A Complete Guide to Underwater Metal Detecting

A Complete Guide to Underwater Metal Detecting

The first step in your underwater journey is to define the water depth you’ll be searching. Most detectors over $150 will have a waterproof coil and cable. Get a little deeper, say to your chest and you’ll need to think about a detector with a waterproof processor. If you plan to go “all the way under” your going to get into a combination of scuba and specialty metal detecting equipment.

Read this article – Metal Detecting Rivers and Creeks to learn some strategies for searching in running water.

The below article is organized by water depth, but remember that the electronics that work for chest deep usually work for full immersion.

Types of water metal detecting

Water detecting, much like detecting for gold, is a whole new ball game. It’s like the difference between basketball and golf. In both you want to get the ball (the ring) in the bucket, but there’s a big change in the equipment and techniques that you need for success.


I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.

At the beginner level, detectorists often use their standard, land-based, detector with a mode setting for “Beach” or “Water.”

This type of hunting gets you, at most, knee deep in the water, keeping the control box dry. Then a sand scoop helps you find the target. Let’s call this “Ankle Deep Water Detecting.”

Getting a Little Deeper (pun intended) Chest Deep Metal Detecting

Here you need a waterproof detector, snorkeling gear, and possibly a wet suit. At this level, detecting techniques require a new set of hunting skills and specialized equipment. We’ll call this Chest-Deep Detecting.

Fully Submerged Metal Detecting

Scuba or skin diving, is another level of complexity, where you may be swimming under water using fins and a hand-held detector. We will call this Underwater Detecting. NOTE: Scuba diving is an even more specialized activity, but it is distinct sport in itself, and far beyond the scope of this paper. Scuba diving is not covered here, but I do mention the equipment that you need, at the end, for those who want to explore this (much more expensive) variation.

Water Depth Metal Detecting
Water Depth Metal Detecting

Ankle Deep Water Detecting

There’s not much extra equipment you’ll need for ankle deep detecting. Most coils are waterproof, and most detectors have a mode or setting or beaches. If your detector does not have a beach setting you may have to adjust the sensitivity and ground balance. Beaches, especially salt-water locations have high mineral content and ionizing salts which will affect performance.

Wading Shoes, For this type of detecting you may want to look at shoes and socks that are specifically made for wading. The thickness and durability of the footwear will depend upon the presence of rocks in the surf and the water temperature. In cold climates waterproof boots or waders may be required. There’s more on waders below.

Scoops, For sandy locations you’ll need a sand scoop. For muddy or rocky bottom water detecting you can use a shovel or digging tool, but a sand scoop may still come in handy.


A couple tools are a must for beach metal detecting. A waterproof proven pin-pointer and a strong sand scoop. I highly recommend the GARRETT AT PRO POINTER and the CKG SAND SCOOP (link to Kellyco to check prices and ratings)


A sand scoop is essential for metal detecting in shallow water. A normal shovel will be way to heavy to lift the sand, gravel and WATER. Additionally it seems like your treasure gets washed away in the water spilling off the shovel. Read even more about digging for treasure in this article. A Complete Guide to Metal Detecting Tools for Digging

If you’re hunting in salt-water conditions, you should rinse all metal parts, including zippers, with fresh water when you get home, as the salt will easily corrode your gear.

“Beach Scoops – Your first thought might be this. ‘I can just use a shovel.’ You can do this if you want, but there are specialized shovels called beach scoops that will put an ordinary shovel to shame. I can’t say enough about how important a good scoop is.” ~ Metal Detecting the Beach, by Mark Smith

Chest-Deep Metal Detecting

Deeper water detecting is going to require waterproof equipment. You’re probably going to want to get a dedicated detector for this. Some manufacturers and third-party producers provide clears covers that seal the control box for detectors that are not fully waterproof.

Dedicated Water Metal Detectors

Here’s a list of some waterproof probes and detectors, increasing in price and complexity. These listings are for popular equipment. The fact that they are included here is not an endorsement of the product. Figures 7, 8, and 9 show sample detecting equipment in different price ranges. I’d suggest, if you’re just starting out, to try a few runs with the least costly items, then move up if your enthusiasm is piqued.

Water detecting is one of the few environments where Pulse Induction (PI) metal detectors work well. They are not known for good discrimination, but most metal you find in the surf is going to be something man-made, so you’ll want to dig up all targets.

Underwater Probes for Metal Detecting

An important feature for probing underwater is a vibration mode. You’ll be slowly sweeping the probe through water that has sand kicked-up. Sound and sight are useless underwater, you’ve got to feel the find.

PROBE Model NameSmile RatingGeneral $$
RM Ricomax Pinpointer😍😍😍💲💲
PI-iking 750 and TTLife Pulse😍😍😍💲💲
AMYSPORTS😍😍😍😍💲💲💲
Wedigout Handheld😍😍😍😍💲💲💲
Garrett Pro-Pointer Hand-Held*😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲
Nokta Makro Pulsedive😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲
Quest Xpointer Scuba😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲
Treasure Products Vibra-Tector 740*😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲
Treasure Products Vibra-Quatic 320😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲
* Great Value and Performance

Underwater Metal Detectors

If you want to get a “forever” metal detector take a serious look at the Minelab Excaliber II. It is a little more expensive than the general hobbyist unit, but once you learn how to effectively use this unit you’ll never look at another machine.

DETECTOR Model NameSmile Rating more is betterGeneral $$
AMYSPORTS Waterproof with 10″ Coil *😍😍😍😍💲💲
Alloson TS180 Handheld Treasure Hunter😍😍😍💲💲
Garrett Sea Hunter Mark II *😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲
Garrett AT MAX😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲
Whites TDI Beachhunter Extreme😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲💲
Minelab Excaliber II *😍😍😍😍😍😍💲💲💲💲💲
* Great Value for Performance

I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.

Peripheral Metal Detecting Gear

Weight belts, A weight belt is needed when you’re in water that’s deep enough to make you float. Nylon weight belts are cheaper. Rubber ones doesn’t slip as much. Many divers like to add accessory D-rings to the belt, for attaching bags and other items.

Snorkels and face masks, A face mask with a snorkel is needed so you can see and breath underwater, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Typical gear of good quality are listed here. Figures 10 and 11 show some popular snorkel and face mask combinations.

Underwater Metal Detecting Accessories
Underwater Metal Detecting Accessories ~ Photo Credit WaterWalker on Treasurenet

Wet Suits are coverings that let water enter between you and the suit, but the fit is tight enough that there is little circulation, so the suit keeps you warm. Wet suits come in different thicknesses to accommodate water temperature. For example 2-mm thick suits are for warm water and 5-mm suits for cold water.

“I have a two piece wet suit: a 7-mm farmer john and a 7-mm neoprene shorty. This gives me 14-mm of neoprene on my upper body. I also have a neoprene hood, boots, and gloves. On warm winter days I am baking potato hot until I get into the water.”

A quote from a surf detecting book, Gold Beneath the Waves, by Jim Bouwer

I’ve written about pin pointers in this article – What is a Metal Detecting Pinpointer. I highly recommend the Garrett Pro-Pointer AT (Kellyco Link) Waterproof, LED Light and the Z-Lynk Wireless System.


Dry Suits, as the name implies, are waterproof, so air, not water, is next to your skin. Most suits now have p-valves to allow urination on long dives. See p-valve discussion here. Popular brands are Hevto, O’Neill, and Stohlquist.

Gloves come in all shapes and sizes, with waterproof and tight fitting gloves, like nitrile, which is good for maintaining dexterity. Many surf searchers like webbed gloves, as these help you navigate in water, and by waving a hand over the target area you can whisk away sand to uncover a target.

Elbow length gloves are also handy for shallow water retrieving of targets. See these examples of webbed gloves and elbow length gloves.

Waders, the long boots favored by fishermen, come in all lengths and styles. Some have built-in boots and others allow you wear shoes inside. Waders are often all you need for water detecting and they are a lot less trouble to get into and out of than a wet suit. They come in different lengths, from knee high to chest high.

Metal-Detecting-with-Waders-in-High-Water
Metal-Detecting-with-Waders-in-High-Water

Miscellaneous. Once you’re actually out in the water, you’ll find there are hundreds of little things you absolutely need for water detecting. Too many to provide a comprehensive list, but items you can find at pretty much any hardware store or sports supply store.

  • Lanyards, belt clips, retractable key lines.
  • Mesh bags for stashing finds.
  • Shark repellent.
  • Detachable shafts for your detector control box.
  • Knives, probes, and tweezers for extracting items from rocks and crevices.

Underwater Metal Detecting (Scuba)

The only difference between chest-deep detecting and underwater detecting is that you get your head wet. This requires only minor add-ons in terms of gear. You might want to add a wet suit and a weight belt as described in the previous section.

You may also want to consider the following:

  • Fins to help with swimming.
  • Head cover for warmth.
  • Shark repellent.

Be sure to use the shorter, more manageable snorkel style fins as opposed to scuba diving fins. You can often save a little by buying the face mask, snorkel, and fins in a package deal. Have fun and be safe.


Warning: If your metal detector isn’t completely waterproof you might not want to scan beaches. When a metal detector manufacturers WATERPROOFS a unit it has been designed to keep SAND, SALT WATER and MOISTURE out. Don’t ruin your machine get a waterproof unit – I highly recommend the: Garrett AT MAX link to Kellyco

Garrett AT MAX photo credit Kellyco

Metal Detecting While Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is profoundly different from metal detecting; so much so that it may be perceived as an entirely different sport. For the sake of brevity, I want to include just a short list of the gear you’ll need. If you’re interested in this activity it may be best to consult books and references dedicated to this sport.

Scuba diving requires a training class and certification. It’s a necessary step for your safety and enjoyment.

What follows is a short list of the types of gear you will need for scuba diving metal detecting:

  • Diving masks and snorkels.
  • Fins and boots.
  • Weight belts and buoyancy compensators.
  • Tanks and spare air.
  • Oxygen regulators, octopus regulars.
  • Gauges – depth, pressure, compass.
  • Dive computer.

Clue: This will cost Thousands of dollars!

The Final Shovel Scoop

This has been just a broad view of the gear and equipment that you might need for metal detecting in the water. I’ve tried to provide links and photos to help you make choices. Don’t forget to add beach maps, tide charts and weather reports to your tool box.

Wishing you luck in all your detecting ventures.


Check Out These Spots for your Next Metal Detecting Trip


Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.

Gear for Gold Metal Detecting (A Complete Guide)

Gear for Gold Metal Detecting (A Complete Guide)

Is there gold in your area?

Searching for gold almost belongs in a class by itself, as the metal detector is just one of many tools used in seeking that precious metal. A whole different set of equipment comes into play. For the purposes of this paper, gold detecting gear refers to equipment used in finding gold flakes, gold nuggets, and gold ore.

That being the case, you will want to research whether or not your physical location offers any possibility for success. Your best chances are in known gold deposit areas, in rivers and lakes in their vicinity, and in dry lake beds and arroyos with A history of water, again in gold bearing areas. The best advice comes from the Geology.com web page: “Prospect where gold has been found before.”


Metal Detecting Tip: If your ready to get serious about metal detecting Garrett makes a PI (pulse induction) unit that is AMAZING. Plus it’s probably the best value for a high end PI detector. Garrett ATX Extreme PI (link to Kellyco to read more)

Garrett ATX Pulse Induction Metal Detector
Garrett ATX Pulse Induction Metal Detector

Geologically speaking, gold is found in quartz deposits, near gold and copper mines, in areas with a volcanic history, including hot springs, and in sedimentary soils created by erosion from gold-bearing sites. Source USGS Circular 1178“1998 Assessment of Undiscovered Deposits of Gold, Silver, Copper, Lead, and Zinc in the United States.”

Gold Bearing Quartz
Gold Bearing Quartz

Selecting a Coil for Gold Metal Detecting

Coils for Standard Detectors

You can search for gold with pretty much any metal detector, but you will have better success with a machine dedicated to gold prospecting.

If you are using a standard detector you should be aware of the need for specific ground balance adjustments, because gold-bearing environments are often higher in minerals and iron oxide than regular soils. If your detector has motion sensing adjustments you’ll want to fine tune that as well. The instruction manual for the Fisher F75 is a good example; see page 38 in that manual.


Some high-end detectors have a built-in mode for gold prospecting. The Minelab Equinox 800 (Link to Amazon to check out the reviews) is a case in point. It it can scan five frequencies at once, but for gold hunting it uses the two highest ones, 20-kHz and 40-kHz, providing the best configuration for finding small particles. Similarly, the White’s MXT All Pro (Links to Amazon for current price) has a built-in prospecting mode for gold hunting.

Coils for Dedicated Gold Detectors

If you’re serious about hunting for gold, a machine made specifically for that purpose is your best bet, such as in Figure 3. Fortunately, gold detecting models come in all price ranges.

For specifications on these machines try Amazon, Kellyco, or go directly to the manufacturer: Fisher, Garrett, Minelab, Nokta, Whites, or XP Detectors.

Popular Models of Detectors Devoted to Gold Hunting
Popular Models of Detectors Devoted to Gold Hunting

Metal Detector Coil Choices for Gold

The standard coil that comes with your machine, usually 7 to 9 inches, will work fine for gold prospecting. Once you’ve had some experience you’ll generally find that most of the targets are tiny. This means that a higher frequency or small coil will provide an advantage for you. You’re probably limited in frequency choices, but you can always find a small coil. They go down to just a few inches in diameter.

My personal favorite is the 4 to 6-inch coil, as this is a nice compromise between getting a focused search field and not having to swing your detector a bazillion times just to cover a 10 by 10-foot plot.


I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.


Pans, Classifiers and Other Gold Detecting Accessories 

Before you set out into the field it’s wise to be prepared with the right equipment. As mentioned already, most of what you’ll find are tiny specs and flakes. To sort this from the much more voluminous rocks, you need:

  • A good gold pan.
  • A set of tweezers.
  • A “snuffer” bottle and storage vials.
  • Picks and scrapers.

A simple gold pan works well, though experienced users prefer the green or blue colored pans, as it’s easier to spot gold in those shades. See Figure 5. Sometimes you can retrieve the smaller specs with a tweezers, but most folks use a snuffer bottle, sometimes referred to as a sniffer bottle. This is soft plastic bottle with a pointed intake. You squeeze the air out and as it returns to its normal shape it sucks in the air and the gold with it. Then you transfer it to a storage vial. See Figure 6.

For picks and scrapers you can use an old flat-head screwdriver to ferret out gravel and sand caught in bedrock along a stream.

  • Pan with rills, ribs.
  • Screens, classifiers, and sieves.
  • Pick, rock hammer.
  • Shovel and buckets.
  • Plastic scoop.
  • Magnet.

For just few dollars more you might prefer a fancy pan with rills, ribs, and ridges that help trap the heavier particles. That same function is aided by screens of various mesh sizes, classifiers, which sort the soil by pebble size. Some kits have up to 9 different mesh sizes, but just two or three is all you need; one large size mesh and another for finer gravel, say a #4 mesh with 1/4” holes and a #20 with 1/20” holes. The larger rocks in the #4 classifier you just toss out by hand, giving a quick scan for quartz that might have gold embedded in it.

Sometimes in your search you’ll find what they call “black sand,” which is a good thing, because it contains the heavier particles that generally congregate with gold. If you have a lot of black sand, use a magnet to separate it out from the gold. Use a coated or covered magnet. A plastic scoop is handy too, so you can scan the scoop for gold with the detector coil.

Sluices and Hand-power Pumps for Gold

Panning for gold is fun, especially if you are teaching children about prospecting. The downside is that you’re lucky to find just a few tiny specs of the precious metal. The next level up involves using somewhat more advanced equipment to process more sand and soil in order to take home a bigger payload.

The Sluice

A sluice is a long metal channel that you place in a stream using the flow of the water to separate gold out from the sand and gravel that you feed in at the upstream end of the contraption. A small sluice is generally about 10-inches wide and 2 to 3-feet long. It has rubber or plastic ridges, or riffles, along the base that snag the heavier particles, including gold, while the flow of water pushes the lighter material back into the stream. See the Reference videos at the end of this article.

You generally shovel river sediment and soil piecemeal into the front of the sluice and, with a sharp eye and a quick hand, remove the larger rocks as you go. You’ll need to adjust the downward slope of the sluice so that the water provides enough energy to push out the lighter rocks away, but slow enough that it traps the gold in the bottom mat. With any luck, you’ll start to find tiny flakes of gold and small nuggets getting trapped in the ridges. See Figure 8 for sluice examples.

Typical sluice boxes. You feed material into the upstream end (left) and gold is captured in the mat as it flows down stream.

In practice, most prospectors use a shovel and buckets to carry the gravel from nearby sites to the sluice and process it one scoopful at a time.

More specialized and bigger sluices employ multiple stages of riffles to better sort out the wheat from chaff.

The Hand-Powered Dredge for Gold Prospecting

The hand-powered dredge is akin to the Super-Soaker water blasters that you see kids using in pools and water fights. There are many variations to this device and many names, such hand dredge, PVC suction, or Yabbie pump.

The idea is to pull back on a plunger to suck up water and sand from the creek bed, then squirt it into a gold pan or sluice to separate out the gold. See Figure 9. These pumps may sometimes include a narrow intake nozzle to reach into rock crevices, as well has built-in catch-basins which will store the heavier materials in a removable chamber.

Figure 9. The X-Stream Hybrid Pro Hand Dredge (Link to Amazon for Prices and Reviews) You can direct the outflow to a sluice to help capture the gold.

An adjunct this process is the use of scrapers and picks to ferret out the gravel trapped in cracks and holes in the bedrock. 



I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.


The Rocker Box (Shaker Table, Cradle Deck, Dry Washer)

In an effort to improve on the simple sluice, the Rocker Box, sometimes called a shaker table, or gold cradle, allows you to clear sand and gravel a bit more efficiently, thereby speeding up the gold retrieval process.

Rocker Box for Gold Prospecting
Rocker Box for Gold Prospecting – Picture Credit Warren at YouTube channel NQExplorers

The Rocker Box usually includes at least one level for screening the input, which is a form of classifying. You scoop material into the top of the box, vibrate the box using a wooden arm or rocker-shaped base. When you pour water onto the top, the heavier material moves through the screens and onto a base that is much like your regular sluice. Then you can just pick out the gold nuggets and flakes. Many prospectors dump the larger, discarded rocks into a pile and then scan that mound with the metal detector, just to check that some nuggets might have slipped through the process.

A Dry Washer is similar to the rocker box, but instead of using water to separate out the materials, a blower is used; often a hand-powered bellows. As the name implies, it uses air instead of water to classify materials. It does this by blowing air under a screen-lined hopper. The lighter elements are blown away and discarded. The remaining material continues on down the sloping box. This variation is particularly useful in areas where there is little or no running water in which to run a stream-powered sluice.

The next level of commitment to gold prospecting is the addition of motors and pumps to help speed the process of separating gold from its soil. I use the word ‘commitment’ because this improvement can come at a hefty price tag, depending on the amount of dirt you want to process. Essentially, the techniques are the same as for hand-operated sluices and dredges, but the power tools allow you to sift through a much greater volume of material in a speedier fashion.

Engines, Pumps and Powered Equipment for Gold

You can take most of the devices described so far and add power to take the load off your arms. You can use gas powered engines or electrical motors to get the job done. An alternative is to use a gas-powered electric generator to run machinery on 110 volts AC or 12 volts DC. For example, you can use power to drive a rocker box, or to power a pump for a dredge.

Engines and pumps are described separately because many hobbyists prefer to build their own equipment, such as dredges. See any of the do-it-yourself dredge videos on the popular video-sharing web pages. Watch out, though; sand, soil, and rocks are very abrasive, so hoses and pipes can wear out quickly. Figure 11 shows a stand-alone pump for a dredge.

Highbanker for Washing Lots of Rocks for Gold

A highbanker is similar to the rocker box, except pumped water is used to separate out gold from the lighter elements. A pump forces water into the top of the hopper, dumping the lighter material out a back chute. The water is sprayed into the hopper where you load shovels-full of dirt. There is no need to shake the box, as the heavier elements are washed down into the secondary area which operates much like a regular sluice.

Highbankers require a lot fine tuning during the set-up stage, as you have to regulate the flow rate of the water, the slope of the hopper, and the incline and leveling of the sluice area. The picture above with highbanker in operation. A pump pulls water from the river and sprays it into the upper hopper, while the pay-dirt is poured into the loading area.

Concentrators for Gold

Gold concentrators range from a modified gold pan with a water jet input to a commercial grade helical spiral machine. The basic idea is that centrifugal force separates out the gold from lighter material. Think of it as mechanized gold panning.

Most hobbyists will opt for the low-cost water powered models. The popular and relatively inexpensive Blue Bowl centrifugal gold concentrator kit. (Links to Amazon for Reviews)

Dredges for Gold

A gold dredge works by sucking water, sand, and soil from the bottom of a stream or beach and running it through a process to separate out the gold. Some dredges work from land while others have floats, so you can move the dredge along with you as you scour the bottom of a river.

The key consideration here is the size (diameter) of the intake hose, as this will determine the power requirements of the pump motor and characteristics of the tubing and classifying sections of the dredge. Dredges make gold processing much more efficient. The old adage “It takes money to make money” applies here, as this equipment can run into thousands of dollars.

See examples at Proline Mining Equipment, or Keene Engineering to get an idea of costs and strategies. See Figures 18 and 19 for standard systems. Of course, many prospectors jury-rig their own contraptions using a stand-alone motor for the pump and an assortment of hoses, filters, and PVC piping.

Once you get into the realm of dredges, you are approaching that borderland of operation between being a hobbyist and full-scale gold prospector. In commercial jargon, they talk about “tons of dirt” to get one ounce of gold. In order to justify such expense, you will probably have to think about having access to a gold claim.

At the End of the Trail Searching for Gold

I hope can see by now that prospecting for gold has an attraction, an allure that is hard to resist. That is especially true once you’ve discovered your first few nuggets. The call to the rivers and hills can easily lead to the hobby becoming a second vocation. All that enthusiasm should be balanced, at least to some degree, by the cost of the more specialized equipment. Even if you don’t find the Mother Lode in your area, there’s an immeasurable pleasure in striking out into the wild, wading into rivers and streams, and immersing yourself in nature. Good luck, and let us know if you find “the big one!”


If you’d like more articles about metal detecting check out the links below.


Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.

Where to Metal Detect in Northern California (MAPS INCLUDED)

Where to Metal Detect in Northern California (MAPS INCLUDED)

California is a wonderful paradise for both metal detecting and scenic beauty. Here we explore some of the more exciting metal detecting sites in Northern California.

When I first came to California, it was on Highway 80 crossing from the Nevada border. That state line is near the summit of the Sierra mountains. The terrain ranged from snow-capped mountains to evergreens on the long, hilly descent into the farmlands of the Central Valley. Then, it was on to the San Francisco coast and the Pacific Ocean. In between there were farms, freeways, factories and floodplains all near the same roadway.

Gold was discovered here in 1849, creating a flood of new settlers, and sparking the dreams of adventure-seekers from all points east.
The only downside of California is that it’s a relatively new state. It doesn’t have the centuries of residents dropping earrings and pennies from their pockets that you see in the eastern states. Statehood came to California in 1850, one year after the Gold Rush.

Metal Detecting for GOLD in Northern California
Metal Detecting for GOLD in Northern California

On the other hand, Northern California probably makes up for the treasure trove deficit by featuring an almost ideal climate. People here love to jog, camp, and hike in the great outdoors, again, spreading their junk and jewelry as they glide by.


Metal Detecting Tip: If your ready to get serious about metal detecting Garrett makes a PI (pulse induction) unit that is AMAZING. Plus it’s probably the best value for a high end PI detector. Garrett ATX Extreme PI (link to Kellyco to read more)

Garrett ATX Pulse Induction Metal Detector
Garrett ATX Pulse Induction Metal Detector

Legal Considerations for Metal Detecting in California

There’s an oddly depressing feeling the first time you look up from your detector and see a law-enforcement officer approaching. It happened to me. It’s not scary so much as embarrassing, as I was unaware of the local codes that prohibited me from detecting on what turned out to be police property.


No fines or citations, just a red face.


Before you dig anything up, be sure it’s legal to do so. In general, metal detecting is allowed in state parks but you cannot destroy plants in doing so. There are limits too on mineralogical, historic, and archaeological artifacts. You cannot dig up and remove fossils, minerals for commercial use, or remove a WWII firearm.

You cannot dig in Indian burial grounds. There is a complex mixture of regulations obscure enough to confound the most altruistic dirt-fisher. To find out more, check out the Metal Detecting Hobby Talk web site, for national regulations, and California laws.

Generally, it’s OK to search in National Forests and Federal Bureau of Land Management properties, but metal detecting is forbidden at national monuments. In California this includes the Giant Sequoia National Monument and the Fort Ord National Monument.

Read a little bit more about Metal Detecting on BLM land in this article. Can I Metal Detect on BLM Land?

A general rule is not to dig in manicured lawns. Metal detecting is allowed at almost all beaches. Most parks allow you to metal detect in sandy soil, weeded and undeveloped land and wooded areas, as long as you’re not destroying vegetation or wildlife.

We focus here on a few selected sites as samples of good prospecting areas for the metal detecting hobbyist. The fall into three somewhat broad and overlapping categories:

  • Beaches,
  • Trails, and
  • Forgotten cities.
    Enjoy!

Beaches and Trails in California for Metal Detecting

Beach detecting is really fun because it’s easy digging, generally quite productive, and you don’t have to worry about park rangers looking over your shoulder. There’s the added pleasure of sea breezes, open vistas, and relatively large search areas.


A couple tools are a must for beach metal detecting. A waterproof proven pin-pointer and a strong sand scoop. I highly recommend the GARRETT AT PRO POINTER and the CKG SAND SCOOP (link to Kellyco to check prices and ratings)


1. Seacliff Beach, Aptos, CA – Fun Metal Detecting!

If I could define one place that’s perfect for metal detecting Seacliff is it. A beautiful BUSY beach, convenient parking, lots to see and lots of sand for items to get lost in.

Seacliff Beach also has an RV park which makes it perfect for the traveling detectorist. Find a slot right on the beach and get out early and enjoy! Read more at the state park website. Website: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=543.

Seacliff Beach CA, for Metal Detecting
Seacliff Beach CA, for Metal Detecting
Image from Google Maps

Cautions for Metal Detecting at Seacliff:

  • Salty sand can play havoc with your ground balance. Be sure to adjust your detector according to the user manual.
  • This is not a sun-bathing beach. The weather is cold, as currents come down from Alaska on the west coast. Most beach activity is near the walkway.
  • The cliffs are very steep overlooking the beach. Use the stairs and roadways to descend to sea level. People have been killed from cliff collapses. See news story: https://www.wtoc.com/2019/08/03/killed-cliff-collapses-popular-california-beach/.
    The good news is that this is a very popular beach and is well attended. There is a huge RV parking lot on the west end that is about half a mile long and campers visit year-round. The beach continues to the east for about another mile and features an old WWI concrete ship that is quickly deteriorating in the surf.

Notes and Tips for Seacliff Beach:

You can avoid the park fee by driving to the corner of State Park Drive and Santa Cruz Avenue, just north of the park.

Next to the parking lot, which begins at that same corner, is a huge open field where you might want to detect also.

At the south-west corner of the parking lot is a very popular wooden staircase down to the beach. This vista point overlooks the shipwreck at the end of the pier. Well worth the walk!


2. Metal Detecting at Baker Beach, San Francisco, California

Baker Beach California for Metal Detecting
Baker Beach California for Metal Detecting
Image from Google Maps

This is a hugely popular beach and a great place to hunt, as it’s picturesque and close to the city of San Francisco. I’ve been there a few times and it’s usually filled with visitors. Tourists from all over the world tour this area and many choose this beach as their first view of the great Pacific Ocean.
About 400 billion gallons of water flow into and out of SF Bay every day, under the Golden Gate bridge.

Read about the park and plan your visit using the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy webstite – LINK HERE

The tidal action and prevailing winds push all kinds of things onto this beach. (Link: https://sfenvironment.org/article/hydro/tidal-energy.)

Hunting tips:

Bring a long-handled sand scoop. It’s fine sand and the long handle will save you a lot of deep-knee bends. Read more about digging tools in this article: Metal Detecting Digging Tools a Complete Guide

Adjust your ground balance for the salty water.

It’s cold and windy out there. Currents in the Pacific come down from Alaska. Bring a windbreaker.



3. Stinson Beach, California – Super Popular makes for Great Metal Detecting

Stinson Beach is wildly popular with both tourists and the locals, and has been the playground for Hippies and Flower Children since the 1960s. Janis Joplin had her ashes scattered there in 1970. Just under and hour’s drive from San Francisco, it offers a whopping 2.4 miles of beautiful beach landscape.

Get to Stinson beach early, particularly on hot days. This beach is close to millions of folks and it seems like everyone wants to cool off. As a part of the National Park Service the beach and grounds are well maintained. Be sure to plan your trip before arriving, I’ve found the the Stinson Beach Website is a great resource.

I found some interesting facts on Wikipedia:

“Stinson Beach is about a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge on California’s Highway 1. It is near important attractions such as Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, and Mount Tamalpais. It has a long beach, and the cold water produces fog throughout the year.”

It’s a foggy and cool climate with lots to see and do. You can read some local news about the tidepools : https://baynature.org/article/a-tidepool-in-time/.

You need to have the RIGHT kinds of digging equipment for beaches. A METAL DETECTING SCOOP is essential. My most recent favorite is the Hand Held Garrett GAR1600970 (links to AMAZON to check out the prices and reviews)


4. American River – Sweeping for Gold

The American River near Auburn, California is rough-and-tumble country, with steep cliffs, a powerful river, and miles of hiking paths. The terrain is not suited for young children, but it is a great spot to metal detect.

Although the objective is to find coins and jewelry along the trails, there is at least the possibility of hunting for gold. It’s best to have a dedicated gold detector for this. Look for outcroppings of quartz rock in the hills and examine the eroded soil beneath these exposed areas.

With lots of gold history the American River and the town of Auburn can wet you appetite for GOLD.

Metal Detecting on the American River and surrounding area in California
The American River and town of Auburn have lots of history. Chases for Gold and lots of trails to metal detect on.

Don’t forget to stop and “smell the roses” so to speak along these trails. There are no roses to be seen, but the photo opportunities are spectacular. There are some trails that I recommend to metal detect on, the first two with plenty of hiker traffic.

  • Black Hole of Calcutta Trail.
  • Clementine Trail.
  • Quarry Trail.

For families with small children, I would suggest an alternative, such as the many camps that offer amateur gold panning. These sites may be a little more tame, but still offer excellent adventures for the adults.

  • Union Flat Campground, keeps the old time gold mining feel alive. Read more at the Recreation.gov website. https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/234534
  • Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, provide a first hand glimpse at panning for gold. With a metal detector your chances are better searching for gold jewelry. Plan a visit to the park using the States website – https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484
  • Malakoff Diggins State Park, learn about what hydraulic mining was in this 3000 acre park nestled in a pine forest. Metal detecting old tailing piles may actually kick-off a tone on your detector. Even more information can be found at https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=494

5. Nevada City – Searching the Cascade Canal Trail

Cascade Trail CA for Metal Detecting
Cascade Trail CA for Metal Detecting – old trails get plenty of foot traffic

This is a particularly interesting trail. There’s not much chance of finding gold here, but the real treasure is an isolated walk in the woods that transports you into the heart of Mother Nature. It’s a canal that transports water from the mountain areas to the foothills of the Central Valley of California. See the web site link above for some come-hither photographs.


If you’d like more articles about metal detecting check out the links below.

From the web page:

“This popular trail offers an almost level walk along a peaceful canal through a forest with many Douglas firs and dogwoods. At 3200′ elevation, it is a bit higher and cooler than many local trails. There are several places along the route where views open up briefly to more distant scenery.”

It’s in Gold Country, so there’s always a chance of finding some hidden treasure, but don’t count on it. Just to keep your imagination alive, though, here’s a story about finding stolen loot in Gold Country: News Link: https://www.sfgate.com/outdoors/article/Discovery-may-prompt-new-gold-rush-5281400.php.


6. Pioneer Trail at Hwy 20 – Remote Metal Detecting

This is an alternate trail you might want to consider. It’s not fully developed here because its very remote and probably too difficult for most detectorists. It’s located between Nevada City and Emigrant Gap in California, and marks an old wagon-train trail paralleling Highway 20. This trail might be good for relic hunting.

Note that this is a long trail, headed mostly down-hill. Plan accordingly, as the walk up hill will be a lot more strenuous at this high altitude.

The way I’ve planned my trip is to camp at the White Cloud Campground and plan for a full day of hiking the trail scanning along the way. Use a favorite tip of checking closely by benches and natural rest areas.


Forgotten Cities a FAVORITE Metal Detecting Spot

A great way to find the oldest neighborhoods in any city is to get a vintage map. You can find old maps for about any town on internet sites such as Ebay. Compare the old map to a modern one and you’ll have a good comparison to find the oldest parts of you city.

When I first moved to Folsom, California, I was disappointed to see how few coins I was finding. I got an old 1952 map and found out why. Up until that time Folsom was just a couple square miles in area. By the 1990s it had grown, tremendously, mostly to the south, where I was finding coins no earlier than 1980.

Using a Vintage Map for Metal Detecting
Using a Vintage Map for Metal Detecting

In the year 1900, Sacramento, likewise, had a population of only 30,000, confined mostly between A and X Streets, from the Sacramento River to 30th Street. Today it’s population is over half a million, and the oldest areas remain in that small square, with a few city blocks on the west side of the river, now part of West Sacramento. Figure 9 shows a map of the city from 1900, along with an image of one of the many streets with wide, grassy traffic dividers, good for metal detecting.


7. Old Sacramento / West Sacramento for Metal Detcting

There is a tourist section of town called Old Sac. Old Sacramento is a State Historic Park, so digging there is off limits. The surrounding areas, however, provide ample opportunities for metal detecting. See Figure 10.

Old Town Sacrament
Old Town Sacrament – History means lots of time for folks to drop something
Don’t tear up lawns!

Pristine lawns add glamour to the tourist area of Old Town Sacrament, but just a quarter mile away are undeveloped parks and walkways along old parts of the Sacramento River.

There are long stretches of waterfront that remain undeveloped and the west shore now has a little-used bicycle path. This area, being so old is ripe for finding relics and silver coins. The tourist center is off limits to detecting, but areas near by are waiting for your search.


8. Benicia – Old is Good for Metal Detecting

Benicia is one of the oldest cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, being just the third city to incorporate in the state of California. It was once the state capital, in 1853. Now it’s one of those communities you drive through while going somewhere else. Still, it has a rich history and dozens of great sites for the metal detector.

This is a good place to search for silver and old coins. There is lots of areas with hilly terrain and untouched nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored. See the list of target sites in Figure 12.

Map to Metal Detecting Spots in Benicia, CA
Map to Metal Detecting Spots in Benicia, CA

The weather there is often windy, as breezes from the ocean whip through a narrow break in the coastal range of mountains. This is a sleepy little town yet oddly fascinating.


The End – of this article but Keep Using Your Metal Detector

This has been just the briefest of samplings for metal detecting sites for Northern California. There’s plenty more to say, but we need to keep the articles brief for the sake of reader attention span! Ha, ha! But there are plenty of exciting areas to explore, which we hope to present in the future.

In the meantime, you can learn a lot and be inspired by checking out some the Metal Detecting forums and web sites on the internet.
Some samples:

  • Treasurenet: http://www.treasurenet.com/forums/forum.php
  • Metal Detecting Forum: https://metaldetectingforum.com/index.php
  • Metal Detecting Hobby Talk (Calif.) http://www.mdhtalk.org/cf/club.cfm?st=CA

Happy Hunting!


Check Out These Spots for your Next Metal Detecting Trip


Vince Migliore_Author Metal Detecting Book

Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.


Metal Detecting in Rivers and Streams: Do It RIGHT!

Metal Detecting in Rivers and Streams: Do It RIGHT!

Metal detecting in rivers and streams is a whole new ballgame compared to dirt fishing on land. In my experience, you find a completely different set of treasures. There are fewer coins, but much more jewelry and dropped objects, like knives, fishing gear, and nautical hardware.

If you’re really lucky, you might even find the discarded engagement ring from an angry fiancée! Actually, when people swim or wade in the water, rings come loose and slip off, and jewelry gets dislodged more easily.

By the way, we need a metal detecting term for water activities. You can’t call it dirt-fishing or coin shooting. Any ideas?


Warning: If your metal detector isn’t completely waterproof you might not want to scan beaches. When a metal detector manufacturers WATERPROOFS a unit it has been designed to keep SAND, SALT WATER and MOISTURE out. Don’t ruin your machine get a waterproof unit – I highly recommend the: Garrett AT MAX link to Kellyco

Garrett AT MAX photo credit Kellyco

Why Metal Detect in Rivers or Streams – Goals

In most cases, you don’t really need to strictly define your goals. You can just go down to the river and find a good spot, and wade in. (Pun intended.) A good place to start is at a sandy beach, or where boats, rafts and kayaks are launched or land, Figure 1.

Boat and Bathing Areas for Metal Detecting
Boat and Bathing Areas for Metal Detecting

Figure 1. Boat landings and bathing areas are a good place to start detecting.

On the other hand, if you have specific things you want to find, there may be different ways to approach the challenge. Some suggestions follow.

Metal Detecting in Rivers for Coins and Jewelry:

  • Search under bridges and overpasses.
  • Scan the water and sand below vista points and lovers’ leaps.
  • Search popular beaches.

Pro Tip: Shallow water and a sand bar beneath a pedestrian bridge is a great place to detect for coins. Read more about Metal Detecting at a Beach in this article: Metal Detecting at Myrtle Beach

Metal Detecting Streams for Historic Relics:

  • Find places along rivers where there were shallow water crossings.
  • Find intersections of shallow rivers with known pioneer trails.
  • Use history books and old maps to discover these places.

Metal Detecting in a River for Gold and Silver:

  • Look for areas along the river where there are outcroppings of gold-bearing quartz rock, or known silver deposits.
  • Search just below and somewhat down-stream of such rocks.
  • Detect in the sand dunes at bends in the river.
  • Search in the sand dunes that appear where the river changes from a narrow passage to a wider stream.

A couple tools are a must for beach metal detecting. A waterproof proven pin-pointer and a strong sand scoop. I highly recommend the GARRETT AT PRO POINTER and the CKG SAND SCOOP (link to Kellyco to check prices and ratings)


What Kind of Metal Detecting Equipment is Needed for Rivers and Streams

Detecting in water environments definitely takes some special equipment.

Most detector coils are waterproof, but it’s wise to check the seal for cracks or worn-away insulation. Any breaches in the seal can ruin your coil. Many special purpose detectors have a submersible control box too, but be sure to check your user manual.

Peripheral River Metal Detecting Equipment

Suggested add-ons to your toolbox:

  • Waterproof pin-pointer.
  • Long-handled sand scoop.
  • Small spade shovel for rocky bottoms.
  • Prospector hammer, if you are searching for gold or silver ore.

If your looking for a COMPLETE GUIDE to Metal Detecting digging tools read this guide: Metal Detecting Digging Tools Selecting the BEST

Are Clothes Important Metal Detecting?

Look into wading shoes or rubber boots. There are a whole slew of footwear products for shallow wading, from neoprene socks to quick-drying sneakers. Examples.

You may need fisherman’s waders for deeper water, Figure 3. Some folks even buy wet suits for deep or cold water detecting. This of course is a much more dedicated dive into the sport, and is not right for everyone.

Metal Detecting with Waders in High Water
Metal Detecting with Waders in High Water

Figure 3. Water higher than knee deep is going to require waders and fishing gear.

Suggested Metal Detecting Items to Have

  • Windbreaker jacket for breezy conditions.
  • Appropriate dress for climate and season.
  • Bug spray.
  • Spare dry socks

Having the right tools to dig with makes a HUGE difference when Metal Detecting. Digging items quickly allows you to work more ground. I recommend three tools:

Lesche Digging Tools for Metal Detecting
Lesche Digging Tools for Metal Detecting

How to be SAFE Metal Detecting in a River

Water can be dangerous. Quick moving and frigid water is particularly hazardous. See news story.

A 100-mile per hour wind can knock a man over. Water, however is 784 times more dense than air. Water carrying dirt and mud along with it is even heavier. That means that water moving at a walking pace, 2 to 3 miles per hour. is enough to throw you off balance. Don’t take risks, especially if you are detecting alone.

Safety suggestions:

  • Don’t wade deeper than your ankles in swift flowing water or in surf with waves.
  • Venture out with at least one other friend.
  • Wear waterproof boots or waders and thermal socks in cold water.
  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Beware of slippery mud.

Pro Tip: Remember too that rivers and streams can hide fishing hooks and sharp objects.

Other Methods of Metal Detecting in Rivers

There are several variations on river detecting.

One is to use a row boat, kayak, or canoe to sit in while hanging your detector over the side. This will allow you to access small islands, midstream sand bars, and hard to reach spots along the river.

Another variation is the use of powerful magnets. This is called magnet fishing. You tie a powerful magnet to a rope and dip it in the water. Technically, this does not use metal detecting equipment, but it’s good for “fishing” magnetic objects from a boat, from a pier or from a bridge. For more on magnet fishing see Example 1, and Example 2.

Caution: Twice I’ve lost the magnets when rocks, trees, and snags entangle the rope, and you cannot retrieve the magnet.

Finally, always use this rule: Common sense, good judgment, reasonable action.

Do Some Research BEFORE Metal Detecting in a Stream

As I mentioned above (II. Goals), a little research can provide a lot of help in picking a river site.

Use a map application to study the rivers and streams near you. The best places to hunt are near sand banks which are formed by fast moving water.

Look for rivers in narrow canyons that fan out onto a wider, flatter landscape. This is where all the fast moving debris picked up by the swift water will be deposited in the shallows or in a sand bank.

I’m a strong believer in the “treasure is where you find it” mantra. That said, without any mental conflict, I also believe it pays off to know some of the science of river flow.

Figure 4 illustrates a typical mid-stream sand bar with the darker shaded areas representing the higher shear velocity of water, which can be translated into the speed of the water flow. Coins and metals, especially gold are relatively heavy. It takes a lot to move them. When they are on the move, the first slowdown in the current will deposit them into the stream bed.

Where to find GOLD Metal Detecting in a River
Where to find GOLD Metal Detecting in a River

Figure 4. Water velocity around a mid-stream sand bar. Image adapted from article: Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 10, Issue F4, Dec. 2005, “The fluid dynamics of river dunes.”

In this figure there are two places that are best for coin searching. These are 1) the gray areas just to the south and west of the tip of the sand bar, and 2) the gray area near the south-east end. The lighter debris will be deposited in the light areas just to the south of the island.

Figure 5 shows the same prime spots for the down-stream side of underwater sand dunes. These are the best locations to find heavy objects released by the flowing water.

Look on line, too, for news stories of bridges or piers that collapsed or were washed away and not rebuilt. Lots of people drop things off piers and bridges, sometimes by accident, sometimes to discard, sometimes just to make a splash.

Research trails used by the early settlers and see where they crossed the river in shallow areas. Look for open spaces along rivers where travelers might want to rest or camp.

Finding Treasure in a River or Stream Metal Detecting
Finding Treasure in a River or Stream Metal Detecting

Figure 5. Dynamics of underwater sand dunes. Image adapted from article: Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 10, Issue F4, Dec. 2005, “The fluid dynamics of river dunes.”

Feel the Love of River and Stream Metal Detecting

Now, if you will, allow me to take a diversion for a minute to say how thoroughly charming metal detecting can be. This is not just for the finds, but also for the many related fields of study that grow seamlessly into your hobby.

You think you are studying metal detecting and rivers, and soon you’re off into hydrodynamics, physics, weather, geology, and history, to name just a few of the many sciences and skills that can help you in your detecting.


Check Out These Spots for your Next Metal Detecting Trip

Find Good Rivers to Metal Detect

Do you have a river near you? Isn’t it a main attraction? People love to congregate around rivers and river beaches.

Rivers have the advantage of carrying a lot of water, and therefore a lot man-made objects along the way. Just be careful of the hazards of fast moving water. (See III. C. Safety concerns, above.)

You CAN hunt in mud, too, but it’s a lot messier and slippery than the sandy parts of the river. It might be better to stick to the clean banks and dunes.

The best places to hunt:

  • The deep hollows carved out of the riverbed at the upstream end of a sandbank.
  • The trailing, downstream end of the sandbank. This is where the most recent deposits will be found.
  • The sudden drop-off of underwater riverbed dunes. This is where turbulent water will release its cargo.
  • The first shallows that appear downstream from a narrow passage or canyon.
  • At sharp turns in the river.
  • At beaches, swimming holes, and parks along the river.
  • Search for areas where bedrock is exposed under the water. Look in the cracks.

Recent studies of river flow suggest the best places to hunt for depth and for deposition of coins and debris. For more on river dynamics, see this study.

Figure 4 shows the deepest gullies to search around sand dunes, and Figure 5 shows the best areas to search in submerged dunes for recent deposits. Again, see the above study for more detail than you could ever use. (Wink!)

Best times to hunt:

  • Shortly after a large storm or surge in river flow.
  • During dry spells where more of the riverbed is exposed.
  • At times when water is cut off or diverted for construction or emergencies.

Sand bars are formed by the deposit of dirt from fast-moving waters at places where the flow slows down, Figure 6. The deepest part of the dune will have the oldest deposits. If there is a small dune made up of sand that you can dig into, this should provide some odd treasures. Be sure you are not breaking any local laws by digging in the river.

Metal Detecting at River Bend
Metal Detecting at River Bend

Figure 6. A good place to start your quest is where a narrow, fast moving section of the river ends in a broad, shallow fan, where the water deposits all its cargo onto the riverbed.

Again, the best places to search are the deep gullies near the upstream end of the sand dune and the sharp drop-off at the down-stream end of underwater dunes. There are also debris collecting areas on the downstream side of large boulders.


Find out more about essential metal detecting gear with these articles

What Kinds of Streams are BEST for Metal Detecting?

I find that smaller streams are a great choice for metal detecting. My experience is the little streams are more common, less dangerous, and just as generous in giving up little treasures. Always choose places where people interact with the river.

The best places and times to hunt are about the same as for rivers. Streams generally have more areas of ankle deep water, which is easier to navigate and dig.

A. Starting tips (for both rivers and streams)

  • Prepare yourself with knowledge of the area, from historic research and maps.
  • Bring a small bag or container for your finds.
  • Carry a cell phone.
  • Leave in your car spare gloves, shoes, socks, and pants.
  • Have an effective bug spray,
  • Compass or GPS, and local map.

Finally, do the world a favor. When you come across some junk, dump it in your garbage bag. I see this same error over and over again. A detectorist finds a pull tab and throws it right back into the environment. Probably another thousand dirt fishers will come along and repeat the same error.

In the same vein of service, you’ll find lots of children and curious adults asking about your hobby. Be a good ambassador for the sport and take a minute to explain how it works and how much fun it is.

There are several good articles designed to help you prepare for water detecting. Example 1. Example 2.

B. Follow-up Tips

When you get out of the water, here are some suggestions to make you ventures more successful.

  • If you’ve been in salty or dirty water, rinse off all your equipment. This prevents rust and sticky zippers, not to mention extending the life of your gear.
  • Keep a log of what you’ve found and where.
  • Make note of things you’ve learned for your next trip out.
  • Dump your garbage bag in the trash.

Should You Metal Detect in a River or Stream?

Streams and rivers provide an interesting variation on land-based detecting. It’s relatively easy, especially for small streams and creeks. The finds that you discover are often qualitatively different. There are generally more relics to be found – my personal experience – but plenty of coins and jewelry too.

You may have to add to your collection of tools, such as water sneakers and sand scoops, but these are useful in other aspects of your life too.

Remember the cautions discussed – Be Safe! Fast water can be dangerous, your safety is way more important than any treasure.

Good videos on river detecting:

  1. River crossings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwS6S4I1g9g.
  2. Gold hunting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyYjFDAwor4.
  3. Jewelry detecting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WQc4mG6_Pc.
  4. Ocean detecting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5vg_Yi42Ok.
  5. Relic hunting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5hi4_zLEIM.
  6. Tips for beginners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy27Rceovfw.
  7. Tourist spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6rbDOkwUxA.
  8. Deep and cold water tips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvG67PVdODc.

I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.

Vince Migliore_Author Metal Detecting Book

Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.

How to Metal Detect: The Complete Beginners Guide

How to Metal Detect: The Complete Beginners Guide

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.


I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.


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.

Metal Detecting Civil War and Gold Areas
Metal Detecting Civil War and Gold Areas Fig #1

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 DETECT

David Humphries – Creator of Metal Detecting Tips

Suggestions:

  1. Unless you live in a house on the beach, don’t start off with a PulseInduction machine. Stick with a general purpose VLF detector.
  2. Avoid single-purpose detectors, such as under-water only, or gold only machines.
  3. Check the weight of the machines you are considering.
  4. 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.

Great Beginner Metal Detector
Great Beginner Metal Detector

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 Detector

David 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:

  1. Discrimination (Link to Article)
  2. Target ID
  3. Frequency (Link to Article)
  4. Interference / Noise cancel
  5. Sensitivity (Link to Article)
  6. 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.

Metal Detector Faceplate
Metal Detector Faceplate

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)


Warning: If your metal detector isn’t completely waterproof you might not want to scan beaches. When a metal detector manufacturers WATERPROOFS a unit it has been designed to keep SAND, SALT WATER and MOISTURE out. Don’t ruin your machine get a waterproof unit – I highly recommend the: Garrett AT MAX link to Kellyco

Garrett AT MAX photo credit Kellyco

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.


Check out AMAZON for Metal Detectors (Link) and one of the BIGGEST most reputable metal detecting sellers KellyCo.


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.


Fisher F11

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 Coinmaster

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)
ScorePricing
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:

  1. 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.
  2. Target ID. Many detectors have notches or VDI numbers that you can delete out, such as pull tabs.
  3. 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.
  4. Interference / Noise cancel. Most detectors have a noise cancel option, which reduces ambient electrical interference.
  5. Sensitivity. This is like the volume control on an amplifier. Use it to reduce the chatter in a junk-filled field.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Get outside and Metal Detect
Get outside and Metal Detect

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.
Metal Detecting Accessories
Metal Detecting Accessories

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:

  1. A small towel for cleaning and displaying your finds.
  2. A garbage bag.
  3. A dedicated gear box that you can throw into the back of your car.
  4. A cell phone.
  5. First-Aid kit.
  6. Extra socks and gloves.
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Be mindful of the wind and wet weather. Bring a simple wind-breaker.
  4. 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.

Cutting a Plug the Correct Way - Metal Detecting
Cutting a Plug the Correct Way – Metal Detecting

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.

Cutting a Plug – Metal Detecting Tips

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:

Metal Detecting Forums
Metal Detecting Forums
  1. You learn from the experiences of other people.
  2. You participate in group hunts and other activities.
  3. You gain access to many more resources that will help your hunting.
  4. 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.


I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.

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.


Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.