Doubled — and perhaps getting ready to double again.

That’s the optimistic view of Aeon Metals (ASX:AML) regarding its share price as it rides a wave of investor interest in its Walford Creek copper and cobalt project in Queensland – alongside a rising tide of takeover speculation in the wider copper sector.

Astute readers of Stockhead will already be familiar with Aeon because it featured in a story last October by fellow columnist, Barry Fitzgerald, at a time when the stock was trading at around 16c and copper was selling for $US3.10 per pound.

By the end of last year copper hadn’t done much, reaching $US3.20/lb, whereas Aeon had risen to 32c, a handy 100 per cent gain in three months.

History might be poised to repeat with copper still going nowhere, except down to around $US3/lb, while Aeon is said by some stockbrokers to be heading for a fresh surge up to 50c.

Like last October the driver behind Aeon is Walford Creek, boosted by events in the copper markets that include OZ Minerals agreeing last week to pay a 116 per cent premium for control of Brazilian copper explorer Avanco.

If, the theory goes, OZ was prepared to pay a very handsome price for a company which wears the same hallmarks as Aeon then perhaps another copper producer in need of growth options might do the same for the Queensland explorer.

Aeon Metals shares (ASX:AML) doubled in the December quarter.

Betting on potential takeovers is a risky business.

But even a cursory analysis reveals interesting similarities between Avanco and Aeon, including the perhaps meaningless fact that before OZ lobbed its cash and share-swap bid Avanco was valued on the ASX at $160 million, and at the close of business last week Aeon was valued on the ASX at — you guessed it — $160 million.

Identical market values don’t mean much, but the fact that both companies are potential copper project developers, and that copper is seen as the big base-metals winner in coming decades, it adds to the belief that Aeon could go the same way as Avanco, a tasty morsel for a bigger miner.

There’s not much to be gained by waiting for a raider to light a fire under Aeon’s share price, especially as there’s something far more interesting is happening on the ground.

It’s at Walford Creek that Aeon’s immediate future lies with a major drilling program scheduled to start in the next few days.

The aim of the latest field work, that is targeting 30,000 metres of drilling by three rigs, is to expand an already substantial resource of 194,000 tonnes of copper and 24,000 tonnes of cobalt, the high-tech metal which is flavour of the month in the battery business.

Some investors might say at this stage that there’s not a lot new about Walford Creek and hopes that it would one day become a copper mine.

After all, it is located in a region with a prolific mining history. The Century zinc mine about 100km to the south and the giant copper and zinc mines of Mt Isa a bit further on.

Surely, goes the negative argument, if Walford Creek is so good one of the earlier explorers, such as Western Mining Corporation, would have found something of commercial value.

WMC, one of the most active Australian exploration companies of the 20th century, might have been successful at Walford Creek in the seven years it held the ground up to 1996 – but that was not a happy time in Queensland for WMC.

It was in 1994 that WMC was forced to relinquish the Ernest Henry copper discovery to the east of Mt Isa after admitting that it has accidentally drilled on the wrong side of a tenement boundary – a no-no in the exploration game.

Scarred by the experience at Ernest Henry, which is now in the stable of copper and gold mines operated by Evolution Mining, WMC retreated to operate its assets in WA and South Australia, leaving Walford Creek without an owner until 2004 when it was picked up by Copper Strike — and then by Aston Metals, a private company controlled by one-time coalmining entrepreneur, Nathan Tinkler.

Aeon is confident that earlier explorers did not have the same level of understanding that it has developed about the structures at Walford Creek, including the application of a geological model successfully used to pinpoint mineralisation in the rich copper-belt of southern Africa.

Newfound confidence

The company’s confidence is shared by some analysts, including those at the broking firm of Bell Potter who have been consistently tipping Aeon as a speculative explorer worth buying.

Last week, the broker revisited its Aeon recommendation, repeating the buy tip while ratcheting up the 12-month price target by 2c to 50c.

“Aeon is preparing for the single largest drilling campaign ever undertaken at its 100%-owned Walford Creek copper and cobalt project in north-west Queensland,” Bell Potter said.

“The focus will be on both infill and extension drilling and early holes will target zones significantly (about two kilometres) beyond the currently defined resource.”

De-coded, what Aeon appears to be doing with the early stages of its big drilling campaign is to test whether it is sitting on something far bigger than previously estimated.

If it gets significant signs of mineralisation at its long-shot holes then the stock could enjoy a major re-rating. But even if it fails with the step-out drilling at least a question is answered.

It’s the drilling campaign, and flow of news from the rigs, which will drive interest in Aeon over the next few months, and it’s a fair bet that copper mining companies looking to boost their resource profile will be watching as closely as speculative share traders.