Learning to Metal Detect – If it Beeps, Dig it

Step by slow step you cross the old yard.  Your eyes scan the ground.  Your ears are tuned to the slightest sound.  The machine you’re holding follows the motion of your arm—right, left, right, left.  Anticipation builds.  You know it’s only a matter of time. 


The noise startles you even though you’ve been waiting for it.  Anticipation turns to suspense.  What caused the beep?  A piece of trash?  A coin?  A ring?  A smile crosses your face as you slip the digger into the ground to expose the hidden treasure.  Possibly no hobby other than metal detecting offers enjoyment, exercise, and excitement, with the added attraction of actually putting money in your pocket.

Not surprisingly, modern metal detectors will find metal.  This includes, but is not limited to, coins, jewelry, relics, tools, toys, keys, pocketknives, foil, pulltabs, nails, and anything else that is metal or has metal parts.  These items can be found on land or in the water.  Some types of machines are designed to work better on some items or in certain areas than others.  Many can eliminate, or at least reduce, the amount of trash you find.  The depth at which a machine will register a metal item, and notify you with an audible sound, varies depending on how large the item is, how long it has been in the ground, how damp the air and the ground are, what material the item is made of, what “setting” your machine is adjusted to, plus other variables.

To get started in this unusual hobby, you first need some kind of metal detector.  There are many different brand names to choose from.  Fisher, Minelab, Garrett, and Deus are just a few.  Each company has several different models to choose from, and the price can range from $150 to well over $2000.  A good beginning machine can usually be purchased for less than $400.  You will also need three more items.  One is a set of earphones so you can hear the machine signals while blocking out wind, traffic and other outside noise.  Cost starts around $10.  A tool of some type to get the target item out of the ground is next.  This can be as simple as a small garden trowel or a heavy bladed hunting knife.  Some hunters use a screwdriver or thin probe. A small shovel can be used in some locations. The last item you need is a bag of some kind to put your finds in.  This can be a nail apron or a special bag made for detector recoveries. 

You can get all of these items from a full service metal detector dealer.  You will also get expert instruction, answers to all your questions, immediate assistance in the event of a problem, and any other information you need.  Talk to several dealers if possible and pick one you feel comfortable dealing with for your purchase.  Look in the yellow pages under “Metal Detectors” or “Metal Locating Equipment” or go online.  While it is possible to buy a machine from a catalog or a magazine, it is difficult to have a catalog assist you or answer your questions.  Also, while you can sometimes find detectors in electronic or discount stores, the sales clerk probably knows nothing about the machine except the price.  If the person selling the item can’t take you outside and show you how to use it, maybe you should try somewhere else.

After you decide on your dealer and the machine you want, ask for a lesson on how to use it.  This includes instructions on the proper way to get your finds out of the ground.  For most targets, a shovel is not appropriate.  First, you must pinpoint your signal.  With practice, you will be able to narrow your search to within a 2” circle.  Use your knife to cut a circular plug around this area.  Carefully, lift the plug out of the ground and pass it in front of the detector coil.  Often, your machine will beep, and you know the object is in the plug.  If not, with proper pinpointing, you will just dig the hole deeper.  Put a drop cloth of some kind next to the hole and place the loose dirt on it.  Keep checking it with your machine until your target shows up on the cloth.  Pick up your find and place it in your pouch.  Recheck your hole!  Often, more than one item will be in the hole.  Put all the loose dirt back in the hole and pack it down.  Replace the grass plug and step it down.  When you are finished, the area should show hardly any disturbance.  Do not use this method if the ground is extremely dry or if the yard is will manicured.  In these two cases, use a long narrow probe (ask your dealer).  Poke the probe into the ground carefully until you feel it touch your target.  Hold the probe in place and cut an “X” with your knife with the probe at the center.  Pry the find to the surface and press the slits back together.  This method takes practice, but is necessary in certain cases.

The time has arrived!  You have everything you need.  You know how to dig.  Now, you need a place to go.  There are several separate facets of treasure hunting.  The most common and the easiest for beginners is coin hunting.  Coins are lost every day in every kind of place imaginable.  The first place to look is your own yard.  If your house is over 10 or 15 years old, there are lost items in the ground.  Next, ask some of your family, friends, or neighbors if you can hunt their yards.  Usually, the older the yard, the better. 

Remember, always get permission to hunt.  This applies to public or private property!  By this time, you have some experience and are increasing your skills.  You have collected some coins, a key or two, maybe a piece of jewelry, quite a few pieces of trash.  Now, you need to decide if you want to keep hunting old yards (my favorite choice), or expand into other areas.  There are literally hundreds of good places to hunt in almost any area of the country.  First are dozens of schoolyards in most counties, many of which can be hunted.  Children play every day on swings, monkey bars, and slides.  Coins are lost.  So are toys and inexpensive jewelry.  Do not dig up the infield of the ball diamond, but check the dugouts if they are dirt and also under the bleachers.  Watch where the children congregate or eat lunch.  These could be hot spots.  Fill your holes properly and carry all the trash you dig out with you.  If a groundskeeper or school official sees you cleaning up trash while you hunt, you will probably be welcome back.  Parks are hunted similar to schools.  Valuables are lost almost daily.  Hunt these during times when few people are around so you don’t interfere with their activities (and they don’t interfere with yours). 

City parks are usually public property and allow detecting, but always check first.  I consider State Parks off limits.  No one seems to have a positive answer when I ask permission.  I am usually informed that there is no State law against detecting, but each property manager is allowed to decide for himself.  Federal properties are almost always off limits and I would not even attempt to hunt there without written permission.  So many different agencies are involved in Federal areas that one of them will always be opposed to your presence.

Churches, especially older ones, can be excellent sites, but churches are private property.  You must receive permission before hunting these spots.  If a church has had outdoor suppers or a picnic area, find out.  Check with locals to see if tent revivals were held and where the tents were set up.  Many a coin missed the collection plate and fell to the ground.

Beaches, fresh or saltwater, are excellent places to find lost items, especially jewelry.  The swimmer’s hands get cold and wet, the fingers shrink, and a ring falls off.  Horseplay in the water or on the beach, and a delicate chain gets broken and a fine necklace ends buried in the sand.  

Many smaller towns have a yearly carnival or circus site.  Every kid at the carnival had money to spend and often lost some of it.  Check the library for old newspapers or your computer for locations of these events.

Some more ideas include campgrounds, rest parks, and the corner lot where neighborhood kids played football.  Roadside vegetable stands, grassy areas around outside phone booths, and the ground around rural mailboxes often yield coins.  Any place people have congregated, either children or adults, items have been lost.  The more people involved and the older the site, the more apt you are to recover some special finds.  If it’s too cold or wet to hunt outdoors, hunt in books and magazines and school annuals.  Keep notes.  Talk to friends, especially older ones, and ask them to recall the things they did and the places they went as youngsters.  You will never run out of places to coin hunt.

Dirt Digest Magazine is reader-supported. When you buy through the links below we earn an affiliate commission.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *