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WWII 30 caliber shell leads the way to a gold nugget in the desert

By Capt. Dan McCarty

It was the end of April of 1993 and nine of us from the Havasu Gold Seekers club were headed east through the Standard Wash of the Mohave desert in our four wheel drive vehicles in search of the elusive yellow metal.

A few weeks earlier we had heard a story of three men from Parker, Arizona, who were hunting with metal detectors and found a three ounce nugget and two one ounce nuggets in the Standard Wash area just southeast of Lake Havasu City.

We had planed this trip a week earlier and were not about to let the fact that it was raining on this day, stop us from our hunt for the big gold nuggets we fantasized about.

There must be the big one out there that nobody has ever found we thought.

I was driving my Ranger 4x4 and had club member George Hunter with me. We followed the lead vehicle through the washes flowing with water from the rain and over jeep trails for about twelve miles from the turn off on highway 95.

We passed over several wooden cattle guards, saw water tanks and old barbed wire fences left from the 1920's when the old timers tried cattle ranching in the Mohave desert.

I had never been this far out in Standard Wash and was glad that Norlan Hunt and Denny Craig were leading the way because they had been all over the desert east of Lake Havasu City.

The rain stopped about the same time we reached an area where there was a gate opening of a old cattle fence and a wide spot next to the dirt road where everyone could pull off and park.

It looked like a promising spot because of the outcroppings of caliche we could see and the fact that others had been digging prospect holes all around the area.

The club members grabbed their metal detectors, digging tools, treasure aprons, head phones and started off in different directions. George and I were both using the same type of metal detector, the Tesoro Lobo, George was using the 10" elliptical widescan coil that comes with the Lobo and I was using the optional 7" nugget widescan coil. I prefer it because its smaller and lighter but I feel that I lose a small amount of depth with the smaller coil, but I think its a good trade off in some cases

I put my headphones on and started working my search coil over the wet desert floor. Right away I started finding the metal trash of the people who had been here before me, 22 caliber shells, nails, foil cigarette wrappers, razor blades and an occasional heel tack from some old timers boots.

After about an hour or so, I located a prospect hole someone had dug with a backhoe, it was 3 feet wide 3 feet deep and about 8 feet long. The dirt from the hole was piled up in a single pyramid shaped mound about 5 feet tall.

I like to hunt these type piles for nuggets missed by the prospectors who were there before me and possibly without the benefit of a good metal detector.

I set the discriminate level of my Lobo to the minimum level, as I always do when hunting for gold nuggets.

I have learned from experience that if you hunt in the all metal mode with your discriminate level at minimum, set your Auto/Mode switch in the middle or lower position, then just a quick bump on the retune switch will put you in momentary discriminate to test for hot rocks, black sand or the ever present boot tack from an old miners boot heel.

Match head sized gold nuggets will still come through with a good report if not too deep.

I started working my search coil over the pile, starting at the top and working my way down the sides. Then about a third of the way down one side I got a week signal of a target. Using my digging tool, I pulled away some of the dirt and rechecked the area. The signal was now louder so I bumped the retune switch for minimum discriminate and still heard the report and knew it could not be iron.

I removed some more dirt and rechecked until I had dug a ten inch wide hole sixteen inches deep then pulled out the target.

It was a 30 caliber brass shell with the year 1943 stamped on the primer end.

I had found dozens of these and 50 caliber shells all over the desert because the military used this area as a target range for military aircraft training during World War II.

Because of a lesson I had learned the year before about always double checking your dig for a possible second target, I stuck the 7 inch search coil back into the hole and moved it about and heard a definite signal of another target, also not iron.

Another shell I thought as I removed about another eight inches of soft soil from the hole with my hand and felt a heavy hard lump.

I ran the lump under the head of the Lobo coil and it sounded off very loud so I knew this was my target. It was covered with wet dirt and white caliche. I wiped it on my pant leg and eureka, there it was, the glint of gold. I wiped off more dirt and caliche to reveal that it was a solid piece of gold about one inch in diameter and at least one ounce, the biggest I had ever found.

I had found two quarter ounce nuggets before and was with a friend once when he found a half ounce with his Lobo, but this was the biggest I had seen since hunting in the Mohave desert.

I must have let out a yell when I realized what I had found because I saw George making a bee line toward me from a hill he was hunting 100 yards away.

After George saw what I had found, he started searching the same pile of dirt on the opposite side from the hole I had just dug. In about 5 minutes George lets out a yell that he's got one.

I go around the pile and see that he has small gold nugget about the size of a double match head.

Not as big as mine but enough to keep us jockeying for position on the pile to see what else we could find. We tore that small hill down with a rake a few inches at a time in hopes of finding the really big one, but after two more hours we could not find another speck of gold, then it started to rain again, we retreated to our vehicles and started home.

I have been back to the hills around that spot several times and have found dozens of nuggets. None as large as that one but I will keep going back with the hope of finding that bake potato size I know must be out there just waiting for some lucky prospector to find. Maybe it will be me.

Captain Dan McCarty