Metal Detecting Rules Ethics and Laws

Metal Detecting Rules, Ethics and Laws (Doing the Right Thing)

Before beginning a metal detecting outing always be aware of the regulations for your area, this could involve Federal, State, County and/or Local legislation. This often means searching local Municipalities, along with State Parks and Recreation Websites. National Parks have clear laws that can be read HERE. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has more lenient rules that can be read HERE and in my article 👉 Can I Metal Detect on BLM Land?

Using a Metal Detector on BLM Land
Using a Metal Detector on BLM Land

Metal Detecting Code of Ethics

  • Do not trespass; always respect private property and do no metal detecting without the owner’s permission.
  • It is advisable to get permission in writing, and to get agreement in writing first to avoid disputes regarding the ownership of any subsequent finds.
  • Report all finds to the landowner/occupier.
  • Protect the metal detecting hobby by being a good will ambassador at all times.
  • Always use the correct digging or probing equipment to make the least intrusion or marks.
  • Always fill in your holes, including ploughed fields and beaches.
  • Never do anything that might contaminate wells, creeks or other water supplies.
  • Respect the country code, leave gates as they are found, do not damage crops, never deliberately disturb wild or domestic animals.
  • Never litter, always gather or collect any trash or debris you create or find.
  • Leave as little sign of your passing as possible.
  • Never throw trash finds back in the hole.
  • Report the discovery of any items of possible significant historical value to a local historian or museum in accordance with the latest legislation of your area.
  • Never go metal detecting around archaeological monuments.
  • Report any live ammunition or other potentially lethal or toxic objects you may find to authorities after carefully noting or marking the location. Do not attempt to move or interfere with any such devices.

METAL DETECTING TIP: I’ve got some strategies to get permission to metal detect on private property.  It’s based on being OVERWHELMINGLY nice.  Read the article with this shortcut link How to Get Permission to Metal Detect on Private Property.

Metal Detecting Laws

State, federal, and local governments have passed many laws that intentionally or incidentally impact metal detecting opportunities.

The goal of such laws is to protect sensitive archaeological sites and public lands. Though lawmakers aren’t specifically out to obstruct hobbyists, the legislation often affects excavation and removal of objects — key parts of a treasure hunting adventure.

Navigating complex code can be daunting and frustrating, but having to leave behind a new find is even worse. Take the time before you explore to find out what legal jurisdiction an area falls under and what permissions you need to discover and recover items.

Look into rules regarding digging tools, and respect any restrictions in your area. Unfilled holes are unsightly, dangerous to people and livestock, and are detrimental to the continued use of detectors.

How to Get Permission to Metal Detect on Private Land
How to Get Permission to Metal Detect on Private Land

Private Property

Detectorists will find the most freedom when exploring private property.

To promote the best possible community relations, metal detector hobbyists need to obtain written permission to hunt on private property. Property owners deserve proper respect for their land, and you have an opportunity to showcase fellow treasure hunters as ethical and responsible stewards of the outdoors.

Metal Detecting Tip: One of my most popular articles 👉 How to Get Permission to Metal Detect on Private Property

When seeking an owner’s approval, explain your purpose, methods, techniques to minimize impact, and timeline.

Federal Laws

U.S. law includes a number of legislative acts that affect how federal lands are enjoyed and impacted. These acts impact metal detecting because finds typically must be excavated. Even if they are just below the surface, some amount of digging is usually required.

Metal Detecting Tip: Perseveration of historic lands and items is at the root of the 1906 American Antiquities Act.  Read the legislation 👉 1906 American Antiquities Act

An early piece of legislation, the 1906 American Antiquities Act, gave the president the power to make federal lands protected sites. Its intention was to stop the disturbance of prehistoric Native American grounds and ruins by the day’s treasure seekers, who were known as pot hunters because shards of pottery were prized finds.

Lands described under the power of this act could no longer have artifacts removed freely because the excavation of antiquities from such lands would require a permit. Known and marked historical sites, historical parks, and historical monuments are typically off-limits to all metal detecting.

The 1966 National Historic Preservation Act is a far-reaching work of preservation by the federal government, intended to protect historical and archaeological sites.

This created the National Register of Historic Places and although initially focused on structures, this act also impacts rural areas that may have historical significance and further promotes the stringent preservation and cataloging of Native American cultural items.

The 1997 Archaeological Resources Protection Act  further governs any excavation on federal and Native American lands and controls the removal of archaeological artifacts from those sites.

State Laws

Laws vary from state to state, but all 50 allow metal detecting in some form on public lands.

For example, some state departments of Parks and Recreation maintain a list of dozens of sites that allow metal detecting without a permit. These spots include popular beach, field, and forested areas but exclude all protected archaeological sites.

List of State Parks that allow metal detecting with LINKS to guides

Click on the State to get a guide where to metal detect and the laws in that state.

However, the pre-approved places still are limited by additional criteria, such as “Parking lot, picnic area, and trail surfaces” only.

Any detecting that happens outside these neatly drawn lines may still be open to metal detecting but first, require a permit. Ask the nearest park office or inquire at the closest office about detecting possibilities and obtaining a permit.

States have further, diverse restrictions. Some states include all shipwrecks, for instance, as protected sites or digging tools are limited to only an ice pick, screwdriver or small knife.

Metal Detecting in the Woods
Metal Detecting in the Woods

Metal Detecting Etiquette

Metal detecting has amazing people in it but, there are some who just don’t get it. I was in a metal detecting group recently where someone posted an inappropriate joke that didn’t build our activity.  In order to get more access, WE need to be better than most.

Three Metal Detecting Etiquette Rules that I Always Follow:

  1. Respect private property and never metal detect an area without landowner permission
  2. Clean up ALL trash.  Ask the property owner where to through out trash.  Remind them that you’ll be finding nails and other cut hazards.
  3. Attempt to leave the property better than when you arrived.  Adding water to a plug-hole will help it grow, closing gates and fences.

Over the years I’ve seen and heard it all. Destructive digging techniques, trespassing, hunting parks that are off limits and stealing others spots. If you’re out metal detecting and you run across this behavior it’s up to you on what you do

Whether you choose to confront the bad behavior or ignore it is up to you but I would suggest distancing yourself as far as you can from this behavior. People like this are in it for their own self gain and they do not care the cost.

One More Sweep with Your Metal Detector

I think the best reminder is to be NICE.  I’ve been invited detect at other folks’ houses.  Many folks just want to learn a little bit more about the history of their land.  This is a detectorist DREAM COME TRUE


Wondering What Metal Detecting Equipment I Use? Check Out My Favorites Below

Nokta Makro Simplex+ an awesome machine
Nokta Makro Simplex+ an awesome machine

I’m frequently asked what machines I use and recommend. No doubt about it, for the beginner get the Nokta Makro Simplex + Kit it’s the best. 100% waterproof, wireless headphones and pinpointer. Check prices and reviews with quick links below.


Lesche T Handle Shovel
Lesche T Handle Shovel

The next thing you need is a great shovel, believe me when I say you’ll dig more knowing you can dig FASTER. Links below to the nearly bullet proof Lesche T- Handle Shovel


CKG Metal Detecting Beach Sand Scoop
CKG Metal Detecting Beach Sand Scoop

Metal Detecting and Beaches are a perfect match. Easy digging and lots of people dropping coins and jewelry. To search a beach you’ve GOT TO HAVE A SAND SCOOP. CKG Sand Scoops are heavy duty and able to be used as a shovel.


Minelab Equinox 800 amazing Metal Detector
Minelab Equinox 800 amazing metal detector

If it’s time up UP YOUR GAME and get the industry standard metal detector. The Minelab Equinox 800 IS THE BEST. Okay it’s not cheap, but your finds are going to increase with this machine. Shortcut links for reviews and current prices.


David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.

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