Many years ago when I first began hunting for gold nuggets with a metal detector I found it to be quite frustrating at times. It seemed like it took forever before I could finally understand and sort out the sounds my detector was making and when I finally had my equipment mastered I faced the next problem, where to go? Living in Arizona near Phoenix I had already been dry washing in the placer areas near my home and had found a fair amount of gold, both fine gold and several nuggets and I thought this would be a good place to start. I hunted the washes and tailings just like I had learned, but the nuggets were few and very far between.
At that point I began trying to find more information about the placer areas near my home and picked up a book that changed everything. The book was Placer Gold Deposits Of Arizona, by Maureen G. Johnson. In it I found detailed information about all the major placer areas in Arizona. Looking up the San Domingo Placers near my home I discovered that in this area gold had also been found in the shallow hillside gravels and on the tops of the low mesas between gulches. Armed with this new information I began working the hill sides above the heavily worked washes and immediately began finding not just one or two nuggets a month, but several each outing!
The key I think was learning about the placer, location, topo maps, geological map, access, extent, production history, and then the names of the sources and literature are given. All of this information is most important to today's nugget-shooter and can make a big difference when you are hunting a new state or area. Some of the most important information about a placer is the size, area and where the gold was concentrated. For instance, the gold may have been 10 feet deep and not reachable with a detector, but in a case like this the dry wash tailings may be a worth while bet.
There are many books on the market to help those new to the metal detecting game and my advice is "the more you read the better". But if I was to recommend a couple they would be the placer deposit books by either, Johnson or Wilson for the state you are interested in. I also spend a lot of time researching hard rock mining areas looking for places "free" gold was extracted. These old abandoned mines can produce gold on the hill sides as float and in the ore dumps. Sometimes, spectacular specimens can be found. Information on these areas again comes from publications.The Bureau Of Mines for most gold producing states will have a lot of this info available. Contact them and they usally have booklets published on the subject.
Another great source of info is the local resident or old timer. This is where you can find areas that are not in the books. Most literature written about placers pertains to those that were economically important. So all those areas that produced under several thousand dollars worth of gold are not listed. Local residents near these smaller placers often are quite willing to share the information with you and may even give directions to the area. Or sometimes you get fed the old bull story and that can make for a day of just plain enjoying scenery.
The local library is a very good spot to get information also, here you will find articles in magazines, books, newspapers, etc. Just the mention of a mine or wash can put you into a good area that another nugget hunter hasn't discovered. You may follow a couple false leads, but that will all be forgotten when you find that first "patch" of a dozen or more nuggets! My first whopper was found on a hillside above a small wash I found mention of in a newspaper article about a local resident finding several ounces of gold in the wash. You see the old timers could not work the scattered gold on most hill sides with a dry washer and it is still there waiting for somebody to swing a metal detector over it.
The world wide web is also a great place to find info on gold prospecting and there are several sites dedicated to helping in your quest. I would go into how to access that info but if you are reading this it appears you have that mastered. This is the place to find all kinds of access to publications that can't be found in most book stores and my site is no exception with many articles to help, also Forums like the one at this site can also be invaluable to the begginer and pro!
Now that you've decided where you want to go make sure to pick up the topographic map[s] and, if you have one, plan your route with a GPS. You will find that when you get to one of these areas if you don't have a map it is very hard to find your way in the maze of roads and trails typical of most mining districts. A GPS makes it a sure shot if you pre-set your target location from the map and it also helps to set in landmark's at turns as you will find that there have been several new trails added or subtracted since the map was printed.
I feel that if this article helps just one person avoid some of the frustration I felt early on in my nugget hunting days it has served it's purpose. Remember it is unusual for a fellow nugget hunter to tell of a good spot until he or she is quite sure they've gotten the good stuff unless they are a very close friend indeed. Doing research can put you into the paying areas and increase your finds. Good hunting.