It’s no secret that the world of explorers, especially when it comes to old world commodities like gold, copper and silver (i.e. not lithium and rare earths), has been turned on its head this year.

Higher interest rates across the Western world and global economic uncertainty has seen capital move from risk-on assets like exploration companies into safe haven commodities and the comfort blanket of blue chips.

But rest assured every dog has its day and all markets turn around, often on a sixpence.

While investors are sleeping on small caps, many are putting in the work, creating a wealth of opportunity by investing and drilling for new high grade resources while the going is tough.

There are obvious reasons why more gold, nickel, copper, silver and base metals mines need to be developed.

In the case of copper, nickel, lead, zinc and silver, the rise of electric vehicle policies and renewables mean we will need a lot more than we currently produce, with the potential for higher prices down the line to incentivise the development of new deposits, or revival of old forgotten ones.

In the case of gold, safe haven and central bank demand has ensured prices remain near historic highs, trading between US$1900-2000/oz for much of 2023, and at one point eclipsing Australian dollar records at upwards of $3000/oz.

The largest and most productive gold mines are getting deeper, older and harder to expand, leaving the door ajar for new producers, especially those with low cost, high grade ounces to fill the gap.

At the Market Insights Series Luncheon hosted by Jane Morgan Management and Resolve IR on the sidelines of the recent Noosa Mining Investor Conference, we caught three cheap gold, copper and silver explorers who may have gone under the radar in the current market and have been hitting their stride with the drillbit.

Auteco Minerals (ASX:AUT)

Market Cap: $69 million


Auteco Minerals is well in touch with the idea the best place to find a gold mine is underneath one.

Its Pickle Crow mine in Ontario, Canada, once produced 1.5Moz of bullion at 16.1 grams to the tonne. That’s equivalent to around $4.3 billion on today’s gold price.

Under Auteco’s watch it could go on to produce considerably more. Since taking on the project Auteco has invested heavily in drilling, collecting a resource of 2.8Moz at 7.2g/t.

By modern standards that is an incredible bounty.

“It is one of the highest grade undeveloped gold projects in the world. It’s a fantastic jurisdiction, great location, a lot of infrastructure there to help us get the project off the ground and we’re rapidly moving towards looking at some open pit potential there at the moment to kick us off,” Auteco CEO Darren Cooke said.

“It’s a great project that really has flown under the radar.”

One of Auteco’s biggest selling points is the history of its board and key investors. It is one of a number of ASX companies with links to Bellevue Gold (ASX:BGL), a former penny stock turned ASX 200 gold miner which is poised to reopen the historic high grade WA gold mine of the same name this year.

Steve Parsons, Bellevue’s former MD, is a non-executive director while current and former BGL chairmen Kevin Tomlinson and Ray Shorrocks are on board as NED and non-exec chair respectively. Former Bellevue CFO Michael Naylor holds a seat as well.

The next leg of growth, former Northern Star Resources geology manager Cooke says, is to establish drilling from underground to grow the resource further and improve its confidence level.

Beyond the scope of the impressive Pickle Crow resource, Cooke says a district scale play awaits.

“We’ve managed to stake 500km2 of ground around the project, so we have the entire belt locked up. The strike length of our package is 46km and it’s over 10km wide,” he said.

“So it’s not just Pickle Crow the deposit, the way we’re looking at this is it’s the Pickle Crow mineral district, and like a lot of gold deposits it’s very rare to have them as orphans. You rare probably just get one deposit by itself so we’re doing a lot of work at the moment.”

Ora Gold (ASX:OAU)

Market Cap: $16 million


Sitting in a gold belt endowed with 7Moz of bullion, Ora Gold may have crept under the radar of late.

But it’s high grade Crown Prince discovery in the historic WA gold field of Meekatharra has been a sleeping success story, one of a number of prospects that could turn into high grade gold deposits at Ora’s 217km2 Garden valley project.

“We made a new gold discovery in the Meekatharra region in Western Australia, which is a high grade gold belt probably most well known for by hosting the Westgold (ASX:WGX) assets but it’s also recently had some takeover action with Ramelius (ASX:RMS) bidding $201 million for Musgrave Minerals (ASX:MGV),” new Ora Gold CEO Alex Passmore said.

“So a very hot area and we’re discovering high grade gold near Musgrave’s project which has added an interesting extra bit of excitement.”

Passmore says Ora, formerly Thundelarra Exploration, is well and truly in gold “elephant country”.

“We’ve been drilling from surface hitting very, very good grades, looking very much like the clean metallurgy, standard WA Archaean lode gold hosted in quartz vein with a series of quartz veins there,” Passmore said.

“Some of the highlights from the last quarter — 40m at 17.5g from 30m, 33m at 12.7g from 57m and then following up these high grade hits at depth we got 21m at 11g, including 9m at 22g/t from 121m.

“So when we’re thinking about a resource and when we’re thinking about mining here, these grades are really spectacular. You don’t see these grades very often.

“The ounces per vertical metre that we’re likely to see in an open pit scenario certainly is looking very, very impressive.”

A good rule of thumb for an economic mine was around 500oz per vertical metre. Passmore said Ora was seeing the prospects to uncover double that, with infill drilling and an updated resource the coming steps for the WA gold explorer, which is well funded with around $4m in the bank.

“What we envisage (is) the mine will eventually be an open pit followed by a high grade underground,” he said.

“And we sit on a granted mining lease with native title in place, so all of that is a real plus and a good head start.”

Alicanto Minerals (ASX:AQI)

Market Cap: $25 million


For years Europe has outsourced the mining of commodities needed to power some of the world’s oldest industrialised economies.

That wasn’t always the case. And Alicanto Minerals is sitting on two of the continent’s great and historic mines crying out for revival.

At its Falun and Sala assets, AQI boast mines which produced metals now critical to the world’s financial sector and transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy.

“I’ve been around for about a year with Alicanto and I’ve spent a bit of time with politicians up there and if you start to overlay what’s going on in Europe at the moment, and you start to think they use 25% of the world’s commodities, and they produce 3%,” MD Rob Sennitt told the crowd of investors, analysts and brokers at Locale.

“So there’s a bit of vulnerability there, if you start to overlay what’s going on in Russia that vulnerability continues to increase.

“There’s a real push from the EU to see those member states producing more commodities and certainly places like Sweden that have got some of the bigger body economies in Europe that are understanding that pressure and are keen to talk about how they can sort of help facilitate and get things going over there.”

It puts Alicanto in an enviable position, especially since world’s biggest miner BHP (ASX:BHP) recently forked out almost $10 million for an early stage nickel project, far less advanced than $25 million capped Alicanto’s assets, from fellow ASX explorer Ragnar Metals (ASX:RAG).

“That purchase is a really interesting one, because it does indicate to you what’s going on in Europe,” Sennitt said.

“Europe was largely closed to mining investment and particularly Sweden. And so you saw a lot of people racing off to Africa and South America and what have you. Not a lot of interest was paid to Sweden.”

They should have been. Alicanto’s Sala mine has produced 200Moz of the precious metal, increasingly prized for its use in solar panels, at an historic grade of 1244g/t and up to 7000g/t in parts.

The current 10Mt resource at Sala, which runs at a zinc equivalent grade of 4.5%, presents an exciting development opportunity.

But results from Alicanto’s Falun, which includes both the historic orebody and ground covering the trend for kilometres outside the famous mine, have been exciting as well. The original mine delivered 28Mt at 4% copper, 4g/t gold, 5% zinc, 2% lead and 35g/t silver.

Early success in drilling at the Skyttgruvan-Naverberg target, around 3.5km from Falun, suggests the prospectivity for copper, gold, zinc, lead and silver extends well beyond the limited mine’s boundaries.

“We put our first hole down there in October-November last year, and we hit 43m of mineralisation, (including up to) 750g/t of silver and almost 2% copper. But what was even more exciting than that hole was that we identified this off-hole conductor,” Sennitt said.

“Now what Falun is, is effectively within that red-tinged silver mineralisation are these Falun type structures, these elevated copper-gold structures and that’s ultimately what we’re looking for. The Falun structure in itself had a very, very small footprint, it was about 100 by 200 by 500 meters deep.

“And in that little footprint there, they had 28Mt of 4% copper. If I can find anything that looks like or smells like 4% copper, this company’s worth a fortune. So seeing that offhole conductor — that was the thing that was really exciting.”

A new drill program testing targets along that trend is expected to begin shortly.

At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Alicanto Minerals is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.