There is nothing like a high risk-high reward drilling program to get the excitement factor up in a junior minerals explorer.

That is particularly so when the junior involved has other interests which serve to protect its market cap in the absence of a game-changing discovery being made in the potential “game-changing’’ drilling program, heaven forbid.

It means the junior is not betting the house on the drill program. The junior will be able to regroup and turn its attention to its other projects, and have another crack at making a 10, 20 or 50-bagger discovery later on.

It is against that backdrop that investor interest has been piqued in recent days in Alice Queen (ASX:AQX, trading at 3.3c for a $36m market cap), Argonaut (ASX:ARE, 1.3c for a $38m market cap), and Meteoric (ASX:MEI, 7.2c for a $95m market cap).

With the help of $200,000 in co-funding from the NSW government’s “New Frontiers” program, Alice Queen is punching a couple of holes in to test for big copper-gold porphyry systems in the Lachlan Fold Belt at its Mendooran project.

It’s one that Newcrest spent $1m on to define targets, only to walk away from the joint venture with Alice Queen, presumably because it did not want to put the effort in to securing approvals to drill in what is part of a State conservation area.

Alice Queen did make the effort and its reward is that it will be first to test the prospective basement rocks below sedimentary cover in what is a previously untested section of the northern Molong volcanic belt, home to Alkane’s (ASX:ALK) exciting Boda gold-copper discovery in 2019.

Initially at least, Alice Queen plans will test two targets – Newcrest’s work identified eight – on the southern end of its tenement where the cover is shallower. Fingers crossed that the company hits the good stuff.

But if it doesn’t, there is always work to do at its Boda East property, and the Horn Island gold project which includes a joint venture funded by St Barbara (ASX:SBM) which is looking for extensions and repetitions of the existing 500,000 ounce resource owned by Alice Queen and excised from the joint venture.

Patience by Argonaut in navigating the approvals process has also paid off, with the all clear given for a drilling program at its wholly-owned Murdie iron oxide copper gold (IOCG) project along the western shoreline of Lake Torrens in South Australia.

It is in the same neck of the woods as OZ Minerals’ Carrapateena IOCG mine, and BHP’s Oak Dam IOCG discovery, the scale of which BHP is keeping tight lipped on despite changing its status from exploration to development studies.

The initial focus of Argonaut’s drilling program is two large-scale gravity anomalies, Murdie and West Lake Torrens.

“These anomalies represent locations with significant volumes of high-density rock that could contain economic IOCG deposits,’’ Argonaut said.

The uranium card

Well, we’re about to find out. If they don’t stack up, Argonaut has its Torrens joint venture with Aeris (ASX:AIS) bubbling away, and its Lumwana West copper-cobalt project in Zambia which has come into its own thanks to the copper price surge to $US3.50/lb.

It is also working on a uranium IPO of projects in the Northern Territory and SA it has been able to pick up during the long downturn in uranium prices. It is a neat bit of straw hats in winter value creation.

The uranium price has yet to take off but sentiment around the nuclear fuel in a rapidly decarbonising world is on the march.

And finally, Meteoric managing director Andrew Tunks cut to the chase when announcing the company was returning to its Juruena property in Brazil for a drilling program that “could well be a potential game changer”.

“There is never a more exciting time than when you are drilling a target that has multiple lines of support and serious size potential,”Tunks says.

The target is a big copper-gold porphyry system beneath the high-grade gold deposits at Juruena which were Meteoric’s initial focus.

Shareholders cheering it on include are new era mining investor Tolga Kumova, old era mining investor Keith Biggs, and retail mogul Gerry Harvey.

If the porphyry chase doesn’t come in, Juruena’s gold remains to be fully tested, as does last year’s pick up, the Palm Springs gold project in the Kimberley region of WA.