Bob Stirling enjoys a coffee after being interviewed by the News on Nov. 20 about winning the prospector of the year award. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The name might be Stirling but he’s going for gold

Whitehorse’s Bob Stirling named prospector of the year

It’s like a puzzle — that’s what Bob Stirling enjoys about prospecting. That, and the quiet, which isn’t surprising to hear, coming from someone who seems amused to be asked anything about prospecting.

“You can’t explain it, it’s just like …” Stirling pauses and laughs. “Why do you like playing football? It’s just one of those things that gets your interest.”

“It’s a modern form of exploration,” adds Carl Schulze, secretary treasurer with the Yukon Prospectors Association (YPA). The two men are having a coffee during some downtime between panels at the 2018 Yukon Geosciences Forum. “It’s the treasure hunt.”

Stirling quietly agrees.

“I had no idea what prospecting was like when I started it. So I’d say that’s what I wanted to find out. You know, to try it out and see what would happen,” he says.

What happened this year is that Stirling was named prospector of the year by the YPA.

Each year, the YPA membership puts forward a few names and has a vote, says Schulze. Sometimes the award is given to a prospector who’s been around a long time. Sometimes it’s given to someone who’s been tenacious.

Stirling fit both bills, he says.

“He’s a fella we’ve all known for a long time,” says Schulze. “He’s been (prospecting) in the Yukon since the early ‘80s and he’s been tenacious. He’s probably a little bit underrated.”

Stirling first came to the Yukon in 1970, for a summer job on Clinton Creek. He was 18, and it was his first time away from his Belleville, Ont., home.

He says he enjoyed being in the North so he stayed, though he didn’t start prospecting until the ‘80s. At the time, he was working for United Keno Exploration. He started prospecting on weekends and holidays, learning as he went and figuring out the patterns in the land that might lead him to gold.

“There’s an opportunity there and it’s just finding out what you might find,” he says.

“There’s always ‘what if’ in everything and when you can’t see what’s below the ground, there’s always those potentials or possibilities when you’re looking at something because you can see little bits of it sometimes but sometimes you can’t see a thing. You have certain clues, ideas, you put those together and something formulates. So you’ve got this formulation going on about how things are going to be or how things might be.”

For example, he says, you can look to the history of the environment in the area you’re working, or what the river has done in the past. There are also models of how gold drops out. It’s heavy, he says, so you can generally predict where it will land by looking at aerial photos and seeing how a river flows.

“Most will drop out on the inside corner (of a river) because that’s where the slowest water is and gold, being heavy, will try to go in a straight line,” he says.

At the same time, he says it’s important to forget everything you know about patterns and models.

“You can’t have a tunnel vision because things come up that you can’t explain. They don’t fit,” he says, citing a claim on the Stewart River that he first staked in 1996.

Stirling spent about 10 days checking it out. There was gold in the samples, he says, but not much, so he dropped the claim. When he returned to it in 2009, he expanded the area where he was looking. Stirling found gold again, but it was still “so-so,” so he let the claim expire a second time. Another prospector staked it and also let it expire. Finally, in 2015, with more time to spend in the area, Stirling went back in.

Rather than going in and out on an ATV every day, he found himself walking the trails around the river.

“I was coming back the other way and had a totally different view of it with all the trees and everything and the shadows and it just looked different … so I came back the other way and instantly recognized ‘OK, there’s a channel here. There’s a channel flowing here,’” he says.

Stirling trenched and sampled the area. Even though the ground was comprised of fine silty sand, and he says higher-grade gold is usually deposited with larger gravel, he found a deposit of “very good grade.”

“It’s very unusual that there’s some action there,” he says. “So if you just take the view that’s more or less accepted and published and understood, you can often overlook these other things.”

That area is the next one Stirling is going to work.

Right now, the season is mostly done for him. He sometimes heads out to claims to drop off generators or get into places on a snowmobile that he can’t access in summer. Most of the work though, will start up in May. That’s when Stirling can get back to the other things he likes best about prospecting — the different weather and being out in nature.

“I enjoy that kind of thing,” he says. “The openness of things and less people. You have stillness, quiet, so on, all those different things … there’s lots of different things that happen that come from your work.”

“Who knows what’s going to happen?”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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