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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (03/2005) Relic Hunter (02/2005) Relic Hunter (04/2005)   Vol. 39 March 2005 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the March 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine

A Relic Hunting Odyssey

By: Ed Fedory

In only a few short weeks my boots had gone from the grassy knoll at Dealy Plaza to the countryside of rural Connecticut. I had gone from the coldness of an assassin's timeless shadow on the sixth floor of a school book depository, to a blue and nearly cloudless October sky above a farmer's cornfield. During those short weeks I would be involved in two totally different types of relic hunts. In one of the hunts the relics were seeded: every one of the competitors knew the type of relics there was a chance of finding. In the other hunt, on those broad Connecticut fields, we didn't have a clue as to what might surface. We weren't sure if anything would be found. I guess you could say we went from shooting fish in a barrel to looking for a needle in a haystack. It sure seemed that way!

Competition relic hunting... never thought I'd ever see those words put together! Relic hunting, by nature, is a slow process. Relic hunters don't rush, and the recovery of history is often a painstaking and time-consuming process. I've also been in a fair share of competition hunts. There is nothing slow about a competition hunt... it's all about speed. It never ceases to amaze me how fast some of my fellow competitors on the field can pinpoint and recover targets. It's a Tortoise vs. Hare type of thing. I'm not much of a competition hunter... guess I'd better get used to being a turtle.

Yet, this idea of having a hunt field laced with relics was something I found intriguing. I decided to give it my best shot. The place was Shreveport, Louisiana, and the hunt took place during the FMDAC National Convention.

In the first few minutes, following the horn blast that started the hunt, as I stood there looking at a recovered Minie ball in the palm of my hand, I knew I had better start picking up the pace. That bullet sure was a heck of a lot better looking than most of those Mercury dimes I usually find!

The Minie ball was followed by a couple of smaller caliber pistol bullets, a rimfire cartridge, and a Union eagle button. Between the relic recoveries I had been able to pocket a few older silver coins, but I wasn't very interested in them at the time. There were also some tokens on the field that could later be turned in for books on the Civil War, and for small cased collections of relics.

I was watching the clock and knew that the hunt would soon be ending. The fellow next to me pulled a friction fuse about 3' to the right of my coil, while my buddy, Roger, who happened to catch my eye, held up another projectile that he'd managed to find among the roots at the base of a pine.

All too soon the horn sounded again, and the relic hunt came to a close. I examined the relics in my collecting bag and found that while I had made some interesting recoveries I didn't have a single token... and my total of relic finds paled in comparison to those of the more seasoned competition hunters. In a competition relic hunt it seems the hares always win in the end. I guess I'd better start getting used to being a turtle!

I have to admit that one of my greatest faults is the inability to unpack my traveling bags in a timely fashion. In fact, I was only partially unpacked when it came time to load up again and head to Connecticut. It was only a short hop across the New York State line, and we were in Connecticut, attending a hunt put on by Jeremiah Burr in the beautiful Litchfield Hills of that state. The site was a Colonial farm and the surrounding fields that had been under the plow for the better part of three centuries. According to the current owners the site had never been metal detected, and the air was filled with wild speculations about what the ground might contain. We would have the entire day to search anywhere we wanted on those 300 acres. The pace of the hunt would be leisurely... ahh, the perfect day for turtles!

At the registration desk we were all issued maps of the surrounding land, and points of interest were marked: the site of the original dwelling, early Colonial foundations, the old orchard, and an old road dating from the 1700s. The map alone was enough to get any relic hunter's pulse rate doubling!

With the blast of a car horn the hunt began, and hunters went in all directions. Some crossed the road and headed up the old trail toward the apple orchard and an old foundation. Others raced across the field to hit the woodline and ascended the steep hill on which stood the remains of two other Colonial dwellings. Still others simply began to run their search patterns across the cornfield from where the cars and trucks were parked. The parking area would later prove to be an important part of the hunt!

My hunting partner, Roger, who had also made the relic hunting odyssey from Louisiana to Connecticut, was nowhere to be found. In a matter of seconds he had seemed to virtually disappear. Six hours later, when I finally caught sight of him, I found that he had been one of the group high-tailing it up the road toward another Colonial foundation.

Searching my way across the first field, I picked up a flat button and small brass buckle very quickly, and then I experienced what all relic hunters fear - prolonged dead air. I ran the coil of my detector across the eyelets of my boots to make sure it was still operational. The detector was working fine. Looking to the left, I saw another cornfield with only a few relic hunters in it. I ran my search patterns in that direction. It was probably one of the best moves I could have made.

As I continued my search, I noticed fine bits of broken brick on the surface of the plowed field. These were soon followed by a number of broken pieces of early pottery. I looked around and saw a small mound of raised land beside the highway. As I worked toward it, I noticed the frequency of pottery fragments increasing. From the number of large stones that had been turned up by the plow, I figured the raised area might have been the site of an early dwelling.

I was amazed by the number of loud signals I was getting. After digging a dozen of these signals, I began to compute the "glide ratio" and flight patterns of empty beer cans having been thrown from the window of a car traveling at something just under the speed of light! It was time to shift my search patterns farther out into the field.

Within a couple of minutes, I heard another loud signal running through my headset. Expecting another cylindrical piece of aluminum, I was amazed to unearth a piece of brass with globs of rust attached to it. It looked very familiar.

Using my thumb and a Swiss Army knife I began to do a little field cleaning. I dug the mud from the small brass pan on the side, and exposed the shape of the iron frizzen spring. I had found a complete lock from a flintlock pistol!

Initially, I thought, due to the delicate nature of the lock, that it might have been a lock from a child's toy pistol from the 1700s. However, that theory was soon to change when I had cleaned the mud from the mainspring on the interior side of the lock. The mainspring was very large, and the lock had come from a fully functional Colonial weapon.

With a growing thirst, I decided to head back to the truck for some refreshment and to see what other relic hunters had been finding. It was obvious from the recoveries that were being made that no one had been idle while I had been in the adjoining cornfield.

Karl Muller was elated with the counterstamped 1781 2 reales he had found, as was Sil Gleissner with his 1769 issue of the same coin. Mike Race showed no disappointment with his 1 real from the early 1780s. The fact that all of the pieces of early Spanish silver came from the same cornfield was more than enough incentive for a number of relic hunters to return to the field and re-search areas that had already been covered by other hunters.

The recoveries weren't all silver. Ken Carlson brought up a beautiful Vermont issued coin from the depths of the field, and it was Barbara Kappus who stunned us all with a nice 1802 large cent.

As the day drew to a close, a number of cars and trucks left the field, opening up another search area for a few enterprising relic hunters. Their strategy worked well, as vehicles had been parked in an area that was to yield a few more Connecticut issued coins from the late 1780s and a handful of interesting relics.

Arriving at the field the second day, we bid our farewells to old and new friends alike. It would be a day of competition hunting... a day of speedy recoveries and fast searches... a day of swift swinging and blurred coils. We had some miles to cover before we saw home, and remember... we turtles don't move very fast!

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