5 Tips and Techniques for Metal Detecting For Gold in Creeks

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Modern technology makes everything a little bit easier. Even when it comes to finding gold!

Metal detectors made specifically for gold hunting make the process a lot easier. Rivers, streams and exposed creek beds are some of the places to find gold, especially in the western U.S.

Make sure you’ve got the right metal detector for the job before you start metal detecting for gold. Look for a metal detector that works well in highly mineralized soil. A frequency of 20 kHz or higher is great for gold.

Types of Gold Detector Technology

There are two main types of gold detector technologies: Very Low Frequency (VLF), like the Nokta | Makro AU Gold Find,  and Pulse Induction (PI), like the Garrett ATX Extreme.

Very Low Frequency

The VLF machines are usually focused on finding small shallow nuggets. For VLF, your search coil needs to be within a few inches of a tiny nugget to hear a signal. They do not handle highly mineralized ground very well.

These detectors work best when scanning bedrock with the top level of ground removed, or only a few inches deep. VLF will usually miss deeply buried, larger gold.

Pulse Induction

On the other hand, a PI machine will go deep on both medium and large gold. But, if that size of gold is not there, you won’t find anything. They handle highly mineralized ground very well. With a PI machine, you can cruise through a mineralized area quickly to find bigger pieces of gold, if there are any.

Pro-tip: Look for gold where it has been found before! While most large nuggets will have already been found, you’re still likely to find small flakes and smaller nuggets.

5 Tips For Metal Detecting Gold in Creeks

1. Learn about the best places to search

Gold isn’t everywhere. Do some research on where gold has been found in the past. Join a local prospector’s club and network with people who have been metal detecting for gold for a long time.

Gold erodes from mountains and hills as a stream, river or creek flows through. Over the years, that gold accumulates, especially in cracks and crevices in the bedrock! High water during the spring will add even more gold to “pay streaks.” Pay streaks are areas where gold collects.

Riverbends, behind boulders, logjams, under waterfalls, and any area where the river or creek slows are great places to metal detect for gold.

Use apps like the oNx maps app or the Land and Mineral Systems Report to see who owns the land, and if anyone has mineral rights to a property. You can also get a physical map from the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service in your area. You can’t hunt just anywhere. If the land is privately owned, make contact with the landowner and request access before metal detecting for gold.

Once you’ve found any amount of gold, keep working the same area. Chances are there’s more. Keep in mind that the creek you see now is not in the same place as it’s always been. Over the decades and even centuries, it will have moved around some. Use your metal detector to hunt for gold in the areas surrounding the creek as well.

2. Work bedrock or shallow ground close to bedrock

Gold is the heaviest material in a creek or river. Because of this, the gold makes its way beneath the sand and sits on the bedrock. It then gets trapped there. A metal detector will help you find the location of the gold. Once you find it, it takes good old fashioned hard work to dig it out.

In Alaska, for example, bedrock along creeks is full of gold that hasn’t been washed through sluice boxes. In areas with high payloads, big machines, like bulldozers, came through for all the big nuggets in the past. There is probably plenty of gold left over, although they won’t be large nuggets.

A VLF detector is best on bedrock. If you use a VLF in high mineralization, work slowly to minimize the ground noise and hot rocks. You need to work slowly to hear whisper-small nugget signals. Sometimes, you’ll find a decent-sized nugget in addition to all the small stuff.

Check the bench deposits, too. That’s the dirt that makes up the walls of the creek. The creek will have started out much higher than it is now, sinking slowly as it eroded more earth.

3. Be prepared to dig a lot of junk to find nuggets.

One of the most important features to look for in a detector used for gold hunting is that it is stable. That means it doesn’t “get distracted” by everything that’s not gold. Soil out west has a lot of iron ore that can trick your detector into thinking you’ve found something special. Having a detector that can accurately find a gold nugget that’s surrounded by iron ore is really important.

There’s a lot of “trash” in rivers, like nails, bullets and old scrap iron. If your metal detector has high trash discrimination — an important feature for gold hunting — you’ll have more luck finding gold.

This is especially true if you’re looking in creeks instead of just the bedrock. The discrimination setting will prevent the detector from beeping on anything other than gold! It’s a big time saver. If you don’t enable the discrimination setting, your detector will beep whenever it detects any type of metal. The “jewelry” setting on most detectors will be a good choice for your setting when you’re detecting for gold.

4. Use a Pinpointer

The crevices of bedrock have plenty of gold to be found, and your metal detector will probably be too bulky to fit. Use a pinpointer to find the exact location of the gold.

Make sure your pinpointer is waterproof. You never know when you’ll need to submerge it.

The ground surrounding gold, especially in bedrock, can be incredibly hard to dig. Honing in on an exact location with a pinpointer makes the whole process a little bit easier. If your metal detector has a large coil, knowing the exact location of a small piece of gold can be hard. Your handy dandy pinpointer is made for that! A detector can’t get into the cracks and crevices of bedrock either, but a pinpointer can.

You don’t absolutely have to have a pinpointer. You won’t always need one. But in situations like those described above, it can save you a lot of time and hassle.

5. Bring The Right Tools and Accessories

Finding gold is time intensive. Even if you have a fairly light metal detector, swinging it back and forth all day can get tiring. A harness, like the Minelab Harness Assembly, distributes the weight of heavier machines. You’ll also want to bring a good pair of gloves, a shovel, and vials for your gold.

Depending on how far you plan to trek, bring enough water for the trip.

You should also bring:

  • A compass and/or GPS
  • A pick and hammer to break through very hard ground
  • Headphones so you can hear the signals from your metal detector more clearly
  • A coil cover to protect your coil

Final Word

Remember: If you’re looking for small, shallow gold, use a VLF metal detector. If you’re looking for large gold in medium deep locations, use a PI detector. PI detectors will usually signal well on any nugget more than .3 grams, while VLF detectors will find that size and smaller.

Be patient and prepared. Do your research before you search for gold with a metal detector so that you don’t waste your time. There are many success stories out there of people who come home regularly with gold, but it isn’t an easy process. 

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