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Shawn Ryan says YES YOU CAN!

January 13, 2012

If you did not attend the awards dinner at last year's Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto, you may never have heard of Shawn Ryan. I count myself as fortunate to have attended, but the moment had slipped from memory until I listened to an interview of him the other day on CBC Radio (hey, it's our tax dollars at work… somebody's got to listen). The theme of Ryan's experience rings the same bell we've been talking about for some time, so I cranked up Google.

Shawn Ryan was named prospector of the year by the PDAC last March. A very unassuming fellow (see his picture here), he's not a geologist. He's a prospector. Actually, he's a converted mushroom picker. As he describes it, he just applied to gold prospecting what he calls the Grade 3 Science method he employed for eight years in mushroom prospecting.

Raised in Timmins, Ontario, he moved to the Yukon in 1989. Having heard about Morel mushrooms upon his arrival, he spent eight years hunting them down. Apparently, if you knew what you were doing, you could make a living at it. A data hound, he studied the science of where to find what seemed to others as completely unscientific and spontaneously appearing patches of mushrooms.

In 1996, he and his wife/partner, Cathy Wood, decided to try prospecting for gold. Living in a 300 square foot tin shack (built as a barbershop in 1901) with no electricity, no phone, and no running water, this was 'camping sauvage' in the Arctic. Oh, and add two kids to the mix along the way.

While he promised his wife that this would be a two-year stint, a couple of months into the adventure, the Bre-X scandal hit and nobody was supporting the business of prospecting anywhere anymore. Ryan found himself with the time to study the 'science' of gold prospecting.

Here's the gist of his Eureka experience:

The Klondike gold rush a century earlier was one of placer gold. Placer gold is alluvial, having washed down from the hills into streams over the millennia. Estimates have somewhere in the range of 16 million ounces of placer gold extracted in the Yukon but that gold rush is long over. Although the geologist's rule of thumb holds that there are ten times the ounces of hard rock gold as there are of extracted placer gold (do the Math), no one had ever found the originating source in the Yukon. It was generally accepted that the source didn't exist anymore and that all the hard rock gold had dissipated into the streams and already been extracted.

Ryan didn't buy it. He describes the Yukon placer gold as a Sasquatch footprint, and undertook to follow the footprint and find the beast. His lack of university training in geology left him with only his logic and a belief in what he was doing, and the perseverance to see it through.

This area of the Yukon was non-glaciated. That means that, without the glacial activity to displace rocks, what you find on the surface is what you find directly below. So… if you don't find mineralized rocks at the surface, you'll find none below. That was the theory. The practice at the time was to take a small number of soil samples, as few as thirty or forty to start, and with success, start a drilling program. These soil samples were drawn from the top six inches at the surface.

Ryan reasoned that, in the absence of outcroppings (only 2-3% showing), six inches was not enough. Using modified tulip planters from Holland (huh?), he started taking larger numbers of soil samples at a depth of 30 inches. Right away, his gold count went up by a factor of twenty (10 ppb to 200 ppb). In the first year of serious testing, he took 300-400 soil samples over an area of 16 km by 4 km. This effort met with success in mapping a large mineralized system. Ryan's work was GPS-assisted and, a couple of years in, he employed computers to plot results against data from the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC).

By 2006, Ryan was taking 5,000 soil samples per year. In 2007, he was closing in on 10,000 samples. 2009 saw him drawing 37,000 samples and in 2010, his company took 70,000 samples. The plan for 2011 was for 150,000.

His first discovery, the 2 million ounce White Gold project, was bought by Kinross in March 2010, and valued at some $140 million dollars in the takeover. As Ryan describes it, "The White was basically found with one YMIT program [a grant from the territorial government], worth less than $10,000. It’s got $2 billion, easily, in the ground." At today's prices, this discovery is now worth more than $3 billion.

Was it a fluke? Well, he's since identified another large system, the Coffee project, operated by Kaminak Gold Corp, and mapped by Ryan using the same soil sampling technique. When the dust settles, this one may be larger than the first.

Having had free run of the area in the early days, Ryan now controls 12,000 of some 20,000 claims in the region. Not bad for a mushroom picker.

Ten years ago, Ryan was able to map out 400-500 sample results per day using paper and pencil and including results for three elements. Now, he maps out 10,000 samples, including 36 elements, in a matter of mere seconds. Better and more data, better technology, guided by back-to-basics science… all of this yields a better probability for success.

This is one of those 'feel good' stories, for sure. The actionable takeaway from this story, however, is that, as Woody Allen said, "Eighty per cent of success is showing up." A non-geologist, thinking outside-of-the-box, armed with basic logic, preparedness to study and learn, the will to test his theory, and not least of all, a patient wife… created (not found)… created a path to success.

As Henry Ford once said, "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right."

For goodness' sake, do your own due diligence… YES, YOU CAN!


Kevin Graham

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