The Arms Race

How many times have you heard the Ford vs. Chevy, my dog is better than your dog, or some other argument that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but still almost brings people to the point of physical confrontation? Most times the arguments are all ‘gack’-jibber jabber and anecdotal observations that don’t change opinions, nor truly demonstrate actual facts to prove whether or not your favorite widget is good or bad. Enter metal detectors! Before you put on your Garrett, Fisher, White’s, Minelab or other ‘colors’, be advised-I’m not going to delve into that argument! Right up front you need to know this is a discussion about Minelab machines because that’s what myself and everybody I know uses. I know there are other brands but from what little I’ve seen I do feel there is a solid reason we all use Minelabs.

The Game

Here in the states, most of us that detect for gold nuggets are ‘hobbyists’. We don’t depend on this for a living! Having extra time to go hunt gold is a nod to our dreams of finding enough gold to retire, or at least buy something nice (probably an even better metal detector). The reality is that many times we’re going over the same ground that has been detected by many others, for decades prior, using the current technology of their day. More on that later.

What all that means is that the easy gold has been found in many areas. What is left, for those willing to put in the hard work, is either small gold that was not able to be detected by those machines ‘back in the day’, or deeper, larger gold that also wasn’t seen by that level of technology. Prospectors today have to balance our efforts on what is most reasonable to find within the price range of technology that we can afford. As I mentioned previously, there are many machines that ‘can’ find a gold nugget. There are also stories of people swinging a $250 machine on the side of a desert road, and pulling up a lunker nugget that makes all the ‘dedicated’ hunters green with envy. This is literally the ‘blind squirrel’ scenario! If you want to be consistently successful, you have to apply the best geology knowledge you can muster, and the best equipment you can afford. Even at that, most people only find less than a few grams of gold on most of their outings, if any at all! Even in the ‘prime’ spots, gold is just hard to find sometimes.

So why do some detectors seem to be ok for finding gold nuggets in some peoples experience, yet cost very little? Think real estate-location, location, location! One of the biggest obstacles to finding what we seek is actually between our ears. It’s not our fault-why would I detect a graded desert road with all the attendant junk when I could walk back into a pristine desert wash or canyon that surely hasn’t been hit by other detectorists? The truth is, those roads and easy access areas are vastly under hunted because only a ‘noob’ would hunt the road, or this area doesn’t look right or whatever the case may be…right? Consider also that almost any detector will pick up a somewhat large chunk of gold, especially if it’s not very deep. So hunting areas nobody would bother with can be productive with almost anything (disclaimer-slight exaggeration). You may want to write that down because there are so many areas like this! OK,  because you asked, here’s a true story.

You found that WHERE?

In a suburb of Phoenix that shall remain nameless, a housing development was slated to begin. A local gold hunter knew that the area had been productive in the past, and decided to give it a whirl before houses took over. Well guess what? Within sight of the survey markers and early stages of dirt work, he found GOLD! Although I don’t remember the quantity, I do remember it was a good enough amount to cause me to mentally take note of just such spots! So that’s the type of area nobody would really hunt, and there are others you can hit with relatively inexpensive detectors that might surprise you. Remember, before detectors there were many nuggets found right on the surface by the old timers! Two eyes focused in the right place negate any amount of money spent on technology! It might take work and a little ‘out of the box’ thinking, but there are still some untouched areas out there to be found.

How fast do you want to go?

Back to Fords and Chevys. In my hotrodding days you could be the leader of the pack by spending enough money on ‘go fast’ stuff. I’m sure it’s still the same, although nowadays they throw you in jail for street racing so I don’t know what the kids do anymore. Anyway. This adage also loosely applies to metal detectors. To put a fine point on the subject, here’s how pricing roughly breaks down for the brand considered ‘best in the world’:

Pulse Induction Machines

Minelab GPZ7000     New around $8k, used around $6k

Minelab SDC2300     New around $3800, used around $2500

Minelab GPX5000    New around $4500, used around $3k

Older Minelab GPX machines can be had used for anywhere from around $1200 to $2500

VLF Machines

Minelab Gold Monster 1000    New around $800, used around $450

Minelab Equinox 800 (your best bet for an all around machine that is also great for prospecting) New $800, used $700

Yes, yes, I remember what I said earlier and will say again that Minelab is not the only brand machine capable of finding gold. They are the most expensive though. They also happen to have a performance edge and have impressed me so much that I’ve skipped over other decently capable gold machines of other brands because I wanted ‘the best’. These machines are basically ‘what I know’ at this point. You might have a different opinion, and even had success with other brands, but I’m partial to Minelab because I’ve seen every one of these machines in action! As if personal experience didn’t talk loudly enough, all you have to do is look at the rest of the world and what machines professional prospectors buy. There’s a reason these machines cost what they do. Having said all that, speed costs and I get that. If you pick a different gold machine that’s your choice and you may be under different budget constraints. I’ll try to address a more general ‘what kind of detector will be a decent goldfields unit without selling my car’ option in another article at some point.


Oh yes, I had a point back there when I started all this, and I’m not talking about the one on the top of my head!

Recently I returned from a great adventure to the black waterfalls, as I call the area. The friend I went with uses the same machine as I do-the SDC2300. We beat several areas of the wash pretty hard, and even excavated an area about 30×15, detecting all the way down till we hit bedrock. We did ok and thought we had cleaned that particular area out. In fact, for my last day there we didn’t even hike back in there, instead opting for an easier, less productive place to hunt. We even discussed finding a new hidden spot to detect now that this one apparently had begun to play out. Well guess what? We had only found the easy gold! A mere 3 weeks later one of our other friends went into the same area, even detecting the same places we had excavated, and found almost a 1/4oz of gold in various sized nuggets! Astounded is the best word I can use to describe my reaction to such news. The difference? He uses a GPZ7000, and quite well. He literally found gold deeper in some areas than our machines could ‘reach’. Small and large gold, almost all of it beyond the range of our machines. That’s a tough pill to swallow! Admittedly not all the gold was found in our dig spots, but a lot was!

So our own private arms race has begun. I won’t be getting a GPZ in case you were wondering. But my other buddy probably will! For me, my little SDC-‘The blue meanie’ as I call it-will remain my detector of choice for many reasons. I literally got such a good deal on it that I could easily make good money if I sold it, but it would take whatever money I got and another $3000 to $5000 green, folding dollars to get a GPZ. Just not gonna happen! That doesn’t mean I don’t have other irons in the fire that will ‘up’ my game. They just don’t start off with the letters GPZ, as much as I wish they did.

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