by Don Vickers
People get into the hobby of metal detecting for many reasons.  As a child we daydream of searching and finding buried treasure and getting rich.  As a young adult it might be to find dropped change that could be used for gas money or other purchases.  A middle aged person might pick up the hobby for the love of history or as exercise to help drop a few pounds.  The older individual may start detecting for any of the reasons listed but also for the peace, quiet and serenity of being out enjoying nature either by themselves or with a small group of other like minded individuals.

I am asked quite often what is needed for this hobby and other than the detector and shovel I cannot stress enough that the number one thing needed is patience.  So many people jump into this hobby expecting to start digging ancient relics and coins right away.  They see a TV commercial for a metal detector where the operator has to stop every 5 to 10 feet to dig a 100 year old Silver Dollar or Half dollar coin.  PLEASE don’t be naïve!  The TV and magazine advertisements are good for our hobby and good to get people interested in what is possible but seldom are they realistic for the beginner.

Even with a high end detector someone with no experience is going to dig 10 times more trash than coins.  The coins that a non experienced person digs will be recent worthless clad coins most of the time.  I follow a lot of online message boards and read posts all the time of people complaining that they just are not finding the good stuff.  When asked where they are detecting the reply most of the time is the local park.

Let me give you a little history lesson.  The first metal detector was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1881 and was used in an attempt to find an assassin’s bullet in then President James Garfield.  It was an unsuccessful attempt to save his life and no one realized until after the fact that the attempt was destined to fail due to the president lying on a steel spring mattress.

During World War II the metal detector was used to find land mines and other explosives so troops could either destroy them or disarm them without being stepped on by soldiers.  After the war the returning soldiers would purchase the military surplus detectors for personal use in finding coins and relics around home.

The hobby really took off in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  During this time period there were multiple manufacturers and the price of detectors started to become affordable for the average person.  Over the next 10 to 20 years there were untold thousands of people with detectors.  The Government stopped producing silver coins due to the price of silver so the lost silver coins became very sought after.  With that many detectorists hitting the same parks and public property it wasn’t long before most desirable targets started to become scarce.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are still old coins and relics to be found it’s just not as easy as it used to be.  Detectors have gotten better at discrimination and depth but the days of going out and finding pocketfuls of treasure in a short amount of time is now a thing of the past.

In order to be successful in this hobby you have to understand that it is going to take patience, an understanding of your detector to include its functions and limitations.  You also need to do research to find areas that other detectorists haven’t found yet.  The local park is still a good place to start detecting and to learn your detector but 90% of the time you are not going to find the targets that you desire.  Spend the time learning your detector and be patient with your finds, trust me when I say you are going to dig a lot of trash for every 1 coin you find at first.  Once you start being able to predict what the target is before you dig it then you are ready to move from the park to old houses and other areas where there may be worthwhile targets.

Remember there are no “UNOWNED “pieces of property!   Whether it is owned by an individual, a town, city, county or state the property is owned by someone so make sure you know who owns it and who is responsible for granting permission before you attempt to detect it.

Due to the massive destruction and carelessness from early hobbyists many towns, cities and county parks are now regulated when it comes to detecting so make sure you always check for rules and regulations before you detect.  There are some places where you could even land yourself in Jail, your car and detector confiscated just for being in certain places with a detector in your car.

If you think you have the patience for this hobby then I suggest you jump right in.  First thing you will need is a detector, a small shovel and a pouch.  Make sure you get a pouch that will hold your treasure and your trash.  So many times I see others detecting without a pouch and I shake my head because I know they are digging trash but not taking it with them.  Do the hobby a favor and anything you dig up please take it with you.  Don’t leave it for the next person.  You will find  it is easier to find deeper targets once you remove the trash from above it.

While you are waiting for your new detector to arrive you will have time to start finding out about rules and guidelines in your area for metal detecting.  You may want to contact the local parks and recreation offices to make sure you are allowed to detect.  A lot of areas are now requiring a permit to detect in public parks, some are free some are not.

Either before you get your detector or as soon as you can after you get it you should contact your nearest Metal Detecting Club.  Your local club will also be able to help you with rules and regulations and be able to offer advice as to why or why not things work the way they do.  I purchased my first detector in 1994 and upgraded and then upgraded again and still wasn’t finding anything worth writing home about.  It wasn’t until 10 years later when I joined a local club that my finds started to get peoples attention.

If you need help finding a club you can see a map of local clubs at the top of my website (http://www.mymdforum.com).  There may or may not be a club in your town but I would still encourage you to talk to the members of whatever club is closest to you.

Online forums and metal detecting websites are another great place to get information.  You can discuss  issues or questions you have on the message forums with people from around the world.  I also suggest you take the time to post your finds online, you will be surprised to learn that items you believe to be junk or trash could be very valuable artifacts.  I once found a flat disc with no noticeable image on either side so I thought it was just some sort of knock out piece of metal so I threw it in my junk bucket.  A couple months later as I was cleaning out my junk bucket I came across this piece and by some stroke of luck I noticed there was something on one of the sides that I could see before either because of the light I had to work with or just not knowing they were out there but after a little bit of careful cleaning I realized I had a large cent (minted before 1857).  Even with all my cleaning I was never able to get a date off of it but it was still worth knowing that I had found a coin that old.

If joining a club isn’t for you I would still suggest you find a detecting buddy, someone who is also starting in the hobby that you can bounce ideas off of or just talk about the hobby.  A buddy can also convince you to stick with it during the long dry spells of not finding anything good.  A buddy can also help with research, gaining permission or administer first aid if something happens to you while you are out deep in the woods investigating an old Cellar hole.

Hopefully this article hasn’t discouraged anyone from giving metal detecting a try.  So many times advertisers only show and tell the success stories and never really give all the facts (especially the negative ones).  There are still plenty of treasures to be found with a metal detector, all you have to do is get your coil over it.

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

4 Comments

  • mitch oakes says:

    Don,
    can you give me some info on the local club that you belong to, where the meetings are, how often they get together. I would like to get better at this hobby since I am getting ready to retire soon.
    Thanks
    Mitch Oakes
    Lenexa, Ks.

  • duane west says:

    I live in Marinette, Wisc. and looking for a place to hunt ? can anyone help !

  • mitch oakes says:

    Hey Don,
    Haven’t talked to you in quite a while, we need to get together and go hunt. I have retired and have more time on my hands. I have continued to hunt as I can, but need some continued education (ha,Ha).
    Give me a call, maybe some evening, somewhere close.
    Mitch
    9135680996
    9132327935

  • admin says:

    Mitch,

    Sorry for the late reply. I am actually getting away from the hobby. I am even trying to sell my detector. The weather is starting to get nicer now and the crops are going to be harvested soon so maybe if I don’t sell my detector right away we can get together.

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