It's the stuff of prospectors' dreams: Climb up a hillside in a little-explored area and stumble upon enough visible gold to justify all those years of trudging around alone in the bush.
The dream came true for First Nations prospector Alex McMillan in 2009 while exploring in the southeast corner of the Yukon. After more than 45 years of searching for a motherlode, the sexagenarian finally came across a gorgeous outcrop of gold and wasted no time hauling two hefty samples down the steep mountainside.
Before long, geologists came calling, including Dennis Ouellette, vice-president of exploration at Northern Tiger Resources (NTR-V), who made an offer and a commitment to McMillan to properly explore the find. McMillan, who first staked the ground in 1999, had already been disappointed by the lack of work done by two previous option partners looking for base metals and wanted a company that would really explore the property. By the second quarter of 2010 the two reached a deal, committing Northern Tiger to $700,000 in exploration spending plus a $500,000 payment and 2 million shares to McMillan over four years, while McMillan kept a 2% net smelter return royalty.
Northern Tiger's first step was to go back to the original discovery on the 3Ace property and grab nine 2-kg samples, while McMillan's original samples were put to work impressing investors. The new samples returned grades ranging from 29.88 grams gold per tonne to a whopping 4,820.60 grams gold, with the average grade from the nine samples coming in at 1,762.4 grams gold. McMillan had found a rich vein, but the question for Northern Tiger was just how much gold was actually there.
The company initially traced the discovery vein for 50 metres before it dipped down under heavy overburden. Around the same time, however, it identified a second zone named the Sleeping Giant 1.2 km east of the initial discovery, plus the Green zone 2 km north of the Main zone and the North zone 500 metres northeast of the Main zone.
"We've got an almost embarrassment of targets," Greg Hayes, president and CEO of Northern Tiger, said on a site visit to the project in August.
Hayes highlighted it was the first gold discovery in this part of the Yukon, which is dominated by base metal discoveries like the Cantung tungsten mine 40 km north just over the border in the Northwest Territories, and the Wolverine zinc mine to the southwest. Hayes also pointed out that, with the outcropping gold discovery being made 2 km off an all-weather road by a 60-year-old prospector, there is clearly room for more discoveries in the territory.
"It bodes well for what's going on in the Yukon, and the potential for more discoveries," Hayes says.
The company rushed to complete 1,200 metres of drilling last year, to mixed success. Drilling on the Main zone, where the discovery vein sits, yielded encouraging hits like 30 metres grading 4.3 grams gold from 49 metres depth and 11 metres averaging 14.8 grams gold from 25 metres downhole, plus more promising samples. At the much-anticipated Sleeping Giant, however, where a grab sample had returned 82.27 grams gold and three 6-metre-long chip samples returned between 6.78 grams and 11.34 grams gold, the best drill result in 2010 was a 12-metre interval grading 1.51 grams gold.
"We got punished with the lower grades there," Hayes says, with the company's stock plunging from around 70¢ to 35¢ on
the results, after having climbed to as high as 93¢ on news of earlier sample results from the Discovery vein and Sleeping Giant.
Undaunted, the company has concentrated its resources on the 3Ace property, committing to a $6-million, 10,000-metre exploration program. The company also added the adjacent Sprogge property southeast to its land holdings through an option deal, bringing the combined 3Ace-Sprogge property to 225 sq. km.
But this year's drill program got off to a slow start after permitting for the 45-person exploration camp was delayed. In August, the company was still working to finish parts of the camp as well as winterize it, following the start of drilling in June. With drilling now over for the season, Northern Tiger managed to get 29 holes in at the 3Ace project.
Drilling on the Main zone confirmed that mineralization continues at depth and has a minimum strike length of 160 metres. Results included 13 metres grading 3.75 grams gold from 78 metres depth, 7 metres averaging 4.95 grams gold from 72 metres depth, 27 metres grading 2.52 grams gold from 83 metres and 35 metres carrying 4.61 grams gold from 100 metres depth, while results from a further 21 holes have yet to be released.
So far Northern Tiger has established that gold mineralization at the Main zone is hosted by steeply dipping veins which form an en-echelon array of fault segments that are linked by stockwork veins and breccia zones, while the property is underlain by coarse-grained quartz pebble conglomerate interbedded with sandstone and black shale beds.
And while 3Ace has driven excitement in the company, Northern Tiger also has a scattering of holdings in the Dawson Range area of the Yukon including the 52-sq.-km Sonora Gulch project. This year the company drilled 2,700 metres over 9 holes at Sonora Gulch, with assay results pending, while in 2010 results from the project included 15 metres grading 6.2 grams gold, 27 metres carrying 5 grams gold and 5 metres averaging 7.6 grams gold, each in a separate zone.
Northern Tiger's shares last closed at 21¢, with just under 100 million shares outstanding.
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