Skills

Field Hunting How It Became My First Love Of Metal Detecting

Relic hunting the farm fields has been the most rewarding form of metal detecting I’ve ever had the opportunity to pursue.

Before finding the joy of relic hunting, I guess I would have been called a coin hunter. Although I got into metal detecting many years back because of my love of history I didn’t know how to go about finding it.

Like many others in our hobby I started at the obvious places. Schools, parks and old houses is where I spent most of my time. As my skills increased, I found it fairly easy to find old, silver coins, Indian head pennies, Buffalo nickels and other fairly common, old coins.

Although I found it enjoyable, I got to the point where it was almost boring for me. Finding the same coins over and over just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Although I was still having fun, the excitement had worn off.

Once I discovered relic hunting there was no looking back. That was many years ago now and the excitement hasn’t worn off. Every chance I get to relic hunt and every artifact I pull out of the ground, even a plain flat button or a musket ball still gets me excited! Although coins were an important part of daily life, they don’t have that personal connection with the past that relics hold.

You find an old coin and rarely is there any kind of story that goes with it. You find a fired bullet near a known battlefield and it sends chills down your spine, it’s an important part of history even if you don’t fully know it’s story.

Variety of Metal Detecting Finds

Before I discovered relic hunting, I rarely found much in the way of relics. It was rare to come across a musket ball or even a plain flat button. Once I started field hunting my coin count went down, especially silver coins but the relics increased immensely. Buttons, buckles, musket balls, all common finds in the fields. These are just the common relics, almost every field site gives up something unique. Pewter eating utensils, early gun parts including barrels, old horse tack, military buttons, trade goods like copper kettles, silver trinkets and so much more.  Although my silver coin count went down the quality went up considerably. All of my Spanish coins, all but two large cents, my capped bust coins all came out of fields. The quality of finds overall went up considerably and after years of finding common silver coins It was no big deal my count went down especially since the quality of coins went up considerably.

Easy to Obtain Permission to Metal Detect

Before field hunting, I often found myself metal detecting houses that were still standing. I found it much harder to gain permission when trying to hunt house sites. Many people don’t want to be bothered, they don’t want to look out their window and see someone outside digging in their grass. Whatever the reason it can sometimes be hard to get permission.

I have always found getting permission for fields and woods is a much easier task and rarely have I been turned down. Although it is getting harder to do, I will try to call the landowner if I can find a number for them. I say something along the lines of “hello my name is Mike Haer and my passion is metal detecting. The reason I am calling is through research I came across where a site was in your field. I like to call first because I hate bothering people, but I would be more than happy to come out and meet you and discuss getting permission to metal detect your property.”

This has worked very well for me and I usually gained permission right then. Matter of fact never once to date has a property owner ask to meet me except one time. So, I gave my spiel and at the end of it the gentleman said he would like to meet me first and if I could come out to his house the following Sunday. I agreed and went out to visit him first. I must admit I was a little nervous, never had anyone taken me up on actually meeting but I was more than happy to do it. I knocked on the door and the nice gentleman invited me into his house, and we talked a few minutes before grabbing his coat and boots. We then went out to the barn where he showed me how to get into it, showed me the refrigerator and told me I could help myself to soda, water or beer and I was more than welcome to come out anytime I wished! Although the site I overlaid didn’t produce much I was able to find a site much earlier, but I will get into that in a later chapter.

I just had someone the other day who couldn’t believe that I call when possible instead of going to gain permission face to face. My method works great although with a lot less people using land lines it is getting much harder to call landowners for permission. The reasons I call first are simple:

  1. It is far less time-consuming. I decided to give it a try many years back after I had spent the better part of a week driving around, wasting time and gas to try and gain permission but not able to find anyone at home.
  2. I am a BIG guy! Whether I like it or not I can be intimidating, and I don’t want to catch anyone off guard. When I make my call, I get it out as early as I can in the conversation that I would like to come out and discuss it with them.
  3. There are some crazy people out there!

Just recently this discussion has come up several times in my circle of friends about some of the strange encounters we’ve had while trying to gain permission. The other day I called a guy who screamed and yelled at me cussing me like crazy. I can’t imagine how that could have gone if I would have been face to face with him on his large, secluded farm!

A good friend and I were talking about a farm where the locals know to stay away. He’s been known to meet people in his driveway with a gun! Then there’s another story that was told to me about knocking on the door of a farmhouse that was believed to be a meth-cooking house! I know of a guy who had a dog turned on him at a house, believe me when I say, always be cautious and I recommend never go door-knocking alone whether it be a house in town or a farmhouse in the country.

I don’t want to discourage you from door knocking, I have done it many times over the years, and I have yet to have a bad incident face to face. Matter of fact I’ve had some fantastic experiences! Just the other night I knocked on the door of an 80-year-old couple who were some of the nicest people you could ever meet. They showed me around their house, pulling out Indian artifacts they had found around the farm over the years and before I left, I had permission to come anytime I wanted and hunt their property. Even if you get that one person who is an absolute jerk, I assure you the people you will meet will more than make up for it.

All found in the same field, the coins are a 1795 Spanish
half Reale and an 1803 large cent fairly early for Ohio.

One of the things I came to appreciate quickly was how easy it was digging in fields. Rarely will you come across a spot that isn’t nice and soft. You might have to deal with some crop roots, but they are easy to get through especially with a good shovel. Doing mostly manicured yards for years and having to be so careful to not kill or mess up their grass it was a nice change to not have to worry about that while field detecting. Not having to worry about the size of the hole (within reason) or how deep it is you can really recover your targets in a very quick fashion once you get used to it and have a technique down.   

Another thing that helps speed up recovery is I spend very little time on my knees when I’m field hunting. In a yard I’m digging with a small hand digger, laying out a towel to sift through the removed dirt but in a field I simply removed the dirt, check the whole until the signal goes away and then I quickly spread the dirt around with my foot, often times uncovering the artifact. This helps save a lot of time and I rarely end up going to my knees. Even if the target isn’t uncovered by spreading the dirt around, I can at least quickly pinpoint where it is and pick up that pile of dirt and find it.

Pastures can be a little tougher and obviously a little more work. I don’t care if you’re in the middle of nowhere it’s still important to take the trash and restore your holes. Don’t leave any signs you were ever there.

The Oldest Metal Detecting Finds

 As previously stated, I spent year’s metal detecting old houses that were still standing. The older the better and I’ve had the privilege to hunt some very old houses. For reasons I can’t explain my oldest finds have always come out of the field sites. Are the older targets at these old houses to deep? Are they masked by a few hundred years of debris? I truthfully don’t have the answer. What I can tell you is that I’m not alone. I have talked to several fellow detectorists like myself who have experienced the same thing. I am not one who relies on one metal detector and I’ve used just about all the top models out there so if the targets are just too deep or masked, I feel confident they will stay there unless new technology comes out or the dirt is moved.

My oldest coins and relics have all come from the relic hunting. I have found too many large cents to count, but I can tell you that every one of them came from fields besides two. I have found buckets of old buttons and I bet all but a handful or two came out of the fields and woods. The age of artifacts I’ve found at places like houses still standing rarely come close to even the average age of relics I’ve found in the fields and woods.

As previously stated, I spent year’s metal detecting old houses that were still standing. The older the better and I’ve had the privilege to hunt some very old houses. For reasons I can’t explain my oldest finds have always come out of the field sites. Are the older targets at these old houses to deep? Are they masked by a few hundred years of debris? I truthfully don’t have the answer. What I can tell you is that I’m not alone. I have talked to several fellow detectorists like myself who have experienced the same thing. I am not one who relies on one metal detector and I’ve used just about all the top models out there so if the targets are just too deep or masked, I feel confident they will stay there unless new technology comes out or the dirt is moved.

My oldest coins and relics have all come from the relic hunting. I have found too many large cents to count, but I can tell you that every one of them came from fields besides two. I have found buckets of old buttons and I bet all but a handful or two came out of the fields and woods. The age of artifacts I’ve found at places like houses still standing rarely come close to even the average age of relics I’ve found in the fields and woods.

Unrelated Treasures

Not only has my best relics come from the fields, I have stumbled onto some other great artifacts that don’t relate to the site. Probably the most common is arrow heads and other Native American artifacts. While field hunting these will be pretty common finds and besides watching your relic collection grow you will soon find you have a Native American collection as well. Early settlers were looking for the same promising signs of good land as Native Americans were hundreds and even thousands of years earlier. You will often find early homesteads built over top of Native American Indian villages.

Other things that I’ve found or at least know of being found is old telegraph insulators. Not something I have ever personally had an interest in, but I know some can go for thousands of dollars! These are usually found in fields that have or had a Railroad line running through it.


This map represents roughly 2 square miles. Each push pin represents a house (except where church is marked). These all came from an 1874 map.

Rarely will glass survive years of the plow but I have seen it on a few rare occasions. What I would suggest though if you are interested in glass artifacts is if the site is near a creek, ravine, ditch or tree line is to check those out. Often times I have found bottles that have been discarded in these areas and are worth a little bit of your time. If you are lucky you can even run across a bottle dump with hundreds or even thousands of bottles!

While detecting a field site you will come across pottery at every site. Not whole pieces or at least I’ve never come across any, but I have come across a lot of shards with some beautiful designs on it. Every site I hunt, the display case all the finds go in will get a shard or two that I found interesting.

An (Almost) Untapped Resource of Metal Detecting Sites

When I first started overlaying maps, I was amazed at how many potential sites there were to be hunted in a single township! Here’s how the county I grew up in breaks down. There are 12 Townships in the county. When I overlaid the county from an 1874 map, I found on the low side 100 while other townships had as many as 200 sites that were gone from each township that were on the 1874 map. Let’s just take the low side of  100 x 12 is 1,200 potential sites! It gets ways better though just hold on! There is also an 1858 map for that county, and I was blown away at how many sites were on that map that were already gone by the time the 1874 map came along.

Ohio was founded in 1803, many counties in Ohio had settlers even before that. How many houses and other sites disappeared before that 1858 map? I can tell you form experience it’s significant and the deeper you dive in your research the more you will uncover.

If you want to go after old silver coins at parks, schools, even houses you need to know they have been pounded over the years by many detectorists. I couldn’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve gotten permission for an old house and been told it had been detected. In the heat of the summer I like to water hunt, again I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve ran into other detectorists on the beach or how many times I’ve come home virtually empty handed.

It is the one niche of the hobby that I know of that isn’t over saturated. If I thought there wasn’t enough for my lifetime I wouldn’t be sharing my passion for field hunting the way I do! It is the easiest and best chances you have on coming across a virgin site.

It’s not to say there isn’t competition but there is less competition in relic hunting than most other forms of hunting I’ve done. I can tell you I know I’ve never been at a virgin park or school, but most field and wood sites were and it’s amazing to know you’re the first one to detect it!

Often Replenished with New Finds

Another great aspect of field hunting is it is constantly being replenished… sort of. The finds are already there but often times masked or too deep. I have absolutely hunted out a spot, waited a few years until it has been plowed, and go back and it’s like I was never there. It’s absolutely amazing!

I once got permission for a field site and was telling a guy about it. He told me I was wasting my time, he hunted it out back in the 1990’s. Of course, I didn’t let this deter me as I knew the field had been plowed many times since he last hunted it. My hunch paid off and it rewarded me big time with handfuls of relics, large cents, a King George III copper and even a few old silvers. You would have never known it had ever been detected.

A good friend of mine recently spent most of his time in field sites we hunted 4-5 years ago and again, his finds were plentiful. He probably found as much as we did when we hunted it a few years back.

I think you can see it’s really one of the true untapped opportunities for us detectorists left. In most cases you can take just a few townships in your county and stick to those and probably get permission for enough of them to spend the rest of your life there.

Of course, this is a little different in pastures and woods. They can be picked pretty clean because the ground isn’t getting turned over. In these instances, metal detector knowledge and choices play a much bigger part in your success.

Affordability of Metal Detecting

Personally, I think as far as hobbies go metal detecting is a very affordable hobby. I grew up hunting and fishing and those can get awfully expensive very quick and sometimes they don’t pay off in any way. Metal detecting pays off and although I have never sold my finds nor am I interested, it does have a value to it. For those on a budget or getting started in the hobby though it can be expensive. Not only can you get into relic hunting on a tight budget it has personally been more rewarding to me.

When I was mostly looking for old coins, I learned pretty quick you had to spend some money to be able to accomplish that on a regular basis. The old silver coins are usually deep and often surrounded by trash or iron and sometimes both.

I know people who have put thousands of dollars into detectors for water hunting, heck I have a sand scoop with a carbon fiber shaft that was almost 400 dollars! As you can see it can get expensive pretty quick.

Gold hunting is probably the most expensive aspect of the hobby. If you want to get serious about it, you’re going to spend thousands of dollars in most cases just on the detector. Of course, you have to be in an area with gold.

There are several advantages to relic hunting if you’re on a budget and you don’t need a complicated detector which is a big advantage if you’re starting out new in the hobby. In most cases it doesn’t matter if it has a depth gauge or a digital display. In a lot of instances, you don’t need a detector that goes deep, even though most farmers only plow every few years they are moving the ground around bring deeper targets up from the depths to be found.

Enjoying Nature While Metal Detecting

For myself it is much more enjoyable to be out in nature. Away from the busy cities and away from all the noise that comes with it. I have to really be on a roll finding some great stuff to completely drown out the busy city life. I’ve been detecting places where I have to look over my shoulder, where the traffic is so loud I have to stop swinging to wait for traffic to go by so I can hear the signals in my headphones again. I don’t miss it and if you see me at a site like that it’s probably got something going on making it worth it!

I have had so many great moments hunting in the fields and woods. I’ve watched as deer cross in front of me, I’ve seen fox, a small buck and a squirrel playing around a tree and so many other cool things including plants, trees, rocks and everything in between. It’s good for us to get out to places like this and unwind.

Many years back, while metal detecting, I came across the biggest tree I’ve ever seen in my life. It was close to the river and for several feet out around it the ground was sunk in. To this day I’ve never seen a tree even half as big as this one.

I stopped what I was doing and spent some time under its massive limbs, wondering what stories it must have to share if only it could.

Although I will never forget that tree, I have to say that up till now my most memorable moment was walking on Zane’s trace.

Zane’s trace was an early frontier road cut through the forests of Ohio that went from Kentucky to West Virginia (then just Virginia). Ebenezer Zane made the road using old Indian paths.

I had to walk a long way through a field to get to the woods that part of the old roadbed was. I knew it was in those woods, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I walked to the woods and started following the outside edge around until I saw a small opening into the woods. To my surprise you could still clearly see the old roadbed! As I stepped out of the field and into the woods it felt like I was transported back in time!

Even if it doesn’t interest you or you’ve never given field hunting much thought, I’m sure you can at least see now why I enjoy it so much. If you live near the fields, I would highly recommend doing a little!


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