What is a Good Gold Prospecting Metal Detector for Under $500?

Most gold nuggets measure in millimeters and grams not inches and ounces!

Most gold nuggets measure in millimeters and grams not inches and ounces!

“I want to get into prospecting for gold with a metal detector but I am on a budget.  What metal detectors would you recommend?”

Typically to get a really good gold prospecting metal detector, you should be prepared to pay $600 or more whereas a good coin shooting metal detector can be purchased for around $250.  Most of the people who are looking to buy a gold prospecting metal detector understand this is a tool of the trade and not something you want to skimp on.  Finding gold when metal detecting takes a lot of time and energy.  Time is valuable when gold prospecting with a metal detector.  Having the right tools will help you have more success in the field and waste less time and energy.

What makes a gold prospecting metal detector so much more costly than a standard metal detector?

Simply put it is all in the technology.  There are two things your detector will most likely need when metal detecting for gold.  They are:

  1. The ability to tune out heavily mineralized soil (Ground Balance).
  2. Higher kHz to find smaller gold pieces.

Ground Balancing - Ground balancing is a term used to describe the act of tuning your metal detector in so it will ignore the surrounding mineralized soil. Basically it is a form of discrimination.  How this is done on a metal detector varies from detector to detector.  Some use a knob and some use a button tuning.  In essence you are discriminating out all of the mineralized soil while still being able to detect any anomalies in that soil.  Over adjustment can result in a severe loss of depth and sensitivity.  This is why a detector with an actual ground balance is better than trying to use the detectors discrimination feature.  It is more of a fine tuning mechanism. Finding Fine Gold - Just about any detector will find a huge honking nugget.  But as we all know, most nuggets are not huge.  They are small, often measuring in millimeters and grams not inches and ounces.  For example, if you use a cheap metal detector and do an air test using a small stud earring, you will quickly find that you have to be virtually on top of the detector to get a signal.  This is because most VLF detectors operate in a lower frequency (somewhere between 6-9 kHz).  Most gold prospecting detectors are 12 kHz or more. When it comes to finding small gold, the higher the better. The Fisher Gold Bug II is one of the most popular small nugget finders weighing in at 71 kHz!

Okay, so, what is a good gold prospecting metal detector option on a limited budget?

The technology needed to find small flakes of gold while at the same time ignoring the mineral laden soil around it comes at a cost.  This gives the average hobby prospector only a few options when choosing a gold prospecting metal detector…especially to find one under $500.   Fortunately there are is at least one company that has realized this dilemma and come up with a good, cost effective option for the budget minded prospector. There are plenty of good detectors out there.  But our factors were only Cost (under $500), kHz (over 12 kHz), and Ability to Ground Balance (manual preferably).  After looking at all of the metal detectors we offer, only one emerged victorious:

Tesoro Vaquero $446 – At 14. 7 kHz 

Vaquero Metal Detector

During the design phase of the Vaquero (pronounced va-care-oh), Tesoro knew that it was going to be a very hard working detector. It is designed as an all-around detector, able to do just about everything that any detectorist could want to do. Vaquero is the Spanish word for cowboy. When we think of hard work and the ability to take on any kind of tough job, we think of the cowboys of the old west.

The main part of the Vaquero’s versatility is its three and three-quarters manually adjusted ground balance. This will give the detectorist the power to set up his machine to best suit the mineralization conditions that he is working in and his personal treasure hunting style. The Vaquero adds an ED180 discrimination feature to filter the trash from the treasure and a Push Button Pinpoint that makes digging up the goodies that much easier. The discriminate knob is also used to switch into a threshold-based All Metal Mode.
  • MicroMAX Design
  • VLF 14 kHz Frequency
  • One Drop-in 9V Battery
  • Variable Threshold
  • 3 3/4 Turn External Ground Balance
  • Ultra-lightweight Design
  • 9×8 Monolithic Coil
  • 3-Piece Knockdown Pole
  • Lifetime Warranty
Operating Frequency 14.3 kHz, 14.5 kHz, 14.7 kHz
Searchcoil Type Monolithic (Carbon Fiber)
Searchcoil Size 9 x 8
Cable Length Approx. 3′
Audio Frequency Approx. 293 Hz or VCO
Audio Output 1 1/2″ speaker and headphone jack
Headphone Compatibility 1/4″ stereo plug
Weight (may vary slightly) 2.2 lbs
Battery Requirement One 9 Volt DC (alkaline)
Battery Life (typical) 10 to 20 hours
Optimum Temp. Range 30 degrees to 100 degrees F
Optimum Humidity 0 to 75% R.H.
Operating Modes Threshold-based All Metal
Silent Search Discriminate
Pinpoint Mode All Metal Fast Auto-Tune


Are All of The Good Metal Detecting Spots Hunted Out?

Old structures like this provide excellent opportunities to find relics and valuables alike!

Old structures like this provide excellent opportunities to find relics and valuables alike!

One of the most common questions I get from people who just started or are just now getting into metal detecting is, “Is there anywhere left to hunt?”  The answer is YES!

There are metallic traces of man scattered all across the globe.  Historically trash service is not a common thing…trash cans either for that matter.  And the term “green planet” when referring to environmental protection is something developed within the last half century.  Before the important developments, man was not so responsible when it came to discarding refuse.  Although sad, even to this day, it is not uncommon to find “dumps” along dusty roadsides in rural America.  Just about any farm that has been around for any length of time has a dump pile nestled within a culvert out of public view.  This being said, the number of buried targets in the world are literally unimaginable.

But I have seen other people metal detecting the site, did they get everything?

No, they did not.  The truth of the matter is that even the best detectorists won’t get every target.  I have hunted sites that have be hammered by other very experienced detectorists for many years and still emerged with great finds.  Additionally, I have seen other people hunt sites I have hunted and emerge victorious.  This is not to say they have not “cherry picked” the property.  Cherry picking when metal detecting is the act of quickly skimming the property and digging only the really good targets.  If a property has been cherry picked by too many detectorists you will have little luck finding silver coins.  These are easy targets to determine.  Most likely the these easy targets are long gone.  But, some of the best targets are those that will confuse the novice.  For instance, if you are hunting an old site and not finding any coins, but still finding pull tabs from the 50′s then the site still has some useful life.  Since pull tabs will read much like a piece of gold jewelry, the site was likely detected by a novice and/or cherry picked.  The more difficult targets will still be present.

Is it a waste of time to metal detect in a park?

No.  I find that the park is the ideal place for a newbie to learn how to metal detect.  By metal detecting the park you will be exposed to all sorts of items, old and new alike.  I contend that a person can make enough money to feed themselves by metal detecting the park and “coinshooting” for modern coins daily.  There is no shame in hitting the “tot lot”.  Although some people quickly get bored recovering pull tabs and modern clad currency, there is still opportunity to be had.  I have been called to several parks to help people recover rings they had lost.  There is no telling how many times that happens and the ring is never found or the person forgot even where they even lost it.   I am not ashamed to admit, if I am short on time and it is nice out, I will still occasionally metal detect our local parks.  Typically they are places where people accumulate which means they are constantly being “reseeded”.  Obviously, the older the park the better.

Okay, so where is the best place to metal detect?

That depends on the person and what type of treasure interests them.  For instance, I like to hunt for relics as much as I do anything else.  I love pulling old, interesting items out of the ground.  Half the time I don’t have a clue what they are until I have had time to research the item.  This research process can be as fun as the metal detecting hunt itself!  The good thing about relic hunting is there is always a chance to dig up something of real value too.  For this type of metal detecting you are best to detect around old structures.  This may include old farmsteads, old urban areas, churches, or even ghost towns.

For the person who is just in it for the loot, I recommend beach hunting.  People are always re-seeding beaches with rings, earrings, bracelets, and of course coins.  In terms of an investment of time, I don’t think much else pays better than beach hunting.

What are some tips to help me get the most out of a metal detecting site?

Mix it up a little bit.  I have hunted the same sites multiple times over the years and continue to get enjoyment from doing so.  If the site has not been detected before, I like to start by doing a clean up mission.  This is especially true if the site has a lot of trash as in the instance of an old abandoned farm site.  Often these building were demolished either by nature or by the cause of man.  Neither are very tidy during demolition.  This site will be littered with trash.  I find that by eliminating as much of the trash as possible, I will open the ground up for more scrutinized metal detecting down the road.  The initial clean up mission may be conducted with a smaller coil.  This helps me separate metal detecting targets and focus on the good targets.  Likewise I will eliminate any shallow targets.  The next time I may step up to a larger coil for more depth.  The same goes for “hunted out” sites.  Most likely previous detectorists are using their stock concentric coil and most likely a cheaper metal detector.  Using a larger coil or a more sophisticated detector will help you peel back dirt to reach untouched layers of soil.  This being said, always pack out your trash.  It will make later hunts much more enjoyable.

What is the one “secret to success” you would tell someone who is just getting into metal detecting?

Get outside and dig!  Continually I see the people who get out the most are those with the biggest and best collection of metal detecting trophies.  Some people are obsessive with the hobby (ahem, Scrap Iron). They are the die-hards.  The first one in the field, the last one out.  The guy who digs more wins in this sport.  This hobby take people getting out in order to succeed.  You have to get out to metal detect, you have to get out and meet people, and you have to get out to find sites.  That is the one and most-important secret to success in metal detecting:  GET OUT!

Civil War Buckle Found Metal Detecting and Silver

Bn this video Scrap Iron, Randy, and Kevin are still on a 3-day metal detecting binge. On this particular day they had lined up several small older houses in a town rich in pre-Civil War history. Although no major civil war battles occurred here, there was plenty of skirmish.

The Border Wars of the West – Kansas vs. Missouri, the Feud Continues!

This memorial stands as a reminder of the many burnt structures within the "Burnt District" of Missouri.

This memorial stands as a reminder of the many burnt structures within the “Burnt District” of Missouri.

The Civil War on The Western Border (the real border war)

Most people reading this are familiar with the civil unrest that occurred along the border of Kansas and Missouri prior to the first official battle of the Civil War.  What they may not realize is that this region was the actual flashpoint of the American Civil War.  Prior to the first official battle of the war (Battle of Fort Sumter), Kansas had experienced this civil unrest constantly from the mid 1850′s through the beginning of the war.  The unrest involved two political parties:  The Freestate Men of Kansas, and the Pro-Slavery Secessionists of Missouri.  The war revolved around multiple different issues, most notably whether or not Kansas would be admitted into the Union as a state free from slavery or as a Southern, pro-slavery state.

Although slavery was not the only issue of the war, it was by far the most front-and-center.  If nothing else, it served as a valid reason for Freestate Militiamen to “jayhawk” pro-slavery “rebels” to supply their own war needs.  Jayhawking was a process during which involved looting and destroying the property of those with opposing viewpoints.  In Missouri, certain counties (Jackson, Bates, Cass, parts of Vernon) were subject to Order 11.  This order  required “all persons” living in Jackson, Cass, Bates, and northern Vernon counties “remove from their present places of residence.”  This order came in quickly and resulted in the immediate uprooting of almost every home and farm in the region within just a mere 15 days. Many did not find out about the order until only days before having to vacate.  After the counties were evacuated, Union soldiers were permitted to confiscate commodities and anything left on the farms to prevent their falling into the wrong hands.  This had very little effect as both soldiers and bandits alike regularly pillaged and burnt anything in sight.  The area later became known as the “Burnt District”.  For those who were able to return back to the area, most returned only to the charred remains of their farms.  The region was pock marked with destroyed dwellings with nothing left but the chimney stack as a reminder of what they once had.

Why is this relevant to the sport of metal detecting you ask?  Because there are countless homesites and small ghost towns scattered along this region to metal detect.  Whenever banks are few and far between and you are forced to stash your valuables quickly, places like this are prime for the picking.

Of the two modern border wars between Kansans and Missourians, the economic war is just heating up!

Of the two modern border wars between Kansans and Missourians, the economic war is just heating up!

The Current Economic Border War Between Kansas and Missouri

On a side note, in the latest series of skirmishes between Kansas and Missouri, the two are now battling for jobs, not slavery or secession…or college sports.  I heard the clip on NPR News this morning on my way to the shop and got a chuckle out of it.  I had recently been reading up on the Border War and was tracing its path and history very closely.  The “Economic Border War,” as it’s being coined, has been taking place for quite some time.   After all, when you have a large metropolitan area that straddles a state line, there is bound to be some stiff competition in some aspect.  As a business person I would not be swayed too much by the carrots these states put in front of us.  They are typically short lived and, in the end, are not usually a deciding factor in a business’ reason for choosing a location…they are just added bonuses.  As an existing business it is a good thing to have your state fighting to keep businesses in-state.  I am not too concerned and will move along to other, more important historical border conflicts between Kansas and Missouri.  None of this has anything to do with treasure hunting really, I just find it interesting we still cannot find peace across the border.

Of very little importance to treasure hunting, the sports border war between Kansas and Missouri sure is entertaining!

Of very little importance to treasure hunting, the sports border war between Kansas and Missouri sure is entertaining!

The Border War After The Civil War

Not long after the end of the American Civil War, began another conflict that would continue for over 100 years.   The University of Missouri was founded in 1839 and The University of Kansas was formed in 1866 shortly after the war.  Apparently Kansas were not done delivering their ass-kicking.  Below is a summary of the results of over 267 “skirmishes” in which the two states have encountered each other (courtesy Wikipedia).

Men’s Basketball
First Meeting March 11, 1907
Games Played 267
All-time series Kansas leads: 172–95

The basketball rivalry has really nothing to do with metal detecting, treasure hunting, or civil unrest for that matter.  But, I figured I would outline the history Kansas has of whipping up on Missouri!

Coronado National Forest, Arizona – Gold Prospecting Trip Gone Bad

Tn this video we were not prepared for what we found. Instead of a dry arid desert, we encountered a lush mountainside forest. Not expecting water, we only had metal detectors. In terms of success in prospecting, this trip was a bust but I figured some people out there may want to see video of the region…so I decided to throw a quick video together.