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Metal Detecting for Fun and Treasure

Updated on October 16, 2013

On my first metal detecting trip to the park in my backyard, I found a 1941 walking liberty half dollar, which by coincidence was exactly the same coin shown in the White's Detector commercial that was airing on television. I was using the exact same XLT Spectrum model, and was hooked! Little did I know that 14 years later I would still be detecting, but in many different environments. There are so many types of detecting and places to search that there isn't enough time to pursue them all: One must decide which path to follow. Here are the main ones that I discovered:

1940's Toy Pistols & Artifacts
1940's Toy Pistols & Artifacts | Source

Treasure-seeking types

Coin shooters: These detectorists commonly frequent public parks. They often must buy permits and follow local ordinances. They seek primarily coins, but jewelry is a bonus. Those with better detectors and higher skills go to outlying park areas and sweep for deeper coins, often old silver and even gold. Many with average skills are happy to pick up a few extra dollars and some outdoor exercise, quickly sweeping play areas to get as many coins as possible. Sometimes rings and other jewelry are found, especially in the woodchips around playground toys. Older coins can be found around the park edges and oldest trees.

Deep coin and token shooters: These detectorists go to the Special Collections departments in libraries and look up old plat maps. They find the oldest homesteads, saloons, ghost towns, trolley stations, churches, and parks, and look in old newspapers for announcements of where people went to celebrate holidays. Their "luck" comes from intelligent research, such as knowing the importance of Washington's Birthday community celebrations many years ago. Trade tokens, which are often found along with old coins, are collected by many and can be quite valuable. They were common before paper coupons replaced them in the 1940's.

Cache hunters: Again, historical research is the key to success. Not content with single coins, they interview older people to hear their stories, look up old Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of old properties and obtain landowner permission to systematically look for treasure. Maps of every kind are used, often one overlaid upon another with search grids.

Civil War Artifacts: Mini-balls, grape shot, belt buckles, stirrups, weapons, spurs, tokens, bottles and other artifacts are their passion. Pickaxes, soil knives, and sharp shovels are needed to cut roots, pry rocks, and dig, often in arduous conditions. They may find coins, but they target relics. Great care must be taken to avoid live ordnance. Get permission on private property. Don't detect in historical preserves and parks or you may end up in jail with your gear confiscated.

Gold Nugget shooters: They are the hardiest detectorists of all, often found in extreme environments such as deserts, or deep in the Alaskan wilderness wading up ravines and tipping over rocks in their quest for gold and platinum nuggets. With precious metals selling high, this type of detecting is lucrative for those with the patience to learn and the strength to swing a coil for hours in extreme environments.

Water Hunters: My favorite! There are two main camps: salt and freshwater. We wear waders or wetsuits and use specially designed scoops for dry sand, wet sand, gravel, or rocks. Saltwater hunting requires a knowledge of the tides, black (metallic) sands, and wave behavior. This type of detecting is more dangerous because of dropoffs, large waves, deep prop holes, quicksand, , strong currents, inattentive boaters, biting reptiles, stinging rays and jellyfish, fishhooks, and broken glass. Wear sturdy wading or dive boots to protect your feet and always bring a friend. Having a first aid kit handy is a great idea. .

Artifacts: Fur trade, copper, toy cars, toy guns, and trap tags, are just a few. This requires knowledge of applicable laws in each country or state.

Meteorites: This type is growing in popularity because of increased tv coverage. These detectorists cover a lot of ground tapping at likely specimens with magnets attached to the end of walking sticks. Detecting equipment ranges from hobby detectors and large ground penetrating radar. Make sure to get permission to trespass, and know what critters to avoid!

These specialties often overlap. Join a metal detecting club in your area to learn more about them. Clubs often invite dealers to demonstrate equipment, and bring speakers in to explain history, coin collecting, tokens, and other topics. Make friends and try different models of detectors and detecting genres until you find what flips your trigger. You will soon find that metal detecting is a hobby that is very rewarding. It's not only fun, but it pays for itself!


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