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Gold is one of the rarest and most precious elements on earth. It can be processed into jewelry, bullion, coins…. Or it can be raw (nuggets).
The first type can be found with any standard metal detector. You can learn more about these affordable machines in this guide. However, for nuggets prospecting, you need a specialized detector.
In this article, I’ll review the best metal detectors for gold nuggets prospecting and I’ll tell you which one you should pick. After that, I’ll give a bonus that I’m sure you are going to like.
Here’s a quick overview of some good prospecting machines
- Minelab GOLD MONSTER 1000: VLF, 45 kHz
- Fisher gold bug: 19 kHz Operating Frequency, LCD screen,
- Fisher gold bug 2: high operating frequency 71 kHz, removable control box (hip mounting)
- Garrett AT Gold: fully waterproof, 18 kHz
- Tesoro Lobo SuperTRAQ: 17.5 kHz only, no screen
Best metal detectors for gold prospecting
If you’re looking for gold, then you need an advanced tool that sensitive enough to detect the smallest nuggets. In addition to the tool, you need hard work, persistence, and experience…
In the following paragraphs, I will help you pick the best machine for you. Then, you will get the little bonus that I promised you with. So, let’s roll…
Minelab Gold Monster 1000 – fully automatic and beginner-friendly
If you are new to the metal detecting world and you have never owned or used a metal detector, the Minelab Gold Monster 1000 is your best choice. As far as I know, there is nothing like it (not even close).
The Garrett AT (the fourth one on this list) is the best for intermediate users. It is a good device for those who already know how to use a detector and have a basic understanding of the terminology used in this field (sensitivity, ground balance, hot rocks…)
The Gold Monster 1000 was designed with the user experience in mind; the engineers did really a good job simplifying things.
The screen is simplistic and super helpful. It only displays what the operator needs to hunt nuggets efficiently. It shows neither redundant indicators and nor complicated things that only pros can understand (phase, gain…).
I wish they added a depth indicator instead of the volume gauge. I know it is an estimation usually calibrated with coin-sized objects. But I think it is a good thing to have. Having an estimate about the target’s depth is better than digging blindly.
In addition to designing a simple and easy-to-read screen, Minelab reduced the number of buttons that the user has to deal with.
You no longer have to adjust an overwhelming number of settings. Most of the tuning is done automatically especially the ground balance, which seems daunting at first glance. The downside is that they didn’t give the user the option to adjust it manually.
They enabled this feature only for the sensitivity. You can adjust it yourself or let the machine do it for you. This is the only device on the market that can adjust the sensitivity automatically.
This device is super sensitive. Its operating frequency is 45 kHz, one of the highest in the world.
And to make things even better, the user’s manual is concise and easy to read. It contains clear images (except the first one in the Getting started guide). You can read it in a few minutes and go for a hunt.
The Minelab 1000 is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery (charger is included). This is an innovative feature that the competition doesn’t have.
You can, if you want, use conventional batteries. You need 8 AA of them that should be inserted in a carrier that has the exact shape as the Li-ion battery.
Two submersible search coils are included. The dimensions of the first one are 10*6″ and the second one is 5″ wide.
Both of them are DD. the first one elliptical and the second one is circular. Each one of them is suitable for a particular usage.
With a gold detector, you need a pinpointer capable of detecting small nuggets. Don’t worry, I’ve the research for you. You can find the right pinpointer in this article.
To summarize, the Minelab Gold Monster 1000 the way to go if you are don’t have enough experience with detectors, you have money to spend and you want to jump directly to the pro level. Overall, this is the best detector on this list and I highly recommend it for pro users too.
|Fully automatic||No depth indicator|
|Simple screen||Auto ground balance only|
|Easy to use|
|High frequency 45 KHz|
|Li-ion or normal batteries|
Fisher gold bug – affordable basic detector
The Fisher gold bug has a nice looking screen. You can know the nature of the buried metal before digging it by reading the digital ID.
This way, you save yourself a lot of time and effort, you avoid repetitive kneeling and you won’t have to rely on the guesswork. The screen will tell you all the information that you need right of the bat.
Its operating frequency is 19 kHz. This is high enough to make it sensitive to small nuggets. However, it is on the lower end of the spectrum compared to the rest of the industry.
Most of the devices on the market are equipped with a 1/4″ headphones jack only. The Gold Bug has an additional 1/8″ jack.
That’s a good addition if you want to use your earbuds or your usual headphones instead of a dedicated metal detecting one.
Unlike the entry-level devices which have binary beeps (constant volume regardless of the target’s size and distance), the volume of the audio signals that this device emits is proportional to the target’s depth and size.
The bigger the nugget is, the louder the beep will be. This is why it is recommended to use headphones to be able to hear the weakest signals. They also extend the battery life.
The stock coil is small. Its diameter is only 5 inches, which is suitable for nuggets prospecting. Smaller coils are more precise. They are sensitive to small nuggets and perform well in highly mineralized soil.
However, they don’t cover a large area and their depth range is limited. To deal with this, you can install the optional 11” DD coil. It covers a larger area and it extends the detector’s depth range. But it reduces the sensitivity.
Because gold nuggets are usually found in areas that contain a high density of minerals, gold detectors should have ground balancing capabilities.
The Fisher Gold Bug is not an exception. Minerals emit strong signals that hinder the machine’s performance.
Ground balancing comes in handy and lets the machine forget about all of the noise and focus only on the signals coming from gold.
The gold bug requires a single 9V battery. The 3-segment indicator on the upper left corner will tell you its status.
It can last for 20 hours if it’s alkaline and for 8 hours if it is a rechargeable battery. When only one segment is illuminated, the speaker’s volume will drop.
To summarize, the Fisher Gold Bug is a decent and affordable machine that has everything it takes for detecting gold (i.e high frequency and ground balance). But, you can get a better device if you are ready to spend more money.
LCD screen Frequency 19 kHz only
1/8” headphone jack Affordable
Fisher gold bug 2 – highest frequency on the market
The interface of the Gold bug 2 looks a little bit outdated. It doesn’t have an LCD screen like many of its competitors.
However, it operates at a very high frequency (71 kHz). I have never heard of a device that has a frequency higher than that.
The sensitivity goes along with the frequency. So this machine should be extremely sensitive to the tiniest nuggets.
This also means that it can be used in the vicinity of other metal detectors without any risk of interference.
The control box can resist moisture and dust. It is also removable and you can mount it on your hip.
This feature will reduce the load on your arm. If prospecting is your full-time job, you’re going to like it. Nothing worse than swinging a heavy detector for eight hours a day.
The gold bug 2 is fitted with an elliptical 10 1/2″ search coil. There are two other available options. You can mount a 6.5 or 14” coil if you want to. Each one of them has pros and cons.
Fisher Bug 2 has the audio boost feature, which allows it to amplify the signals coming from small or deep nuggets so that you can hear them easily. This increase doesn’t affect the signal coming from larger targets.
Hot rocks are rocks that contain a higher amount of minerals than the surrounding area. The detector, if it is not well designed, will be fooled and thinks that these rocks as pieces of metal.
The IRON DISC Mode helps identify hot rocks and pieces of junk metal so that you don’t waste your time digging them.
This machine is powered by 9 V transistor batteries. Depending on their quality, you can expect this detector to run for 25-35 hours before the batteries die.
The batteries are located in two separate compartments at the rear of the control box. Many users didn’t like the way these compartments are designed.
They have thin plastic doors held in place with thin lines. The batteries’ removal is done by gravity.
If the doors aren’t well-closed, they can fall on the ground. This design is just fine. but an improvement is desirable.
The ground balancing is manually adjustable. I prefer automatic adjustment for three reasons. First, it is easier for beginners. Second, it is more comfortable even if you are an advanced user.
Third and most importantly, it follows the changes in mineralization level in real-time.
The soil isn’t homogeneous and its composition changes continuously at every step you take. You don’t want to keep adjusting the ground balance constantly to match mineralization levels.
This is just my opinion. Old school detectorists who are used to the Gold Bug 2 can be satisfied with non-computerized systems.
This device was, apparently, designed for advanced users who know exactly what settings they should choose at any given moment.
The Fisher Bug 2 is easy to put together. You can do that by hand, you don’t a screwdriver.
You only have to assemble the upper and the lower stem, adjust the coil’s angle and wrap its cable around the stem, and finally connect the coil to the control box; And that is it; you are ready to go.
To conclude, I consider the Fisher Bug 2 as the Godzilla of gold detectors. It has the highest frequency ever in addition to other features that make it a tough competitor. However, it needs to be upgraded with modern technology.
Highest frequency ever 71 kHz Poorly designed battery compartments
Removable control box No auto ground balance
Audio boost No screen
Garrett AT Gold – versatile and submersible
The interface of the Garrett AT gold is very similar to that of the ACE 300, which is one of the best entry-level machines.
So if you are an intermediate detectorist and you want to upgrade your device, Garrett AT Gold is a good choice. The learning curve will be easy and short.
The LCD screen displays much information about the target and the current status of the device. You can know the nature of metal and its depth before even digging.
The ground balance can be adjusted manually or automatically to deal with minerals present in the soil. Leaving the choice for the user is a very good idea. This way, beginners and experts can choose what works best for them.
For the detection modes, there are three of them: All Metal, DISC 1 and DISC 2. When the All Metal Mode is selected, You will here an audio response whenever a target is metal detected regardless of its nature. It can be gold, silver, brass or rusty piece of metal…
This mode increases the sensitivity and the depth the machine can reach. However, it is not recommended in areas where you expect you will find many ferrous targets.
DISC 1 and DISC 2 are less sensitive to deep and small targets. But the hunt will be less noisy because they are made to ignore trash items. DISC 2 filtering is harsher than that of DISC 1.
The AT gold is fully waterproof. This feature makes it stand from the crowd. You are not restricted to inland gold prospecting.
You can go to the next level and look for underwater treasures. This machine can go up to 10 feet without a problem.
Technically it can work in salt water but it wasn’t designed for that. It doesn’t perform very well with salt. So use it only in freshwater.
Its frequency is only 18 kHz. This frequency should make it sensitive enough to detect small nuggets. However, it is not the highest on the market.
The frequency is slightly adjustable; you can pick between four levels. The difference between them isn’t that big, this feature was included only to avoid interference with nearby electronic devices.
This machine runs on four AA batteries that can last somewhere between 20 and 40 hours depending on their quality.
To ease the recovery of the nuggets, the AT gold has a built-in pinpointer. When this mode is selected, you don’t have to swing the coil from side to side; the detection becomes static.
To wrap up, this machine is your best choice if you are familiar with Garrett ACE series, you want to upgrade your tools without having to relearn everything, and you want something submersible.
Waterproof Fresh water only
Versatile Frequency 18 kHz only
LCD screen Manual & auto ground balance Adjustable frequency
Tesoro Lobo SuperTRAQ – automatic ground balance
The operating frequency of the Tesoro Lobo is only 17.8 kHz. It is higher than what beginners’ machines offer. However, it loses the competition compared to the ones on this list.
The control box can be removed easily and attached to your belt. This is a good way to distribute weight; it will enable you to spend a longer time prospecting before having to take a break.
But, I don’t think Tesoro engineers made a good decision by placing it under the stem. The grip is blocking the way, you can access and look at the control housing comfortably.
The only advantage of this setup is that the switch and the knobs on the right side are only a finger away from the grip.
Therefore, you can adjust them using the hand with which you are holding the detector. Your other hand is free to do other things.
Unfortunately, Tesoro Lobo has no LCD screen. It is a useful feature that many manufacturers include in their metal detectors.
Without a screen, you have to rely only on the audio signals. If there is a lot of noise around you and you don’t want to miss any targets, you can use headphones. It is equipped with 1/4″ jack for this purpose.
The Tesoro Lobo SuperTRAQ has computerized ground minerals tracking system. This what do they mean by SuperTRAQ.
The SuprTRAQ will keep your machine ground balanced automatically. It will detect the level of mineralization and adjust your Tesoro accordingly as you move.
The amazing thing about this machine is that it comes with a lifetime warranty. This means that the manufacturer is very confident about the quality of his product.
The Tesoro Lobo comes with a 10” elliptical search-coil. Coils with other sizes are also available.
You need eight AA batteries to power it up. Depending on many factors such as their quality, you can use this machine for 20 or 30 hours before having to replace the batteries.
In conclusion, this Tesoro has an automatic ground balance and a life-time warranty. However it is a little bit outdated, has a low operating frequency and the way the control housing is installed isn’t ergonomic.
Removable control box Frequency 17.8 kHz only
Auto ground balance No screen
Control box not ergonomic
How much money can you make from prospecting?
In this bonus section, I will tell you about three massive gold nuggets that have been discovered recently by people who used gold detectors just like the ones I have discussed in this article.
I hope you find these stories motivating. These are real stories by real people. You can be like them one day if you look for the goodies smartly and you get the right tools. So here, we go…
The Butte nugget weighs 6.07 pounds (2.75 Kg). It is pure and it contains no quartz. The nugget is waterworn. However, it was away from any watercourse. The man who found it refused to disclose his identity to the media and to share the exact location where he made his discovery.
The only thing we know is that the nugget was found in the Butte county California in 2014 by a man using a gold detector. It was lodged of 12 inches under the surface. The make and the model of the device used was also kept secret. One of the few people who knew the prospector’s real identity said that he is experienced and he knows how to handle multiple metal detecting devices.
A collector bought the Butte nugget after it was displayed at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show for 400,000$! This is an estimation. The buyer wanted to remain anonymous and he didn’t want to disclose how much he paid for the nugget.
Duck foot nugget
A retired man discovered a large chunk of gold that weighs roughly 3.23kg (7.12 pounds) and looks like a duck’s foot. After removing the impurities attached to it, they found that it contains 2.11kg of gold (4.65 lbs). This huge nugget is worth at least $110,000.
The prospector, who didn’t want to be named, said that he knew the location where he found the nuggets very well and he scanned it multiple times with his metal detector. He only got a signal after he upgraded his tools. The nugget was located 2.62 feet under the ground. He kept digging for more than two hours until he was able to unearth it.
Rob Anderson, one of the prospector’s friends, said that that this is not the first time his friend discovers gold nuggets. He considers him as a specialist in this field. This discovery also shows that gold is always there waiting for you, even in spots that people think they had been hunted to death.
The “You Wouldn’t Believe It” nugget
This is the most recent discovery on this list. It was found recently in 2019. The nugget weighs 4.4 pounds (2 kg). And it has a value of about $130,000. It was buried 1.47 feet under the surface. Like all the discoveries in this article, the man didn’t share his identity and refused the share the location where he found his nugget. He believes that he can find more nuggets on the same spot.
Mark Day, of Gold Ballarat, said that the finder is one of his customers. He is an amateur prospector who found the nugget using a metal detector. He came to the store and showed him his find. He was shaking like a leaf and he couldn’t sleep for three days.
What’s special about prospecting devices?
In this paragraph, I’ll tell you what features an ideal prospecting device should have and why we can’t use any beginner’s all-around device for this type of hunting.
I hope this paragraph helps you pick the best metal detector for gold.
Processed gold (chain, bracelet, watch…) is big enough to be detected easily by any entry-level machine.
But, if it’s raw it can be as small as a match-head and even smaller. And because the tiniest amount of gold is precious, you don’t want to miss these flakes.
Therefore, the detector should as sensitive and accurate as possible.
Entry-level devices are not that precise. Only an advanced machine can do this task.
Nuggets are usually found in places with high mineralization that can interfere with the detector giving you false signals.
The machine will go haywire and it will become unusable.
To solve this problem, metal detectors were fitted with what is called ground balancing capability.
It allows the machine to ignore these parasite signals and focus only on those coming from the buried metal object.
Since the soil composition changes drastically from one place to the other, ground balancing needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Beginner’s devices can’t do that, because this setting is preset to work with dirt having a standard composition.
This why you need a specialized tool. Ground balancing can be adjusted automatically or manually.
Because the gold is so expensive, the tiniest piece of it has a lot of value. So you want to find these.
That’s why you need a device that has a high operating frequency. The higher the frequency the higher the sensitivity for small nuggets.
The frequency of many of gold detectors is ranging somewhere between 18 kHz and 71 kHz.
This is way higher than the frequency of regular machines (8 kHz only on average).
I hope this helped you understand more about prospecting detectors. In the following paragraph, I’ll talk about detectors that can be used to look for processed gold.
But that’s not all, I still have some pro tips for prospectors. So stay tuned!
Which search coil is the best?
If you want to become a professional prospector, you need to have a variety of coils to get the most out of your machine.
Scan the same spot with each coil to make sure no nuggets are left.
The search coils available on the market come in different shapes and sizes.
Each one of them has a particular use. They’re like a spoon, a fork, and a knife. Each one of them has a different usage.
Generally, small coils are more sensitive to small metal objects and they can be used in tight spots.
However, the area they scan and the depth they can reach is limited.
Large coils can go deeper and scan a larger area per sweep but they’re less sensitive to small nuggets and they’ll have to deal with more minerals.
Where to prospect?
As I said earlier, having the right tools is only one part of the formula. You still need to go to the spots where you can find the money making good stuff.
If you’re a beginner, don’t worry. The pros did half of the job for you.
I’m sure you’re wondering how? Right?
Ok. Here’s how…
Have you heard of the term “gold rush” before?
Since you’re reading this post, I guess you did.
People used to come from all over the place looking for treasures. Back in the day, they didn’t have metal detectors.
They used primitive prospecting technics like panning. After processing the load, they will trash what they think is useless.
However, the piles of trash they dumped are full of gold, which is hidden inside the small rocks.
All you have to do is go to these spots and hit with your coil. That’s it.
Didn’t I tell you that the pros did half of the work for you?
You can also find gold veins inside the walls of abandoned mines. In the past, they didn’t have the technology to find them.
But, now you have a brand new detector and you should be able to find them.
Prospecting devices depth range
The depth a gold detector can reach depends on the size of the nugget. The larger the nugget the deeper it can be detected.
For example, you can’t detect a grain-sized nugget if it is more than two inches deep.
Larger ones with the size of a coin or more can be detected even if they’re 10 inches deep.
Detectors for processed gold
Gold can be used to make all sorts of stuff. You can find rings, watches, necklaces and even gold bars in a treasure cache.
If you’re looking for this type of gold, most entry-level metal detectors should do the job. I listed below three of the best ones. If you want more details, you can check out this article.
Bounty hunter TK 4
If you’re looking for something reasonably priced, go for the bounty hunter 4.
You can set the discrimination to ignore iron trash and focus on gold.
Doing that is easy, you only have to adjust the discrimination level and mode.
It will also beep when it detects silver, coins or anything with high conductivity.
In order to be able to detect small objects made out of gold like (necklace head), you have to adjust the sensitivity as high as possible.
It has a loudspeaker, you can also use any headphones if their plug’s size is 1/4″.
Using headphones is recommended if you want to extend battery life. By the way, the detector needs two 9V batteries.
Ground balance is preset so it’s not the best choice for prospecting in a highly mineralized area.
In that kind of places, you need a device with automatic or manual ground balancing.
The advantage that the Fisher F22 has over the competition is its weatherproof capability.
The crushing majority of the entry level-detectors have waterproof search coils. But, the rest of the detector isn’t water resistant.
The control box of the Fisher F22 can withstand rain or being splashed.
The coil’s connector has an O-ring and the headphones jack can be covered with a rubber cap to prevent water from getting in.
It has a nice looking LCD screen which helps identify the nature of the buried metal along with other info.
The second part of the legend on the screen’s upper part is named Gold.
If the detector indicates that something is within that range, it doesn’t mean necessarily it is.
It can be anything with a similar conductivity.
It’s a helpful feature if you master it. If you think the buried metal that you’ve detected is precious, dig it. If not, you can keep going.
In addition to the visual indication, this metal detector can emit four different tones to give you an idea of what the target can be.
Garrett ACE 300i
The Garrett ACE 300 has a waterproof search coil. Its size is 7″ x 10″. You can mount a larger coil if you’re looking for deep big objects like treasure caches.
The depth indicator will tell how deep the target is. However, keep in mind that this is an estimation based on bottle cap sized objects.
For large objects, like a jar full of ancient gold coins, the reading on the depth indicator can tell you that it’s shallower than what it really is.
To locate the target precisely, you can use the pinpoint button.
The ACE 300 runs on four AA batteries. You can make them last longer by using 1/4“ headphones.
Headphones with good quality soundproofing or noise canceling help you better focus on the audio signals coming from the machine.
This metal detector has a handful of preset discrimination modes. You can select the jewelry or make your custom mode if you’re looking for gold.
Having good tools is one important part but it’s not everything. You need to have a good methodology to increase your chances of finding something precious.
You have to think about scenarios and spots where people can lose jewelry.
For example, people can lose rings when they throw a ball in a baseball field. I have a detailed guide for metal detecting sport’s fields here.
Metal detectors have hard times distinguishing between rings and pull-tabs. So you’ll have to dig a lot of trash before finding what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a treasure cache full of gold, I suggest you lower your expectation. This doesn’t happen often.
And you lack the most important thing in the process. That is the treasure map!
To conclude, if you’re looking for jewelry pick one of these. They are affordable and will do exactly the task required.
If you’re looking for nuggets, then you need a more advanced machine. And you will never find something better than the Minelab GOLD MONSTER 1000. In my opinion, it is the best and it crashes the competition.
If you have any question, leave them in the comments below.