One of the best ways to get started in metal detecting is to find a friend or a club that can help guide you in the initial steps. That introduction can sometimes be unreliable and disorganized, so I will outline some fool-proof steps you can follow whether you start detecting with other people or take the go-it-alone approach.
Metal Detecting is not a Get Rich Quick Scheme
You’ll have PLENTY of fun with your detector. You will find pocketfuls of coins and jewelry and odd metallic trinkets. You will easily pay for the cost of your machine. You are NOT very likely, however, to become a millionaire from your hobby.
Yes, some people do find big treasures. They are in the news because the incidence is so rare that it makes the headlines. The point is to have realistic expectations for you hobby.
Believe me, you’ll have a blast whether or not you hit “the big one!” Like the spinning wheels of a slot machine, there is still the hope, the excitement, of seeing what comes up out of the dirt for you, be it a zinc penny or a silver dollar.
Get the Right Metal Detector for Your Location
There are other aspects of your hobby that may also need review. Do you really need a salt-water, submersible detector when you live 1,000 miles from the ocean? Do you need a gold detector when there are no gold fields in your state? Can you really expect to find Civil War relics when you live in Idaho? See Figure 1.
No, but that doesn’t diminish your enjoyment. You will still have rich rewards.
Figure 1. Civil War and Gold-bearing sites in the USA. Match your goals to what is realistic in your location.
We wrote an AWESOME article on the BEST PLACES for a BEGINNER to METAL DETECTDavid Humphries – Creator of Metal Detecting Tips
- Unless you live in a house on the beach, don’t start off with a Pulse–Induction machine. Stick with a general purpose VLF detector.
- Avoid single-purpose detectors, such as under-water only, or gold only machines.
- Check the weight of the machines you are considering.
- Stay within your budget.
Minor restraints and limitations will not detract from the fun you can have with this sport, but is pays to be wise enough to have realistic expectations.
Balance Your Enthusiasm With Your Budget – Metal Detecting Equipment
Are you the kind of person who buys a two thousand dollar camera with visions of becoming a world-renowned photo-journalist, but now the camera sits on a shelf collecting dust? Don’t let that happen with your foray into metal detecting.
If you are unsure of your commitment to the hobby, don’t go spending the rent money for a top of the line detector. Instead, buy a cheap one, and if you find (like most people) you really enjoy it, then you can trade it in for a more robust model.
For years my Garrett Ace 250 worked great for me. I just saw 1300 reviews on Amazon with a really high rating. Check out the price on Amazon here – Garrett Ace 250 Metal DetectorDavid Humphries – Author on Metal Detecting Tips
An inexpensive model, say under $100, will still let you find lots of cool stuff, though it may not scan as deep as a higher-priced item, and it may not be able to identify the target as well as a more advanced machine. Again, if you’re undecided on how much enjoyment you will get, then start simply and work up to the level of technology that fits your growing needs.
Learn the Basics of Detector Technology
They say men are better drivers than women, not because of men’s skill but because more men take the time to understand how a car works. The same is true for metal detecting. If you know how a detector works you can improve your detecting and analyze the problem when things go wrong.
Example: I’m getting a lot of funny noises and the machine just isn’t working right. Let’s see. The detector works by sending a radio signal into the ground. Oh, I’m under some overhead power lines. That’s probably causing interference.
Basic Metal Detecting Terms
So, here are the important concepts you should know:
- Discrimination (Link to Article)
- Target ID
- Frequency (Link to Article)
- Interference / Noise cancel
- Sensitivity (Link to Article)
- Ground balance
Let’s look at each in turn. Meanwhile, Figure 2 shows some detector controls. Can you see the discrimination (phase shift) scale? Can you understand what some of the buttons stand for?
Figure 2. Typical detector face plates.
Metal Detector Term – Discrimination
In the social world, the word “discrimination” suggests a negative quality. It refers to judging other people, usually in a demeaning way. Discrimination in the metal detecting arena, however, is a quite favorable concept. It indicates that your detector is able to judge, or rather, distinguish, between a piece of junk and a valuable coin.
Read even more about discrimination in this article: How to set the Discrimination on a Metal Detector
This helps your metal detecting success rate, as you won’t waste time digging up iron bolts, washers, and bottle caps.
Discrimination is the ability to distinguish between junk and a coin. The signal from your coil creates a bounce-back, an echo, from the object in the ground. A bolt from a machine does not conduct electricity very well, so the signal picked up by your machine is weak and choppy. A silver dime, on the other hand, conducts well and sends a clear, strong signal back to the detector. The detector calculates the Phase Shift, which it uses to categorize different objects.
If you’re an engineering type person who wants to know the whys and wherefores of discrimination, check out this more technical video.
Metal Detecting Term – Target ID
Target ID grows out of the discrimination function. It categorizes different phase shifts to identify more specifically what’s in the ground. Target IDs can specify a range, such as iron or silver or even a particular coin.
Learn even more about Target ID and Phase Shift in this complete guide. What is Phase Shift and Target ID on a Metal Detector
Modern detectors often use numbers for specific targets, such as 79 for a penny, 81 for a dime, or 85 for a quarter. These are called Visual Identification numbers, or VID numbers. Again, for more details, see the video listed just above.
Metal Detecting Term – Frequency
Frequency refers to the radio frequency that the detector uses to send to the coil. A low frequency, such as 5-khz, goes deeper into the ground, but is not suited for tiny objects. A higher frequency, such as 40-khz, does not penetrate the soil as deeply, but it’s excellent for picking up tiny specks of gold.
Setting the frequency is like fine tuning your metal detector. Setting it correctly can mean finding treasure or digging trash. Read exactly how to set the frequency in this article – How to Set the Frequency on a Metal Detector (the Right Way)
Metal Detecting Term – Interference
Interference refers to a poorly functioning metal detector due to nearby electrical, magnetic, or radio frequency sources. This can be from other metal detectors, overhead or buried power lines, electrical transformers, or light rail commuter trains.
Metal Detecting Term – Sensitivity
Like the volume control on your radio, sensitivity adjusts the gain, or amplification of the detector signal. A construction site loaded with nails and junk will cause a lot of static, so you may want to turn down the sensitivity. Your signal will not go as deep, but you will not be annoyed by all the chatter.
Looking to read more about sensitivity? I wrote an extensive article – How to Set the Sensitivity on a Metal Detector
Metal Detecting Term – Ground balance.
Different soils and locations produce various electrical characteristics. A salty or chemically unbalanced environment will affect the performance of your detector. Most detectors have a ground balance function where you can adjust for these differences
Choosing a Metal Detector
Once you’ve assessed your commitment level and budget, it’s time to look at detectors.
Sometimes it’s wise to consider a used unit. If you’ve joined a metal detecting club, you may find plenty for sale among fellow club member, or on line at auction sites. With second-hand machines, you have to balance lower prices with the unknown wear and tear on the detector.
For a new detector, a good place to start is to look at review web sites, such as KellyCo reviews or Amazon user ratings. Under each listing on Amazon you will see a 5-star rating. Holding your browser pointer over the stars tells you the average rating. Choose something with at least a 4.0 user rating.
Curious Level – Playing with a Metal Detector.
If you’re just curious and not committed to the hobby, or just want something for the children to do while outdoors, then I’d recommend a low-priced unit to start with, such as the Bounty Hunter TK4 (link to Amazon for price and reviews), or the RM Ricomax Kit (Amazon link to checkout 100’s of reviews) with discrimination, headphones and a shovel. Another option that’s SUPER popular is the Bounty Hunter Discovery (Links to Amazon for more info), or the Garrett ACE 200, Garrett has been a great brand for many years. Again if your just starting and want to “feel the waters” the Garrett ACE 200 (check out the Amazon reviews) is a good option.
NOTE: The brands and models mentioned do not represent an endorsement, but rather a relatively safe choice recognized by many reviewers.
When you access these listings you will see similar items that other searchers have looked at. If any of these spark your interest, look at the user ratings, both the star ratings and and the number of reviews.
Beginner Level – Metal Detector
For adults just getting in to the hobby, and for folks who want better performance with respect to depth and discrimination, you might want to consider a just slightly higher priced machine. The next levels detailed below will have features that increase “finds”. These units are particularly good for scanning beaches and parks.
This price range allows you to get into the sport and get familiar with the technology. These choices are a good compromise between cost and performance.
Minelab X-terra 305 Metal Detector
At first glance the Minelab X-terra 305 (link to check out the amazing price at Amazon) may look simple, but DON”T BE FOOLED. The Minelab 305 is packed with features that will put more treasure into your pouch. Ground balancing is standard, the medium frequency 7Khz coil is excellent for general metal detecting and this unit has the option to change coils for more sophisticated searching.
Check out the latest price of the Fisher F11 Weatherproof Metal Detector with Submersible Coil (link to Amazon) – A proven machine with hundreds of great reviews.
Teknetics Delta 4000
The Teknetics Delta 4000 (Amazon link for price check) is a user-friendly metal detector great for scanning beaches for coins and jewelry. The LCD screen is easy to read and using a 9 volt battery is convenient.
Whites has been building metal detectors for many years. Proven performance in all price ranges. A standout metal detector is the Whites Coinmaster with Waterproof 9″ Coil. (Amazon link) Looking at what’s on the market I would get the “Kit” that includes headphones and batteries.
Garrett Ace 300 Metal Detector
A pioneer in metal detecting hobby, Garrett has been build metal detectors for enthusiast and the MILITARY Metal Detection for over 50 years. Amazon sells the Garrett Ace 300 Metal Detector get super fast shipping and a proven metal detector. This machine is one of those – “can’t go wrong” products.
Committed Level – Beyond the Enthusiast Metal Detecting
For the serious hobbyist who is all-in with the sport, you will probably want a high performance machine, often meaning well over $300. For this type of investment there is no substitute for doing your own research and self evaluation to see what is important to you and what types of detecting are practical in your area.
Start with video reviews on the internet, such as YouTube or Vimeo. If you know friends with detectors or club members, ask their advice. Make a list of 3 to 5 detectors that catch your fancy, then look at review sites and comments, such as KellyCo reviews or Amazon user ratings.
Here are some popular brands and models favored by experienced detectorists. These are listed by price, which will probably change by the time you read this. Again, the brands and models mentioned do not represent an endorsement, but rather models that are popular among users.
|Brand and Model|
(LINK to Amazon for More)
|Fisher – F44||👍👍👍👍||💲💲|
|Garrett – Ace 400||👍👍👍👍||💲💲|
|Teknetics – T2||👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲|
|Garrett AT Pro||👍👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲|
|Minelab Equinox 600||👍👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲💲|
|Garrett AT Max||👍👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲💲|
|Minelab Equinox 800||👍👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲💲|
|XP Deus WS5||👍👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲💲💲|
|White’s Spectra V3i||👍👍👍👍👍||💲💲💲💲💲|
Key Items to Read in your Metal Detector User Manual
Reading your user manual is probably the most important part of your education for good detecting practices and success. Remember the primary concepts covered in Section 2, above:
- Discrimination. Just about ever detector has a dial, slider, or menu option to adjust discrimination level. Set it too high and you’ll miss nickels, and rings. Set too low and you’ll be digging up paper clips and nails.
- Target ID. Many detectors have notches or VDI numbers that you can delete out, such as pull tabs.
- Frequency. Only some machines let you change frequency, generally to overcome electrical interference. Other machines, such as the Minelab Equinox can run multiple frequencies at the same time.
- Interference / Noise cancel. Most detectors have a noise cancel option, which reduces ambient electrical interference.
- Sensitivity. This is like the volume control on an amplifier. Use it to reduce the chatter in a junk-filled field.
- Ground balance. Ground balance is important for successful hunting. There are many soil types with different electrical properties. Adjust the ground balance with every new location.
- Bonding with your detector 😎
Garrett Metal Detecting has ALL their Metal Detector User Manuals online – find them HERE
Breaking the Sound Barrier – Metal Detecting Sounds
When you first turn on your detector you’re more than likely to be bombarded with an annoying blast of truck back-firing sounds.
Don’t do what I did. I fiddled with the controls until I found one that lowered the chatter level. Months later at a club hunt we were comparing the things we found. I had uncovered some coins, but my fellow searchers had several rings, pieces of jewelry and nickels, while I had only pennies, quarters and dimes.
I figured out then that had turned the discrimination dial all the way up, eliminating everything lower on the scale than a dime. I was missing out on nickels and lots of valuable finds.
Instead, as noted about a billion times: read the manual, and learn what the settings do.
The All-Important Coin Test for Metal Detectors
The air test is waving a coin under the coil while the detector is laying on its side on a wooden table. Hold a nickel, dime, penny, and quarter under the coil and get to know the sounds. Hold them at different distances from the coil. Repeat with a bottle cap, a paper clip and a nail, or other junk target. Do you want an example? Take a minute to review this air test video.
The air or ground test is educational, but it’s not the same as in the field conditions. The ground you hunt in will add a layer of complexity to the search for coins.
The crucial point here is this: You must learn to recognize how the different coins (and junk) sound at different distances from the coil.Vince Migliore – Author
The coins deliver a steady “pang, pang, pang” with every pass by the coil. The nail and the bottle cap will sound like static, or what I call the “flibbity-gibbit” sound. It’s a choppy, broken-up sound easily distinguishable from the coins. This broken sound, when out in the field, is usually an indication you’ve found a pull tab from a soda can or other junk metal.
A ground test is the same as the air test except the test objects are scattered on the ground. Pick a spot with very low background chatter.
Now, here’s the trick: Even the best detector can be fooled.
It may display a coin when it’s just a nut or washer in the ground. Likewise, a silver ring may appear as a pull tab. It’s wise, then, especially if you’re new to detecting, to dig up everything that offers a signal. In a short time you’ll begin to learn by sound alone whether or not to dig the target.
You notice, too, that a good coin that is very deep in the ground will generate mixed signals and jump around in the values displayed. You may have covered that in the air test. The reliability of the signals starts to diminish at greater depths.
Everyone asks, so we answered – How Deep Does a Metal Detector Go?
Here is a video example of mixed signals. I received a signal that changed from junk to a coin and back again. See what I dug up from a wobbly signal
Out to the Field! – Real Life Metal Detecting
If you’re alone, going out into the field for the first time, a good beginner site is a child’s playground with a sandbox area. Beginners often start here because it’s easy to dig in sand, and there are always a few pennies and toys to be found.
This is a good place to practice with some of your own pocket change, just to get to know the difference in the sounds for a coin versus junk metal. Consider, too, your own back yard, in an area where you don’t disturb any of your precious landscaping.
Consider What Extra Equipment You May Need – Metal Detecting Gear
Once you have a detector, it’s wise to consider what other equipment you need to take along with you on your metal detecting ventures.
There are certain things I consider essential, though depending on your local environment, some may not apply to you. These are:
- Target Retrieval: Digging tools. I prefer a Lesche digger, but a small spade or even a flat-head screwdriver will suffice for many people. Some like to use a blunt-nosed probe too, to locate finds. I wrote a COMPLETE GUIDE to Metal Detecting Tools.
- Pin-pointer: This will speed up target retrieval. (Read more in this article – Do I need a Pinpointer for Metal Detecting?
- Waterproofing: Sturdy, waterproof boots, and a rain jacket. I also recommend a cover for your display, if it’s not already waterproof. A sturdy pair of gloves.
- Headphones: These save on your batteries and prevent annoying other people. Plus Metal Detecting headphones have a couple features built specifically for treasure hunters. 👍
Getting a good set of headphones was a GAME CHANGER for me. I wrote a complete guide called How to Select the Best Metal Detecting Headphones.
- Containers and belts: You need storage for gear and finds. I prefer carrying a small bag for junk finds and small pouch for coins. Many people like to bring a spray bottle filled with soapy water to clean their finds. I find a tool belt or cargo pants, or even a multi-pocketed vest works best. They also sell reflective safety vests that feature many pockets, and these work well for metal detecting.
Some of the gear I carry, left to right: 1. All-purpose utility belt. 2. Curved weeder for shallow digs. 3. Lesche tool for deep digs. 4. Pin-pointer. 5. (Top) Eye loupe to read coin dates, with spray bottle and toothbrush for quick cleaning. 6. Brush for boots. 7. Holster for diggers and probes, with a bag for finds, and clips to hold various tools. 8. Small towel to hold dirt for refilling holes and for clean-up.
Good But Optional Metal Detecting Gear
Beside the above, there’s a long list of good-to-have items, which may not be strictly essential, but worthwhile to consider. These are:
- A small towel for cleaning and displaying your finds.
- A garbage bag.
- A dedicated gear box that you can throw into the back of your car.
- A cell phone.
- First-Aid kit.
- Extra socks and gloves.
- Bug spray.
Protective Clothing for Metal Detecting
We’re all adults here, so I won’t lecture you on wearing the proper clothing during your hunts. Still, I’ve too often seen people wearing flip-flops in a brier patch, and canvas sneakers in a muddy field.
The only suggestion I can make is to leave an extra pair of socks in your car, and maybe a towel and some water to clean up after your hunt.
Other Suggested Gear for Metal Detecting:
- Protect yourself against bugs and sunburn. Consider a hat with neck flap and/or ear covers to protect against sunburn and flying insects. Some hiking and fishing caps also come with mesh screens across the eyes to keep out bugs.
- Think about protective knee pads. If you get tired of squatting to dig up a coin, the pads will protect your pants and your knees.
- Be mindful of the wind and wet weather. Bring a simple wind-breaker.
- Always wear a sturdy pair of boots if you detect in the wild. There are plenty of little critters, rock hazards, and snares that can spoil your day.
Domestic Tranquility – Organize your Metal Detecting Gear
I mentioned above that I keep a mid-sized box in the garage with all my detecting gear. This saves arguments on the home front, because I leave the muddy boots and gloves in that box and don’t track dirt into the house.
When I leave for a hunting trip, I just throw the box into the back of the car and everything stays relatively clean. After the hunt I wipe down the detector and other dirt-caked gear and brush the mud out of the treads on the shoes before they get thrown back into the gear box. This attitude can save a marriage.
Learn Proper digging technique
If you’re just starting out with your detector for one of your first hunts, try hunting a playground with a sandbox. This will avoid the added trial of learning to dig in dirt. The sand is easy to explore and there’s always a stray toy or coin in the mix. You can focus on learning your detector settings and sounds.
Take a look at all the “DIGGING GEAR” in this Guide to Selecting the Right Digging Tools for Metal Detecting.
Once you start retrieving target from the ground, you’ll need to learn proper digging techniques. There is a vast spectrum of soil conditions you will have to face, from pristine, pampered lawns to weedy vacant lots, and barren wastelands.
Cutting the Plug when Metal Detecting
The rule of thumb for all terrain types is to “do no harm.”
I generally avoid detecting in manicured lawns. You don’t want an angry land owner or facilities manager running towards you, red faced and cursing.
Use common sense. You wouldn’t want to dig up a baseball field or the White House lawn. Instead, get permission and learn to cut a plug that leaves the scene looking as good as when you entered the scene.
The technique for lawn care is called the trap-door plug. You cut three sides of the square then flip up the plug leaving one side attached to the grass roots. See Figure 6.
Figure 6. Trap door plug for coin retrieval. 1. Crisscross with your detector to locate the coin. Cut on 3 sides. The untouched side will mostly keep the lawn alive. 3. Lift up the pug, scan the plug first. 4. Replace and tamp down.
See the video on cutting a plug and using a pin-pointer. This allows the cut section to remain rooted, allowing the grass on top to survive the cut.
Another trick I use, such as in popular parks and public land, is to detect but not dig. Or, at least, not dig deep. After a public event, such as an outdoor concert, you can find most of your treasures right at the surface. Your detector will give a very shallow depth reading. You can then find the target with just a pin-pointer. In some cases, such as an inch or less deep target, you can just use a flat-head screwdriver to flip the coin out without visible damage to the grass.
From my experience, the vast majority of detecting sites don’t have vegetation that you have to protect. For example, many sidewalks have a strip of dirt between the walkway and the street. These areas are often neglected and have mostly weeds and bare patches. Even here, you want to leave the scene looking untouched. Use the 3-sided flip-up approach and restore the plug so it looks like no one has dug there.
Protect the Coins – Buried Treasure
In digging, try to avoid scratching the coin when you retrieve it. Use the detector or hand-held pin-pointer to locate the object, then start the dig at least one inch from that focal point. Plunge the digger slightly deeper than the depth of the coin and use a lever action to lift up the soil beneath the coin. Next, use your pin-pointer to find and retrieve the coin. Many collector-value coins have been ruined by sloppy digging technique.
In the same vein, protect tree roots and natural vegetation. Remember, your rewards in metal detecting come from the generosity of Mother Nature. The least you can do is return the favor by being a good steward to the land.
Know the Law and get Permissions to Metal Detect
A. Laws on metal detecting
There’s a dizzying array of laws that can restrict the areas you allowed to hunt in. If you want to delve into the details, check out federal laws and local laws (scroll down and select your state) as researched by Lee Wiese at Metal Detecting Hobby Talk.
Again, the general rule is “Do no harm.” Don’t make a mess of well maintained landscaping.
A more common approach is to simply use common sense, good judgment, and take reasonable action. You cannot take relics from National Historic sites. You cannot destroy vegetation or animal habitat on national lands. This means not destroying tree roots or gopher holes.
Some important laws to consider:
National Forests are generally open to detecting for coins, but you cannot remove any items of historic or achaeological value. You cannot prospect on “claims” in National Forests. Clue: Just about ALLl gold-bearing areas have claims on them.
Read all about Where to Metal Detect on BLM Land – article
The Bureau of Land Management allows metal detecting for coins on its land. Much of this land has “claims” for silver and gold prospecting, and you cannot remove minerals.
All National Parks prohibit metal detecting. – Read more HERE
Do Your Research on Metal Detecting Site Selection
Once you’ve gotten started in detecting, you soon learn that some sites are way more productive than others in offering up good finds.
The single most effective thing you can do is to buy an old map of your town, preferably one printed just before 1965, when silver currency began to be replaced by clad coins. Dig in the places that existed with lots of people walking around.
My stupid but logical mantra: “Cows don’t drop coins and jewelry. People do.” Pick sites where people have picnics or listen to public concerts.Vince Migliore – Author Metal Detecting Book
Once you have a site selected and you visit the land, look for old trees, or tree stumps. Many stumps indicate a tree was in that location for 100 years or more. Visit school sites and fairgrounds. Look around. Where are the people walking and playing? That’s where you’ll find things.
Study your local history. Was there an old City Hall that is now a vacant lot? Where was the original fairgrounds? A whole book could be written on site selection, but the key is to visit places that saw lots of foot traffic.
Join a Metal Detecting Club
Join a club. You won’t regret it. A club offers companionship, but it has even more powerful gifts:
- You learn from the experiences of other people.
- You participate in group hunts and other activities.
- You gain access to many more resources that will help your hunting.
- You learn about coin values, digging techniques, and other detectors.
If there are no clubs in your area, at least link up with one or more fellow dirt-fishers. You’ll find it expands your horizons. At the very least, link up with some of the many on-line metal detecting forums, such as Treasurnet or Metal Detecting Forum.
Conclusion – Get Started Metal Detecting
There is no way to cover in depth all the topics that might help you in your metal detecting. I have touched upon some of the more important areas of focus. I hope this helps. Good luck in your hunting.