Strong newsflow is expected as Auteco drills out a 45,000m programme aiming for a resource update mid-year, fully funded thanks to an underwritten placement in 2020 which raised A$30.4 million.
The size of the existing resource alone makes Auteco stand out from other gold explorers, not to mention the project's history, infrastructure and untapped potential.
"We believe we're one of the highest-grade companies with a resource of 1 million-plus ounces in North America and Australia," executive chairman Ray Shorrocks said.
Past-producing Pickle Crow was once one of Canada's highest-grade mines, producing 1.5Moz at 16g/t until it closed in 1966 when the gold price was down around US$35/oz.
In a case of serendipity, Shorrocks said the Auteco team was able to step in last year and do what it does well - pick up and reinvigorate a "long-forgotten" asset.
Shorrocks is Bellevue's former chairman and secured the company's namesake, past-producing project in Western Australia where it now has a 2.3Moz resource at 10g/t gold.
Bellevue managing director Steve Parsons and CFO Michael Naylor are also on Auteco's board.
In Canada, Auteco last year struck a deal to earn 80% of Pickle Crow from First Mining Gold, which is focused on the development of its Springpole gold project in northwest Ontario.
Shorrocks said there were "so many positives" at Pickle Crow but it was important to highlight that since acquiring the project, Auteco had increased the high-grade resource to 1Moz, just concentrating within a 3.5km section of the core mineralised shear zone.
The company has already done about 20,000m of drilling, in the first large-scale systematic exploration programme at Pickle Crow in 50 years.
The current second phase of the work programme is focused on near-mine extensions and discoveries.
Auteco has already reported results including 5.6m at 33.4g/t from 20.3m outside the resource area.
"I could get a shovel out there," Shorrocks said of the near-surface potential close to the old headframe.
The third phase will shift to infill drilling ahead of a resource update expected in the June quarter.
"We would hope to see a resource increase based on results to date," he said.
The fourth phase will turn to regional exploration where Auteco now has a huge landholding under one corporate umbrella.
"It's the first time an explorer has access to such a continuous portion of the northern greenstone belt," Shorrocks pointed out.
Auteco expanded the Pickle Crow land package by 176sq.km less than a month ago to 496sq.km.
The Western Superior gold district includes Pure Gold Mining's new namesake mine which has a 2.1Moz resource grading 8.9g/t and Newmont's Musselwhite mine which has a 1.79Moz reserve grading 6.25g/t gold.
Not just an asset
"The thing about an asset is that it will always just remain an asset, unless you've got the team to make it something right," Shorrocks said.
"The people who have really made Bellevue what it is today - people like Steve Parsons and Mike Naylor - they're both involved in this, which makes for a spectacular team."
Auteco also recently appointed Darren Cooke, an experienced geologist who was part of the Northern Star Resources business development team as the WA-based company transformed into a global gold major.
Cooke only started this month but Shorrocks said it was already a huge plus to have him on board.
At the project level, Pickle Crow's positive attributes continue with a mining lease which is valid to 2067.
"We've got a walk-up start here and that's backed up by really good infrastructure," Shorrocks said.
This included a 225 tonne per day mill, which was never commissioned, a 24-person camp, a core stack holding about 80km of core and kilometres of underground development, albeit in need of dewatering.
In terms of access, Pickle Crow is in a mining-friendly jurisdiction.
There are daily flights connecting Toronto to Thunder Bay, then a flight to Pickle Lake means a 15-minute drive to site via a paved road.
Exploration is possible year-round and Shorrocks said the geologists were out working this week in minus 42C temperatures.
With so many veins to choose from, he said it was a question of "where to get the biggest bang for your buck".
A fifth rig was about to be added, thanks to the junior's "spectacular" balance sheet, having started this year with almost $30 million in the bank.
Parsons and Shorrocks put their money into last year's equity raise, which was priced at 13.5c.
"We had such a great following at Bellevue a lot of institutions came on board at that stage," Shorrocks said.
He was "glad and proud" of the fact that over a very short year, Auteco had managed to get one quarter of its register institutionalised, which was rare for a junior.
Board and management also own about 22%.
"We take a very low risk, low-cost approach to everything we do," Shorrocks said.
"And not only do we try and reward all our staff with options, we always make sure they've got skin in the game."
Finally, Shorrocks was keen to emphasise Auteco's value given its eye-catching resource.
"We're going to a market cap of about $170 million, with $30 million in cash - that's an enterprise value of $140 million," he said.
"I really do believe with the grade that we have, it's a very unchallenging valuation."