. Then a slightly stronger signal on the next scan, though not as strong as the Rooster nugget. This tone was softer, yet still mellow. I chipped along the bedrock and discovered a crevice. The compacted material was not cemented, but it was the exact colour of the black bedrock. I took out a bent sniping tool and drug it the length of the crevice to where that crevice connected with a drop in the bedrock. Out popped four quadruplets: four identical kernels of corn. They weighed in at almost a half a gram apiece, making two grams of corn for my Rooster nugget.

With not much bedrock left, I scanned on, but no response. I put on the 18-inch mono and slid it around the entire area. It was considerably noisier than the DD, and I had trouble balancing the detector. Yet, though all the noise, I heard a faint something, with no idea what I was hearing. I'd never heard such a whisper, nothing but a tiny break, a mere bump in the threshold amidst the clatter, and all because that big 18-inch mono was seriously hammering that graphite schist into submission to give up its secrets.

Intrigued, I took out the chisel and carved off about an inch of rock. I scanned again, but now a faint, repeatable signal. I worked off more rock, scanned again—this time a louder signal. Breaking out a piece of bedrock, I gently crushed it, and out slid a smooth golden slug—four grams of hammered gold, no character, no definition.

The take for the day? A golden rooster with four kernels of corn, and a lonely orphan of a slug.

All the best,


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Don’t Give Up; Chase Those Signals

T'was the summer of '05. The day was cloudy. The gold had been elusive.

To provide some background, we make our summer camp in the Boreal Forests of British Columbia, Canada's most western province. Its mountains dive steeply into the Pacific Ocean, and a chain of outer islands continue the province's seaward extension. B.C. is a magnificent province (we have provinces instead of states here in Canada), with all kinds of mountains, rivers, lakes and breath-taking, endless forests. Moreover, vast tracts of genuine wilderness remain. Nevertheless, while chasing the gold, I've seen lots of wilderness in the United States and in my home province of Alberta too. To elaborate, Alberta’s eastern neighbor is British Columbia, and the two provinces share the Rocky Mountains. Yet, the province that dips its toes in the ocean has the lion's share of the gold.

Now, onward with my gold tale.

I headed off to hunt a challenging spot, one pocked with dig marks. My chosen place had a bedrock base which was the foundation of an old hydraulic operation, and nugget shooters had recently worked over the bedrock. However, there were still crevices filled with rock-hard gumbo clay, and stones.

So, taking this as a good sign of some undisturbed material, I fired up the detector and worked the exposed bedrock only to find of bits of steel, lead bullets from the 1800's, as well as modern shotgun pellets, old square nails, etc.

I went and worked the previously mentioned crevices but found only more of the same, until I found a door hinge wedged into the bedrock under 15 feet of boulder clay! How it got there remains a puzzle I couldn’t decode. Perhaps it was driven into the bedrock by the Old-timers for some reason, only to be buried by the later hydraulic operation.

I continued detecting lower down in the strata and got into some very interesting bedrock formations, but no gold. (That happens quite frequently.) I even pounded the ground with my detector where my buddy found a nice nugget in some sharply rising bedrock, but, no luck.

Hours passed. The sun was out, beating a relentless tattoo on my head and shoulders. I was hot, tired, and getting jaded! However, I saw some broken bedrock where someone had raked down and up-welling of bedrock with the teeth of an excavator bucket. I detected it only to be rewarded with the usual trash. I reached above the excavation cut far over the bedrock to a place where some over-wash from the hydraulic operation merged with the bedrock.

I got a signal.

Nevertheless, it sounded like the end of a square nail (for those that don't know, square nail tips sound sweet, like nuggets). Moreover, as it was high and hard to reach, and as I had to overstretch to get my arm to the target, I almost didn't dig it. Not the best plan sometimes.

Clearly, not digging a target is nugget hunting blasphemy, but still, I’m guilty at times. To clarify, while depressed by digging nothing but trash all day, new targets simply seem to be more of the same. So, why bother, right? This is especially true when I’m hot, tired, or have overexerted myself.

Nevertheless, I resisted the urge to quit and dug the target. I dislodged it. It moved down the hill, yet I was in a sketchy fix as I barely clung to the wall by the tips of my toes. Ignoring my predicament, I reached up with my super-magnet and pushed that dirt around, fully expecting to see the tip of a square nail on the magnet.

No nail.

Ruling out ferrous always makes things interesting, but I didn't allow myself to get too pumped, having dug a lot of lead that day as well. Yet, somewhat juiced, I reached up with my plastic scoop, but missed the target. Next, I skidded down the broken bedrock, barking one of my already tender shins, prompting a tapestry of curses that must still be woven in that vast, blue northern sky.

Remaining determined, I climbed yet again, and this time captured the signal. I worked my way down to a level spot to sift and sort the signal in the scoop. I then trickled material onto the coil and, WHAP! I heard that electronic, metallic growl.

Everyone knows lead makes the same sound, but some sixth sense prompted me this was not lead. (Ever had that sensation?) I trickled material onto the coil and poked the bits and pieces around until an agitated growl responded.

I picked the target up. The weight was sure right. Yet, it was clay-covered, looking unremarkable. I used the only liquid I had, a shot of saliva, to remove the stubborn clay. There it was, a sassy nugget. Long, in the shape of the sole of a shoe, quite flattened, but almost two grams of golden goodness. Not the biggest nugget I've found, but one I found because I didn’t give up.

All the best,


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Clay and Detecting For Gold

Well, here's the follow-up story to the last nugget find, the one found in the hydraulic wash, but this hunt presented a different challenge.

After finding the two gram nugget, and pumped by it, I decided to head for the level ground of the abandoned placer pit below the bedrock rise.

It was the late afternoon of a beautiful day. A cobalt bowl of blue sky roofed the mountains to my right and left. The air was still warm, and tiny butterflies sipped water from a fresh-water seep where vibrant green moss clung to life.

For those that have hunted abandoned placer operations, the challenges are familiar. Abandoned placer mines are mines indeed, mines that produce metal shavings, and each and every one of them sound off in the headphones.

For those that don’t know about placer cuts, they’re often large excavations into old, buried channels. To open a placer operation, where I hunt, the miners excavate down from ten to eighty feet into boulder clay or glacial castoff. For the uniformed, boulder clay was left behind by glaciers during the last ice age, all of it peppered with beefy boulders.

So, to mine the buried placer, the boulder clay/glacial castoff must be stripped. But while working with clay, it’s obnoxious, sticky, and it gets everywhere. It clings to everything, smears on everything, and if its wet, it will pull your boots off!

Nonetheless, the pit I’d chosen to hunt had been hammered hard by nugget shooters, yet a department store full of metal bits remained on its bedrock. As mute witness to this fact, my super-magnet looked like a hedgehog on steroids from checking my dig holes.

Nevertheless, I worked my way to a brownish-yellow formation of clay. Nothing but trash.

Detecting the small, clay area, I swung over a screamer of a signal. This in spite of the area having been heavily detected. The recovery however was a buts; it was a deep, square nail.

Pounding the area some more, I heard a slight break, a tiny bump in the threshold. I just about didn’t investigate, as the EMI in that area generated a lot of false signals (the newer detectors now are better at silencing EMI, but not back then). However, I carved off several inches of clay and swung once more. A sweet, repeatable signal, soft, yet distinct.

Scraping off several more inches of clay, the signal definitely grew. I dug around the signal and popped out a chunk of clay that held a signal. Checking the hole, there was still a signal there as well. I placed the chunk aside and kept digging. The sound got louder, but turned harsh, and I recovered a bent, rusted square nail.

Returning to the lump of clay, I scanned across the coil then started breaking off pieces, passing them under the coil until I isolated the signal. Sifting and sorting, I dropped bits onto the coil, and, "Whap!", the same happy sound for the second time that day.

It was nonferrous; the magnet had proven that in the early sorting. So, probing the dirt on the coil, one object finally growled back. I cleaned the clay off and had myself a sassy gram-and-a-half piece of gold, almost square in shape. I rattled it around in the bottle with its two-gram partner, and they gave off a lovely, golden rumble.

Clay is nasty stuff to work, but sometimes it holds the gold for that reason.

All the best,


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Be Careful What You Say

Some years back, my mining buddy and I were working our off a mountain side in a 4X4. We scraped bottom with the Dodge diesel a few times, that’s how deep the holes were in the road, but as we reached the river at last, we spotted a fat Black Bear hightailing it over a hump of brush and trees on the bank

To cross the river, we threw the truck into four-wheel drive and danced across the river; the river dance where the wheels slip, the truck bounces up, then jerks down, then squirts itself sideways off the bigger rocks in the river, over and over again.

Before I continue with this story, I’d like to flashback to a place I visited on this same river where there was a whack of exposed bedrock that was being reclaimed by the brush and forest.

During an earlier river crossing in the same area, a mining buddy of mine pulled his truck over when we reached the opposite bank, and when we got out, he told me to tag along as he hiked up to the previously mentioned bedrock. He strolled up a little gulch, took out a screwdriver and went to popping coarse gold right out of crevices in the bedrock! All he had was a screwdriver!! (On a return trip, I will detect that bedrock very, very carefully.)

To get back to my original story, having crossed the river, we crawled up a rough, winding logging road on our way tom some bedrock bench claims we had permission to hunt, claims that paralleled a little trout-filled lake. The lake was man-made where the Old-timer’s had dammed the creek at a pinch point so they could flume the water to various downstream sluicing operations. After the gold rush was over, the dam got left in place as it made a great little fishery.

Walking around a bit, we discovered that during the Great Depression many squatters camped beside the lake, and foundation pits are still visible, as well as some old plank-cabins.

In addition, we saw faint signs of cabins from the 1800’s, nothing but overgrown indentations in the ground. Sadly, I was too dumb to detect around them while I was there as I was in a rush to get chasing the gold. So, I've always wondered what artifacts or coins I could have found.

Just down the lake from the old cabin sites, there was a huge rock pile. As I walked over to eyeball that rock pile, one of the miners working the adjoining claim stepped out of the brush right in front of me! (Their outhouse was located inside that brush in a little clearing.)

He asked us what we were up to, and we told him we were heading to the lake claims to nugget shoot. Hearing that, he laughed. He didn’t think much of hunting for nuggets with metal detectors, having seen too many people get skunked. He told us the ground was far too hot for finding gold that way. But, I didn’t want to tip my hand about the super-technology I was packing that could handle such ground, so I let him keep talking.

Then, he told us a story about his rock pile. It was a dragline operation, many, many years past. The former owners had worked that dragline up the narrow canyon right through the stream bottom, all the while building a huge pile of river run and broken bedrock at the head of the works. The operation was successful, and they’d netted a lot of coarse gold.

He told us that some years back, a prospector had come along and begged permission to climb his rock pile to look for specimens. As dragline rock piles are home to some of the rarest and heaviest rocks torn from the bottom of old stream channels, he gave the prospector permission. The only condition, he had to return to show and tell about what rocks he was taking with him. The rock collector was free to keep anything he found.

Now just imagine the miner's surprise when around suppertime the rock hound showed up with a nugget! Furthermore, the claim owner’s jaw hit the ground because that nugget was huge! Grabbing it to take a look at it, the miner couldn’t believe what he was seeing, or the weight he was hefting. For, even though the nugget was only a ¼ to a 1/3rd of an inch thick, it covered the back of his hand from the base of the knuckles to his wrist joint!! And, it was solid gold, no quartz. Why was such a nugget sitting on the rock pile? Well, being flat, the nugget had made skipped over the punch-plates and screens of the dragline’s gold recovery system.

The miner went on to tell us what a tough day it was to follow the “You can keep whatever you find” promise, but he kept his word indeed.

The next couple of stories to follow talk about working the lake-shore bench placers, but those stories are for another day.

All the best,


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  • 2 weeks later...

The Stretch Nugget

Now, this is a nugget story that’s a bit different from the average hunt. It took place in a steep canyon with a black slate bedrock rim. The top of the rim was about eighty feet above the cold, glacial river.

As for nugget hunting in that location, the pitch of the canyon walls is about sixty-five to seventy degrees. In contrast, trying to climb rock walls of forty-five degrees is risky, but when an even steeper slope is littered with loose, jagged bedrock slabs and cobbles, it’s worse. So, if I had to climb that 65-70-degree slope, it would be mighty sketchy.

A bit earlier in the day, I’d been detecting a bench above the rim and had found a pile of square nails, along with some rarer targets: big bore black powder rifle slugs with grease grooves; and round, rifled, black-powder pistol balls. But, no gold.

However, even without any gold, the day had been exciting. I’d been spooked twice by the loud snapping of twigs close behind me: the first time, two mule deer, and the second, a cow moose.

The day was hot and sunny. It was a glorious summer day with a gentle mountain breeze that let the pines and firs gossip lightly back and forth in the deep greens of the forest. Breaking the spell of calm, an angry squirrel scolded me for being too close to his tree.

Refocusing on my detecting, I took another look at the ground I was working. Stretching before me was a massive area of hand-stacks left by the Old-timer’s from the 1800’s. Piles of cobbles and boulders littered the bedrock in every direction. The bedrock itself was heavily fractured in places, but in others, it was smooth and iron hard.

Having already worked some of that fractured bedrock next to the lip of the canyon, I knew those traps held things very well, like the trash I’d found earlier. So, hoping to find some gold, I poked along the rim detecting some more. As I worked, I noticed areas where the old-timers had pushed overburden off the canyon edge, probably while setting up sluice runs. Suddenly, it struck me that stray gold might have either been pushed or washed over the edge as well.

However, I couldn’t detect my way down that steep slope to look for targets. That slope was a minefield of loose material and razor-edged slabs of black slate. So, I walked along the rim to where I knew an abandoned road would take me down to the river.

Hitting the river bottom, I strolled along inspecting the cliff face. I noticed high up a patch of river-run clinging to an out-thrust of bedrock, not far below the rim, directly below where I’d worked earlier.

Detecting my way upslope, I came up with the usual trash as I tried to get to the out-thrust. I constantly slipped and slid in that loose, steep material. At one point, after losing my footing, I reached out with my free hand as I rocketed downslope, only to get a quick gash in the meaty part of my palm.

However, I kept at it and cut some steps into the slump below the bedrock out-thrust, and at last I had a toehold. Taking advantage of it, I arced the detector around as far as I could from side to side. I hit a couple of targets, but they were junk: the head of a large square nail, and the tip of a smaller one.

Hacking more steps, I moved ever higher. Then, to help me reach the rest of the way to my chosen spot, I extended the detector shaft to the max to get my little mono coil as high above me as possible.

At the top of that stretched out swing, I got a scream that sounded a lot like iron close to the surface. But, to see what it really was, I hacked some new footholds and moved up a bit more.

Stretching carefully, I soon had the signal in my scoop (only several tablespoons of material were in it), the dirt taken from some crumbled bedrock hanging onto that out-thrust.

After a bit of shaking, quartering, and sifting, I had a sassy 2.25gram nugget in my hand. It was quite flat, yet curved and crinkled all along one edge (likely why it made such a racket). That piece of gold, my stretch nugget, was just the right shape to get itself flipped up and over the riffles of a sluice.

All the best,


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Prospectors One and Two

Hello to all, just a quick little story from a past prospecting adventure.

Two budding prospectors visited the claim one sunny day. (Both show quite a bit of promise as they both have a knack for finding gold.) They were working a patch of fractured bedrock that had produced consistent flake-gold and pickers the previous summer. Moreover, they had spent time with me on previous trips at that spot, and they'd learned a few tricks about how to find the gold.

Well (I’ll refer to them as number one and number two), number one really went to town cleaning off the overburden on that bedrock: the cobbles, the clay, the boulders, the gravel; he went hard at it, working a couple of feet right down to the bedrock. It was a lot of sweaty work with chunky boulders jammed tight into bedrock pockets. After he'd removed all the bigger stuff, and had scraped the bedrock down, he ran his dirt through a little sluice. He had a nice catch of bright-yellow flake gold, with a few chunky pickers.

Not long after that, prospector number two came along with his detector, and he asked number one if he could detect the bedrock he'd just cleaned off. Number one said he had no problem with that, as he'd carefully cleared the cracks and scraped everything clean. He told number two to go ahead. So, number two ran his detector along the bedrock and got a nice signal that really screamed! It was a sassy nugget, right on the bedrock’s surface, covered in some muddy clay.

Well, number one really worked the bedrock hard after that. He cleared off another four feet of bedrock, really making the dirt and rocks fly! He took his time to make sure the bedrock was super clean, as well as removing any clinging clay. As he’d done before, he had a nice take of gold in his sluice-box. Prospector number two came along yet again with his detector and asked permission to check out the new workings. Number one, confident he hadn’t missed any gold, let him detect.

Prospector number two ran his detector over the bedrock and got a nice soft signal in a crevice. Number one was getting nervous. Prospector two got out his pick and broke off some perpendicular sheets of bedrock and scanned again: the signal was much louder. He cleaned the crevice out, popped the signal on the coil, along with a little water to remove the clay, and there was a buttery-yellow, pumpkin-seed-sized nugget! To say that number one was not a happy camper is gross understatement (things went flying, dark words exploded with vibrant colours, the wild animals fled, etc.). Nevertheless, prospector one was a good sport about it, and they both had some great stories to tell back in camp that night. (Prospector one invested in a metal detector soon after that.)

All the best,


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Lake Placers #1

(This story continues on after we heard the story of the giant nugget found on the rock pile just below the dam of the lake.)

So, after we’d jawed with the rock-pile owner some more, we decided we’d better head up the trail to check out the lake placers. The gold runs up both sides of the lake, so we picked a side and headed on up.

We weren’t in much of a hurry that day. My partner had a badly broken wrist, complete with a new cast plastered on just before we’d left home. So, we were taking it easy.

While we hiked along, we enjoyed one of those gorgeously long, northern summer days: the warm, calm ones perfect for bottling, only to be opened much later on a frosty, winter’s day. Moreover, as it was summer, the sunlight that far north would last well after eleven or so, and then a lengthy twilight would continue after that.

Enjoying that extended summer sun, we walked along the lake and saw the cutthroat, true ambush experts, rising in a feeding frenzy, hammering the various insects floating the surface of Nature’s fast food outlet. That healthy population of fish was likely why the locals had never un-dammed the creek at that place.

As we continued up the lakeshore, a breeze periodically stirred the surface of the water, yet calmed quickly, allowing the trout to continue their feeding.

Along the borders of the lake, the willows waited patiently for a new breeze to whisper up the shore the news of our coming.

At last we reached the claims we had permission to hunt. There was evidence everywhere of shallow surface mining that had exposed the bedrock in great sheets. That bedrock was mostly iron-hard, as the D-8 Cat that had just finished scraping was only able to cut into small sections of rotten bedrock. The rest of the bedrock was a hardened nightmare. Even the excavator had skipped and skidded across most of it as well. This had frustrated the placer miners as the area was known for its coarse gold.

To backtrack a bit, about a month earlier, I’d been on a gold-scouting expedition. I’d made the trip with an in-law of one of the miners. The bedrock spot I’ve just described was the first place he and I visited.

The placer miners, a couple of brothers, were then working on one of the lake claims, but when they saw us, they shut down to chew the fat. That’s the way of the remote north, any visitors or news from the outside is a welcome break. So, we yakked and caught them up on events.

As we talked, one of the brothers started to clean the header on the wash-plant's sluice. He lifted the screen off the box and scraped material into a pan.

All at once he stopped his scraping, reached into the header-box and tossed something straight at me. I was caught completely off guard by the toss, and the only thing that saved me was reflex.

Luckily, I caught what he chucked, and it was heavy! In my hand was an ugly black rock. And as I looked, I thought whatever that ugly was, it wasn’t gold, because who in their right mind would chuck a nugget to me while I was standing on a huge pile of cobbles, especially a stranger?

I told the brother that whatever he’d tossed me, it sure didn't look like gold. Pulling me up short, he told me it was a gold nugget. I was stunned.

He then took out a pocket-knife and very gently scratched away at one blackened corner. A gnarly black scale flaked off, and I was a believer! The glint of gold was unmistakeable. Furthermore, the nugget weighed in at over an ounce and a quarter, and it was solid gold, no quartz.

As to how they cleaned the black gold from that claim, they’d put it in a vinegar bath overnight. The next day, some slimy sludge was all that was left of the black coating. The resulting gold was a beautiful, buttery yellow.

In Lake Placers # 2, I’ll tell how we learned to hunt the nuggets on that claim.

All the best,


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Lake Placers #2

To get back on track with my lake placers stories, we fired up our detectors and asked the miners where we could start hunting. They laughed, and they laughed--loudly! They told us to have at it, but we’d get nothing but grief. They'd seen too many people get skunked in that goldfield over the years while trying to even get their detectors to operate at all, or to have it “squeak” on some gold (as they put it). Anyone who’d ever tried to detect had always been shut down by their severe ground.

The reason for the failure of nugget shooters was the insanely hot bedrock. It ate detectors for lunch. (As they told us this, their comments were heavily dosed with colourful language. In fact there’s most likely a tapestry of profanity still floating over that lake!)

Knowing I had a premium PI with me, and that they’d likely never seen one in action, I thought of trying to explain the good points of the Minelab, but I stopped myself and went hunting gold instead.

In an earlier story in these placer tales, I mentioned the decomposed bedrock pockets peppering the big sheets. When I went to look at one closer, I found it was very wet. I wasn't sure how that would affect the detector, but I scanned a patch of it anyway, and right quick I got a nice mellow tone. One quick scoop and I had the target.

I quartered the sharp little chunks of bedrock out of the scoop and soon had a sassy, 1.5-gram nugget. That find got the claim owner's attention! They said, “Come over here with that machine.” They then walked me over to another similar area and told me to try that spot. So, I tried it and got a signal right away. However, this time I never found a nugget but only one maddening false signal after another. They soon tired of watching, and shaking their heads in a “we told you so way”, they started mining again. Their body language said that the first find was nothing but a fluke. To them, the rest of my time would be wasted digging, as their black graphite schist bedrock was, once again, too hot for detectors.

So, the miners left us to our detecting on the bedrock. Nonetheless, my mining buddy was frustrated with how useless his broken wrist was. It depressed him to be on virgin detecting ground while equipped with a machine that could handle the ground, but he could do almost nothing about it! Yes, he could swing the detector, but no digging, running the pick or sorting material in the scoop by himself.

So, we worked together, he worked the coil, and I did the rest. By working together, we could help each other have some fun.

We headed back to that loose bedrock where I’d found the gold. I’ve found through the years that if a trap worked well enough to grab and hold one piece of gold, some extra dedication on the same spot could produce another chunk as well.

To describe the spot a bit more, the excavator had left a crumbled rise of about two feet. I started detecting up and down that little hump. Pretty soon, right near the top, I got a nice signal! It was that telltale Minelab, low-high-low tone. Although not as strong as the first signal, it was nice and sweet. With the signal close to the surface, it made it easy to get the target in the scoop. A nice, bumpy one-gram nugget was in the scoop.

As I continue my lake placers series, I’ll reveal the beautiful things hidden in those solid sheets of red-hot bedrock, and later I’ll let you in on what we found in the miners’ test piles as well.

All the best,


Edited by Lanny in AB
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  • 5 months later...

Return to the Gold Fields.

It couldn't have been almost nine months since we'd hit the goldfields, but that's what it turned out to be. Yes, Co-Virus has made for one crazy year, with various places requesting outsiders not to travel due to health concerns and worries about hospital beds in small communities, so we respected those concerns.

Not long ago however, we got the green light to return, so we packed up the detectors (my wife and I), the gold pans, some grub and camping essentials, and headed off for the mountains.

It was an overcast day, with the threat of rain, and the closer we got to the mountains, the darker the clouds. The heavens opened briefly; it rained enough to use the windshield wipers, which turned out to be a great way to clean the bugs off the glass.

We went through the high mountain pass, and the rain stopped as we headed down the other side. The sun came out, the sky turned a welcome cobalt blue as a few puffy clouds floated across that clean ocean of air.

When we got to camp, I didn't know what condition I'd find our trailers in, but as it turned out, they were all tight and dry after our long absence, no insects or mice, no bears had broken any windows or flattened any tires, all was well. With the camp in great shape, and with the beautiful weather, it was shaping up to be a fine day.

We went to visit some friends that have a large mining concession (think of any of the large reality show mining operations you've watched on TV). After years of working with them, they call me their mining consultant. (I always get a laugh out of that.) They have me check the bedrock in their placer mining cuts with my detectors to see how effective their recovery methods are. However, we were told the previous week there wouldn't be any open bedrock to check, so we were planning on doing some general prospecting where there was a large gold rush in the 1860's.

We returned to camp that night after a great visit, but with no expectations of any gold chasing other than what I've described above.

Early the next morning, everything changed.

I looked at my messages, and there was one from the mine owner. He told us to get our butts out of camp quick and get to the mine site as soon as we could. He had some bedrock open, and he needed a test done to see if it would be worth using a new piece of equipment he'd recently bought.

My wife and I flew around camp gathering all of the items we'd need to check bedrock: pry-bars, sniping tools, buckets, gold pans, sucker bottles and metal detectors. We loaded up a lunch, as well as lots of liquids to stay hydrated in the summer sun.

We fired up the Cummins diesel, and we headed off for the seventy minute trip to the mine. We had to be careful on the road as the logging trucks have made quite a mess with several bad spots where the ground has turned to a soft mess that will drop the front of your truck deep and fast into a nose dive if you're not careful, so slow and careful driving got us through safely.

Summer here in the north is beautiful, with green growth everywhere, large forest animals in abundance, as well as a profusion of songbirds, hawks and eagles, with the whole scene punctuated with a riot of colourful wildflowers.

We got to gold camp, looked at their morning cleanup and saw a beautiful collection of nice nuggets, the largest two were both over an ounce and a half, with a 27 gram nugget being the next biggest. Lots of nuggets in the six to seven gram range, and a whole collection of meaty pickers as well.

We idled the diesel along the mining road down into the excavation, then parked in a deep ravine and unpacked our gear.

I set my wife up with the Gold Bug Pro which is an excellent detector for shallow gold on bedrock, and I set up my Equinox 800 with the small sniper coil.

I sent my wife to one end of the finished excavation, and I went to the other end.

A geologist was also there. He's retired now, but he'd just bought a shiny new Minelab 2300, and I helped him ground balance it and gave him a few solid detecting tips for how to work such a spot. However, he didn't have a super-magnet with him on a pick or a wand, and I knew that would be trouble as the bedrock was iron-hard, and there were bits of bucket and blade everywhere because of that.

He only detected for about half an hour, and then he quit as he'd had enough. The 2300 is supersensitive. Moreover, it doesn't have discrimination, so he was hearing every tiny sliver and piece of waste steel, and he had no way to remove them from his target zones.

My wife and I were detecting with discrimination, a necessity on the first sweeps of the bedrock due to the countless bits of steel, and not long after we started, my wife gave a shout and asked me to hurry up to her end of the cut.

She had two small nuggets she'd found with the Bug Pro, her first ever nuggets with that detector! I decided to poke around a bit in her area and soon I'd recovered seven small pieces in the half gram to gram range. My wife abandoned the detector and decided she'd do some panning as there were little gutters of dirt in the low spots where the excavator buckets could not scrape due to the hardness of the bedrock. From her first pan on, she had gold in every pan. It seemed impossible, but she just kept hitting the gold.

One of the miners came along then, grabbed a pan, and he joined her. He got the same results as she did. (He and several other mine workers had tried all of the bedrock up to where my wife was working with their pans, but they hadn't been able to find the gold.)

I went back to detecting the remainder of the bedrock away from my wife's lucky strike, but I could only find hot-rocks and countless slivers of steel, no gold whatsoever.

After three hours of careful scanning with the detectors, I went back to where my wife was working. The miner was still there panning as well. He wasn't quitting! They were still on the gold. There was a sticky, yellow clay that was holding the gold in small cracks in the bedrock, from the top of the cracks all the way to the bottom.

I took over the Gold Bug Pro and went to work. Steel, steel, gold. Steel, steel, gold. I soon had a nice rattle of nuggets in the bottle. My poor super-magnet kept growing a thick beard of steel shavings that I had to keep cleaning off, but once I'd quieted an area, I could hear the soft, sweet sounds of the gold underneath.

I hit a spot that had a broad sound, not the spiked signal of a single target. I've experienced this before as the detector is responding to a collection of flakes and small pickers all nestled together. So, I dug down into the V's in the bedrock where I hit those broad responses, and sure enough, when I panned the material, lots of small flakes and little pickers of sassy gold!!

We pulled out 13.7 grams, the miner panned out another 4 grams himself, so it was a fun day.

The next morning, the mine owner moved in a vacuum truck, a pressure washer, a 1.5 inch pump to create a slurry, and they went to work on that bedrock in all of those little gutters because of the test results we'd provided. We'd found the sweet spot for them, and they made a nice haul that they otherwise would have missed.

It was a great day, and we came home with some nice gold.

All the best,


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A Few Hours To Hunt

On Saturday, my son and I headed to the mine in the mountains with only a few hours to hunt the gold.

We arrived at the placer cut, and we could hear an excavator working somewhere on the placer lease.

We looked over the bank and saw the mine owner working at stripping off the bottom fifteen or so feet of the sixty feet of overburden to get to the virgin bedrock underneath.

As soon as I looked at his machine, I noticed something was wrong, so I got the operator's attention, and he shut his machine down. He opened the door to see what was up, and I told him he'd thrown a track! He was just about to turn his machine which would have caused a lot more trouble. He thanked us for flagging him down, then he made the long walk up the haulage road to have a chat with us.

He was happy we'd come along when we did, and he yakked with us for a while. We learned that the motor on their largest excavator had seized the day before, and that they were busily searching for a replacement, but they were having a hard time as the diesel motor was a specific design with a special high horsepower build.

We asked how the vacuum truck had worked at suctioning the bedrock my wife and I had tested for them last week, and he said their test had worked out much better than they'd even expected. In fact, from now on whenever they hit super-hard bedrock, they'll use the suction retrieval system to clean the bedrock.

He told us we could go play in a spot they were no longer working where there was a small hump of bedrock protruding from an old haulage road.

My son and I only had several hours to play as my granddaughters were at our mining camp that weekend and we needed to get back for a family cookout, so we unlimbered the detectors as well as the panning and sniping equipment and headed for the bedrock hump.

My son took one end, and I took the other.

It was a typical August day, hot, hot with perfectly clear skies, the blazing sunshine pounding the bottom of the cut. A brown and orange butterfly gently pumped its body up and down in front of us as we started to snipe likely looking spots. The gentle chuckle of an ice-cold spring flowing from the side of the cut was the only natural sound on that calm day.

I tested a small area first with my gold pan; there was some friable rock exposed, but it held not gold. So, I dug around until I found a v-shaped crevice that held more material. The top part was gooey clay and rock hauled in to cover the bedrock to make the road; however, digging deeper, I soon uncovered intact ancient channel material that was instantly recognizable by its composition.

I blanked on the first pan, but prying apart some bedrock and exposing seams of orange-stained clay, the second pan produced a nice piece of gold half the size of an oatmeal flake. That got my son's attention!

He wasn't having any luck on his end of the hump, so I told him to hit my spot hard while I took out the detector to scan what I'd already cleaned. Sure enough, I found two nice pickers that were stuck to the clay on the sides of the crevice. I worked along behind him as he pulled out channel material, and when I'd get a broad signal, he'd pan the material out, and it usually held nice flakes of gold.

I had my hooked bedrock scraper (spoon-shaped on the other end), and I scraped all of the material from the crack at the bottom of the crevice.

My son headed off to pan it, and when he came back, he had two large flakes in the pan. Then I heard a whack and looked back at the pan, and he'd dropped a nugget in!

The two gram nugget made the flakes look small, but the smile on his face was huge.

We had to finish chasing the gold as it was time to start the seventy minute trip back to camp, but we'd rescued 3.62 grams of gold from an ancient channel, a stream bed that was last disturbed millions of years ago when the dinosaurs tip-toed through them.

All the best,


P.S. My son also panned out 2.5 grams of gold from some virgin dirt we brought back from the outing my wife and I had last weekend.

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Lake Placers #3

As part of this ongoing series of gold tales, I’ll explain the channel depositions of this area. From what the geologists and the miners out-lined, the glaciers were masters of that northern kingdom for eons. There were glacial stream concentrations of six or seven channels laid down from different directions of deposition. This reflects the continual glaciation and resultant upheavals of watersheds in the area. Moreover, as the glacial streams were constantly re-oriented at varying angles, they dropped their material in those new runs, some being heavy with gold, others barren

The ongoing detective work, from the Sourdoughs of the 1800’s on down to today, went into determining which runs carried coarse gold. Furthermore, a super glacier had clearly bulldozed through this narrow choke point, scooping out most of the overlying channels as it worked its way down-slope and burrowed toward the bedrock. Evidently Mother Nature had been quite a help at stripping overburden. Nevertheless, with mysterious motives I'll never understand, she then burrowed deeper, hauling the rest of the coarse gold deposit off to banishment in an unknown location, leaving only the telltale bedrock gouges of that robber glacier, clearly evident at the end of the gold run.

However, the beauty of the gold run left in place was that the face was only about six feet from the standing forest with its green and yellow carpet of moss, the depth of the channel shallow to bedrock. Clearly, this lowest run of the remaining overlapping channels had been packing a considerable amount of coarse, nuggetty gold, likely the result of much higher than average stream velocity which had propelled large boulders along with the big gold.

I detected and recovered one smaller piece, match-head sized, from the crumbling rock, and then the ground went silent. So, we wandered back to the fierce zone of insane bedrock but only encountered a hot mess of false signals, no gold (I’d love to hit that spot today with the newest generation of Minelabs to tease more black nuggets from the bedrock!). Regardless, after finding only bits of blade on the surface, we wandered down-slope to where there was a four to six-foot wall of virgin rock and dirt. It was the spot where the bedrock dove under the forest floor and moss I mentioned earlier, and it marked the farthest advance of the mining cut.

There was a slump of dirt, maybe a foot or two in front of the aforementioned wall, and then there was an exposed sheet of that red hot bedrock. The detector could only function at about half of its capacity, losing a lot of sensitivity as to depth. So, I hunted with far less power, but at least I was still in the game. (The new generation of Minelabs and coils deal with ridiculous bedrock much better.)

I kept detecting, but the screeches from the detector sounded like a cat fight crossed with the squeals of train brakes gone wild! Regardless, I kept at it. As my buddy didn’t know how to run the detector, let alone deal with the hot bedrock racket in the headphones, he waited there like a bird-dog on point, ready for any game to flush. However, he didn’t have to be on point for long, as emerging from that tortured electronic noise there came the unmistakable low-high-low sound of gold!

So, I tried to isolate the target signal from the background racket, and all at once I heard this series of terrible high-pitched wails, followed by screeching sounds I’d never heard while detecting. I thought the bedrock minerals had finally conquered the detector until I realized the noise was coming from my partner! A complete squadron of black-flies had crawled down the front of his shirt leaving a bright red patch of raw skin in the middle of his chest!! (If you know nothing of blackflies, you know nothing about the weeks of pain, the scratching, the possible madness from misery.) After hosing my buddy down with a bug dope shower, I got back to detecting.

I was rewarded with the unmistakable sound of a good response. My partner scraped the bedrock as well as he could with one hand, and I used the flat side of my pick to clear the rest of the small stones and clay to expose the shallow pockets in the bedrock.

My dim brain remembered that the DD coil might be much quieter than the little 8-inch mono-loop, so I made the switch, but before I got down on my knees to investigate, I swung the DD in a wider arc just to test its operation and heard several quiet signals—things were rapidly getting interesting. However, the continuous racket of feedback was still there, even with the DD! Putting the detector aside, I knelt down to have a look. However, what I saw was a visual mystery. I was looking at solid bedrock. I mean there were no crevices at all. I couldn’t fit a knife blade into any visible spaces.

I’ll post Lake Placers #4 later.

All the best,

Edited by Lanny in AB
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Lake Placers #4

I knew there were signals in the bedrock, and they sounded sweet, so I headed off to gather tools. We had a small sledge back in the truck, an assortment of rock chisels, and the Estwing pry-bar, the one that has the pointed chisel end on the bottom, and the flat L-shaped head on the top. Moreover, the “L” can be used to scrape or be used as a chisel as well to hammer into a crevice—absolutely beautiful little tool.

Having rounded up the tools, I hustled back to the site. The most amazing part was that once I started to chisel out bedrock chunks, the original bedrock was indeed solid, but there was a natural cement of fine-grained, crushed black slate that had been running with the gold in the stream channel that created a perfectly camouflaged matrix, the matrix rock hard as well. In this way, Nature had hidden the original crevices perfectly.

Using hammer and chisel, I worked my way down well outside the edge of the signal’s midpoint. I usually had to go down two to four inches to get below the signal, but then I’d insert a longer chisel and reef on it until the piece of bedrock and matrix popped out. Sometimes the piece would flush up in the air just like a game bird! (It makes sense now why my partner was on point like a bird dog.) After the first nugget flew, we made sure to block the flight path with a large gold pan. We couldn’t risk losing any nuggets in adjacent cobble piles.

After recovering the nugget-rich matrix, I took the chunks and carefully tapped on them until they started to fracture and crumble. (As the matrix and the bedrock were of the same hardness, I never knew where the piece was going to fracture.) Having reduced everything to small pieces, I passed them under the coil to pinpoint the gold-bearing ones.

After tapping away to remove the remaining residue, the gleam of gold was unmistakeable. Moreover, all of the nuggets had wonderful character, nothing flat, featureless or hammered. It was incredible fun liberating a dozen of those long hidden multi-gram nuggets.

Did I smash any fingers while reducing the chunks? Absolutely. Did it hurt? If a fingernail goes black and falls off later, would that qualify? Regardless, the gold adventure was well worth the effort.

In another instalment, I’ll talk about detecting the test-piles farther up that same placer claim and what I found in them.

All the best,


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A New Learning Curve


My son and I loaded up our blue mule (Dodge 3/4 ton diesel) and headed for the mountains Friday evening.

That meant we'd be doing part of the drive in the dark, and setting up camp in the dark, but when we're out chasing the gold, that's no hardship at all.

Early the next morning, we did an equipment check: gold pans, a bucket full of sniping equipment, a couple of picks, as well as several detectors. On our way to check freshly uncovered bedrock, we wanted to make sure we had what we needed.

My son had his Minelab X-Terra 705, a machine he's got about 600 hours on detecting for coins and jewelry (and he's done very well!), a machine I gave him a few years ago, but he's never used it to look for nuggets, so this trip would be a new learning curve for him.

The 705 is a machine that Minelab put a lot of extra technology inside for the price-point at the time, and it had sniffed out nuggets in the past, so I knew it would do the job on shallow to gold bedrock that wasn't super hot.

To leave camp that Saturday morning, we ignited the throaty roar of the diesel and left camp slowly, as in August the super-dry roads in camp are blanketed with fine clay dust that mushrooms a cloud of dust that goes everywhere.

When we hit the main forest service track, we opened it up a bit more, but the washboard condition of the gravel roads wouldn't let us go too fast without shaking the truck to its core.

Next, we hit the paved highway and made excellent time.

It was a glorious, windless day. The sky was completely cloudless, the ceiling of air a perfect cobalt blue, the pines and firs a deep green that contrasted beautifully with the flawless blue sky.

After seventy minutes, we finally arrived at the mine, this after leaving the highway then slowly navigating a logging road, one heavily rutted from recent haulage. The road included what the locals call "punchouts", places where the roadbed has been pounded through by logging trucks that leave dangerous soft sections. If you hit those sections at speed, the front end of your truck dives down deep and fast and you experience the "punch"! Then you come flying out. If you enter too slowly, and not in 4-wheel drive, you get stuck, so it's an ongoing challenge.

At the mine site, the owner was chatting with the vacuum truck crew, the group cleaning the bedrock for the next couple of days. After his meeting, he told us where we could work away from the vacuum crew, but he also wanted us to check their progress to see if any gold was being left behind. We did from time to time, and we directed them to spots where they'd left some gold.

To work the bedrock effectively, I made sure my son had a magnetic wand to deal with the never-ending bits of steel from the excavation. Moreover, with the bedrock super-hard once again (like last week), the magnet would clear the surface signals so the softer sounds of gold could be heard.

We fired up our detectors. I chose the Gold Bug Pro as I love the digital meter on shallow bedrock as an aid to ID'ing the gold. Moreover, for any iffy signal, a quick swipe with the magnet usually solves the puzzle, or some quick pick and magnet work either tells the tale or requires more investigation. Furthermore, in several cases where the meter read lower than gold, the nuggets were sitting among pieces of magnetite (ironstone) that skewed the digital reading, but once the magnet had removed the ironstone, the gold signal was nice and clear.

While I was collecting a nice catch of nuggets, my son was having some frustration with his detector due to all of the bits of steel, but he kept at it and at last he found two nuggets with the 705! Well, the dam burst after that, and he showed some innovation as well. When he'd get a signal that was strange, he'd quickly switch to discrimination, and if he got any positive response, he knew it might be a nugget. He kept toggling back and forth over the next couple of days to verify signals, and it worked out very well for him.

The bedrock we worked was often broken in sharp slabs, so we had to be very careful while walking over and through those troughs of iron-hard bedrock as the footing was bad. To slip would be to get a nasty cut, and luckily, we avoided any injury until the second day my son did a nice circular slice around his finger when he reached too quickly into a crevice to check out a signal.

In the bedrock, there were slabs of clay stuck to the sides of the troughs either where the excavator had broken chunks of bedrock out or where we used bars to pry apart sections. That sticky clay held the gold! Sometimes, after locating a target, we could see the gold stuck to the clay and only had to pry it out.

I scanned a section of bedrock where there was a deeper hole. The excavator had hit a soft spot within that super-hard bedrock, and at the end a bedrock rise, there was a small pile of channel stones. I got a cracking response that turned out to be a six gram nugget! We kept at it until it started to get dark, and by the time we headed up to the mine boss's trailer, we'd caught just over an ounce of nuggety gold.

The next day, I let my son go solo, and I only hung around to give him tips if needed. However, he did well fine tuning his own system of ID'ing targets by toggling back and forth from prospecting mode to discrimination. He kept gathering a nice collection of targets in the little orange bucket he threw his signals into. (Rather than take the time to visually ID each target, he'd throw them in the bucket so he could pan them all out at the end of the day.) As well, when he'd get a broad signal under the coil (which often indicates a concentration of flake gold), he'd scoop that dirt into the bucket as well.

As darkness closed on that last day, he panned out the dirt in his bucket. He'd caught half an ounce of sassy gold! That included a three gram nugget he'd found through determination. He was detecting a flat chunk of bedrock that held lots of steel signals, but he kept swiping them off with the magnet. Then he got a good sound right on the edge of the flat bedrock where it dropped off into a pocket of water. He worked the signal with his pick until he popped it out, and that was how he found his nice nugget! Without removing the steel shavings that produce such a nasty racket in the headphones, he'd likely have missed the nugget.

So, we got a 1.5 ounce bounce for those two days, but golden memories of a hunt together that will last a lifetime.

All the best,


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Wanted to post some pictures to go with the last couple of stories from this summer:



Half an ounce of goodness my son found the second day with his Minelab X-Terra 705, first time ever he'd used it to find nuggets (he does have over 500 hours on it coin shooting though),


A nice 3-gram nugget my son found on a lonely shelf.


The goodies we both found the first day, largest piece 6-grams.


My son found this one all by himself; that broke the dam for him, and the rest came easy.


It seems to be good luck to wave your hand over a pan of gold before you start detecting, certainly worked for us.

All the best,


Edited by Lanny in AB
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14 minutes ago, Lanny in AB said:

Wanted to post some pictures to go with the last couple of stories from this summer:



Half an ounce of goodness my son found the second day with his Minelab X-Terra 705, first time ever he'd used it to find nuggets (he does have over 500 hours on it coin shooting though),


A nice 3-gram nugget my son found on a lonely shelf.


The goodies we both found the first day, largest piece 6-grams.


My son found this one all by himself; that broke the dam for him, and the rest came easy.


It seems to be good luck to wave your hand over a pan of gold before you start detecting, certainly worked for us.

All the best,


Lanny, that last photo where you're waving your hand over the nuggets, is that a pan from the mine owner?

That's a very nice pan of nuggets!! :droolin:

Also does the mine owner mostly get nuggets from his operation or does he also get some fine gold as well. if so what's the rough break down of what he gets?

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Yes, that's a pan from the mine owner.

He gets lots of nuggets where he's at right now, with a smaller fraction of fine gold. I'd estimate about 70 for coarse to 30 for fine. The water was really moving through that channel when the gold was deposited, not a lot of black sand either.

All the best,


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  • 3 months later...

(Annual Christmas Poetry)

Santa’s Fate

One winter’s day, in ’82,
Well, things were lookin’ mighty blue,
Cause Santa’s sleigh was runnin’ late,
And this produced an awful state.

The kids was feelin’ mighty down.
‘Cause Santa might not get to town!
An avalanche had closed the way
To block their local Christmas sleigh.

Now Santa’s name was Honest John,
A muleskinner off and on,
He cussed and chewed, he liked his booze
And in a brawl, he was bad news.

So, not your average Santa, no.
But Christmas set John’s heart aglow
That he could freight the gifts and toys
To all those little girls and boys.

His mules he’d garb in greens and reds,
With antlers mounted on their heads,
Then off they’d scoot to meet the train
Down far below, out on the plain.

So once again they did the same,
But Fate had run a crooked game
And choked the pass with tons of snow.
So, Honest John was stuck below.

A telegram he quickly sent,
And this is how the message went:
“Just meet me at the closest spot
Where all that snow just ain’t quite got.”

The folks was stumped just how to go
Through all the piled up winter snow.
Why, snowshoes might just do the trick
To meet their hometown Old Saint Nick!

The Sheriff rounded up a crew
Of miners, ranchers, gamblers too
With packs and bags they quickly went.
This telegram to John they sent:

“We’ll get to you just at that spot
Where all that snow just ain’t quite got.”
This news was something mighty big!
So John, he danced a merry jig

To know the good he done each year
To fill that town with Christmas cheer
Would once again get carried out,
On Christmas Eve, without a doubt.

Well, Honest John, he met that crew
And filled their bags and packs up too.
He turned his mules out far below
Then snowshoed off across the snow.


On Christmas morn, the kids they found,
With wondrous feelings quite profound,
Their toys and goodies 'round the tree
Just like the way things used to be.

But Honest John was fast asleep.
His promises that he did keep
Had left him tuckered, plumb worn thin.
Yet on his face, a peaceful grin.

All the best, and a Merry Christmas to all,


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I found a prospecting entry today from the summer of 1997 that I’d like to post:

“Most of the prospecting I get to do is in the summer (up here in Canada) because that's when things thaw enough to get out and root around. Well, one summer in the Omineca region of British Columbia, I was working with some miners who were stripping a large placer cut in an area that had historically produced coarse gold in quantity.

They got down to bedrock and as they worked the excavation of the pit, the gold got better and better as they worked from the front (south) to the back (north) of the pit.

When things got real interesting (that is when nice nuggets and coarse gold were turning up in the sluice) they hit a massive series of what the local miners called drift mines (they described drift mining as tunneling from a lower elevation in relation to the pay-layer to allow for drainage from seepage). Once the old-timers hit the pay-layer, they worked back and forth following the good pay. It could be done underground all winter long and the stockpiled material was then processed in the Spring.

In fact, the entire back end of the pit had been roomed out (roomed is the term they used when the tunnels were so close together they went back and forth in a series of parallel tunnels literally taking all of the material from a pay layer, thus leaving a large underground pillared and lagged [wood that forms the roof of the room].

At any rate, the placer pit was now abandoned and scheduled to be refilled. They said I could poke around, but to stay out of the old drifts as they were dangerous. Well, that didn't take any convincing on my part. I have done a bunch of caving and rappelling but the tunnel works were there for well over a hundred years and the wet lumber had changed somehow and broke in chunks with the consistency of celery, nothing like wood at all.

As I poked around, there was seepage everywhere, and the lagging on the ceiling of the tunnels was all cracked and caving. In addition, the pit was rapidly filling with water from the front to the back where I wanted to prospect, so I didn't have much time.
The modern miners had displaced a bunch of the large upright pillars (large hand-hewn logs) with their machinery when they hit the drifts. I panned some of the material from the false bedrock and true bedrock they had scraped. There was a little gold, mostly small flakes. I reasoned that when the old-timers were putting in their pillars and posts they must have covered up some pay, even if it was a small amount.

As well, I knew from all the work they had done (extremely difficult manual labor) that the pay had to have been excellent; the modern pit had proven that as well.

So, I found a nice fat displaced pillar, levered it out of the socket with a large bar and carefully collected the material from around it and in the socket forming the bottom of the hole. I panned it out and man you should have seen the pickers!

I scratched around the base of another pillar but I couldn't move it out of its place and yet I still found some more coarse gold.

However, time was running out. The seepage was real bad and the upper bank material started to slough off from above, and let me tell you, when that starts to happen, it’s time to get out fast! All the gold in the world isn't worth a lick if you’re dead.

Standing above the bank I watched as the wet material oozed down into the pit which then collapsed the bank, with a slurping sound, down into the cut.

There would be no more getting the gold there anymore, it was kind of sad, but I had found out something truly valuable: anytime I come across old drift workings that are exposed by modern mining, if the conditions are safe, I'll happily gather the material from around those old pillars and pan it.”

I found out more about the type of gold some of that false bedrock (I mentioned earlier) was holding on another day, but that’s a story for a later time.

May you all find something golden to smile about, and all the best,


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