Welcome to the Ultimate Metal Detecting Guide – This guide will give you all of the information, tips and tricks that you will need in order to get started in the exciting hobby of Metal detecting.
Table of Contents
Metal detecting is the process of using a machine that emits electromagnetic waves into the ground.
When the waves hit on a metallic object they are rebounded back to the metal detector. The metal detector then analyzes the waves and then informs you through a beep or noise change that you’ve found a metallic object.
Why Choose Metal Detecting?
I started metal detecting about 7 years ago and I have been enjoying this hobby more and more every time I go out. Metal detecting is unlike many other hobbies in that the more time you invest into the hobby the more it will reward you back with treasures of not only monetary but historical value.
Metal detecting also offers an incredible thrill. I mean imagine swinging your detector and you suddenly get a great solid signal. You proceed to dig your plug with anticipation and curiosity for what it is. As you pull the plug out you notice at the bottom of the hole BAM! a rare coin, or piece of gold/silver jewelry or maybe even a war relic. What a thrill!
The main reasons I personally enjoy this great hobby are:
– Thrill of Finding Treasure
Metal Detecting is just plain fun and exciting. I remember back before I got into this hobby I was out shopping at a hardware store and there was a rental section that rented all kinds of tools and machinery. I was looking through the aisles and noticed a metal detector. It was only $10 to rent for the day so I thought I would give it a try.
I got home and put the detector down and forgot about it. A few hours later I saw the detector sitting there by the door and decided to give it a shot not really thinking I’d find anything decent.
For the first hour or so I dug probably close to 20 rusty bolts, nails and screws and a few pennies. I mean it was cool and somewhat exciting to find buried “Treasures” but it was definitely not sparking my interest in pursuing the hobby. Given I also didn’t really know how to use the detector I just turned it on and went.
I was nearing the end of my patience with detecting and I once again bent down to dig what I thought was another rusty nail or if I was lucky another penny. I dug my plug and pulled it out and to my surprise there sitting in the plug was a half rusty Swiss army knife.
I was shocked and even though it wasn’t of great value or even a good find, it was a whole lot more exciting than nails or pennies. This find gave me a renewed vigor and I went on. A few holes later I dug a small silver ring. I was officially hooked.
Later that month I bought my first detector a Garrett Ace 250 and I’ve been enjoying metal detecting to this day.
Types of Metal Detectors
When it comes to this hobby there are 2 basic types of detectors to choose from, Very Low Frequency and Pulse Induction.
Very Low Frequency is the most common and most widely used type of detector on the market today and is used for most hunting locations and scenarios.
Pulse Induction detectors compared to VLF technology is newer. It is used mostly for hunting scenarios where there is high ground mineralization or in an area with few trashy targets where you want extra depth (shallow water / beach detecting).
PI (Pulse Induction) Pros and Cons
VLF (Very Low Frequency) Pros and Cons
From the above images you can see that depending on what and where you are going to be hunting for, this will determine the type of detector you should buy and use.
Most often unless you plan on hunting only the ocean beach or gold fields where mineralization is very high you would want to go with a VLF type of metal detector.
Metal Detecting Tools / Equipment
Like any hobby or sport, metal detecting requires some equipment in order to have a successful hunt. There are certain tools and equipment that are absolutely necessary and others that are optional. The optional tools will however, work to make your life easier and the hunt more productive.
Essential Detecting Tools / Equipment
Metal Detector – The main tool you will be using to locate metal treasures in the ground.
Shovel/Lesche/Scoop – A digging tool that will allow you to dig or scoop (beach/sand) the metallic Item out of the ground.
Finds/Trash Pouch – During the hunt you will likely dig a lot of trash along with the good finds, it is important that you have a place to keep both items separate as it is metal detecting ettiquette to take all of the trash you found and throw it out.
Towel/Hankerchief – If you plan on metal detecting parks, tot lots or other properties that are not yours, you will need to have something that you can place the dirt on so that when you fill in the hole all of the dirt goes back in and it does not look like a mess. Leaving a messy trail of poorly filled in holes behind you is a sure fire way to kicked off and banned from detecting on that property.
Optional(Recommended) Tools / Equipment
Headphones – While headphones are not necessary with many detectors, having metal detecting headphones that block outside noise will help you to better hear the faint and deep signals that often turn out to be decent targets.
Having a good set of headphones is essential to getting to know and understand the small sound variations in your detector. These variations can tell you whether dig or keep walking.
Pin Pointer – A pin pointer is a small hand held version of a metal detector with a small rounded tip. It will help you to locate (pin point) the target you are digging much faster and with higher accuracy.
Having a good pin pointer will allow you to dig more targets in less time. It will also your plugs smaller so you don’t have to dig enormous holes.
Gloves – Metal detecting gloves are not essential however they do help keep your hands clean and protect your hands from cuts, scrapes, bites or whatever else might be hiding below the earth that you’re digging.
Extra Batteries – Nothing is worse that getting to your detecting site and having your batteries die after only a short while. It is important that you have extra set of batteries on hand for both your detector and pin pointer (if you have one). Depending on how much you plan on detecting, I would recommend getting some rechargeable batteries as well.
Coil Cover – A coil cover is a plastic tray that fits over the bottom of your detecting coil to protect it from scratches and dings produced by rocks, tree roots, shells or anything else you may accidentally hit while metal detecting.
Rain/water Cover – Unless you own a waterproof metal detector you will want to have a rain cover with you should it start to rain or should you be near an area that has water that could splash onto your detectors control box.
Food/Water – Depending on where you’re going detecting, how long and the type of weather you’re expecting. Having some food and water on hand that you can quickly consume will help to keep from cutting the hunt short and will help to keep you from dehydration.
Aside from metal detecting tools and equipment you will need a place to hunt, permission (VERY important) and depending on your location a metal detecting permit.
Total Cost of Getting Started
The startup costs of metal detecting very widely depending on what kind of quality you’re after and whether you buy new or used. I will try to give you a decent average below.
An entry level quality metal detector can cost anywhere from $200 to about $450 new and a bit less if you get it used from Ebay, Kijiji or some other service. Entry level detectors are easy to use and have very few advanced features or options on them. They are basically meant to be “plug and play”. Obviously there will be some small things you need to know to maximize the effectiveness of the detector but they are pretty straight forward.
The top metal detecting companies I would suggest going with are:
Garrett – (Been around for years, trusted and offer great entry level machines at a very decent price)
Note* – If you are unsure about whether or not you would actually want to get into the hobby of metal detecting, and are more or less just interested in trying it out.
If you do a search of your local area there should be a place where you can rent a metal detector for a day or week or whatever it might be. That way instead of spending hundreds of dollars to see if you like something you would only pay $25-$75.
If you know this is a hobby you want to get into and are looking for a decent detector that won’t break the bank then I would go with one of the recommended detectors below.
As for digging tools for land I prefer using a small spade or a gardening type shovel to dig my plugs. The reason for this is that you can better control the size of the holes you dig and it looks a whole lot less destructive when out on public type areas.
There are also digging blades like the Lesche which are very highly recommended and popular in the metal detecting community. These are heavy duty digging tools that are great for digging plugs in tough soils, around roots and other natural ground obstacles.
Digging tools range anywhere from $15 -$70
When beach metal detecting or detecting an area where sand will be the primary soil type I prefer to use a sand scoop. Sand scoops are quite a bit more expensive however it really makes life a whole lot easier when metal detecting both wet and dry sands.
Top Sand Scoop Companies
These beach scoops are great quality and are used by a vast majority of metal detectorists. They range from ~ $140 – $300. This may seem quite steep when first starting out, however having a good quality scoop will be well worth it in the long run.
Detecting Finds Pouch
A detecting pouch of some sort is a must. Remember that you will likely be digging hundreds of targets and will need a place to store not only the good finds but the trash as well. A good metal detecting pouch will cost you about $10-$25.
I would recommend the Garrett Diggers Pouch as it has a 10″ deep pocket with in interior pocket as well for separating out trash and treasures. It also has a convenient elastic type belt that will hold your pin pointer, phone, digging tool etc.
Pin pointers will range anywhere from about $60 – $180. Pin pointers on the cheaper end of the spectrum are usually more prone to break and have weaker depth sensitivity. In the upper range you will see both of these points improve, as well as some pin pointers in the upper range are water proof which helps if you’re detecting in a light rain, on the beach or in a river.
Metal Detecting Headphones will range anywhere from $30 – $250. Headphones have a high variance in price because of the many features and options that are available. Some of the options/features are listed below:
– Noise Cancelling
– Variable volume
I currently use the Garrett Master Sound Headphones and I would recommend them as they produce great clear sound. I can hear even faint iffy signals with them.
Metal detecting gloves will range anywhere from $15 – $45. Don’t get too caught up on gloves though, they don’t have to be anything special. As long as you are able to use your equipment and dig with them on that is all that really matters. I personally use regular gardening gloves and they works out great.
Metal detecting coil covers will range anywhere from $10-$30 dollars depending on the type and size of the coil on your metal detector. Rain covers are also usually detector specific and will range anywhere from about $15-$40.
Conclusion of Costs
The metal detecting costs that you would be looking at for just the necessities, and considering you went with mid-grade equipment would be roughly about $425-$450. The necessities would give you a good idea of what the hobby is about and whether you would want to pursue it or not.
Best Places to Metal Detect
There are many beginners who get hung up on trying to locate the best spots to metal detect. While there are locations that are better for some items than others. The truth is that any place where people congregate has the potential to be a great detecting spot. Some of the most common and productive places to metal detect are:
– Old Homesteads
– Beaches/Swimming Holes
– Your Back Yard
– Friends/Family’s back yards
– Tot Lots
– Road Construction Sites
– Carnival/Festival Sites
– Volleyball, Basketball Courts
– Soccer Fields
– Church/School Yards
Metal Detecting Tips and Tricks
All metal detectors and the process of detecting come with a learning curve. Learning how to detect and how to use your detector properly as well as taking advantage of all of their feature sets and options can take quite a bit of time. Here are some tips and tricks to help minimize some of that time.
Take your Time
I see beginners all the time swinging their detectors like their trying to play golf while speed walking all over the place. Metal detecting requires a slow, steady swing back and forth and a walking speed that compliments your swing speed.
Don’t Over Discriminate
Discrimination is the process of blocking certain metal types from being picked up by your detector. The problem with too much discrimination is that it can actually work to blog out a ton of good targets. These targets could include small gold items, coins, jewelry etc.
Try to run your detector with the least amount of discrimination possible at first focusing just on blocking iron and learning the different sounds and tones your detector makes for certain metal groups.
Watch your Footwear
I made this mistake when first getting into metal detecting. There are many shoes /boots out there that feature some sort of metal on the shoe whether a logo, or the lace holes. These will inevitably cause falsing from your detector and will cause you to think you’ve found a target when you have not.
Instead of aimlessly walking around swinging your detector, break up your search area into different zones or grids. Take your time and hunt each section of the grid one at a time. This will ensure that you are not missing targets or covering ground you’ve already covered.
Once you have searched the section walking one way, turn 90 degrees and search the section again. Once you’ve done that walk the section on a diagonal. The idea here is that depending on how the target in the ground is sitting, you may miss it from one direction but get it from another. See picture below for example.
The ground that you are detecting has different levels of mineralization. Therefore you need to let the detector know when those levels change so it can adjust to ensure correct target identification, max depth and accuracy. Some detectors are preset to a certain ground mineralization which is easier but can at times be very inaccurate. Some detectors have the option to manually or automatically ground balance. Ground balancing your detector should be done when:
– Transitioning from one ground type to another (ex dirt, clay, sand, mixture etc)
– Going to another section of your search grid (Not always necessary but for the time it takes you should just do it)
– You notice a lot of falsing or the target ID’s seem to be off.
– Transitioning from dry hard ground to soft wet ground
– At the start of each hunt (Not always necessary but good practice)
Rescan your Holes
Beginners often find their target and then replace their ground plug and walk on. What you don’t realize is that sometimes there are multiple good targets in the same hole that were being masked by iron or the target you found. This means you’re possibly passing up good targets that you could have found with a simple rescanning of your hole before filling it in.
Dig Everything at First
The best way to learn your metal detector and what its trying to tell you is to dig everything at first. You will dig a ton of trash targets however over time you will get to understand and know the varing tones, beeps, blips etc. and what they mean. Knowing this information will allow you to better identify targets without needing the ID on the detector (ID on detector is not always accurate)
Use Different Angles
If you stumble upon a signal that is clear one way and broken the other way or a bouncing signal try chaning the direction of your swing. So in otherwards move 30-90 degrees to where the target is and re swing your coil over top of it. Doing this will give you a better idea of what the target is and whether its a good target or trash.
Focus on After Hours
When detecting public areas like beaches, parks, tot lots, sports fields etc. it is important to focus your hunts around times when it is the least busy. The reasons you want to do this are:
– Less chance of complaints or bothering others.
– Not as many distractions and easier to move about.
– Fewer kids or other interested bystanders asking a ton of questions and keeping you from metal detecting.
– Less chance somebody will see a good find you dig and claim its theirs.
Always Dig Pull Tab Signals
The more you metal detect the more you will grow a hatred for pull tabs and bottle caps. It is due to this that many beginners will get a pull tab type signal and pass it on by to avoid having to dig yet another pull tab. The problem here is that many gold type targets are also in this range. By passing these targets up you risk letting go of some gold coins and jewelry.
Connect with Other Metal Detectorists
Connecting with other people who share your love for metal detecting is a great way to have more fun, learn new things and get help when you run into issues. There are a few good metal detecting forums online that are great for getting a ton of information from. Some of the best detecting forums I’ve come across are:
Metal Detecting Etiquette
As with any sport or hobby there is an etiquette that should and is expected to be followed. This etiquette not only protects this hobby but also yourself and your fellow detectorists.
Metal Detecting Etiquette
- Always leave the grounds you detect the same or better than when you started.
- Take all trash found and throw it out. Never leave it laying around or re bury it.
- Respect all private and public property. Never metal detect anywhere you don’t have permission.
- Never destroy or deface anything on property that isn’t yours.
- Always fill in your holes. Ensure that when you leave that hole that nobody would be able to know you were even there.
- No matter where you detect, others using the property for its original intention (Parks, Tot Lots, Swimming areas) have the right of way.
- Be aware of and research all local detecting laws before going starting.
Finding Fresh Metal Detecting Locations
The biggest problem when it comes to metal detecting the more popular areas is that you’re in compettition with every other metal detectorist out there. That is not to say that hunting these areas won’t be successful, you’ll just have to work harder to find the few good targets that have been left behind.
The key to making your detecting hunts more productive is to find places that are not commonly visited or not common knowledge to the other detectorists in your area. In order to do this you will need to do some digging online to find places that existed in the past that do not today.
Google Search Old Maps
Google can find nearly anything and everything for you. The key here is to search maps from the 1800’s or earlier on google. Once you have found an older map of your area you will want to make note of potential metal detecting spots of interest. These can include things like:
Once you have done that go to Google again and pull up a current map of the same area and compare the spots of interest that you have found on the old map to the new map to see if they still exist or not. Regardless if they exist or not you can than find out who owns the land they are or were on and you can go ask permission to metal detect those areas.
These types of areas are great for old relics such as guns, bullets, axe heads as well as old coins, silver, gold etc.
Visit your Local Library
The library often has a wealth of resources on the history of your town or city. These resources can include historical diaries, old maps, old newspapers, historic photos and information on past attractions. The library can hold some great little gems of information that can lead you to a metal detecting hot spot.
Ask Older Generations
Some of the best, most accurate form of information about the past in your area is to talk to the older people who have lived in your area for decades. They will themselves have many memories about what it was like back then, but they will also have information passed down from their families.
Visit the Historical Society
Many towns or cities will have historical sociteties that will have not only a ton of information about the past in your area but will also have staff or volunteers that will have a wealth of information that you can use to find some great and very productive metal detecting spots.
Metal Detecting Safety
Metal detecting is an incredibly fun and exciting but like everything else, it could be potentially dangerous if you aren’t prepared. Here is a small list of safety tips for you to consider that will help you to ensure that your detecting hunts are as safe and enjoyable as possible.
- If metal detecting remote locations or in locations where not many people will be around let somebody know of your whereabouts in case any kind of emergency comes up.
- Carry a first aid kit with you when going metal detecting.
- At the first sign of any type of negative confrontation choose to just walk away. At the end of the day fighting, getting a charge or in the extreme case dying is not worth the finds you could have discovered.
- Carry your cell phone with you on every hunt.
- Keep an eye out for poison ivy, oak and sumac or other natural dangers.
- Pay attention to your surroundings if you will be in an area with wild animals.
- Never and I mean Never show anybody expensive finds. This will lead to them claiming it’s theirs or you getting mugged.
- Detect with a partner as often as possible, and if possible avoid detecting at night.
Common Metal Detecting Terminology
All Metal Mode – Metal detecting an area with no discrimination set. This allows the detector to pick up all metals instead of blocking some signals out. This will enable you to find a lot more interesting target, however; the tradeoff is that you will be digging a lot more trash.
Barber — A Barber dime. Minted from 1879 to 1917.
Cache – A collection of coins or jewelry that was purposely buried in order to hide them for safe keeping. Usually items in a cache will be in jars, boxes, tins, or bottles.
Canslaw – Pieces of aluminum cans that have been shredded by a lawnmower or other means. These pieces of aluminum can create a wide range of signals that will fool you into thinking you’ve found a great target.
Chatter – If you are running your detector on high sensitivity or are detecting ground with higher mineral content you will notice your detector has a static type noise.
Iffy Signal – A signal that appears to be good, but also has tells of a trash target as well. Usually it is shown as a very quick beep or blip, scratchy, or jumpy type signal.
Clad — Newer coins that are just considered ordinary pocket change.
Coil — The part of the Metal detector that sends and receives the signals into the ground.
Coin Shooting – A form of metal detecting where coins are the primary focus.
Coin Spill – a group of coins found in a small area. Often times these coins are found in and around the original hole that was dug.
Digger – A tool used for digging holes, or the metal detectorist who is digging the holes.
Dirty Fishing – Another term for metal detecting
Discrimination – A function on a metal detector that eliminates certain metallic type targets.
Door Knocking – Asking for permission to metal detect by going door to door.
Grunt –Often the sound a metal detector makes when the coil is swung over iron.
Ground Balance – Adjusting the Metal Detector to overlook or ignore a certain level of mineralization in the ground.
High Tone – A tone that usually indicates that a high conductive good target such as silver, copper, brass etc. has been located.
Hot Rock — A highly mineralized rock that gives off metallic signals that makes detecting very difficult.
Key Dates – Coins that have a low mint number and are usually sought after by coin collectors.
Low Tone – A tone that indicates a low conductivity such as gold has been found.
Masked – A good target that is close to an iron target that fools the detector into thinking there is only an iron target. Essentially it is when an iron target hides a good target from the detectors view.
Merc — A Mercury dime (silver) (1916-1945)
Morgan —Silver Dollar. (1878-1921)
On Edge – A coin that is standing on its edge in the ground, instead of lying flat down.
One Way Signal – A good signal received in one direction only, this is usually an indication of a junk target but not always.
Pinpointer – A small handheld detector with a small detection field at the tip to help locate the buried target once the hole had been dug.
Plug – A hole shaped clump of dirt that is cut out from the ground.
Probe – A small tool that looks almost like a screwdriver that is used to locate shallower targets in the ground by pushing the tip down into the ground.
Repeatable – A consistent signal in any direction the metal detecting coil is swung.
Rosie — Rosevelt dime (1946-1964)
Target ID / VDI – A visual display that shows a number that corresponds to a type of metal, or a chart showing possible targets within that certain numbered range.
Tear Outs – These are areas that have had the sidewalks, roads, parking lots ripped up and now have the ground exposed to be metal detected.
Test Garden – An area of dirt that is free from all iron and trash that has coins and other good targets buried at certain depths. This allows you to test your metal detectors response on known targets and their depths so that out in the field you can better determine whether a target is good or trash.
Tot Lot – A place within a park that is designed for kids to play. Usually it will feature swings, slides, jungle gym etc.
Virgin Site – A Location that has not been previously detected.
Wheatie — US cent (1909-1958)
The most important thing to remember about the hobby of metal detecting is to go out and have fun. Don’t worry about being the best detectorist or finding the most targets. That will all come with time and experience.
Just keep in mind that there will be metal detecting hunts that will absolutely suck for finding any decent targets, it will feel like you just spend the day cleaning up the area of trash. There are other times where your hunts will provide you with a tone of great finds that will blow you away.
The key to remember is that you will have bad days and you will have good days, but even the worst day metal detecting is better than the best day at work.