Best Metal Detector for Gold Nuggets – Buyer’s Guide

I came across this fantastic guide from Smarterhobby.com – so all credit goes to Mark Orwig for writing this article. (Some products and prices changed to fit in line with the South African market)

 

E​ver since James Marshall’s 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, prospecting in the United States has been the ultimate treasure hunt.

Prospecting gold nuggets with a metal detector is a thrilling hobby that’s both fun and (financially) rewarding.

But with so many machines on the market, how do you know which is the best metal detector for gold?

This go-to guide is packed with useful information that will help you make the right choice so you can start digging your very own gold.

How to Choose​

Before we get started, I want to make a public service announcement if I may.

All metal detectors will find gold nuggets if they’re in the ground (and big enough) – not just gold detectors.

A gold metal detector is simply a detector designed specifically to detect tiny targets in mineralized ground. That’s pretty much it.

So what makes a good gold detector?

It may surprise you that it’s much easier than you think to choose the right detector.

Some of the biggest factors include:

  • Where (geographically) you’ll be doing most of your prospecting.
  • The size of gold nuggets that have been found there in the past. If you don’t already know, I recommend joining a local prospecting club or talking to local claim owners.
  • Ground conditions. Is it highly mineralized? Is there a lot of trash?
  • Other uses. Do you want to use the same detector for coin, jewelry or relic hunting?
  • Budget.

You’ll need to ask yourself these questions before you even consider which detector you’ll buy.

Spoiler alert: there is no universal ‘best metal detector for gold’.

Although the GPZ 7000 is close for those of you who can afford a detector that’s the same price as a car.

The question should be, what is the best gold detector for your answers to the above questions?

Just because the Minelab GPX 5000 costs more than 6x the amount of a cheap VLF machine, doesn’t mean it’s better.

If I were hunting in low/moderate ground on top of bedrock in an area where the nuggets tend to be small, I would actually opt for a cheap VLF machine over the GPX 5000.

Am I crazy? No….not the last time I checked anyway…

Now let’s dive into the reasons why this is the case by deciphering the most important elements of any gold machine.

Detector Technology

The first thing you have to decide is which technology to use – VLF or PI.

VLF stands for Very Low Frequency and is the same technology used in detectors built for coins, jewelry, and relics.

VLF detectors broadcast at frequencies measured in kilohertz ranging from 3 kHz to 70 kHz.

Here are five reasons why you might choose a VLF over a PI

  • You’re a beginner.
  • You want to use the same detector for other detecting like coins, jewelry, relics.
  • You’re hunting for small to medium sized nuggets at depths under 20cm (most common).
  • You’re hunting in areas with lots of trash and need to discriminate.
  • You want to spend less than R20000

PI stands for Pulse Induction and is used in specialty detectors designed for maximum depth in highly mineralized ground.

PI detectors broadcast pulses and are measured by pulses per second.

Here are five reasons to opt for a PI machine over a VLF:

  • You’re an experienced gold hunter.
  • You want a specialty machine built just for gold nugget hunting.
  • You’re hunting for larger gold nuggets at greater depths AND aren’t so much interested in the smaller, shallower nuggets.
  • You’re hunting in highly mineralized ground with low levels of trash.
  • You have over R20000 to spend.

Now that we’ve identified the two camps let’s talk about some technical differences.

Operating Frequency

We already discussed that VLF detectors are best when searching for nuggets that are small to average in size.

The next thing to decide is the operating frequency of the VLF.

As mentioned above, VLF machines typically range from 3 kHz to 70 kHz with the most popular gold VLF machines in the 13-50 kHz range.

That is a huge range. So which is better?

Again we go back to nugget size.

Side note: This guide is not about where to find different sized nuggets, but larger nuggets will most often be at the highest elevations of your site, while the smallest will be at the lowest elevation – usually in a stream bed.​

In the United States, larger nuggets are most often found in Alaska, medium in Western States, and small in Eastern States.

The biggest and best nuggets in the world are typically found in Australia. (* Africa has also been known to produce plenty of small to large sized nuggets)

Now back to the techy stuff…​

There is an inverse relationship between frequency and nugget size (as well as maximum detection depth).

Both lower frequency VLF and PI detectors will find larger nuggets at greater depths – but will struggle to find smaller nuggets at shallow depths.

Alternatively, higher frequency VLF machines are better at finding smaller nuggets at shallow depths – and struggle to get greater depths.

So which is better? Well, neither…

It all depends on your particular area and the what’s been found there before (and at what depths).

The same concept holds true for coil size. Again there is an inverse relationship where larger coils get bigger targets at greater depths, and smaller coils get smaller targets at shallow depths.

Smaller ​coils are also better for rocky areas where you need to maneuver around large rocks and get into tight spaces.

They’re also preferred over large coils in highly mineralized ground​ since they will ‘see’ less of the ground at any given time.

Let’s revisit my comparison at the beginning of this article between the GPX 5000 and a cheap VLF machine to help understand my reasoning.

The Gold Monster 1000 is a 45 kHz VLF machine with a small, 5” coil.

The GPX 5000 is a PI machine with a large 11” coil.

So if you’re hunting on bedrock in an area with small nuggets and ground that is not highly mineralized, the Gold Monster is the clear choice.

Using the GPX 5000 in this scenario might actually cause you to miss nuggets altogether!

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather dig several small nuggets than no nuggets at all because my machine is only looking for large ones.

Mineralization

Another factor in determining what range of frequencies to look for when choosing a gold detector is the ground mineralization for where you’ll be hunting.

After all, gold is most commonly found in areas of mineralization – at least to some degree.

Lower frequency VLF and PI machines will handle high mineralization much better than high-frequency VLF.

If you’re in areas of extreme mineralization such as black sand in a stream bed, then a PI will likely be your only option as it will see through the ground and not false.

So you probably don’t want to hunt with a cheap VLF machine for example if you’re in areas of high mineralization if you want to avoid constant falsing.

Another feature to consider when dealing with mineralization is the ground balance.

Almost every gold detector comes with automatic ground balance (or ground tracking) – but not all ALSO have manual ground balance.

So I recommend you invest in a machine that has both forms of ground balancing.

Is your head spinning yet?

It’s really not as complicated as I’m making it sound.

In fact, it’s probably more complicated for me to explain all this in writing than it is to decide on a detector.

Discrimination

In addition to the varying degrees of ground mineralization, you also need to consider how much trash is in the ground.

Now I use the term trash loosely here. When I say trash, I’m referring to anything that’s not gold.

VLF detectors have the advantage of electronic metal discrimination – meaning you can choose to ignore trash signals and only focus on good, gold signals.

Alternatively, PI detectors either struggle with discrimination or have none at all.

So if you know you’ll be in areas with a high trash density, you might do well to opt for a VLF detector. Otherwise, you’ll spend your entire day digging trash.

Parting Words​

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

If you’re new to metal detecting and these concepts are not already familiar to you, I recommend reading this article a few times.

Once you understand everything we’ve talked about in this article, your biggest question should be: “What if I want to find both small shallow, small nuggets, AND large, deep nuggets?”

Excellent question!

The reality is that unless you can anti-up for a Minelab GPZ 7000 (currently R168000 MSRP), you’re going to want two machines.

My best advice is to get a VLF machine for your small, shallow gold, and whichever of the Minelab PI machines your budget allows for the deep, larger nuggets.

Accessories

Now that you have a better idea of which gold detector is best for you, here are a few accessories I highly recommend for all prospectors:

  • Plastic scoop to wave dirt/rocks over coil during recovery.
  • Pick to hammer through rocky ground
  • Pinpointer or coil probe to quickly pinpoint those small nuggets
  • Coil Cover to protect your coil from damage
  • Vials to store your fine gold
  • Shoulder or chest harness to take the weight of the detector off your arm
  • Different coils to adapt to the location your hunting
  • Headphones to hear those faint gold signals
  • Strong Magnet to quickly pickup iron trash and ‘hot rocks’ before digging

End of article

MY RECOMMENDATIONS (in conjunction with Mark Orwigs’ recommendations)

For Expert Nugget Hunters (Best of the Best)

  • Minelab GPZ 7000: Best of the best (and most expensive) – best for both deep large and small shallow nuggets
  • Minelab GPX 5000: Best value for serious gold prospectors. Most coils and accessories. – best for deep large nuggets
  • Minelab SDC 2300: Easiest expert-level detector to use for less serious gold prospectors, most compact for easy travel

* The GPZ 7000 uses Zero Voltage Transmission (ZVT) which effectively gives you two machines in one – a deep PI machine, and a high frequency VLF machine.

For Intermediate Nugget Hunters

  • Garrett ATX: Submersible to 10′, a PI gold detector also great for saltwater and relic hunting

For Beginner and Intermediate Nugget Hunters

  • XP ORX with 9.5″ ellipitical HF coil: The lightest machine on the market and you can manually select from a wide range of frequencies from 13 kHz to 81 kHz.
  • Minelab Gold Monster: Automatic sensitivity and ground tracking, operates at 45 kHz – best for shallower small to average size nuggets
  • Nokta Makro Gold Kruzer: Waterproof, wireless headphones and 61 kHz – best for fine gold / jewellery and shallower small to average size nuggets

* All gold detecting recommended machines can be purchased from Treasure Hunters Online Store in South Africa.

Minelab Equinox 600/800 Update 2.0

The latest update for the Minelab Equinox series of metal detectors has been released. If you have not updated yours already, here is a brief run down on how to do it and why you should be doing it.

Follow this link to download the latest Minelab Update Utility (MUU) to your computer (you can choose a windows or mac version depending on your computer): https://www.minelab.com/equinox-software-update-2-0?fbclid=IwAR38OUO6DpuSjdwSUtP2WvV3x5DKUfVIX1hF6-3iLlcsUJnNd_MV-fbHRnM

Once the MUU is downloaded, open the application and follow these instructions:

1. Connect the EQUINOX to the computer USB port using the magnetic charging cable and turn on the detector.
2. When the EQUINOX is identified, the MUU will communicate with the detector and determine the current software version.  
3. If an update is available, the MUU will display Updates are available for your detector. Click INSTALL to begin the upgrade or QUIT to close the MUU.
4. If the metal detector is up to date, the application will display Your detector is up to date and prompt you to QUIT the application.
5. The EQUINOX screen will go blank during the update; a green LED on the top left corner of the control box will blink rapidly while the update is in progress.
6. Installation will take approximately 1 minute.Once the upgrade is complete, the EQUINOX will restart and the MUU will prompt you to disconnect the detector and QUIT the application.Note: Close the application and reopen if updating multiple EQUINOX detectors 

WHAT IS NEW?

Difficult ferrous targets — the common enemy for all detectorists. That is until EQUINOX. Hit the download on our EQUINOX update to make those pesky bottle caps, rusty nails and other falsing targets a thing of the past. Fire up the Minelab Update Utility and you’re on your way. It’s simple. You’ll experience the enhanced Iron Bias feature, improved EQUINOX 600 backlight and much more.

Improved Iron Bias

Iron Bias has been enhanced with the addition of a new Iron Bias settings profile. The original EQUINOX Iron Bias ‘FE’ settings will still be available, but there is now the option to switch to the new Iron Bias ‘F2’ settings, which have an improved capability to reject a much wider range of difficult iron targets, including bottle caps.

EQUINOX 600 Backlight Brightness

The EQUINOX 600 now has the ability to adjust the backlight brightness to an additional ‘Low’ setting that matches the minimum setting on the EQUINOX 800. This ‘Low’ brightness is ideal for detecting at night and in low light conditions.

Conclusion

It’s great that Minelab is able to provide us with these updates. For the detectorists with the Equinox 600 that enjoy hunting at night will find a huge difference with the screen brightness. Previously there was only two settings: Very bright and Off, which the bright setting was too bright at night and most people would choose to switch the brightness off completely. Now we can enjoy a nice dim screen backlight during our night hunts.

The new iron bias looks like a neat upgrade to which will help with those rusty bottle cap signals. What used to sound like a good digging signal will now be eliminated completely or made to sound like an iffy, jumpy signal.

The one thing to bear in mind though, is after the update the new iron bias setting has not been selected. You need to manually change this in settings as follows:

In the settings menu, get to the recovery speed setting and then press and hold down the setting button for approx 2 seconds. This will take you from the recovery speed setting to the iron bias setting and you will see “Fe” on the screen. “Fe” is the original iron bias setting, you will need to press the accept/reject button to change this to “F2” which means the new and improved iron bias setting is set.

You will need to change this on each and every mode you would like to change the iron bias setting. For example you may choose to keep “Fe” setting on Park mode 1 but the new “F2” setting on Park mode 2 etc.

I look forward to digging less rusty bottle caps and enjoy the new dimmer brightness on the screen. Thank you Minelab, may you continue to send us new improvements as they become available.

Treasure Hunters Online Shop

A few months ago, I launched the online store for Treasure Hunters and its been growing from strength to strength.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone who has purchased from our online store. The support has been truly amazing and I appreciate every single sale made.

Its been an incredible journey thus far and cant wait to see what the future holds for the online store.

We will continue to add more products in the coming months but more importantly we will always strive to ensure you have a pleasant shopping experience through ease of use as well as excellent customer service.

Online shopping is certainly a convenient way to shop, as it just takes a few clicks from the comfort of your own home in order to get your products delivered to your door in just a day or two!

If you thinking of purchasing any metal detecting equipment, please try our online store for your next purchase.

www.treasurehunters.co.za

We look forward to welcoming you to our store in cyberspace. Its open 24/7 🙂

 

Short Film On Metal Detecting

Not only do I enjoy metal detecting but also love dabbling around with the camera (both photography and videography) and have had this burning desire to create a short film on metal detecting for some time now.

Of course what I had in mind and what the final outcome of the film turned out to be was complete opposites! I was thinking more actors, dialogue – something more along the lines of the series “Detectorists” but on a much smaller scale with much less of a budget (aka zero budget).

But in the end, I settled on me, myself and I as the actor, camera operator, drone flyer, voice over artist, editor, scriptwriter and producer and let me tell you, its hard work, damn hard. This film is only 5 minutes long but it took many days of planning, shooting and editing… Usually I am a film one day and upload the same day kind of guy – not this one, this was special and I wanted it to be more than just another metal detecting vlog.

One of my biggest regrets was wearing shorts in the shoot as I did not realise that there were these ants around on the fields I was shooting, and let me tell you, when they bit you, it felt like your leg was on fire. Itchy and on fire. Extremely itchy in fact. Since day one was done with the drone footage, I had to keep the shorts to keep consistency in the video so on the next location, the ants were back, and so were the bites.

At the end of the day I am pretty happy with the outcome of the short film but its far from over, I still want to create something more, something different.

As to what that exactly is, you will have to wait and see – because not even I know right now.

The film is featured below so please have a watch and let me know your thoughts.

WAYNE T - August 5, 2018 - 10:27 am

Cool video I know what you mean about the trash and funny enough thats what keeps me going cleaning up little by little and of coarse finding that something that was droped for me to find.

RingSeekers.com – Finding Lost Rings

In part with growing the Treasure Hunters community and in response to the growing number of requests I receive to assist people with locating lost items, I have developed a new site which is an online directory of metal detectorists.

The directory will allow people to search for metal detectorists in their area and contact them directly to see if they can assist in searching for the lost item.

So many people lose valuable rings and other jewellery pieces at the beaches and elsewhere, and this is a great platform to allow those people to get that one last chance of getting help to find their lost valuables.

If you are a metal detectorist and would like to add yourself to the database, please visit the site and sign up using our quick and easy signup process. Its free to signup!

Have you lost a ring at the beach? Looking to locate a metal object in your garden? No problem, visit the site and search for a detectorist in your area who will be able to assist you by using their metal detectors to locate the object.

Visit http://www.RingSeekers.com

Rozanne - June 29, 2017 - 10:12 am

Hi Guys

I lost my wedding rings in my yard. Is there anyway that someone with a metal detector can assist me??? im based in PTA east.

Thank You!!!!

admin - October 31, 2017 - 2:20 am

Hi Rozanne

Yes, please visit RingSeekers.com and search for a detectorist in your area – they will be able to assist you.

Denise - October 31, 2017 - 6:12 am

What a great idea for a fantastic service! I’ll include a link to your site from our blog. So many people ask me about a good, cheap detector to help them find a lost ring or another piece of jewelry they’ve dropped in their yard. This is a great alternative.

admin - October 31, 2017 - 6:23 am

Many Thanks. I already helped a lady find her lost wedding ring on the beach and she only knew who to contact because of the site.

Lionel - July 1, 2019 - 10:05 am

Hi Rozanne
I can help if you still need?
I have a really good metal detector and I’m sure I can find it.
I’m in JHB but will gladly drive trough.

Let me know
Lionel