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Garrett AT Pro Gold Field Test

Field Testing the Garrett AT Gold

CHRIS GHOLSON

 

As I crested the top of the ridge and looked into the creek below I was delighted to see that I had plenty of new ground to work with the AT Gold. Just as I had hoped, there were fresh diggings and newly exposed bedrock just waiting to be detected. Every weekend like clockwork a group of gold prospectors from Phoenix, AZ would visit this dry creek and spend hours shoveling the gold-bearing gravels into their dry-washers. For those not familiar with a dry-washer, it is an ingenious device used to separate particles of gold from dirt by using bursts of air and electrostatic attraction. They work exceptionally well in arid regions and are usually the preferred piece of mining equipment for desert prospectors. If conditions are ideal, a dry-washer can trap upwards of 85% of the gold being shoveled into it. However, if the dirt is not completely dry there is a good chance some gold will pass over the riffle tray and onto the ground. Not to mention there is always the possibility that a large nugget will not pass through the grizzly and be screened off and discarded with the oversize rocks. Many big nuggets that were encased in dirt or covered in caliche have been lost in this manner. In fact, I know a gentleman that detected a nugget weighing nearly twenty-three ounces in one of these oversize piles!


The first time I bumped into this group of prospectors I noticed that none of them had brought along a metal detector. I didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all, but I did my best to explain the importance of using a detector in conjunction with their dry-washers. When I suggested that they should start scanning their holes and header piles for nuggets they just shrugged their shoulders. One of them replied, “We tried a detector once. All it did was squawk and beep; the thing gave me a headache. Plus all I ever found was bullets and nails. No, we don’t have much faith in detectors around here.” After that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had already found about a dozen nuggets in the open holes they had left behind. If you use a dry- washer it is imperative that you scan your work area, otherwise you will leave gold behind. I know because I found some of these “missed” nuggets with my new AT Gold.


Before we discuss the results of my field test, let us first cover some information about this exciting piece of hardware from Garrett. The AT Gold (ATG) is a VLF detector which operates at approximately 18 kHz and is outfitted with a water-proof 5" x 8" elliptical DD coil. I was incredibly pleased with both the quality and performance of the supplied coil. It is an ideal size and shape for chasing gold. The detector itself weighs in at roughly three pounds and is powered by four AA batteries. It features an LCD screen and all push button controls. The ATG has been specially designed for sniffing out gold nuggets; however it also has the ability to find coins, relics, jewelry or meteorites. Because the ATG can also be submerged underwater to a depth of ten feet, it is one of the most versatile detectors on the market today. It is supplied with standard land-use headphones with adjustable volume control. These headphones should never be submerged. If you plan on working underwater, Garrett does offer fully water-proof headphones.


The ATG offers a total of three detection modes which can be adjusted using the MODE button. These include: All Metal, DISC 1, and DISC 2. If you plan on using the ATG primarily for nugget-shooting I would highly recommend using the All Metal mode. This is the most sensitive mode and will allow the operator to hear even the tiniest nuggets that may have escaped detection in either of the DISC modes. The All Metal mode will force a person to dig more trash, but this is a small price to pay for the heightened sensitivity and added depth penetration.


The Digital Target ID system found on the ATG provides a specific value to help the user identify targets more accurately. Unknown targets are identified in the LCD with a number. This number is a representation of the target's conductive properties. Numbers closer to 1 are the most ferrous; numbers closer to 99 are the most conductive. The Digital target ID number can be used in conjunction with the Target ID Cursor which is found just beneath the Target ID Legend. The Target ID Cursor will move along the Target ID Legend and settle on the place that best represents the target found. Ferrous targets show up on the left half, non-ferrous targets that are lower in conductivity will show in the middle, and highly conductive targets will show on the right half. The Digital Target ID is more precise than the Target ID Cursor, however when used together, it is fairly easy for the operator to get a general idea of what type of target has been detected. 

 

I applaud the engineers at Garrett for adding an adjustable Threshold to the ATG. When I field tested the AT Pro back in 2010 the lack of a Threshold was one of my biggest complaints. Some hunters find the constant hum of a threshold to be annoying, but as experienced gold seekers know, that hum is packed with a lot of valuable information. Often times a small or deeply buried gold nugget, will not always produce a clear, distinct signal. Many of these subtle targets will only trigger a slight waver in the threshold and a silent search machine could potentially miss them. I give Garrett a big thumbs up for listening to user feedback and including this crucial feature.


Another feature worth mentioning is the Iron Audio. It will work in either of the DISC modes, but what makes it unique is the ability to use Iron Audio while in the All Metal mode. Normally when operating in All Metal, the ATG gives off a medium pitched tone for all metallic targets. However, with the Iron Audio feature activated, a low tone response will be given when a ferrous target is encountered. Most detectorists, myself included, don’t enjoy having to bend down and get back up again any more than necessary. This feature can help a person decide whether a target is worth digging or not. I would not recommend that anyone hunt continuously in Iron Audio, but rather use this feature to check the ferrous properties of a target. If a detected target gives a low, grunt-like sound, there is a good chance it is made of iron. If a detected target gives a medium or even a mixed medium and low sound, the target is likely non-ferrous and should be investigated. I would suggest you dig all iffy targets while in Iron Audio just to be safe.


The ATG is also equipped with a Pinpoint feature. When the Poinpoint button is depressed and held, it enables the ATG to continuously detect without motion. This is a handy feature for narrowing down the location of a buried object and will certainly be appreciated by those with little detecting experience. More seasoned users will also find it handy, but personally I found it incredibly easy to pinpoint targets without having to activate this feature. The supplied 5” x 8” coil is dead-on when it comes to pinpointing and I had little trouble even on targets as small as a lead shot.


The creek bed I mentioned at the beginning of the article is where I spent several days testing the ATG. As far as locations go, this one was ideal. It had produced some quality nuggets for me in the past, and with all the recent digging I knew there had to be a few that were now within detectable reach. Although this particular soil was nowhere near as “hot” as some of the ground I had encountered in Australia, it still contained enough black sand and mineralized clay to provide an opportunity for the ATG to prove itself. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, I would rate this sites’ overall ground condition as a 7. There were several different types of hot rocks present, but none that proved overly problematic.


During those first few hours I dug a number of targets from the cracks in the bedrock. None were gold, but I was thoroughly impressed at the ATG’s ability to ring out on such tiny objects. Any doubts I had about the unit’s sensitivity quickly evaporated after digging up targets so small I had difficulty isolating them in my hand. Day one netted me a handful of junk targets, plus two small nuggets near the surface weighing in at 0.3g and 0.2g. Day two produced fewer targets, but much to my delight one was a 2.6-gram beauty! It had been up on the bank’s edge and screamed out like trash. Fortunately I had taken the advice given by the Iron Audio to not leave this target unchecked. When compared to other similar priced detectors on the market, the ATG is certainly a formidable contender. It proved a capable VLF detector for tackling the Arizona goldfields and didn’t leave me sore from hours’ worth of swinging. I also had the chance to test its’ water resistance at a nearby stream. Even with the coil completely submerged the ATG ground balanced easily and I didn’t notice any loss of stability. This detector did not seem bothered by the elements in the least. Although I didn’t turn up any nuggets, I have no doubt this feature will prove advantageous. Especially for those that prospect in California, Oregon, Alaska, and Canada where there are many gold-bearing rivers, creek, and streams.


The controls I found myself using the most were the GND BAL button, the Iron Audio button, and the Sensitivity controls to some extent. Ground balancing is a crucial part of detecting and must be done every time the machine is turned on. Sometimes, if ground conditions are severe, it may be required every few minutes. Persons that do not take the time to ground balance, or use equipment with poor ground balancing capabilities, will most definitely leave good targets behind. Luckily this procedure on the ATG is quick and utterly painless. The ATG can be ground balanced either automatically or manually. Auto is the easiest and is accomplished by simply holding down the GND BAL pushbutton while pumping the coil towards the ground. In some cases, I was able to achieve a marginally more precise balance by using the manual control. However, more often than not I found myself relying on the accuracy of the ATG’s GND BAL circuitry. This detector also includes technology Garret calls Ground Balance Window (GBW). This feature allows the user to “spread” out the ground balance setting to reduce the effects of subtle ground variations. I did experiment with this option but did not find it very advantageous in this particular spot. It is an interesting concept and I will most definitely be testing this feature further on other goldfields around the state.


When hunting gold with the ATG I would recommend using the All Metal mode and the highest Sensitivity level possible. These settings will allow smaller and deeper targets to be found, however the Sensitivity level used will ultimately be determined by the ground and atmospheric conditions present. Low ground mineralization and low EMI interference will allow high settings to be used. If the ground mineralization is severe, or there are high levels of EMI, lower settings will be required. Detectorists are always striving for a smooth, steady Threshold. A smooth Threshold will allow the operator to hear subtle variations that may represent a nugget on the edge of detection. This ideal Threshold was nearly impossible to achieve while in the All Metal mode at Sensitivity settings of 5 or greater. The ATG was more erratic in its performance, but I simply learned to live with it. For me personally, the extra jitter was worth the gains in sensitivity. I am always willing to put up with a bit more noise if it equates into more gold in my pocket. If you find your machine too unstable to use comfortably, I would first suggest lowering the Sensitivity a notch. If small fluctuations are still heard you can also try adjusting the frequency. The ATG has the ability to slightly alter its operating frequency to help combat noise caused by external sources such as power-lines and other metal detectors. There are four slightly different frequencies to choose from. These frequency adjustments are small and will not affect detection performance.


I would also suggest that a person does not rely completely on the numerical Target ID, or the Iron Audio. These features offer the prospector valuable information about a target’s possible identity, but they are not 100% accurate. Much of the time they were, but if there was any doubt at all, I dug the target out. Better to be safe than sorry when it comes to gold. ATG users will also notice that the Target ID will often “bounce” when the coil is repeatedly passed over a target. I have gotten as many as five different ID’s for the same target. Once again this is normal. I found that if the Target ID’s ranged predominantly between 40-85, the target was worth digging. I also want to mention that very tiny or deeply buried targets may not trigger the Target ID system even though they produce an audio signal. I would always recommend digging these targets, or at least removing enough soil until a Target ID can be achieved. 


I found the ATG to be an incredibly fun and stress free machine to hunt with. Some of its strengths were: easy operation, light weight, automatic pushbutton ground balance, highly sensitive, reasonable price tag, and extremely weather-proof.  Potential ATG customers will be glad to know that Garrett offers a wide range of accessory coils. Coil configuration, size and shape can have a dramatic effect on any metal detector’s performance, and the ATG is no exception. Simply changing the coil can increase depth penetration, help eliminate false signals caused by ground noise, improve sensitivity, and provide added ground coverage. If you are looking for a quick and relatively inexpensive way to enhance the performance of the ATG, additional search coils are a good place to invest.


If you decide to buy the ATG there are two other items which I highly recommend you purchase. The first is the ¼” Headphone Adapter. This accessory item allows you to use any headphones that have a ¼” male jack. Without this adapter you will only be able to use the supplied Garrett headphones which have a special connector. The second item is a coil cover. Unfortunately the unit is not supplied with one, and the coil itself is vulnerable to damage. A coil can take a lot of abuse in the field so it is important to get one as soon as possible. Trust me, a worn out coil cover is a lot less expensive to replace than the coil itself.


The new AT Gold is truly a multi-purpose detector that will appeal to a wide range of detectorists. In my opinion, it is a good choice for those that want to focus primarily on gold prospecting, but may occasionally do some coin and relic hunting as well. With an MSRP of $799.95, it offers versatility and performance at a reasonable price. I would not hesitate to recommend the ATG to a budget minded person looking for a quality nugget machine. It comes with a limited 2-Year Warranty and is made right here in the USA. For more information on the AT Gold, please visit Garrett's website at: www.garrett.com, or call them directly at 1-800-527-4011. Don't forget to mention that you read about it in Lost Treasure Magazine!

 

Minelab, Nuggetfinder coils, gold nugget prospecting with metal detectors.Where to find placer gold.
Garrett AT Pro Gold Field Test

 

             
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