Metal Detecting Help For Newbies
By: Doug "Modern Miner" Snyder
Many of you who are new to W&ET would love to give metal detecting a try, but may hesitate for a variety of reasons: financial considerations, confusion about the many detector choices and options available, an apparent lack of places to detect, etc. How do I know this? Because I was in that same situation about four years ago when I got into the hobby. Hopefully, I can shed a bit of light on the subject by sharing my own experiences.
Before I began detecting, my family and I used to go to the North Carolina mountains on vacations to pan for gold and gemstones. It was great fun, but as the kids got older they lost interest and kicked old Dad to the curb in favor of playing video games. Since I'm a guy who likes to be outdoors, I decided to give detecting a try instead. My wife, of course, thought that I was nuts (again), but I would soon prove her wrong.
As for selecting my first detector, I am one of those technologically challenged individuals who can barely use a cell phone, let alone a complex, high-tech detector with all the bells and whistles. So, I decided to look for a basic, easy to use, low-priced machine to get started. After reading up on various brands and models, I chose a Tesoro Silver µMax. It is a turn-on-and-go detector with only two knobs (sensitivity and discrimination) and a toggle switch- no screen, no ID or depth readings, no bells and whistles. Even I was able to figure this machine out.
Some of you may have heard the saying, "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch." Well, that definitely doesn't apply to detecting! My detector was under $240 brand new, at that time, and with a few other pieces of equipment such as a pinpointer, relic pouch, and digging tool, I was ready to begin my new adventure. Now I could have opted for a higher-priced, highly optioned detector, but I chose this machine just in case I found out later that detecting really wasn't for me. I had also read about many people buying expensive units with lots of extra features, only to become frustrated and give up on detecting altogether.
Just a note: There are many excellent brands of detectors, pinpointers, and digging tools out there. The choice is yours. The point is, you can easily get started in the hobby for only a few hundred dollars. You can also save money by buying used equipment from a reputable source.
With my initial investment in equipment, I now needed a place to start detecting. Like a lot of beginners, just to get my feet wet, I started detecting at parks and playgrounds. Within about the first six months I found enough coins to pay for my detector and other gear.
Along the way, I also found numerous silver, gold, and even platinum rings. When I couldn't locate the owners of the rings, I would sometimes sell them to a metal refinery. A platinum ring alone brought me $450. As you can see, with today's precious metal prices, this hobby can easily pay for itself if you are willing to devote some time to it. With the money I made from the coins and jewelry I was able to buy more equipment, including another coil for my detector, headphones, a heavy-duty digging shovel, and a rock tumbler to clean the clad coins.
My next leap was from detecting parks and playgrounds to detecting old properties. "But how do I go about gaining permission?" I wondered. At first I felt like a scared kid walking up to a haunted house to ring a doorbell and ask permission, but that fear soon passed. Once I had a few old properties under my belt, I went a few steps further to improve my odds of gaining permission.
I created an informative letter to hand out to potential property owners, providing information about myself, explaining my hobby, giving a list of property owner references, and including photos of some of my finds. After that, I also had business cards printed up to look a bit more professional.
My next idea was to make a small relic display case to use as a visual prop so that owners would have a better idea of what I hoped to find- a salesman sampler, if you will. This display is very helpful when you are dealing with elderly folks who sometimes have no clue as to what it is you really do. Some refer to the detector as a "Geiger counter," "land mine finder," or even a "weed trimmer." Bless their hearts!
All of these extra details have really opened doors for me as I seek access to old properties, and a lot of the owners are now good friends. I always return the favor by giving them some of the relics I find, or making them a display of their own. They, in turn, have often led me to other old properties that they know about. I've been visiting some of these places for years and am still uncovering relics. Best of all, I am never without a spot to detect.
Within my four-year detecting career I have been able to amass quite a collection of old coins, tokens, buttons, buckles, Colonial and Civil War relics, jewelry, vintage toys, old tools, and much more. My best finds to date have been a Civil War "NC" North Carolina buckle ($4,000), and a Confederate Navy officer's "CSN" button ($1,500), both from the same yard! (See W&ET August 2009.)
To this day I am still using the same Tesoro detector and have actually bought another one as a backup in case some property owner ever decides to try his hand at detecting, too. My detector has been a very productive machine for me, and I have learned to master it fairly well. I have a very good idea what the target is going to be even before I dig it up, just by the different sounds it gives off. Again, nothing elaborate or complicated... just a beep and a lot of experience out in the field. It's proven to be successful for me, and that's what counts.
Have I ever thought of buying a fancier detector? Well, let me answer that by sharing a couple of experiences that I have had since I've been detecting.
A few years ago I was searching a Civil War Union camp that I'd found when a new road was cut through a wooded area. After finding numerous relics, I invited a buddy to join me the next time. He had a top-of-the-line detector with tons of options and settings, and had been detecting for many years, mainly as a coinshooter. Although I was soon digging Civil War bullets, he was finding nothing. I called him over to where I was and dropped a bullet right on top of the ground to see what he was getting on his machine. Guess what? His machine was set up incorrectly, and he wasn't getting a reading at all! Once he tuned his machine in, he began finding bullets, too. That day showed me that even if you spend big money on a detector, unless you have it adjusted correctly, you can walk right over targets.
My next experience was at a plantation where I had been detecting for years. I was with another detecting buddy who also had many years of experience and had the very same brand and model of detector as the other guy. We were hunting in the front yard, in an area that I had been over and over many times. I looked over and saw him on his knees, a big smile on his face, holding a coin. It turned out to be a 1782 Irish halfpenny. I nearly croaked! That day proved to me that the big money machines, if dialed in correctly, can provide truly impressive performance.
Are there machines out there with more features and special capabilities than the basic detector that I use? Of course there are, but I would suggest, if you are just getting started in this hobby, that you gain some experience out in the field with an affordable, no-frills machine to see if detecting is really for you.
As for me, I'm totally hooked on this hobby, and I try to get out as much as possible. It's a great way to get exercise, relieve stress, meet new people, and start building collections that you will enjoy for years to come. Will I try a fancy new machine soon? You betcha! Just as soon as I can figure out my cell phone.