Make No Mistake!
By: Dean Eaton
There are a number of mistakes that people make when metal detecting. In this article, I will try to address a few of them. No, I'm not an expert. In fact, I've only been detecting for about four years. Nevertheless, I'd like to share not only some of my own mistakes, but also a number of concerns. Hopefully, they'll help you avoid the same all-too-common errors.
One mistake that most of us make is trying to go too fast. We need to learn to take smaller steps while detecting. And with each smaller step, we're swinging the searchcoil back and forth in front of us. This will cause us to cover the ground more thoroughly. Just remember the old saying, "Less is more." After all, let's face it: we're never going to be able to cover all of the ground we want to anyway. Also, please keep in mind how just small that dime, tiny button, musketball, etc. really is at 8" deep.
The next mistake that I'd like to talk about is the sad fact that many of us know very little about the machine that we are using. Unfortunately, I also fall into this category. Why? Because, like many people, I have only used it as a turn-on-and-go detector. No wonder my brother Ray almost always comes away with twice as much as I find, only to hear me complain about how much he found compared to my tiny amount. However, with Ray's help, and after finally reading and actually studying the owner's manual, I'm slowly learning more about the detector that I'm using. I now know from experience that using it as a turn-on-and-go unit doesn't get all of the targets that we are after. It just won't detect them without skilled operator adjustment and usage.
Another good reason for getting to know your detector is an incident that happened to me one day. Ray and I had started to detect in an old farm field when, for some unknown reason, I pulled the trigger on my DFX even before ground balancing. Needless to say, this got me very few targets, but I just kept on detecting, thinking that I was in coin mode. Ray, on the other hand, had many good hits, pulling item after item out of the ground. The smart thing for me to have done was to turn the detector off and start all over again. But I didn't. Ray checks and even rechecks his detector and settings because he wants to get as much out of his equipment and field time as possible.
There is another pervasive problem that I would like to touch on. Proper filling of the holes we dig is one of the important aspects of detecting. In the past I've sometimes been guilty of forgetting my dropcloth to put the excess dirt on. This can lead to real trouble, because there is no place to put that dirt but on the grass. In this situation, we are forced to try to rake the dirt back into the hole with our fingers, and then blend the remaining dirt into the grass. It doesn't work, and the unsightly results reflect badly upon not only oneself but everyone in our hobby.
Over the past four years, Ray has often been concerned about how high I would raise the searchcoil on the end of my sweep. It wasn't until we went to a treasure hunt in 2010 that either of us really saw someone lifting the searchcoil off the ground. We were shocked to see a number of them swinging their detector as if they were playing a round of golf. Do these "golfing" detectorists think that the coins are hanging in midair? Why work so hard, when all that you're covering is one foot in front of you? The object of the game is to keep the searchcoil as close to the ground as possible.
One huge mistake that some searchers make is to throw an unwanted item back into the hole that they've just dug, or simply discard it on the ground. A stunt like that is totally uncalled for, not very farsighted either. Why not carry a pouch with you to put such trash in? It doesn't even hurt to pick up non-detectable trash for the landowner or groundskeeper. Just one person's thoughtless and lazy behavior could shut down a really good spot, all because he couldn't be bothered to take care of the unwanted items that he dug out.
Most parks, schools, and other public-use areas have trashcans where you can properly dispose of trash when your pouch is full. A few extra steps doesn't really matter that much when it comes right down to it. Besides, doesn't one favor deserve another favor? Show that you appreciate the privilege of detecting. There is also another good reason why you should always want to remove any trash item that you uncover. If you're like most of us and revisit certain locations again and again, why would you want to dig up the same trash item twice? Why not remove it so that you don't have to contend with it again?
Ray and I have sometimes made the mistake of going to a spot for only a couple of hours or so. Because I got hungry, tired, or thirsty, or just felt like taking a break, I'd talk him into stopping. To solve this problem, we might need to take some food and drink with us. Doing so can give the body much needed nourishment and moisture- and give the arm, hand, and shoulder a much needed break.
Next, I'd like to mention three particular mistakes that I have made, in the hope that you can steer clear of them. If you're like me, you use your right arm for swinging that magic wand. Of course, it goes to the right side a bit farther than it does to the left. Knowing that, I still went as far to the left when I turned around as I did to the right. This could only tell me one thing: I was leaving a strip.
I'm also prone to try to stick with my detector's standard 9-1/2" searchcoil. Bad idea! As Ray says, "One coil does not work for all situations. You need a smaller coil in trashy areas, but you can use an even bigger one where the targets are few." If you're like me and tend to get in a hurry when retrieving or cleaning finds, costly mistakes can occur. Slow down... it's not a race! One day I found a 1913 Farmers Deposit Savings Bank of Pittsburgh token. This token is made of a cheaper grade material, and mine has a few pits in it, but I made it even worse by trying to clean it with a knife and putting scratches all over it.
I know that I have only touched on a few mistakes that detectorists too often make. Certainly there is the lack of research, fear of asking a landowner for permission, and choosing the wrong storage for equipment and finds, just to name a few. But for now let's at least try to walk a little slower. "Smaller steps," remember? Get to know your detector. Keep the searchcoil as close to the ground as possible. Take your trash with you, even non-detectable items. Stop for a break every so often to refuel and regain strength. Try not to leave any unsearched strips while detecting. Don't be afraid to experiment with a different searchcoil. And try to be patient when retrieving and cleaning your treasures.
One final note to you "air detectorists" out there. Keep an eye over your shoulder, for there I'll be- right behind you, cashing in on all of the treasure you leave behind!