By: Bruce Conley
This story begins with the dreaded question... "Can I metal detect on your property?"
Prior to getting to this point, I had spent several unproductive days at one of my usual hunting sites. Asking for permission has never been easy for me, but when I get desperate enough, I will normally go out and ask permission on a Sunday or another day when I am well dressed and not wearing my detecting attire. I like to give the appearance of a professional, well-kempt person, always hoping that this tactic will appeal to most people. Normally, I get pretty anxious knocking on doors, but the worst you can hear is, "No." On the other hand, if you never ask for permission, you will never know.
The property owners that I spoke with that day were a really nice retired couple. More than gracious in granting permission, they were the kind of people you would love to meet every time you are out seeking access to new sites. They told me that their property had been searched several times in the past, but I didn't let that deter me. I had worked "hunted out" areas before and still been able to recover good finds. This general area was the site of the Battle of Resaca in May 14-15, 1864, a part of General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.
I hunted this area for several months, finding the usual shot and dropped bullets, an occasional button, and miscellaneous brass objects. The more I found, the more I believed that there had to be a "US" belt plate somewhere on the premises. Every year I set relic hunting goals, and finding a "US" belt plate had been a goal of mine for a couple of years. I had found a breast plate in the past, and on another occasion I found a nice "US" cartridge box plate, along with 63 dropped Minie balls in the same hole. I don't always achieve my goals, but most of the time I do.
Hunting on the far side of the property, where I found a dropped bullet and a cartridge box finial, I began to realize this site still had a lot of potential. I moved over to a wooded area with a large amount of undergrowth, where I received a good signal on my White's DFX and recovered a homemade poker chip, a piece of melted lead, and a large iron padlock. The lock, approximately 8" deep, had "A. Thompson" stamped on its brass nameplate. I later e-mailed Robert Dix of the American Lock Collector's Association, who identified it as a wrought iron lever lock (or "smokehouse" lock), adding that Thompson made such locks from the 1850s to about 1880 in England.
I went back to the same site a couple of days later and started running patterns, even though I had searched the property extensively. I kept thinking that there just had to be a belt plate in there somewhere. I began getting some good signals, finding a suspender buckle, an iron hook on a swivel, and a couple of .52 caliber Spencer cases used during the Civil War. Finally, hunting beside a little path, I got a solid signal and uncovered an object face down with loops exposed. To my amazement, when I turned it over, it was a "US" belt plate! These plates were made of stamped brass and lead filled, with hooks in the back. The brass face on this plate was missing, but the hooks were still intact, and the letters "US" were still present on the lead. It might not have been in the condition I'd hoped for, but it was a "US" belt plate. At long last, I'd achieved my goal.
Good luck to you as you pursue your own goals in metal detecting. Be persistent, and sooner or later your quest will end in success!
BRUCE CONLEY, 34, is an occupational health nurse and lives in Dalton, Georgia with his wife Michelle and children Sydnie and Landon. A W&ET freelance contributor and Best Finds winner, he has been metal detecting for six years.