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Treasure Hunting 101: Everything you Need to Start Prospecting
Mention the word 'prospecting' and most people think of Australia's Gold Rush era of the 1840s and '50s. And, while there isn't the frenzied search for life-changing gold deposits today as there was back then, prospecting, fossicking or treasure hunting still endures as a popular hobby. Not to mention the fact that "Australia remains the world's second largest gold producer" Salomae Haselgrove, Australian Mining.
If you'd like to try a bit of prospecting, it's important to know some of the basics before you head off and invest in a heap of equipment.
The first and possibly the most obvious step is to get yourself a metal detector.
As the team at Minelab explains, "Metal detectors work by transmitting an electromagnetic field from the search coil into the ground. Any metal objects (targets) within the electromagnetic field will become energised and retransmit an electromagnetic field of their own. The detector's search coil receives the retransmitted field and alerts the user by producing a target response in the form of an alert."
A good metal detector will be able to identify junk and valuable metals, meaning better-targeted searches and less disturbing of the natural environment. Because there are so many to choose from, though, it can be hard to know if you're buying the one that's right for you.
There are two main types of metal detectors: (1) Pulse Induction metal detectors (PI) and (2) Very Low-Frequency detectors (VLF). When choosing between them, the most common things to consider are the kind of metals you plan on hunting for, your experience level and your budget.
Pulse Induction metal detectors
Pulse Induction metal detectors are an ideal choice for people who want to do gold detecting. PI metal detectors use a single coil to send and receive magnetic signals, and can go deeper into the ground than a VLF metal detector, increasing your chance of accurately detecting valuable metals. They also work better in heavily mineralised ground, as well as in saltwater at the beach.
When getting started in prospecting, there are some disadvantages with PI metal detectors you need to bear in mind. For example, they can be pretty difficult to use. You often have to rely on sound alone when prospecting because there are no visual aids to help identify what's located underground. This means there's a good chance you'll do a lot of digging without really knowing what you'll find - not ideal if you're a beginner.
PI detectors aren't the best choice if you want to do some general treasure hunting. Although they can send a signal pretty deep below the surface, they have a lot of trouble identifying coins, jewellery and other artefacts, so they're really not great at finding anything much beyond gold.
The final points to consider could be deal-breakers for people looking to take up prospecting as a hobby. PI detectors are pretty expensive (around the $5,000 mark) but, along with their cost, they're often quite heavy. For some people, lugging around a heavy metal detector all day for little reward might take much of the fun out of getting involved in prospecting.
Very Low-Frequency metal detectors (VLF)
The other type of metal detectors are Very Low-Frequency metal detectors. Where the PI uses a single coil, VLF detectors use two - one sends out a signal into the ground creating a magnetic field and then reacts to any metallic objects it detects below the surface, while the second coil acts as a receiver sending a signal to a control box that amplifies the signal and turns it into sound. Many VLF metal detectors feature LED screens for identifying any metal, reducing the chance of false alarms or digging away to find only old soft-drink cans and the like.
There are also some disadvantages in using VLF metal detectors. For instance, the signal of a VLF detector doesn't go as deep within the ground as a PI, and some can be a bit flaky at accurately identifying gold (unless purposely designed to detect gold).
Always check if the VLF detector you're considering works in highly mineralised water, as there are a few that aren't suited to certain types of lakes and waterways. Generally, VLFs aren't great at detecting objects in wet sand either, so they might not be the best option for the beach.
For beginners, VLF metal detectors have some serious advantages over PI units:
They cost much less than a PI detector and give you real bang-for-your-buck with LED screens and energy efficiency. They're also much lighter in weight, which reduces the chance of lower back strains and other muscle aches and pains while getting used to your metal detector.
VLF detectors - such as the Minelab Gold Monster 1000 - are much more versatile than a PI detector. They're more sensitive when it comes to detecting smaller objects and more resistant to electronic interference, so you can use them in a really wide variety of locations and settings. With their LED screens and sensitivity, they're much more intuitive when it comes to discerning between valuable metals and junk.
Prospecting and treasure hunting is lots of fun but, just like every other outdoor adventure activity, having the right accessories makes it even more enjoyable.
When you head off for a day of prospecting, always wear the appropriate clothes for the conditions, including durable yet lightweight footwear. Always wear sunscreen and a hat, pack sunglasses to protect your eyes, as well as plenty of water to keep you hydrated, and grab some nutritious snacks in case an attack of the munchies strikes or you feel low on energy across the day.
Along with the right clothes, sun protection and food, there's a range of important accessories you should include in your prospecting kit. Complement your metal detector with a pinpointer like the Minelab Pro-Find 35. A pinpointer is a hand-held detector that's used alongside a metal detector to help you more accurately locate your find. It can save you a lot of time and energy.
Additionally, you should make sure you have purpose-designed gloves to protect your hands from cuts and insect bites, digging tools for loosening soil, roots and rocks, and a carry bag or container for storing your treasure.
Including pencil and paper in your prospecting kit is another good idea. This enables you to make notes about your findings and their location, just in case you want to come back another time to continue your hunt. Many professional prospectors also use a handheld GPS tracker for obvious safety reasons as well as being able to plot successful prospecting locations for return visits.
Always have a first aid kit handy, as well as insect repellent, your mobile phone and back-ups batteries or a powerbank for any device you'll be using while you're out and about prospecting. If you're heading into the bush, make sure you let someone know where you're going before taking off.
Digging and fossicking
Protecting the natural environment is vital when treasure hunting, and in order to do so, you need to know the right way to dig. This involves cutting what's known as a 'plug'.
To dig a plug, use your digging tool to cut as deep as possible into the ground in the shape of a square. Lever or pry up the patch, then probe the soil for your find. When you've excavated your objects, refill the hole with loose soil and replace the plug patch in much the same way as you'd replace a divot on the golf course.
Learn the lingo
Part of learning the ropes when it comes to prospecting and treasure hunting is familiarising yourself with common terminology. Words like 'target' (an object sensed by a detector), 'discrimination' (a metal detector's ability to identify junk as opposed to precious metals and stones), 'fossicking' (digging for objects), 'all metal mode' (a setting on a detector that enables it to locate any kinds of metals below the surface) and 'ground balance' (the composition of the soil) all have unique meanings in the prospecting world.
Understanding what prospecting terminology means in this context will help you get the most out of your treasure hunting and prospecting.
There are some etiquette guidelines that you should always follow when fossicking and prospecting. For instance:
- Obtain a licence and then carry it with you at all times.
- Never fossick in national parks.
- Always ask for permission if you want to treasure hunt on private property.
- Leave all gates the way you found them.
- Whether on private or communal land, always fill in your holes after you've finished digging.
As already mentioned, fossicking in national parks is a major no-no. You must extend the same courtesy to heritage-listed parks, and you should never disturb or damage older structures, whether they appear to have a historical significance or not.
It's also considered good etiquette to check with the local council about any local rules around fossicking. Councils often have by-laws prohibiting metal detecting, so checking first is an easy way to avoid a fine.
Each state and territory in Australia has its own licensing requirements for prospecting and fossicking.
In Victoria, you need to carry a miner's right permit with you at all times, unless you're in an organised group already covered by a valid Tourist Fossicking Authority. Western Australia also uses a miner's right permit system.
Prospectors in Queensland are required to buy a fossicking permit while, in Tasmania, you'll need to obtain a prospecting licence.
In NSW, fossicking is generally allowed but you're required to carry a fossicking permit to go prospecting in a state park.
If you're in the Northern Territory, ACT or South Australia, you don't need a permit but remember that treasure hunting, fossicking and prospecting in national parks is banned right across Australia.
Places for fossicking
Not surprisingly, some of the best places for treasure hunting include old goldfields and former mineral exploration sites. Camping and sports grounds can also be fun places to fossick because there's a high chance you will come across artefacts that people have inadvertently left behind. Beaches, parks, playgrounds and picnic areas can also yield some quality finds.
Wherever you plan to fossick, make sure you keep the etiquette guidelines in front of mind, and respect the privacy of people around you.
Prospecting is a great hobby that doesn't adversely impact the sustainability of the natural environment. By selecting the appropriate equipment, staying safe and observing some basic etiquette rules, it's also a fantastic way to enjoy spending time outdoors with family and friends all year 'round.
You never know - you might even uncover the find of the century!
To get started asap, make sure you check out our great range of prospecting gear available in store or online!