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Gold Prospecting With The Garrett Atx


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I have been out gold prospecting with the Garrett ATX recently and wanted to share my latest thoughts on the unit. That, and show off a particularly nice nugget I just found with the detector!

I got my ATX right at a year ago. The machine has easily paid for itself and remains one of my favorite detectors. With all the other new detectors I have been using lately I have not had it out enough however, and so I have made an effort to start using it again the last few weeks.

I guess my constant prospecting these days is making me tougher as I have no problem using the ATX for long hours with no extra support. Still, for long days I like to use a bungee support off the shoulder of my Camelback style rucksack. Garret was kind enough to send me a set of scuff covers for my coils, and I find the solid scuff cover for the stock coil to be very helpful. It prevents the coil from hanging up in stubble and in northern Nevada allows me to let the coil just ride on the ground. There usually is just a little grass or weeds that act as a buffer for smooth riding. If I get directly on hard rock surface I still pick up some coil falsing but not so much as when the bare coil edges would catch on rocks. The only issue with the solid cover is that it collects debris and must be shaken clean on occasion. I think I will get another scuff cover or even just a flat piece of plastic to fix in place over the top to prevent this from happening.

I have been using the headphone adapter so I can run the ATX with my Sun Ray Pro Gold headphones, which sound a bit better to my ear than the supplied headphones. The Garrett headphones are pretty good but I would rather keep them available for backup use. I have toyed with the idea of using my B&Z booster along with a shoulder mounted external speaker but have not quite got around to trying that yet. I think that would be preferable for long hours in very quiet locations. I like to hear what is going on around me.

Related to that, I normally run the ATX with a very faint threshold. I have also experimented a bit with running it set just barely quiet, and for patch hunting wandering around I am thinking I may do this more often. The performance edge lost is minimal, and I do enjoy the solitude and silence. Many days detecting for me is nothing more or less than a wonderful long hike over the hills in the middle of nowhere. No headphones and no threshold buzz just might be something I do more of in the future. I know, I should be preaching the opposite but my primary goal these days is enjoying myself and those little things make a difference. Being able to hear a wild horse in the distance or a coyote howl is important to me.

I usually dig it all but I do like the ferrous check function on the ATX. It can only be trusted on targets I really know to be junk anyway - nice loud surface signals. But maybe, just maybe that signal is a large shallow nugget! It is nice to push the button and get a solid ferrous indication from the ATX allowing me to work more efficiently in areas with lots of surface nails and other ferrous trash. I don't trust it on weak signals however, especially in very mineralized ground.

The waterproof part is nice but really not needed. What I do appreciate is being able to collapse the unit down into a compact package and toss it in my truck. That the ATX uses rechargeable AA batteries is also a bonus because I am starting to standardize on them. All other things being equal I try to get detectors or accessory items that use AA batteries, and I have a lot of AA batteries and chargers due to this. This makes having plenty of extras available for use in the ATX very simple and cost effective.

The bottom line is the Garrett ATX is a very capable nugget detector with good performance on a wide range of target sizes. I appreciate the solid, stable performance. I have got no problem going out and finding gold with the ATX. Better yet, I use the ATX for more than nugget detecting. It is my preferred water hunting detector and so in that regard a true bargain.

I was just out and hunting an area where I picked up a few nuggets with other detectors recently. I got the ATX out of the truck and wandered down to the wash. I had barely really got the unit ground balanced up and the soil I was walking on just looked like sandy mud with grass growing on it, so I decided to walk upstream a bit for a better location. I got a whisper of ground noise as I walked and a couple steps later stopped and thought "hmmmm... was that really a ground noise?" It had that little something and I was just assuming I did not have the ground balance spot on yet. I backed up and checked, and sure enough there was a soft signal in the grass. I gave a little dig and came up with a 0.7 gram nugget.

Well ok then, that was more like it. I started to work the immediate location and just six feet away got a largish signal, probably trash. I dug a bit and it was still in the hole. So I gave it a vigorous scoop and up pops a mud covered nugget. A large nugget! It later weighed in at 26.3 grams or 0.85 Troy ounces.

I was ecstatic. I have to tell you that nugget really means a lot to me. Why? Because the location I was hunting was nothing anyone pointed out to me. I was running around looking at some old prospects and had a theory going on the geology and where the gold was coming from. I decided the location would be good on my own just based on what I was seeing, and I scored a really great nugget. The satisfaction of figuring things out and making a good call means more to me than the nugget. It is what real prospecting is all about. The fact that it is also one of the nicest nuggets I have found so far in Nevada certainly does not hurt though. It is a beauty, solid and chunky with a nice kind of flat matte finish.

A bunch of hunting later and I scored another small 0.6 gram nugget, for a total of three nuggets and 27.6 grams with the Garrett ATX. I am sure there is more gold waiting out there to be found so can't wait to get back at it. Just a great time in great country, and I have to say I am not missing being in Alaska at all. This beats being in cold rain ate alive by bugs any time.

I am getting ready to have a major weeding out of detectors and accessories. My collection of gear has ballooned too far in excess of what I need, and in 2015 I want to just focus on detecting instead of detectors, if you catch my drift. I need a few good machines to cover the bases for my varied detecting needs, but all the rest need to go. I am not much on clutter. One thing I do know for sure though, and that is that the Garrett ATX has earned a permanent spot in my collection. In particular I plan on being on California storm watch this winter, and at the first sign of major beach action I am grabbing the ATX and heading for the coast. The California beach boys will be seeing a new face this winter. And I am very sure there are many more nugget hunts in the future for me and the Garrett ATX.

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Congratulations on the notches on the ATX Steve and finding the patch with honest prospecting/research, that's sure is one nice looking nugget and the size is a BIG plus!!

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Steve, nothing prettier than a nugget that is brought to light after being buried for eons. Congrats

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Congrats on the nice gold.

Any hot rock issues with the ATX out there?

 

The weather has been unseasonably warm and dry. I figure we will be seeing some more :"normal" weather by the end of this week.

Thanks everyone. There were days of hunting with no gold found of course but it is just so pleasant here even not finding gold is fun.

No hot rocks the ATX could not easily handle. It actually seems to do better with basalt type rocks than the Minelabs.

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Great finds Steve. I found some real good nuggets with my ATX last summer and am glad to hear your endorsement of this detector as I respect your opinions. Wish I was in Nevada instead of rainy Washington. 7 more years until retirement then I hope to see you out there!! David

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Beautiful nugget Steve! As far as beach erosion...I recomend you check out the Kinzli forum. Tom Tanner (Tom in Salinas) Has the conditions down to a science. He has a write up as a sticky on the subject,and usually will post in advance when upcoming conditions look good for erosion. If I remember when he does, I will let you know. Apparently it takes more thsn a big storm...swells of a certain size need to come from certain direction,blah,blah,lol. I dont beach hunt,ha. Ray

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Good on ya Steve.  For the past few months I've been following your same approach of researching and studying geological maps and documents.  So far I don't have much gold to show for it, but I've hiked to some very interesting areas where modern prospectors don't go.  Learning local history is very interesting too, but I'm hoping the gold is going to start showing up soon.

 

You probably know all about them by now, but the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology up near the TMCC campus is a good resource.

 

- Bob

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Congratulations on the gold Steve. I understand the satisfaction you have experienced especially finding the larger piece. It's not so easy to move into a new area and independently establish your own promising search locations... particularly sites where there has been an absence of other prospectors.

 

Do you mind my asking... do you recollect if you were able to run the ATX sensitivity at maximum at all? Thanks for sharing your latest adventure.  :)

 

Jim.

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      I do own both detectors and there is a simple reality here. If I am going looking for gold in the water, be it jewelry or nuggets in a creek, I will grab the ATX. For any other prospecting, the vast majority of it, I will be using the GPX 5000. I am not sure where the line between casual and serious is, but I am way, way over on the serious side. I spend a great deal of time targeting and hunting deep ground looking in areas where very large nuggets have been found historically. Most of the ground I detect I am hunting because it has produced nuggets weighing a pound or more in the past. I hunt tailing piles a lot so bedrock is tens of feet down, and the gold can be at any depth from shallow to extremely deep.
      I think most professionals would tell you that small gold is what happens along the way while looking for the big stuff, and at the end of the day it is the big stuff or the lack of it that makes the difference. I found over thirteen ounces of nuggets metal detecting in 2013 which is no great sum of gold in my book, but well over half of it was in the form of two nuggets, one weighing 6.5 ounces and the other 2.37 ounces. Now in this case the ATX would have found both these nuggets. Yet I would not use anything but a Minelab GPX for what I am doing. I am spending a lot of valuable time going over ground that I may only get one shot at. I plan these things well in advance and not only time but good money is invested in taking my best shot at getting good results. I basically cannot afford to be running anything that I feel does not give me the best chance of delivering that make or break it big nugget. One nugget can make all the difference between a month of lackluster results and fantastic success.
      If both the Garrett ATX and Minelab GPX 5000 detectors had exactly identical electronic performance I would still be swinging the GPX. I am on one hand very impressed with the ATX as a nugget detector and on the other hand very disappointed by it. The up front decision to use the Recon AML-1000 housing is an automatic fail from a nugget detecting perspective in my opinion. It adds not only needless weight but weight that is very much an impediment in rough, uneven terrain. This is accentuated by a stock coil that is sensitive to knocks and bumps. It requires an extra level of coil control to manipulate the detector in such a way as to not produce excessive false signals. This differs from Minelab coils that basically do not false at all unless something is wrong with them. I would caution anyone using a detector the way I do that the ATX requires extra care as regards the possibility of repetitive motion injury. Trust me as somebody who detected too much one year and ignored the signs this is something to regard seriously. A harness is a must for weeks of long daily use of the ATX. I shudder to think about how the detector feels with the 20" long rear mounted mono coil hanging off the front. That is an ergonomic nightmare.
      The ATX features silicone lubricated battery door o-rings that collect dirt. The coil connectors also have o-ring seals and even worse delicate pin connectors subject to damage if not carefully lined up. The headphone connector is similar to the coil connectors. All these are required to make the detector waterproof and not only unneeded for normal dry land use but an impediment as regards serviceability in the field.
      The coils are sold as a unit with the telescoping rod assembly adding needless expense and weight and making carrying an extra coil around something to be avoided. The rear mount enables the ability of the detector to fold up but is another weak point from a serviceability aspect and ergonomically the worst way to mount a coil.
      I always considered ergonomics to be the easy low hanging fruit for anyone considering manufacture of a detector to compete with the Minelab PI series, and I am frankly amazed anyone could make something even heavier I am less excited about handling. It is an absolute fact I would put the GPX aside for an alternative, even if that alternative was next best in overall gold ability, if it offered a big advantage ergonomically. I in fact often do decline to "harness up" and set the GPX aside in favor of a lightweight VLF at times because I am just too tired or not in the mood. More importantly, in steep terrain bedrock is often shallow and so when hunting hillsides and slopes there really is no advantage to using a GPX in ground only inches deep.
      I would very gladly use a properly designed Garrett ATX instead of a Minelab GPX in many situations that I currently encounter. In particular areas where bedrock is less than a foot deep or in areas where large nuggets have historically never been seen. The only reason right now that is not going to happen is I do not want the ATX on my arm. Yes, the ATX has an inherent advantage on small gold but nothing I can't negate by putting on a small mono coil and running the GPX hot. No, in my opinion Garrett missed a major opportunity to wow somebody like me by putting a fantastic prospecting circuit in a package very inappropriate for the target audience.
      Metal detectors are tools. Now the fact is that for the average person Craftsman tools do just fine and represent good value. But the guy making his living with his toolbox is probably going to be investing in Snap-on tools. It is an apt analogy accentuated by the real performance difference that exists between the Garrett ATX and Minelab GPX detectors on the kind of gold most pros are looking for. The vast number of accessory coils and other aftermarket options on top of a well proven platform makes it an easy decision for the serious prospector. Minelab makes a tool designed specifically for a certain job. The Garrett ATX unfortunately I feel is a duck out of water when employed for normal prospecting uses.
      I do have to say my hat is off to Garrett for producing a detector that is the first to really give Minelab a run for the money. I hope they do follow up and produce a model expressly designed from the ground up as a dry land prospecting machine. It may well become my primary prospecting detector if they do so. If you have read this review carefully you should understand the issues involved. For many people wanting maximum bang for the buck a Garrett ATX straight up and used properly is a real bargain in a PI prospecting machine. It can and will find gold and find it very well. The guys like me (you know who you are) that probably already have a Minelab PI plus extra coils, batteries and so forth can continue waiting for the next big thing in nugget detecting. You may also consider the Garrett for exactly the reason I did. It is waterproof, and currently is the closest thing you can get to a Minelab PI in a waterproof package.
      In closing I am curious to see how both detectors do for me this year. The ATX has the lead with about 2.5 ounces of gold and platinum jewelry found so far. I plan on using it often to hunt jewelry every chance I get in 2014. The GPX I will once again be taking to Alaska for a couple months of nugget detecting which may or may not pay off with a large nugget found. I will be hunting the right places but large gold is rare almost anywhere you go. Given the lead the ATX already has the GPX has its work cut out for it so it should make for an interesting year. For those of you trying to decide between these two very fine metal detectors I can only sympathize and count my blessings for not having to make such decisions. However, I hope this helps you with your decision because I have done my best to try and do just that. Good luck and good hunting!
      2020 Note: Since this review was written in 2014 the price for the ATX was remained the same, while the price for the Minelab GPX 4500 and GPX 5000 have both come down considerably. This does change the value proposition offered by the Garrett ATX, especially as regards the Minelab GPX 4500, which can now be had for only a few hundred dollars more than an ATX.
      Detailed information on the Garrett ATX
      Detailed information on the Minelab GPX 5000
      Great video by another party (a Garrett dealer) confirming the above results at another location with a different large nugget....
       
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