(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.
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.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org