Finding Nuggets the "Old-Fashioned" Way (Part 6)


"Soaking Up" Mining Knowledge

In my previous post I spoke about the oldtimer Dave J., some of the the mining tools he employed, and the qualifying parameters for the auriferous streams he chose to work. In this, the final post of this series, I'll tell you most of Dave's theories on nugget hunting and his unique methods for finding coarse gold and placer gold nuggets.

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As in the case of Walt H., I spent numerous hours with Dave, observing him at work and "soaking up" as much mining knowledge as I could as he instructed me in the "ins and outs" of his nugget hunting approach. His overall strategy and methods were, like Walt's, based on a firm foundation of experience, overall mining know how, and a thorough understanding of stream hydraulics and gold deposition patterns.

In His Own Words...

Once again, here's how an "oldtimer" went about gathering gold nuggets from small streams (using his own words paraphrased from hand-written notes and my own memory):

Gold Pans
Gold Panning Kits
Mining Equipment

1) "Why do I work these small streams and creeks? Easier for me to get at the gold, pure and simple. Don't take rocket science to figure that one out. But make sure that creek has turned out nuggets before. If it ain't a nugget producer I don't want to mess with it. Next thing is bedrock. You gotta have good bedrock that's shallow or close to the top or this deal don't work well at all. And make damn sure that bedrock is broken up good, all rough and fractured, with lots of crooks and cracks in it, not all smooth. With smooth bedrock the good stuff just gets washed out too easy. You need somethin' that's gonna trap the gold and keep it there during high water."

2) "I try and find creeks and little streams that are up and away, maybe a good hikin' distance from roads or campgrounds, where most folks are too lazy to get to. Hell, a little walkin' or hikin' never hurt no one. Just like hard work, ya know? But one thing I learned about gold minin' is that most folks are lazy and don't really wanna do the work. Hell, they'll just stick around downhill and pick away at ground that's been beat to death. Me? I want to be up and away from those folks and workin' ground that's got potential."

P&S Fishing Tackle

3) "I'll carry a small pack with a few tools, a bite to eat, and some water to drink, but I always have my 5-gallon bucket handy. Easy to carry, stuff things in like some tools, my little shovel, and the like. Sometimes when I'm cleanin' out a good crack I'll just dump that material in the bucket and pan it out when I'm through. Hardest things to carry are prybars or big gads, but I tend to try and travel light as I can most times. When you're snipin', that's the way you should be rigged up. So's you can travel fast and light. Move from spot to spot quick, ya know?"

4) "Now what you want is good bedrock, that rough stuff I told you about. Now I don't have the patience for shovelin' lots of overburden so I want that bedrock close to the top, maybe on top or as close to the surface as I can get it. If the overburden is shallow I'll just move it off by hand or with my little shovel. You need that bedrock in a spot where the water slows down or almost stops. Or bedrock that might be behind a big rock where little currents drop gold. One thing I do is get up on the bank of that creek and look upstream and then downstream, all the while tryin' to imagine that stream in full flood, with all kinds of dirt washin' down, rocks and all. Then I try to see it like it is when that flood water goes down. If you can do that, you can learn to 'see' where those nuggets and big flakes are gonna get dropped."

5) My 'snipe' tube is my best helper at spotting the gold. When I find me a good bedrock spot I'll grab my tube and wade over there. I'll use my hand or little shovel to clear a bit of overburden if it's there and then take a peek, Sometimes you'll see some gold in that overburden, sometimes not. But you always want to check after each pass of the shovel or your hand. Take a peek with the tube and if you don't see nothin' make another pass. Once that bedrock is clear be real careful, go slow, and look for color. The smaller stuff is usually on top and the bigger pieces farther down. Sometimes those nuggets or chunkers are squeezed tight in a crack and you're gonna have to bust them outta there with a gad or prybar."

6) "Sometimes you'll hit a little pothole or crack where the gold is just sittin' there shinin' back at you. Those are the best! Most times you can just pick those nuggets and big flakes up with your fingers, but be careful. It's easy to lose them too if you don't take your time. Other times you're gonna bust your hump and tear up your hands gettin' down to the bottom of a good crack or crevice before the gold shows. But the 'snipe' tube lets you see underwater, just like if you were a frogman with tanks on. Well, maybe not that good, but it's still pretty good at spottin' the gold down there."

7) "Best advice I can give you about sniping bedrock is to be like one of these people they call 'clean freaks.' Clean every pocket or crack out till it shines back at you. Don't do it half-assed. If you do, those nuggets are gonna still be sittin' there at the bottom until the next guy comes along and finds 'em cause he took the time to do it right. And all you'll be doin' is bitchin' 'cause you didn't find them and he did. I make damn sure I get every bit of gold out of any crack I work. So should you."

8) "Truth be told, I've been snipin' this way for more years than I can count and there ain't nothin' else I like to do more. Except eat and sleep maybe. And that tube for spottin' the gold underwater is my best friend when it comes to findin' lots of nuggets. Some folks skin dive or use a mask, but I'm too old for that shit so I do it this way. Works just about as good if not better, in my mind. Those gold nuggets are there if you know where to look and how to spot them with the tube."

That was Dave J., again straight from the heart of someone who had been involved in placer gold mining for over 50 years. Again, I feel privileged to have known Dave and to have had him take the time to show me a few of his "tricks of the trade."

Although he wasn't always easy to be around or work with, Dave knew his stuff as well as anyone, including Walt H. And, like Walt, he had accumulated a personal treasure trove of placer nuggets and coarse gold that would make most recreational miners' mouths water, all of that gold recovered without the benefit of fancy electronics or "gold locators" costing thousands of dollars.


So there you have it. Finding nuggets the old-fashioned magic, no quick fixes....just knowledge, experience, positive effort, and maybe...just maybe... an "intuitive" ability to find gold.

Take care out there.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Finding Nuggets the Old-Fashioned Way (Part 5)"

(c) J.R. 2009

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