Is There A Future In Metal Detecting?
By: Glenn M. (Doc) Watson
Change inevitably comes, and anyone around now who has detected in the past 20-30 years has seen a lot of it. The days of going out and digging anywhere we wanted are long gone. Public land no longer means open land, as even schools and public parks adopt regulations that curtail detecting. Prime areas of relic hunting have been paved over. State and federally owned lands are most likely off limits outright, and the few such places where detecting may still be possible require some type of permission. It used to be uncommon to see "Posted" signs on private lands; now it had become the norm.
In part because of these changes, the question of whether or not there is a future for our hobby has been running through my mind these past months. First, let me state that I have been a detectorist for 32 years, having owned at least one or more detectors continuously during this time. And even though the amount of my time and effort in the hobby has fluctuated over the years, my interest has been sustained. In fact, while I may not be spending as much time detecting now as in the past, these days it is more productive and with better quality finds- most of the time. But this isn't by accident. There are things that you, too, can do to improve your odds of being successful. And there are things that the detecting industry, as a whole, can do to help assure the continuance of a great pastime.
We have all heard about the virtues of research, and for good reason: it works. What could be better than finding the long-lost site of the county fair? Being the first to find it! Many such places, long forgotten, still hold their bounty in coins and artifacts, but locating these places through research is only a good first step. The next, and often the most difficult, is tracking down the owner of the property and getting permission to detect.
Obtaining permission to search from the caretaker or property owner is vital to the future of the hobby, and this ability to seek out a stranger, explain your hobby, and ask permission is the most important aspect of acquiring new sites to detect. Let's face it, if you are looking for old coins or relics, your best chances are going to be on private property. That old school built in 1910 may look like the ideal spot, but unless you are in a remote, rural area, other coinshooters are likely to have covered it many times over the past 30 years. I believe the most successful will be those who are able to overcome the shyness and fear that most of us feel about obtaining permission. The fear of being told "no" happens to us all, and may keep us from even asking in the first place. Learning to be confident, present yourself and the hobby in a positive way, and utilize simple social skills that we all know can greatly increase your chances of a "yes" response.
How, you ask? People are mostly social by nature, so appearing calm, collected, and self-confident reflects well on you. Ask if the person has a moment, and engage in light conversation to help break the ice. You may ask if he knows the history of the property, if you have research information that you can share. Don't just blurt out that you want permission to dig on his lawn or field. If the person appears less than receptive, this may not be the best time. In such cases it's better to make a little small talk, then excuse yourself without even bringing the subject up. That way you won't get a "no" and will live to ask another day. Carry a card with the metal detecting Code of Ethics on the back, that identifies you and your hobby, and leave it with them. While asking may be intimidating, the finds made on private property can more than make up for any momentary discomfort.
This is not to say that public places can't be productive, just that you will have to work at it more. To be successful, you will need either to sniff out the good items that may have been masked by other trash on previous attempts, or go deeper than others who have detected there before you. This means that a 20-year-old detector is not going to get the job done, considering the vast advances in technology made in the past decade. That is the edge you can have to improve your success. If you cover even a hard-hunted area with a detector that reaches greater depths than before, you will make better and older finds. (That is, if you are operating your detector competently and to its full potential.) While blind luck does occur, the most successful detectorists are likely to be extremely skilled in their detectors' operation, and especially in ground-balancing and discrimination. If your settings are off on either of these, you could unknowingly be walking right over good finds.
So, how does a new detectorist learn these skills? The greatest thing that you can do is to read and understand the operator's manual for your detector- not just a quick skim through, but a thorough, hands-on study. Much frustration can be avoided by that one simple task, yet many people are so eager to get out and start finding "the good stuff" that they actually waste time making errors. Read the manual once or twice to get the basic operating knowledge and know what the text covers. This will help later, as you become more proficient and start wanting to "tweak" your settings to get the maximum performance out of the machine. Study it again as you manipulate the controls of the detector, making sure that you understand what you are reading. This may all seem pretty obvious, but even experienced detectorists may go through a trial-and-error period before they finally decide it's time to sit down and read the instructions from cover to cover.
Another way you can learn about the hobby, and one of the most rewarding, is to join a detecting club. Becoming involved with a group gives you a great opportunity to ask questions about the many aspects of detecting... how to find sites, obtain permission, or operate a certain type of detector. It's safe to assume that someone there has the same detector is has had it in the past, or knows someone else who has it and would be willing to help you. And it is surprising how much one can learn from just a few minutes with another hobbyist who really knows his detector. Not only can he answer any questions you may have concerning the manual, but he is also likely to fill you in on all those little secrets or shortcuts that he's learned, that are not covered in the instructions.
In addition to tapping into the vast knowledge represented by the members of the club, you may also practice your skills at local and regional competition hunts. These can not only be a fun way to learn more about your hobby, but also profitable as well. Sure, everyone else's finds may outnumber yours 10 to 1, but that one little aluminum token you have cold be the one redeemable for a new detector, or a highly collectable coin. My experience with organized hunts is limited, but the ones I have participated in have indeed been both fun and profitable.
Finally, what can metal detector manufacturers and their dealers do to assure a future to the hobby? First and foremost, they can promote safe, responsible behavior in the hobby. Every detector manual should start with the Code of Ethics, and a signed statement to abide by that code should accompany every detector sale. Don't want to sign it? Fine, don't buy the detector. Just that simple act alone could help raise the awareness of responsible detector ownership for all newcomers. Many manufacturers do provide such support indirectly, by making donations and contributions to responsible clubs. In part, they are letting the local clubs do the educating. This is commendable, but not everyone get involved in a club, so the companies who make and sell metal detectors need to find new ways to reach out to the individual hobbyists.
So, is there a future in metal detecting? Yes, as long as we are willing to continue to improve our skills, educate the new detectorist and the public about our hobby, push for responsible detector use, and call out those that do not abide by our code. Whatever your interest in the hobby- coins, relics, beachcombing, prospecting, or organized hunts- there can be many great years of detecting yet to come.