How to Identify Silver Nugget

How to Identify a Silver Nugget? (Metal Detecting Secret)

As a metal detecting enthusiast, I have been fortunate to find some rare things. Still, a silver nugget is one of the critical metals that have eluded me over the years. I was so sure that I had found one a decade ago only to realize it was copper. After all, most metal detectors can easily detect copper, iron, and nickel; therefore, knowing how to identify a silver nugget is mandatory.

Some of my buddies have purchased fake silver over the last few years (not intentionally). Knowing that I am a metal detectorist, some have turned to me for advice on how to test silver. Learning how to test pure silver jewelry reignited my search for this precious metal and how to identify silver nuggets.

Naturally, occurring silver nuggets are pretty rare, and the only way to get real nuggets is by looking for them in the streams or rivers near silver mines. Technologists designed metal detectors to detect pure metals, so once you find one of these rare nuggets, you can test it with a pin pointer metal detector.

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How to Identify Silver Nugget

People commonly use the term nugget to refer to naturally formed gold, but you can also refer to silver or platinum, among other precious metals. Silver nuggets are pure or native silver not yet extracted from silver ores. Any piece or fragments of silver that have not been transported or shaped by water are not considered a nugget.

Water plays a crucial role in the formation of silver nuggets. Silver commonly forms in veins within the rock. Thanks to weathering, small fragments of this pure silver break away and find their way to the streams near the silver mines with time. Therefore, it may have an irregular shape and even seem flaky with extremely sharp edges and even partially hidden inside some other rock.

Silver nuggets are rare; unfortunately, several fake silver nuggets are available; therefore, knowing how to identify silver nuggets is mandatory, especially for metal detecting enthusiasts. Thus, the first step to finding a natural silver nugget is by:

1. Knowing Where to Look For Them

The biggest silver nugget ever found on the planet was at Smuggler Mine. The nugget weighed about 1,840 pounds, which in my opinion, makes it more like a boulder than a nugget. (source)

Like gold nuggets, silver fragments usually seam polished by the stream action, like a smooth stone found in a stream, eroded over millennia until they are round and smooth. Therefore, you can find them around streams or rivers near some of the world’s leading silver mines.

2. Start Metal Detecting the Region Using Your Metal Detecting Gear

Rocks typically encase these embedded nuggets. When you see these rocks, you will discover some small pieces of silver sticking out. You may have to go deep into the stream to get what you need. Remember, silver sticks out thanks to its metallic shine, generally associated with gray.

You can confirm the silver using your pen pointer metal detector when you notice the silver. (source)

The rock tends to be darker, but if you examine it or try to chip off some parts of it, you will see the silver nugget. To identify silver nuggets, you may need to do more tests like the magnet test and even pour nitric acid on it to confirm. If you use nitric acid, I shouldn’t have to tell you, but use the proper PPE, please, and thanks.

3. Testing Pure Silver

Other than its physical appearance; there are several tests that you can do to confirm if you have found pure silver, and some of the simplest and most effective ones include:

Magnet Test

Remember, silver tends to be a magnetic conductor; therefore, if you place it on a slanted larger piece of magnet or several small pieces of magnets, it will start sliding slowly to the ground. But this can work with several pure metals that are magnetic conductors; therefore, it shouldn’t be the final test for confirming if it is a real silver nugget. (source)

Using Nitric Acid

After doing the magnet test, you can pour a drop of nitric acid on it, another reliable test you can try at home after extracting your silver from the rock.

Simply pour a small amount of nitric acid on the extracted metal and then another drop on the control silver metal and observe the two reactions. The metal will remain whitish or cloudy with pure silver, but if it turns green, you’re dealing with a non-precious metal. (source)

The nitric acid test is the most effective method for confirming if what you have found is a real silver nugget.

Why Are Silver Nuggets Rare?

Generally, the world’s silver deposits may be more than gold, but finding this metal in its native form can be pretty challenging. In fact, in most mines, silver is mined as silver ore, a combination of several minerals; therefore, you have to extract them. (source)

On the other hand, a silver nugget is pure silver naturally created and shaped by the stream over many years. Silver nuggets are fragments of huge nuggets broken down by weathering and deposited at the bottom of the streams neighboring some of the most productive silver mines.

Where to Find Silver Nuggets?

It would be best to look for some old silver mines in North America and then for a shallow stream or river nearby. Remember, water shapes silver nuggets, and finding the stream can help you detect the mine’s silver veins which you can track while metal detecting. (source)

Fortunately, there are several maps of abandoned mines online. Therefore, before planning your next trip, you can use the map to find a silver mine with streams/lakes nearby and find out if you need a permit to detect metal in the region before driving there. You can find some nuggets in the silver mines in Aspen, Colorado, or Alaska. You can also find some nuggets around Cobalt, Ontario, Canada.

Can You Metal Detect Silver Ore?

You can detect silver ore with a metal detector set to non-ferrous metals. If you

‘re using a sensor that doesn’t have this setting and only works with ferrous metals, then you need to switch to a better detector that works with both.

How Can You Identify Silver Ore?

Since it’s not pure silver, it may not be gray or detected by the magnet test. Therefore, one of the most common ways of identifying it is by monitoring the color of the silver ore. For instance, most silver ores from different parts of the world have some black markings on the rock.

Silver ore from cobalt, Ontario, Canada, may seem metallic with a dark black spot. Unfortunately, not every sooty mineral is a rich silver ore; therefore, you may find them in abandoned silver mines, but your metal detector cannot detect a silver ore. (source)

Metal Detectorist Recap

Even though they’re rare, you can sometimes find silver nuggets near some of the world’s abandoned silver mines. Since water plays a vital role in forming silver nuggets, you are likelier to find them at the bottom of the streams near these mines. And with a suitable metal detecting device, you can find some of the most beautiful nuggets on the planet.

To confirm if it’s silver, you can use your pen pointer (as long as it detects non-ferrous metals). Other tests that can help you identify silver nuggets include nitric acid and magnet tests.

The nitric acid test is one of the most reliable tests for confirming that you have finally found silver. And with it being a valuable metal, you may make some cash in the process, so why don’t you take your gear to the nearest abandoned mine and try your luck? 

Looking for some “How To” metal detecting articles? I’ve got you covered

David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.


  1. Wikipedia contributor, Smuggler Mine, accessed September 16, 2022
  2. Wikipedia contributors, Silver mining, accessed September 16, 2022
  3. Aquachigger, Metal detecting silver nuggets, silver ore, and silver moar! accessed September 16, 2022
  4. K & J Magnetics, Real or fake silver?? Use magnets! accessed September 16, 2022
  5. Turquoise skies, How to test silver with nitric acid, accessed September 16, 2022
  6. meMiner, Silver nuggets from water, accessed September 16, 2022
  7. Chris Ralph, How to identify raw silver and silver ore (what silver-bearing rock looks like), accessed September 16, 2022
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