Breaking the Bum Luck Streak

Every prospector has streaks of bum luck – times when you cant seem to find much - if anything. This is less true for folks who dry wash or dredge – but electronic prospecting – detecting – is especially prone to dry streaks. Its just the nature of the beast. My present dry  streak started way back in May. I went on a prospecting trip and in the first 10 minutes, I found a 4.2 dwt nugget, almost a quarter ouncer. That was one nice nugget, and I was real pleased with it. However, I was there for 3 more days after that and found nothing but trash the rest of that time. Although it didn’t seem too bad at the time, that was the start of it. Several weeks later I took off to Alaska for a week of prospecting. I had a great time and hung around with some great guys, but I got the skunk for an entire week. I ran my detector all over, but never found a single nugget. Now I did run a highbanker for a while on that trip and picked up 7 dwt of fine Alaskan gold – and that was great. Some may say that wasn’t a skunk, but as far as gold found with my detector, I drew a big zero. Then in mid July, I returned to the Sierra Nevada high country – my own backyard - and spent 4 days prospecting and got nothing for the whole trip. Lots of trash, including small, good-sounding items like heavily rusted boot tacks and 22 bullets – but no gold. That’s a total of 14 days detecting without a single nugget (although its true I was not detecting all day long for each of those days). Still, I have to say that’s the longest streak I’ve gone that I can remember without detecting any gold. When you are in a dry streak, there may well be gold where you are looking, and others may even be finding it, but you cant seem to get your coil over a nugget- that’s basically the definition of a dry streak. So I was officially stuck on the Skunkville express and I need to find a way out. 

Now honestly, I didn't write this to feel sorry for myself - I wasn’t bummed or anything, I wasn’t throwing a pity party for myself  - That's totally not what I am trying to say. I wrote this just to post a little realism. This type of thing is not unusual in detecting for nuggets – so don’t be surprised when if happens to you. When you get in a slump. you gotta step back and make a plan. Explore, change how your doing things, check your attitude, whatever, shake things up and try something new – most important of all - DON'T GIVE UP!


I think a lot of new guys see all the nugget pictures on forums and in magazines and figure all the experienced prospectors are pulling down a couple hundred dollars worth of gold every time we go out, and it just ain't that way. Sometimes things go well, and sometimes they are not so great. There is no doubt the more you know and the more experience you have prospecting in the field the better off you are, but in no way does that make you immune to the skunk. Next month I'm headed out to do some serious exploration with my detector in some new locations.
So how do you get out of Skunkville and get back in a productive mode? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Make sure you are not doing something systematically wrong.
Probably the first thing is to make sure you are not doing something that will prevent you from getting gold. Are you digging those weak signals? Is your detector set up right? Are you using the right coils? Dry spells can make you wonder and really doubt your skills at finding gold. I think I am OK as I am digging small non-ferrous trash – things don’t seem any different to me. I’m confident I am doing things right, I just need to get the coil over a nugget.

2. Keep up your enthusiasm – never give up, never surrender.
Its easy to get discouraged when you are not finding anything but trash, but you’ll be putting that detector in the closet for good if you loose your optimism. Detecting for gold requires perseverance – you need to keep at it. Dry streaks happen, and they can last a while, but you need to have the enthusiasm, perseverance and confidence to ride them out and find those new patches.

3. Get out and explore new places.
It’s easy to get in a rut and just go back to the same old spots – trying to eek out a few last crumbs. Eventually things can get pretty well cleaned out and the gold just stops coming. One of the best ways to break out of a rut and make a new find is to get out and do a lot more exploring. Try some new places! Do some research, check the claims and land status for the area, then get out and hit the field. Exploring new locations, ones that hopefully have not been pounded previously by others, can lead to new finds.

4. Take a break and try something different.
Sometimes you just need to take a break from detecting – just a little change of pace. I know where this awesome dry crevice is – up on a bench about 20 feet above the river in California gold country. It’s like 10 feet long, 4 inches wide and at least 30 inches deep – and it runs perfectly perpendicular to the river. I know one guy made a halfhearted attempt to clean part of it out and got down about 18 inches in one spot. He was rewarded with a half-ounce nugget for his trouble. I think the bottom of the crevice would be much richer. Maybe I should take some time off from detecting, but I figure it would take 5 to 7 days of hard work to really clean that thing out properly. Should I just take a bit of a break from detecting? Sometimes a short break will recharge the confidence and enthusiasm, especially if one is successful with the change.

5. Enjoy your time, no matter what gold you find.
Getting out in the field is a great thing on its own. Whether you are out alone, with friends or family, you have to remember to enjoy the time. The mountains and the desert are beautiful, so take time to notice and appreciate their majesty. None of us will be detecting forever, so enjoy the time you have. If you can enjoy detecting trips even when you have not found any gold, you are well on your way to keeping the right attitude and frame of mind no matter what you are finding.

Bedrock crevices on the banks of the NF Yuba River

Well, back to my story – as you see I'd been riding a skunk much of the summer. I'd had a few great trips, and I had found nearly a half ounce of gold highbanking, panning, sluicing and just sniping around. But I had my detector out a number of times since June, and never found a single nugget with it. All that ended when I returned to a spot that I have been successful at before and hit a real nice nugget. The nugget came in at seven pennyweight. Only about 2 feet away I hit another nugget just a bit under a pennyweight. I was real excited, hoping for more -- but it turned out to just be a two nugget patch. Actually, last fall I had found a 3.6 pennyweight nugget, only about 20 feet from that same spot where I detected the two nuggets. No doubt I'll return there shortly and try a couple of different coils on that same area and hit it real hard.

Here's a little report about that successful trip in general, how I went about trying some different things, shaking it up a bit, exploring and eventually finding some nice gold. I ended up with both some good gold and some good prospecting ideas for next year.

On Thursday I had arrived at Sierra City about noon, and did little sniping on the North Fork of the Yuba after I had my camper in place and set up. I knew were there were a couple of real nice looking crevices at a spot where I had done well last year. I worked down through the crevices and several contained junk iron, (usually a good sign) but all I got was a few flakes and colors out of each little crevice. On the way back to camp I crossed the river, and as I arrived on the other side I looked up and saw some beautiful ripe blackberries and thought of reaching out to pick them. However, as I looked up, I lost my balance and fell backward into the shallow water on the slippery algae covered rocks. Nothing damaged but my pride, I picked the berries, ate them and strode back into camp, soaking wet!

On Friday, a friend and I traveled to the head of a small stream to do a little prospecting, sampling and metal detecting at some old mine dumps in the area. Several friends of ours have prospected in this area this summer and done fairly well. Mostly they were just crevicing along the sides of the stream, and the best nugget found in recent months was one pennyweight in size -- it was crystalline and quite beautiful. The area is interesting and in addition to the hard rock mine, there are the remains of an old stamp mill as well. Bits and pieces of the old mill are strewn along the Gulch. This little stream has been fairly rich and the old timers found a 50 ounce nugget further downstream in the 1850s.

I really think the best potential for this little stream is to come in with a small dredge and work it in the spring when there is a little more water. The little crevices and potholes in the bedrock along the edges of the stream have been worked pretty well now by our little group. The real potential I think for the future lies under the small areas of overburden in the middle of the stream. What little potholes and crevices are there have not been touched and since these lie along the main line of flow in the stream, I would expect them to probably be better than the little spots along the side of the stream -- and the edges of the stream have been pretty good. I'll probably try that next spring. It will be a big project to bring my 4 inch dredge down to that little stream. Somehow if I could get hold of a much smaller dredge to take in there that would make things easier however it would just take that much longer to move the material.

Saturday, we took a trip out to the spot where I have found some nice nuggets in the past and gave the old detector a chance to shine, and it did! There are not a huge number of nuggets at this location, but they are good sized and the average of all the nuggets I have recovered here is just a touch under four pennyweight. Since the two nuggets I found on Saturday weighed in at just a hair under eight pennyweight the combination fit perfectly the average of four pennyweight per nugget. I picked these two up with my GP extreme -- I was using a Coiltek wallaby Mono, but a good-sized coil like the wallaby was totally unnecessary as both nuggets were only about 4 inches deep. I think you could have found these with a Radio Shack detector.

Gold Bearing Tributary high in the Sierra Nevada
Sunday and Monday were days of exploration and looking for new spots. There is a location in that region which I've known about for years but never had an exact fix on the spot. Historically, it produced a number of huge nuggets over 100 ounces in size and some well over 100 ounces. The problem was that the descriptions were really vague and could could have led you to anyplace for miles around. The area has poor access and to just go out there and tromp around in the deep forest would have been a big waste of time. It's not like Nevada where you can see for miles -- in the dense forest you might come within 50 yards of it and not see it at all. Last winter, while doing research for another spot in the same general area, I came across the geologic map that gave me the one last piece of information I was looking for. Although it did not state the exact spot of the rich area I was interested in, it showed some geology to me which fit the bill for what I expected this deposit to be. I was then able to use aerial photos and pinpoint the spot and hike to it. On Sunday, I got there and it was just what I had expected. There among the trees were tall piles of Quartz and country rock -- yet it had obviously been mined as a placer. The spot was really only about 10 acres in size which is pretty amazing for the number of coarse nuggets it has yielded. After exploring around the area and hiking up the hill to get to the target spot I really only had about an hour and a half to detect before I had to start heading back toward camp. The ground was trashy and I found a bunch of square nails and only one bullet, but the most important thing was that I didn't see one single other dig hole! This is an odd spot and it didn't surprise me that no one else knows of it. I even picked up a couple handfuls of Quartz crystals up to about 4 inches in size -- the smaller ones were almost perfectly clear. Unfortunately, during the time I had available to prospect I wasn't able to detect anything but trash, but I confirmed my GPS coordinates and took photos of the site and I shall return next year when I have more time. This is one of those sites where I may or may not find a single nugget but if I do, it might be huge! This is one of those rare spots were a true retirement nugget is a genuine possibility. Targets that seem like a gigantic piece of trash must be dug!

That high country is wild and remote and on my trips up there this week I saw four different bears -- a mother and her two clubs, plus a young bear on his own probably about two years old. I had never seen small cubs in the wild like that before. That is one of the times when bears are extremely dangerous -- when you come between a mother and her cubs. Luckily for us, at the time we were in the car and we were not between the mother and the Cubs. We were also in the car for the young bear on his own who heard us coming and started running up the dirt road in front of my car. As soon as he found a spot where he could safely go over the side he dropped down into the forest and out of our view. The Bears came and went so fast I never had a chance to even attempt a photo of them before they were out of sight. However, one of the forest citizens hung around for a minute or so and gave me a chance to grab my camera and shoot a few shots. He was a young buck with forked antlers covered in velvet.

Monday I only had a half a day to spend prospecting because I still had to finish packing up my trailer and then haul everything back to Reno. So on Monday I drove with a friend to small canyon known for its gold and we tried to see if we could get access allowing us to go up the canyon. Access and private property are big issues in the California gold country and there are a lot of good spots up there which are just simply blocked off to public access. I'm not trying to argue property rights one way or another -- it's just simply a fact of life that this is an issue California prospectors have to deal with. Anyway, things worked out really well we were able to drive in and find a decent place to park where I could easily turn my suburban around. It turned out there was a trail not marked on any of my maps that led up the stream. We hiked about a mile up this little canyon and came to the site of an old hard rock mine also not marked on any maps nor mentioned in any of the extensive old reports I have on that area. There were also the remains of an old stamp mill and an old miners cabin just off the trail. Next to the miners cabin there were piles of big boulders at the old timers had winched up out of the creek. This little creek has also yielded some very nice gold.

The 7 penneyweight and 19 grain nuggets that broke the Bum Streak
My friend found an old Heinz ketchup bottle from the turn-of-the-century -- it was empty but whole and undamaged. The main trash dump at the old cabin seemed to be completely untouched. All along the stream the growth was lush and green with tall trees casting shade everywhere. There were even wild strawberries growing at the site -- something I've never seen in the Sierras before. The little brook had bedrock exposed here and there along it's length with lots of good looking spots to dredge, and some nice spots for sniping as well. I think this spot may be open to claim but I'm not fully sure so I needed check some records and see if it really is. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera with me on the hike so I have no photos of this beautiful little spot. We also did not bring pans because we just really didn't have enough time to take any samples or do any real prospecting - mostly we were trying to see about access and what the spot looked like once we got back into the creek. Again, another spot I'll have to explore more thoroughly next year (however, I may drive back to post a claim up there in the meantime!).

When I found the 7 dwt nugget and 19 grainer (about ¾ dwt) on Saturday, the first thing I did was search the dozer scrape where I had found them for more gold. It didn't seem like I found any more, but I did find a little spot where there was a hot spot about 5 feet away. It was very weak. I dug down about 3 inches and it didn’t get any stronger, in fact, it seemed to get weaker. I walked away, thinking it was a bit of ground noise. It was very weak and sounded just like a normal bit of indistinct warbling – a little bit of ground noise just the kind we all walk past regularly, and for good reason. On the rare occasion when a mineralized spot gets dug, the apparent target just disappears when it is dug and spread out on the pile. Ground noise is not common at this location, but it does occur. Besides, it was the end of the day and time to go anyway – and I knew I’d be back later to check the whole area out further.


A few weeks later, I returned to the same area to cut some firewood and do a bit of detecting. A friend and I cut about a cord and a half of firewood, stacked it in the pick-up and trailer we had with us, and then in the time we had left we did a bit of detecting. I tried a few spots, but came back to the spot where I found the two nuggets. I had thought about things in the couple of weeks since I was there, and decided I really wanted to check out that spot of ground noise I had walked away from. It was still there in my old dig hole - in looking at it closer, I found that from one angle, it sounded just like a very weak and warbling ground noise, but if I turned 90 degrees and swung the coil from the other direction, it sounded like a weak (but good) target (I was using a Coiltec wallaby mono). This is still not outside the pale for mineralized spots, but I decided to dig out another 2 inches just to see. When I retested the now deeper hole, the target had definitely gotten a bit stronger – it now sounded real good in one direction and like a weak target in the other. I told my friend who had come over to watch that I was for sure going to dig this now and it was either going to be a bit of mineralized ground or gold. Nearly all the trash here is shallow and I was now down about 5 inches from the original surface in hard and in place gravel/rock. I dug another couple inches and it was finally a strong and very good sounding target. No doubt it was gold. Another inch or so of digging and it was out of the hole – the rock was getting real tight and hard – it would have been hard to dig much deeper. I sorted through the pile and here is the target I finally found. It weighs 1.1 dwt. – it is fairly thin, and I think the poor response until it was very close to the coil was due to it being in the ground on edge. I rechecked the hole afterward - and that funny "ground noise" was gone.

The 1.1 pennyweight “ground noise”
The Above Article is Copyrighted by Chris Ralph, and May Not be Copied or Quoted Without Permission


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