Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Metal detecting is a great hobby for all ages and throughout the years has assisted in helping us learn more about history. Whether you are seeking to discover an ancient hidden treasure trove, civil war relics, a beach-comber for coins and rings, or perhaps simply to learn more about your own ancestors, it's a great way to spend a few hours. It's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get.
This hobby is something that has fascinated me for years. The idea that you can move a tool around the surface of the earth and detect a hidden object buried in the ground is amazing to me. It seems like I have always known someone, a neighbor, an uncle, a friend, who has been an avid detectorist and they were keen on showing off their 'finds' when you'd visit. Being a history buff myself, it seemed incredibly exciting to be able to uncover objects from the past that were long forgotten and hidden from the world.
My Dad went through a metal detecting phase. He had an old 'Beachcomber' metal detector that a friend had given him. It wasn't the greatest of machines but he did find some interesting things with it. Dad didn't have a lot of free time to devote to detecting but he would sometimes take it with him when he went out walking.
Finding the time
For whatever reason though, metal detecting was not something I was able to try myself until fairly recently. When you work hard, sometimes two jobs day-in and day-out, there is very little time for extracurricular activities. When I did have free time, it was usually spent having adventures with friends, making music, or drawing. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that a friend of mine bought a metal detector and started a club of like-minded individuals, that I found myself wanting to 'dig deeper' into this hobby. I decided to join the club to learn more about this hobby and meet some new people who share the same interest in uncovering history.
If you are an expert in this field, there likely won't be anything new for you to discover here. I am a novice myself. However, if you are new to this hobby, I have some basic tips to get you started.
Rules? What do you mean, there are rules?
One of the first aspects of metal detecting that I learned is there are rules. Surprising but not surprising, most of these rules are the same rules we abide by here on the farm, neighboring properties, and in my community throughout my life. For that reason, to me, these are basic 'common sense' rules that everyone likely already knows, but in case you don't, I'll share the basic guidelines to metal detecting.
Familiarize yourself with the laws in your area - It is your responsibility to know the State, Local, and Federal laws regarding metal detecting where you live or plan on digging.
No trespassing - You should never trespass on lands you do not own. You will need to gain permission from the land owner to enter and/or dig on their property. It is best to get permission in writing. Never remove posted signs in order to gain access to private property.
Do no damage - If you open a gate, close it behind you. Leave the land like you found it. Do not leave trash, fill in any holes you make. Do not destroy, deface, or contaminate anything that doesn't belong to you.
Tools of the trade
You will need some basic tools to get you started. Basically, all you need is a detector and a shovel but there are some other cool gadgets that will make your life easier, and thus, more fun. This is a hobby that can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be.
Deciding on a metal detector is probably the most daunting decisions you will make. For a young child, I would keep it simple and not spend more than $60. Their interests can change so rapidly you wouldn't want to sink a lot of dough. Also, the cheaper the machine, the less technically complicated it is to operate. If buying for a teenager, I would probably stay in the $150 - $250 range. This is also a good range for yourself if you are someone who wants to experiment with it in a more passive nature. You will have a very decent machine to learn on that will do what you need it to without breaking the bank. If this hobby becomes something that you are serious about, then you will want to invest in a premium machine. Expect to spend $350 - $2,000 for a top-notch, quality metal detector. There are several brands to choose from but three stand out in the way of reputation, quality, and reliability. They are; Minelab, Garrett, and Bounty Hunter. *I receive no funding whatsoever for sharing my opinion on any tools or products I mention. You can't go wrong with either of those three, in my opinion. the best advice I can give is to wait for a sale and look for one that has plenty of accessories with it. Also, price isn't everything. A model in the $400 range is an excellent choice and will likely do all you need it to.
My machine is a National Geographic pro series model that ranges about $150, I got it on sale for a little cheaper than that. It's cool because they are made by Minelab, so it is a quality machine. It's a nice and compact, it folds up for easy storage. It is also very light weight; you won't have any trouble using if for long periods of time.
Other tools you will need is a pin-pointer, a hand digger, and a shovel. For a shovel, I recommend a Root Slayer (about $40). They cut through the soil like butter. I have a Root Slayer to dig a starting hole and a smaller hand digger (about $20) for close in digging. You will want a pin-pointer (about $20). They are so cool! The coil on your metal detector will bring you into an object in a wide radius. Depending on the size of the 'treasure', it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Once you dig the starting hole, a pin-pointer is able to locate the exact placement of the object that triggered the metal detector. Putting you on it with precise accuracy. The long shovel makes a nice 'walking stick', the pin-pointer and small digger strap on your belt. You may even want some headphones. Metal detectors now come with wireless blue tooth capabilities, which is very cool.
Things to consider
Depending on how long you'll be outside, you may want to take some water with you. It's important to stay hydrated. Let someone know where you'll be, in case of emergencies.
Know your machine. You will need one that is water-proof if you plan on searching creeks, streams, beaches etc. Even if it says it is water-proof, it may just mean the coil section. So, you may need to cover the control unit with a baggie.
Watch out for snakes and critters, you might consider carrying protection. Pay attention to your surroundings.
Dress for the occasion and for the weather. You might want some boots and tactical pants with extra pockets or a pouch to carry 'finds'. A hat to protect from the sun and sunglasses.
Some people say the detector picks up better after a rain. Keep in mind it will be messy. The ground may be easier to dig, but the soil will be heavier.
Keep your batteries charged or use fresh ones. Nothing worse than being it on a hunt with dead batteries. I use re-chargeable batteries.
Ready for action
Let the games begin and find some treasures. I have no illusions that I will someday run across a sacred cache of gold. Even so, it is still amazingly fun to dig stuff up that I had no idea was there. I have spent a lot of time digging around my farm and so far, I have concluded that my ancestors have lost a never-ending slew of random farm items from channel-lock pliers to hitch pins. Metal detecting is actually a very useful activity on a farm because if you have cattle, you don't want them to accidently eat anything metal. They will get 'hardware disease' and they could die. So even though, I have uncovered a lot of junk I am glad I am able to locate it and dispose of it before our cows do. I've found a few cans; pop cans, sardine cans, dog food cans. A slew of old nails, wire, and miscellaneous car and tractor parts. Hot Wheel cars are always a fun find.
Here are some of the things I found
The first and coolest thing I have discovered so far is a Native American Brave head belt buckle. I don't know a lot about it but from what I gather, it was likely made in the 1970s. As any detectorist will tell you, there is nothing like the feeling of digging up your first uniquely cool item. For me it was the belt buckle. I will never know who it belonged to or how he or she came to lose it. From now on, if I see someone walking around with their pants sagging down, I will wonder if it was theirs.
Another cool find I made the other day was the discovery of a mule shoe. This was pretty interesting because I found it on our farm and none of my ancestors had or kept mules. I am guessing it belonged to the family that was here before and given other objects I have found in the area, he may have done some blacksmithing. My Grandfather did some blacksmith work and I imagine it was a trade he picked up from his father. My Great Grandfather's parents passed away when he was a teenager and he was unofficially adopted by the couple that lived here previously. He worked for them and lived here on this farm. So, I can easily see blacksmithing being a trade that was passed down.
I continue to enjoy this hobby. It's a great way to spend a few hours outdoors and sharing with friends the things we find while learning more about history. If it is something that interests you, get out there and see what you come up with. If your kids need something to do, get them a detector and a shovel and send them outdoors.
Fresh air is good for the soul! Get outdoors and have fun! Thank you for reading, good luck, and keep on digging.