Skills

“Seven Common Sins” Of Metal Detecting… That Can Rob You of Success

I have had over 48 years to either make… or avoid… most of the mistakes that cause metal detectorists to miss great finds on the sites that they hunt while learning the “tricks of the trade.”  And even if you happen to be a grizzled old veteran detectorist of many years-experience, reading this, that thinks you already know all of those I am going to write about and don’t have any problems with them…  well… you just might be surprised!

Go ahead and read this article anyway and take a mental inventory to make sure that any of the seven I “spotlight” here, have not slipped back into your metal detecting without you realizing it.  Besides… a little review never hurts anyone from time to time when it comes to “Find or NOT to Find.”

I grew up as a child of the fifties and the sixties and back then, at least, we not only were given the belief that the definition of “SIN” was doing something wrong that God did not like but that it was also something that carried a penalty after it was done that hung over one’s head like a sword that could fall at some time in the future.  And so it is that the “Detecting Sins” I am going to list and talk about are also about doing something wrong that will carry with them the penalty of DECREASED AND MISSED GOOD FINDS.  The sooner these “sins” are recognized and removed from your “detecting life,” the less they will rob you of finds you should have, and could have made, but didn’t.

It may come as surprise to perhaps many of you readers, to learn that only one of these mistakes has anything to do with how you set your detector.  The price and brand of your detector, be it a $60 “toy” or a $3000 piece of advanced technology, has NOTHING to do with eliminating the problems I am writing about.  All seven will still rob you of good finds, no matter how expensive your detector is, if they are present in the way you use your detector.

The very first “Metal Detecting Sin” that I want to discuss is one that not only afflicts a large percentage of beginners but also a number of treasure hunters who have been detecting for years.

THE PENDULUM SWING…  This big mistake has to do with how one swings their detector because your swing is what determines how much ground you actually cover.  The more ground you cover with each and every swing, the more good finds you going to make.  I know no one reading this wants to go out and waste about 80 to 90% of each swing you make with your metal detector and yet the MAJORITY of detectorists newer to metal detecting tend to do just that.   Take a look at the diagrams here to understand why you NEVER want to use the “PENDULUM SWING.”

Okay… so what does a CORRECT SWING LOOK LIKE???   It looks like THIS…     

Recently, I had the chance to go out detecting with a guy that had been metal detecting for a couple of years with some success.  As we got on site and started swinging our detectors, to my surprise, I saw he was using the classic PENDULUM SWING.  I pointed it out to him and he told me he had never realized he was doing that.   The guy was a pretty smart fellow and he had a fairly expensive up-to-date metal detector but he had UNKNOWINGLY passed up 2/3 of the good signals that were present on the sites he had hunted during that time due to this error he had not caught.  How about you… or you… or you way in the back there… could some of you be doing the same thing?  Got the point ?  Good… let’s move on to the next mistake detectorists frequently make when searching.

D.E.S. – Stands for DETECTOR ELBOW SYNDROME..  this is a very painful condition, similar to common arthritis or bursitis, that occurs inside the elbow joint on the arm you mostly swing your detector with. If you continue to hunt once this problem appears it will continue to worsen and can make it too painful for you to detect very much… if at all.   It has a simple cause… and… A SIMPLE SOLUTION that usually requires NO MEDICAL ATTENTION.

D.E.S. most common cause is extending the shaft on your detector out so far that you keep your elbow bent while swinging your detector.  Your elbow joint was not designed to remain locked in any angle of a BENT POSITION for long periods of time.  The continual stress of being bent while you do hours of metal detecting will soon or later (SOONER, if you are over 40.) bring on D.E.S.  I am 72 and I do NOT have D.E.S. or any kind of pain in my arm or elbow joints when I swing a detector.  The reason is I know the secret of avoiding it and I now share it with YOU. 

I avoid getting D.E.S.  by adjusting the length of my detector shaft so that with the coil flat on the ground about 24” in front of my shoes, I can hold my arm straight… but relaxed… WITHOUT BENDING MY ELBOW WHILE I SWING.  I can swing my detector in a full 180 degree half-circle with the coil flat to the ground ALL DAY without putting any un-due stress on my elbow joint and cover a lot of ground in the process. 

If you are an older detectorist and already have trouble with arthritis in other joints and get D.E.S. you almost certainly will also end up with that arthritis migrating to your elbow joint… making the STRESS INJURY caused by the way you swing your detector much harder to heal up.

I have personal history with this problem as back in my 30’s I started using a 14” coil on my detector to hunt deep Civil War relics. I extended the shaft too far to cover more ground and THAT forced me to hunt with a bent elbow. And THAT gave me a SERIOUS case of D.E.S. after a number of all-day hunts doing that.

It was so painful I thought I would have to give up detecting altogether but, thank-fully, an old-timer detectorist recognized my problem and told me what to do about it, as I now tell you.

In a couple of weeks hunting the new way with my arm relaxed and straight the D.E.S. went away and my elbow was fine… and is STILL fine… all these years later.

This “Detecting Sin” is one that the vast majority of detectorists… young and old… beginner or grizzled veteran… have a problem with.  Do you think that too bold a

statement???   Do a google search for PEOPLE METAL DETECTING IMAGES and look carefully at all the pictures of people detecting… almost ALL are hunting with their elbow bent and MANY have their detector shafts extended too far and their searchcoils too high off the ground.

This is a simple one and easy to correct…  FAILING TO OVERLAP EACH SWEEP OF YOUR COIL BY AT LEAST 50% CAUSES YOU TO NOT DETECT MANY DEEPER TARGETS UNDER YOUR COIL.. 

Why???  Because on almost all searchcoil types that I am aware of, the field of detection gets narrow towards the bottom of its maximum penetration.  So while if, say, you have an 11 inch coil, you may detect every coin you go over that is at a depth of 6” or less the full 11”width of the coil, you will NOT get an 11” wide detection pattern on coins down around 8” to 12” deep.  Your coil detection field may only be 3 or 4 inches wide at those depths… or at it’s extreme detection depth… as little as only 1 inch wide.  That being the reality, the only way to detect more of those deep coins is to SLOW DOWN and OVERLAP, OVERLAP, OVERLAP!  Never forget… your searchcoil detection field may only be detecting a swath one inch wide at its maximum detection depth on small targets like coins.  Where coins or artifacts have gone deep, the majority will only be found by the detectorist who understands that it will take more sweeps greatly overlapping each other to get the job done.

This is also a simple one to correct… but it is important!  AVOID HUNTING WITH YOUR SEARHCOIL IN THE “LAUNCH POSITION.”   I already touched on this problem that is more common among detectorists than you might think… I mentioned you should keep your coil “flat to the ground” when sweeping your detector.    For unknown reasons, many will hunt with the front edge of their searchcoils tilted upward like an airplane that is launching itself off a runway into the air.  It apparently never occurs to them that the higher that front edge of the coil is tilted, the less depth of penetration half of their searchcoil will have because its too far off the ground. 

KEEP THAT SEARCHCOIL WITHIN A HALF INCH OF THE GROUND AT ALL TIMES WHENEVER POSSIBLE.  FOR EVERY INCH THE COIL IS ABOVE THE GROUND, YOU LOSE AN INCH IN PENETRATION DEPTH ON TARGETS YOU ARE SEEKING.

This is probably the easiest one to correct of the entire seven…  MAKE SURE THAT YOUR COIL WIFRE IS WRAPPED TIGHTLY AROUND YOUR DETECTOR SHAFT AND SECURED WITH VELCRO STRIPS, IF NECESSARY, TO KEEP THE WIRE FROM HAVING ANY LOOSE LOOPS THAT DANGLE.

If your searchcoil wire is loose and dangling at any point… but especially near the searchcoil, it is, in effect, a charged piece of metal wire moving back and forth on its own from both your swinging of the detector and/or any brisk breeze that is present.  When any part of your searchcoil wire moves separate from the natural movement of the detector, it changes what is called the IMPEDENCE of the searchcoil, causing the coil to detect it as a piece of metal in the ground and giving you, the operator false info… or FALSE SIGNALS, as we call them.  You can end up chasing signals that are hard to duplicate exactly and come and go like ghosts.  This can be pretty frustrating if you don’t understand what is happening and stop and wind your coil wire more tightly around the shaft.  

This one is a little harder for detectorists to master because “natural logic” tells them the opposite of what they need to do.   TURN THE SENSITIVTY ON YOUR DETECTOR WAY DOWN WHEN ATTEMPTING TO FIND GOOD TARGETS ON A SITE THAT CONTAINS HUNDREDS OF JUNK METAL SIGNALS such as square nails, old car part, bottle caps, etc. 

When the metal signals on a site are close together… say 2 feet or less… it also means that the good metal targets are VERY CLOSE to bad metal targets.   The bad metal targets, being so plentiful will hide the good target signals pretty easily when you try to use MAXIMUM SENSITIVIY on your detector to “punch through” the iron.  TURN DOWN YOUR SENSITIVITY so you will get “SEPERATION” of the good targets from the

bad ones.  When your detection field on your detector is narrowed down by setting the sensitivity lower, it is true that you detector will NOT detect as deep… but… NOW it will pick up good targets close to bad ones a LOT BETTER… it can “hear” the good targets without being blanked out by the mass of the bad ones so easily picked up when using MAXIMUM SENSTITIVITY.  This “TRICK OF THE TRADE” will often be the difference between whether or not you go home after hunting a trashy site with NOTHING to show for it or… bragging rights to a few great old coins and/or relics!

Okay… the last “METAL DETECTING SIN” we want to focus on in this article could be classified as, “OPERATOR ERROR.”   It occurs WHEN the detector operator DAMAGES A GOOD COIN, PIECE OF JEWELRY OR VALUABLE ARTIFACT like a Civil War Belt Buckle, in the process of locating it and removing it from the ground. 

There are just two basic reasons in 90% plus cases of FIND DAMAGE that determine why it occurs in the first place.  Those are the ones I want to be sure all our readers are aware of before we wrap this up.  The first and foremost is simply THE FAILURE OF THE OPERATOR TO PINPOINT THE SIGNAL ACCURATELY ENOUGH TO AVOID STRIKING THE OBJECT THEY ARE EXCAVATING WITH THEIR DIGGING TOOL.  The second is often tied tightly to the first… the old folks put it like this, “HASTE MAKES WASTE.”  Yep… getting in too big a hurry to recover the find is often the sole cause… or contributor to the cause… of doing damage that many years in the ground and a fleet of farmers, plows, disks and harrows could not accomplish.  

I personally know of bottle diggers that broke $3000 dollar rare and intact bottles because they did not behave like a surgeon doing a heart transplant in moving slowly to recover the bottle from the clay it was locked in.   Another time, a detectorist I knew, failed to pinpoint his silver reading accurately and ended up putting a deep scratch right across the face of a rare 16-D Mercury Dime with his digging knife… took ¾ of the value right off the coin!  And if THAT is not bad enough to make the point… how about this one… A young Louisiana man I hunted with found a $4000 Confederate CSA brass belt buckle on a battlefield near Baton Rouge and CUT IT IN HALF with his army entrenching shovel he used to dig it !!! 

Every detectorist has a need to learn how to PINPOINT ACCURATELY WITH THEIR DETECTOR SEARCHCOIL… BEFORE THEY START DIGGING.  This alone will go a long way towards avoiding damage to great finds.  A hand-held pinpointer is really not much good until you get down pretty close to the object.  There is a great technique for becoming VERY accurate at pinpointing before you dig but I will have to devote space to it in a future article. 

In the meantime, DO THE BEST YOU CAN… check the signal from both east and west and north and south BEFORE you dig.  DO NOT LET YOUR EXCITEMENT AT THE PROSPECT OF A GOOD FIND CAUSE YOU TO MOVE TOO FAST IN RECOVERING IT… BE SLOW AND METHODICAL LIKE DISARMING A BOMB!

CLOSING NOTE: I won’t tell you that I never made the mistake of marking a good coin or an occasional Minie Ball with a digging tool, but after hundreds of thousands of objects dug, I can say that the coins and relics I marked could be counted on the fingers of both my hands with fingers left over.  Nobody bats a thousand when it comes to damaging finds with a digging tool but we all need to really strive to make that a RARE occurrence!


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