"Nuggets is Nuggets"

 (A nice panful of the subject at hand.)

For many small-scale gold prospectors and miners and especially those "newbies" or greenhorns out there, it doesn't get any better than finding a placer gold nugget or two. Granted, lots of nuggets would be even better, but times like that are rare for most of us.

Don't Feel Bad

I don't know what the exact allure of gold nuggets is. Some miners say size, weight, and potential monetary value. Yet I've known many small-scale miners over the years who barely cracked a smile as they filled an ounce-vial with placer gold fines go absolutely "ga-ga" over a nugget weighing less than a fifth of that weight. Go figure.

It's obvious that rarity comes into play here. I've been at this small-scale gold prospecting and mining thing for over 36 years now and placer nuggets don't come along all that often. In fact, they don't show up often at all, despite all those years of mining experience and yes, wisdom. Sure, some locations are better than others for finding and recovering nuggets of varying sizes, shapes, and weights. But overall, decent nuggets are few and far between if you're a small-scale guy or gal employing basic tools and gear. Truth be told, I suspect nuggets are a rare commodity in most commercial operations as well...so don't feel bad.

Like Snowflakes

I know when I first started out in this prospecting and mining thing of ours I was deliriously happy to find a solitary speck of color in my pan, or even better, a nice gold flake or two. Gold nuggets? Well, that vision danced invitingly before my eyes and burned deep within my gold-fevered brain as well, but it didn't take long for me to realize that those nuggets weren't scattered around on the ground like pebbles just waiting to be picked up with your fingers. They were difficult, elusive, and mysterious.

Since those days I've found my share (and maybe more) of gold nuggets in both wet and dry placer environments. "Big ones?" you ask? A few, depending on what you consider big (a quarter troy ounce?). Most were small, ranging from the size of a large kitchen match head on up to about two and half grams. Here's the cool thing about gold nuggets despite their size. They're unique, just like snowflakes...no two are exactly alike.

Complete Failure

"Where have I found nuggets?" I've found them near the surface and deep down, under and directly behind large obstructions, in and along bench gravels, sitting atop clay layers, mixed in the detritus of old tailings piles, crammed into bedrock cracks, crevices, and potholes, just below drop offs large and small, and just about any other location you can imagine. The old timers were right by and large, however. You'll typically find more gold and larger gold the closer to bedrock you are.

(Dreams can come true.)

You may be interested to know I've recovered nuggets with a gold pan and small hand tools, a motorized dry washer, a battered old sluice box, a brand-new highbanker, and freezing my cojones off in an mountain stream running the intake nozzle of a suction dredge underwater. Nuggets can be had in all those ways, believe it or not. The only area I've been a complete failure at is finding a nugget using a metal detector, much to my personal shame and professional chagrin. (Despite the hard work and pain and suffering involved, you Aussies hunting the Outback don't know how good you have it at times!)

Anyway, just some thoughts for you to consider. After all, "nuggets is nuggets," no matter how big or small, where you find them, and what you find them with.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. JR, the closest thing I've found to a nugget so far is a lump of mercury coated gold. Not a true nugget, but a bunch of flakes stuck together. Still looking, and hoping! Thanks to all your writings this winter, I've got quite a few ideas to try this summer......maybe I'll get lucky! Funny how the folks in the movies never find the small stuff, always big nuggets! Ha! Maybe they throw back the little ones! Thanks again, Gary

  2. Stay with it Gary...you'll get your nugget. Best, J.R.

  3. JR.....your right! Although I too have been at it for some time....and found a number of nuggets in my career....I have kept my first nugget close to my heart. It's on a chain around my neck. It's not my biggest......but you only have 1first. Over the years I have been reluctant to take it off....or even give it away to my "significant other" for anniversery / valentines....although I have been tempted. You know "Love".....like gold....it makes you do crazy things......and then clarity returns. Thank God for that. Thats all....keep up the good work....and be safe out there.

  4. Very astute comments...thanks for sharing this with all. J.R.

  5. You are correct JR, we Aussies do have it pretty good most of the time. Nuggets are mostly what we hunt and results are very good at times. Strange as it seems I have no problem getting a few nuggets week in week out. I do find them with the use of a metal detector when walking my lease in the outback. My head tells me if they are there (the nuggets) so is the fine gold? I have to learn how to get that fine gold it must be there and that's what I am trying to concentrate on a the moment. that is probably a reverse to what others may think. I have had it said to me " if you are getting nuggets don't worry about the fine gold" I must be wired differently to other people as I feel sure there is a reasonable $ to be made from the fine stuff as well. Locating the run is not easy a lot of work goes into prospecting and research. Prospecting and mining are two different animals as I am sure you would agree
    ( actually I probably learnt that from you) right now I am trying to learn from what I see in the land, the ground, the rocks and so on. My head gets so bogged down sometimes on the why I forget some of the simple things and get off task some how. The result some weeks is an ounce of gold but the reality is that recovery was after many months of research and hard yakka. My mates see the gold but not the work that went in to get it.The harder I work the luckier I get! What are your thoughts dear mentor, go for the nuggets or completely work an area out them move on to the next area of interest??????? ( define area) 2 acres.


  6. My tendency is much like yours GS...if the larger gold is there then much more smaller gold is available as well. Cleaning up the bigger gold with a detector makes sense first, but then I'd be prospecting for the pockets or paystreaks of smaller stuff. You understand the difference between prospecting and mining...the first is the art of finding gold, the second the art of recovering it. I see metal detecting as electronic prospecting, not mining, regardless of results. Now it's time to mine my friend...J.R.


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