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Abandoned Trails in Silver Country

Introduction… 

Silver country represents a small part of a vast, heavily forested wilderness perched on the sprawling Precambrian Shield here in northeastern Ontario. Away from the small towns and villages, and widely scattered farms and rural homesteads, there exists a largely uninterrupted way of life in the more remote areas. There are uncounted miles of lonely country backroads, overgrown tracks leading to abandoned mining camps, innumerable rough timber lanes, and a virtually infinite tangle of winding trails that reach deeply into the distant forests. 

Nothing in my experience has been so completely companionable as the soft forest whisperings and the beckoning solitude that reigns over this ruggedly beautiful country. This is where my carefree days of autumn prospecting have been agreeably spent for many years. We returned again this year to unbounded, satisfying autumn days of kicking rocks, exploring and detector-prospecting adventures, followed by evenings spent evaluating silver ores while savoring hot coffee over blazing campfires.

Irrespective of silver recoveries, the flaming autumn colors of the boreal forest are the real treasure of the season. They persist for only a few short weeks, reluctantly yielding to the autumnal yellows of the tamarack, birch, and aspen in sharp contrast to the deep conifer greens. Scenery as depicted below accentuates your enthusiasm to get into the field, and pretty much ensures that an autumn prospecting trip to silver country is a memorable experience. 

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General Discussion… 

Unprecedented, persistently wet conditions eliminated any potential for a banner season, but nonetheless we did manage to find considerable worthwhile silver. In addition to an assortment of rich silver and associated minerals, my friend and occasional partner Sheldon Ward recovered a large, very high conductive native silver ore that we’ll take a closer look at shortly. Most of my quality silver finds were fairly small, although a specimen grade silver ore at five pounds was found during the final week of the trip, and frankly I felt very fortunate to get it. Larger material was recovered, for example a 24-pound highgrade silver ore from the same area, but these invariably were mixed ores co-dominated by cobalt and various arsenides, most notably niccolite as illustrated below. 

1343520684_2.6LBNICCOLITESILVERSFLOGDEEE14.JPG.2c240dbb6da159eeceadd8df9343147d.JPG

On a more positive note, we both found plentiful small silver generally ranging between one-half and ten ounces that added real weight to the orebag over the season’s duration. It is much easier to find small but rich, high character silver than is the case with larger material. Even so, specimen grade detectable silver in any size range is becoming increasingly difficult to find at many of the obvious, readily accessible sites nowadays.

The photo below is a pretty fair representation of the overall quality, although anything below a half-oz was excluded from this shot… such are not terribly photogenic beside larger samples. Some rich ‘nuggety’ ores were HCl acid-bathed to free the silver from carbonate rock, and all samples were subjected to a rotary tool circular wire brush to remove surface residues, followed by a dish detergent wash and rinse. 

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By way of a brief background explanation to readers unfamiliar with this prospecting application, we search for more valuable coin-size and larger pieces of silver. Natural native silver target ID is determined by physical and chemical factors such as silver purity, types of mineral inclusions, structure (for example, dendritic, plate, disseminate or particulate, sponge, nuggety or massive), size, shape, and the profile presented to the coil. Virtually all natural silver from this area will target ID from low foil up to a maximum of silver dime range. Only infrequently over the years have we found isolated, rare examples of our naturally occurring silver exceeding that range. 

The specimen depicted below is a commonplace example of silver typically recovered here. It isn’t terribly large or particularly handsome, but it is mostly comprised of native silver by weight. Its target ID is a bit elevated from the usual, but consider that even small changes to some of the more influential factors listed above can significantly alter target ID. I tend to pay minimal attention to it when evaluating samples. 

It was detected adjacent to an abandoned mining track that leads directly to a former mill site at the mining camp scene depicted above. No treatment required other than a leather glove rubdown followed by a soapy wash and rinse, in fact it looked quite presentable fresh out of the dirt. The darker material you see is heavily tarnished native silver that I intend to leave undisturbed. 

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Ground conditions also play an important role in determining target ID, and refer to factors such as the strength of non-conductive magnetic susceptible iron minerals present, ground moisture content, proximity of adjacent targets, and disturbed ground. These factors sometimes contribute to good silver at depth producing a VLF target ID within the iron range. 

Probably the best photo example available to me is a specimen found a few years back at good depth in tough magnetic susceptible diabase. It produced a predominantly iron target ID on the Fisher F75. It was detected in a fairly low trash area, the signal was suspect, and it was checked with the groundgrab feature. In this instance, there was no ground phase reduction to more conductive values as would be anticipated over rusty iron or a positive hotrock, and so the target was dug. 

The general rule of thumb over questionable weaker signals, regardless of groundgrab results, is to remove some material to acquire a stronger signal and target ID readout before making a decision to continue digging in our difficult, hard-packed rocky substrates, or to move on. If there is the least doubt, we dig the target to learn what actually produced the signal. 

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The specimen depicted below was found by eyesight while hiking along an old abandoned rail track. In the field our rock samples seem more attractive or valuable than they do once we return to camp, where we tend to view them far more critically. If they don’t look to have good specimen grade potential, my samples are either abandoned in an obvious place for others to find, or given away to visitors back at camp. But that’s just me, most hobbyists are more resourceful with unwanted samples, they’re refined by some, subjected to treatments, or slabbed, and ultimately sold. In any case, this rock didn’t terribly impress me and was placed with other discards on the picnic table. But nobody other than my wife seemed much interested in it, and that is how it came to be included here. 

In its original condition, it could only be described as nondescript, with very little showing on the surface prior to treatment. It did produce a broad solid PI signal, despite that the few surface indicators were non-conductive dark ruby silver pyrargyrite and to a much lesser extent what I suspect is the black silver sulfosalt stephanite. To see more, it was acid-washed to expose silver and associated minerals, cleaned-up with a rotary tool, followed by a dish detergent bath and clean water rinse. 

Both these minerals produce a good luster that makes them a bit more difficult to distinguish from native silver in a photo. But in reality it is easy to see the differences and do some simple tests to confirm if necessary. The acid treatment revealed that the sample does have a good showing of dendritic native silver, a timely reminder that metal detectors see what we initially can’t see inside rocks. 

140265756_2.2LBNATIVERUBYAGSFYGG17SAT2.JPG.1bbdcfae5e60d4c89fa9f542eec20a4b.JPG

Abandoned Trails, Minesite Tracks and Roadbeds…

Abandoned, frequently overgrown trails, mining tracks, and roadbeds provide convenient routes to prime detecting sites that otherwise would be much more difficult to access. But the important thing is that most such routes were built with discarded mine tailings to considerable depth, and contain good silver more frequently than you might think possible. Some snake through the bush to more remote areas, but the vast majority of these now abandoned routes were built to service existing minesites at the time. They were used to transport discarded rock to the tailing disposal areas, and silver ores to storage buildings and to mill sites, and generally to service other mining camp requirements. 

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We know from research and experience that silver was misgraded, inadvertently misplaced, or lost directly from spills to eventually reside on, within, or alongside these now abandoned trails and roadbeds. These mine tailings… frequently containing rich silver… were also used to build storage beds, minesite entrances, loading ramps, and as noted… routes to facilitate waste rock transport. All these offer excellent, obvious prospects to search with a suitable metal detector.

The nugget below, with several other pieces, was found in the tailings adjacent to the abandoned track in the photo above. Some good weather following a horrendous week of persistent heavy rainfalls prompted me to head out late one afternoon for some casual detecting. I had sampled those tailings earlier in the season but nothing by way of thorough searching. And while the silver was generally small, it had been surprisingly good quality. So I was looking forward to a few relaxing hours of detecting… nothing ambitious that late in the day… just happy to get out of camp.

That particular spot formerly housed silver storage beds, and was now replete with large rusty nails. I should have used a VLF unit, as things would have gone much more quickly. VLF motion all-metal detection depth in that moderate ferromagnetic substrate would pretty well match Infinium equipped with the 8” mono, with the further advantage of target ID and groundgrab features to assist with signal evaluation. If conductive pyrrhotite hotrocks had also been present, I would have switched over to my F75 or MXT to take advantage of target ID.

But I stayed with the Infinium primarily because I enjoy using it. By comparison it is slow going, but that isn’t such a bad thing over potentially good ground. It silences what can be described as VLF ground noise, in addition to sizable non-conductive mafic hotrocks in this area. It also has some limited high conductive iron handling capability, for example elongated iron such as drillrods or rail spikes at depth that VLF units using iron discrimination modes misidentify with perfectly good signals and non-ferrous target ID readouts. More information on this subject can be found at… http://forum.treasurenet.com/index.php/topic,384975.0.html http://forum.treasurenet.com/index.php/topic,385640.0.html

Nearly all the signals proved to be nails, plus one drillrod with a perpendicular profile to the coil. The silver below produced a low-high signal in zero discrimination and a good high-low signal in reverse discrimination (maximum available pulse delay setting) at maybe eight to ten inches depth. The exposed silver was unusually tarnished and the remainder partially embedded in carbonate rock. It was acid-bathed to free the silver, cleaned with a rotary tool silicon carbide bit and circular wire brush, followed by a detergent wash and rinse. 

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While searching one such abandoned route with his Fisher F75 equipped with the stock 11” DD elliptical coil, Sheldon Ward found a large highgrade silver ore comprised of a thick calcite vein containing massive dendritic native silver. The vein material weighs about 25 lbs, and was attached to a mafic host rock. It generated a moderate but broad signal from several feet depth, requiring an hour of hard pick and shovel work to recover it. It possesses an unusually elevated target ID in the silver quarter range. After 30+ years searching this area recovering numerous silver ores and nuggets, I've seen only a small handful of silver produce a similar target ID. 

On site we obviously have the benefit of closely examining the vein material, but it’s more difficult for readers to evaluate the silver based on photos only. Outdoor photos do tend to make native silver look much like grey rock, and unfortunately this one is smudged with dirt. I’ve added an indoor photo from Sheldon that displays the vein material after it was separated from the host rock and cleaned.

Sheldon if you happen to be reading along here, congratulations on your many superb silver and associated mineral recoveries over the past year. Nothing that your dedication and persistence achieves in the years to come will ever surprise me. WTG!!!  :cool:

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Persistence Pays Dividends…

Let’s wrap things up with a tale about the rock sample below. It was recovered at the edge of a tangled overgrown trail near a former millsite just a few years ago. Its recovery exemplifies that the more you work towards your objective of finding silver or gold, the more likely your probability of success will correspondingly improve.

I’d been searching that particular area for two days without meaningful results while evaluating a newly purchased Garrett Infinium for this application. The second day had again been filled with digging hard-packed rocky substrates for iron junk, worthless or otherwise unwanted arsenides, and plenty of conductive pyrrhotite hotrocks. As the sun was reaching for the western horizon, I decided to make one final effort before heading elsewhere the following day.

Methodically working along the old track towards the mill, lots of old diggings were plainly visible. But previous hunters had ignored an area with a scattering of large, flat rusty iron pieces and other miscellaneous modern trash. I moved quickly to clear it away, because daylight was fading fast beneath the dense forest canopy. My Infinium soon produced a surprisingly strong high-low signal that practically vanished in reverse discrimination… a promising indication of naturally occurring ores. I dug down a foot before my Propointer could locate the signal. 

Probability says that it could have been any number of possible targets altogether more likely than good silver. But fickle Lady Luck was more kindly disposed towards me that evening. The rich, finely dendritic piece depicted below was in my gloved hands just as twilight was stealing across that lonely abandoned trail in remote silver country. 

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A Final Word…

A special mention to my friend Dr. Jim Eckert. I hadn’t seen much of Jim recently, but happened across his trail late one overcast afternoon in the outback. I was about to hike into a site when this fellow came flying down the trail on a motorbike, and despite the riding helmet I recognized him. We had a good long chat about this and that… 

Later in the season, one bright sunny afternoon at the site of my short-lived testhole diggings, Jim stopped around to show me a recent specimen find comprised of native silver and crystalline stephanite. We talked mineralogy and other interests many hours until finally the sun was going down. These were highlights of the trip, and I want to say how much I enjoyed and appreciated having that companionable time together. 

Thanks to everyone for dropping by. We hope that you enjoy presentations about naturally occurring native silver, particularly since it is different from what many rockhunters normally encounter in their areas. All the very best with your prospecting adventures… perhaps one day it will be our good luck to meet you in the field…………………… Jim.

Reposted July 2018
Detector Prospector “Rocks, Minerals & Gems”
 

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Absolutely brilliant post Jim, thank you.  Such beautiful country, just what I like.  I enjoy reading about your silver prospecting and if we had native silver around here I would be on the prowl. Silver to me looks nicer than gold, however I've never seen some native silver other than in photographs. 

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Awesome post!  Really interesting stuff.

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Great information for anyone looking for areas to prospect for silver or gold. Great post!!!!

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Jim, your photography is only outdone by your writing mastery.  Thanks.

When you say "Northeast Ontario" do you mean up by Hudson Bay?

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Thanks for the comments everyone, glad you enjoyed the article. PM sent to you Chuck, thankyou for the interest................. Jim

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On 7/15/2018 at 5:03 PM, Jim Hemmingway said:

We hope that you enjoy presentations about naturally occurring native silver,

Hi Jim, Enjoyed it immensely👍....again :smile: You are a master at putting pen to paper. Or should that be ...fingers to a keyboard?:biggrin: Thank you for the journey.

Good luck out there

JW :smile:

 

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      Last year was not a banner prospecting year for me. I got out a number of times and did detect some gold and did some dry washing, but it was a year of other problems and obligations. I had two trips to the hospital, one emergency by ambulance, and one for surgery on my heart (not open heart, but the doctor put a probe up through a vein into the inside of my heart). My wife had two stays at the hospital as well. We also spent time moving my elderly mother in law from southern California where she has few remaining relatives, up to Reno.
      I did get out and find some nice gold in my prospecting, but I made fewer trips and got less gold than I have in many years. I did however, do some serious hard rock prospecting in 2018 and made two deals with mining exploration companies to lease out properties that I own.  One deal was made on a set of claims that I had staked years ago, while the other was on a large set of claims I staked in 2018 (along with two partners which I have in that claim group). We staked over 200 claims in that group and it took some time in getting all of those claims out and posted. The company that leased those claims from us flew a helicopter survey over them and made several exciting finds. The ore bodies likely found there are electrically conductive, and the coil and electronics used to “see” the ore bodies are of a pulse type design – just like the pulse detectors we use, but with a gigantic coil and a bit different electronics.
      So I can look at 2018 in a couple of different ways – for the direct gold I dug, it was a very poor year.  Yet for the total money I made on my prospecting it was a different story.  Counting the money I made on leasing out claims in 2018, if you calculated out the equivalent ounces of gold, that would make it my best year ever, by far. The money was the bullion weight equivalent of several pounds.
      So in 2019 I hope to stay out of the hospital, and to take no rides in ambulances. I pray my wife stays out of the hospital too.  I hope to spend more time in the hills prospecting, and do more detecting and more drywashing as well.  I will stake some more claims and see if I can get those leased out as well, but I really want to do my own prospecting as I enjoy that so much.
      For those interested in more details on the story of the claims I staked and how I got them leased off to two different exploration companies, I have a story this month in the ICMJ – called Making a Big Discovery. In the February and March issues I will have a two part article on how these lease contracts are structured and what a small miner might expect in such a deal.
      Photos – A few of my detected nuggets; the helicopter surveying my claims, and some of the ground where the claims are located.



    • By strick
      It's been well over 4 months since I have picked up a metal detector. A house remodel and some landscaping has kept me away from the treasure fields unfortunately.  When my buddy Merton called and said he wanted to go on a hunt all I could think of was that I needed to get the house finished before I went goofing around with a metal detector.   Reluctantly I told myself that I probably could  use a break and so I invited him to come on down. Merton, being the thoughtful guy he is called a couple days before our designated date and gave me the option of cancelling but I told him to come down and lets go for a hunt!  I was starting to look forward to it as we always have fun treasure hunting together. 
      I had already decided we were going to the spot where I found the old antique gold ring this past May. I had yet to revisit this spot.  https://www.detectorprospector.com/forums/topic/6528-needle-in-a-haystack/  
      This area is on private property and has a small  area of mining activity. It's not on any map.  It's a tough area for the nugget hunter,  the dozen or so pieces of gold that I have found here are small and few and far between. To make matters worse the area is loaded with lead from #9 bird shot to old 50 Cal plus round balls.  For now I've pretty much written it off for gold hunting and would rather be a lazy relic hunter there instead. Up till now I had never found a old silver US coin there despite having made 7-8 visits to the area.  A few old Chinese coins, a couple powder flasks, some gun parts and the surprise gold ring form the last hunt were enough to lure me back. 
      As the saying goes "if you don't use it you loose it"  And I  had forgotten how to operate the equinox 800. The night before our hunt I broke out the owners manual that I had printed out (my wife made a nice binder for me) and brushed up on how to work the machine. I went outside and played around in the yard a bit with the detector. I'd even forgot how to noise cancel and was beginning to have doubts thinking I was wasting my time.  Saturday found us in the foot hills on a bright sunny morning  surrounded by herd of 75 very hungry cattle. I told Merton I was going to go on a walk about starting where I had found the gold ring and I'd catch up with him later. Merton with his XP Deus headed for whats left of some old chimneys down in a  flat close to some tailing piles.  I decided to keep things simple with the equinox so I put it in park 1, 5 tones, ground tracking, recovery speed 5 and Fe 1. The ground here is very noisy  and it took me a while before I got back into the hang of things knowing which targets to dig and which to ignore. After about an hour of detecting I had it down and was building confidence. 
      About two or three hours had gone by when I caught up with Merton. Neither of us had found anything really good. The place is not a very target rich environment for the relic hunter. We went back to the truck for a beer and some lunch. After lunch I told Merton that I was going to go up on the hill above the main camp and workings since neither of us had hunted it very hard before. This is where things start to get interesting. I had been gridding the hillside for about an hour or two when I came across a rare high tone. Kinda scratchy...but repeatable. A couple swings of the pick and out pops a seated silver dime in excellent condition. Immediately I call for Merton who is about a hundred yards below me and show him the coin still in the hole. I tell him to start working this area with me. Merton is a very polite detectorist  and  using good etiquette he heads up hill a little ways from me as to not encroach upon my new spot. Maybe another 20 minutes or so goes by and I'm about 20 yards or less from where I found the seated dime and I get a mid tone on the Equinox..14-15 and repeatable. Thinking it's just another shot gun cap or lead ball I dig a little dirt out with the pick....my Garret carrot says the target is an inch or two behind and to the right of where I originally thought it was. Using the Lesche I start digging out the area and out pops this little gold shiny thing. I could only see part of it but it had a serrated edge and I immediately knew what it was even though I had never dug one before!  Gasping and jumping backwards all I could do was call out for Merton to get over here! he could tell by my excitement  that It was something good....he's smiling as he walks down..... "What did you get a half dollar?" I shake my head no...."Silver dollar?" again I shake my head no....."A GOLD COIN?"  all I was capable of was looking up and smiling as I was still speechless. As I went down to reach for it and Merton says "CAREFUL DON'T RUB IT!"  There was  a lot of congratulatory  back slapping,  high fives  etc... then without touching the coin I said I got to go to the truck and get my phone so I can take some pictures.      
      The coin is in excellent condition (1853 2.5 dollar) which is hard to believe since it's been in the ground for well over a hundred years. Here are the pictures so you can see what we seen.  We went back the day after and then hit another spot a couple days after that. We managed another Seated and a few other trinkets. I'm back to working on my house again and Merton is out at sea. But I'm looking forward to our next hunt together. What a great hobby. 
      strick






    • By Steve Herschbach
      I was just updating links and realized I have been posting adventures to Steve’s Mining Journal for over twenty years now.
      The Journal started when the internet was new, and information about metal detecting and prospecting for gold was new and rare. Metal detecting was still an obscure activity and gold prospecting even more so. I started posting the stories on my old company website as a way to show people this stuff really works and to help promote the business.
      It was one of my better decisions, as documenting these adventures has turned out to be far more important to me than anyone else. Memories fade with age, and I can’t do this stuff forever, so it is great now to have all these adventures to look back on.
      Anyway, many people never leave the forums and explore the rest of this website, so I thought I would post this to celebrate the unofficial 20th anniversary of Steve’s Journal for those who have never wandered across it.

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