The word “nugget” grabs attention.
Someone delivers a nugget of gossip. Or slyly confides a nugget of insider dope about a hot stock.
But when the word refers specifically to gold, a certain fever begins to burn.
At least that’s how it’s been and how it is for Reese Townes, 50, a Great Falls native who has lived in Kalispell since 1999.
Townes’ father, Phil Townes, was a dealer for Garrett Metal Detectors. In 1980, near Lincoln, Reese Townes experienced his first racing-pulse, red-faced flush of gold fever.
There have been times in the years since then when circumstances have hamstrung his ability to prospect for gold in streambeds and in the gulches they inhabit. But those periods of abstinence have been few.
Townes’ prospecting techniques through the years have included panning, sluicing, dredging and high banking. He eventually concluded that panning for gold dust was too labor-intensive. He began relying on metal detectors to search for nuggets.
Detectors are far more efficient, he said.
“You can pull a tiny little piece of gold out of the ground,” Townes said. “A metal detector allows you to find new, undiscovered gold patches.”
Now, he has assembled his years of knowledge into what will be a self-published guide for people who want to experience the rush of finding a gold nugget or two.
Titled “The Nugget Shooter’s Field Guide,” the book will feature more than 230 pages and 170 full-color photos, Townes said. But publication by a printer in South Korea won’t happen until Townes nails down 280 pre-order sales. As of July 5, he had 24.
Why would Townes want to share his hard-earned secrets with strangers who could become nugget competitors?
He said he owes a debt of gratitude to the old-timers who generously shared their wisdom through the years, men like the late George Kornec, a miner who lived near Lincoln.
And Townes said providing useful information isn’t the same as divulging specifics about locations that seem to show great promise.
“I’m not going to give away all my secrets,” he said. “It’s the same with someone who picks huckleberries. They’re not going to give away all their patches.”
Townes attended high school in Great Falls and in Garland, Texas, with the latter occurring after his father moved to Texas for a job. He later got an associate degree in visual communications and served in the U.S. Navy from 1987 to 1989.
Townes works for LHC Construction, driving a water truck and a dump truck.
Prospecting for gold hasn’t made him rich. He estimates the largest nugget he’s found to date would fetch about $50.
So, it’s not really about money. It’s more about the hunt and the occasional find that stoke Townes’ passion for prospecting.
“It gets me outdoors,” he said. “It gives me a sense of purpose when I’m hiking. I’ll hike all over the mountains, up and down.”
And discovering a single nugget can drown out the welling discouragement from forays when nothing is found.
Psychologists describe the reward pattern as “intermittent reinforcement.” A person interacts with his or her environment, hoping for reinforcement, but rewards aren’t predictable and occur only randomly, if at all.
People who hunt shed antlers know the feeling. As do gamblers. Behaviors rewarded intermittently tend to persist.
Townes said he always responds a certain way when he finds a nugget.
“It doesn’t matter what size it is,” he said. “The feeling is always the same. I get a big grin on my face.”
Townes said “The Nugget Shooter’s Field Guide” provides strategies for detecting for gold in dredge tailings, hard-rock tailings, hydraulic mining, ancient river channels, heavily forested regions and much more. He said the book provides tips about how to consider a site’s geology in weighing its potential to yield gold. And the book helps readers identify and seek the earliest stage of a stream channel as a potential repository of gold, he said.
He started on the book in June 2016 and completed it in April.
Townes said he tries to go prospecting every other weekend during the summer.
These days, he packs a sophisticated metal detector worth about $4,000.
Yet he still strikes out on occasion.
“When you get skunked, you can’t let it discourage you. The next nugget always comes around. It’s just a matter of time.”
To reserve a copy of “The Nugget Shooter’s Field Guide,” go to goldseekerbooks.com
The book is $24.95 plus $8.75 for shipping and handling.
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407