Metal detecting and real estate have at least one thing in common: location, location, location. The most advanced metal detector and the most experienced detectorist won’t find items of interest if people weren’t there to lose things in the past, so let’s look at some of the best places to metal detect.
One of the most important considerations in choosing a place to metal detect is who owns it. A friend or family member? State or local government? A total stranger? Private permissions can be some of the best places to detect, but you must have permission from the landowner to be there. To do otherwise is illegal and reflects poorly on those who responsibly enjoy the hobby.
The feasibility of detecting on public land varies from country to country and state to state, if you’re in the US. As a general rule, any publicly owned historical site is going to be off limits. However, some states allow detecting in certain state parks, though they require may you to apply for a permit. County- and city-owned properties like courthouses and local parks are the most likely candidates for permission-free metal detecting. That said, check your local laws and ordinances – bigger cities tend to regulate detecting on public land more carefully, while rural areas are often more relaxed.
1. You and people you know
If you’re just getting started, it’s always best to hit your own yard first, if you have one. Learn how to cut a plug and get to know your detector. Most importantly, learn how to avoid making a mess before you start on that promising old house or public park.
When you’re ready to graduate from your own yard, ask family and friends for permission. Chances are you know at least one or two people who live in older homes that might yield some old coins or interesting relics. They might even own land with old home sites that could yield some truly old finds. Using those relationships first is a great way to get permission without knocking on strangers’ front doors.
2. Parks and schools
If your area allows (or is silent on) metal detecting on public land, parks and schools are good places to start. Kids are prone to lose all sorts of things, so there is great potential for modern coins and other worthwhile finds. If the school is old enough, you may also have the potential to find silver coins. Just be sure to confine your activities to times school is not in session, such as on weekends or in the summer months.
Parks can hold a great deal of potential. Depending on the park, people may have been going there for more than a hundred years to picnic, play games, and socialize. Before you venture out, find out how old the park is and, if possible, what was there before the park. Almost any public park will give up decent amounts of modern change to a metal detectorist, but older and more interesting finds probably won’t surface if the park has only been there since the 1970s. One more thing: be prepared to dig plenty of trash at sites like these – there is no shortage of litterbugs in public parks.
3. Older homes
When you walk through a neighborhood, what houses seem old to you? The older the house, the better. The yard of a house built in 1860 or 1900 has had many years to accumulate losses from the people who lived there and those losses are potential finds for the detectorist.
But sometimes it isn’t clear exactly how old a house is from a brief glance, so how can you know? Two fairly reliable indicators of age are the foundation and the chimney. Most houses didn’t have concrete block foundations until c. 1930, so houses with block foundations will have been built more recently. That isn’t to say that they aren’t worth detecting, but a house with a stone foundation is generally going to be older. As for chimneys, they are not a surefire sign of age, but houses with multiple chimneys are almost always older and a house without a chimney is probably a fairly new build.
4. Beaches and swimming holes
Depending on where you live, you may have easy access to saltwater beaches where people swim, sunbathe, and play. And, unfortunately for many folks, there’s no place like the beach to lose coins, a ring, or your keys. But even detectorists without access to the ocean can search freshwater beaches or swimming holes where people cooled off in years past.
Metal detecting at beaches tends to produce more in the way of gold and silver jewelry than most “landlocked” sites, but water hunting comes with plenty of unique challenges. Your detector may not work well in water, especially salt water, unfavorable tidal patterns can cover good targets with feet of sand, and waves can knock you off your feet. However, with some preparation and patience, water hunting can be very fun and productive.
Anywhere that people have consistently gathered has the potential to be a productive site for metal detecting and churches are no different. People may have worshipped, had picnics, or even held outdoor services at a particular site for decades or centuries. Older church sites can be very productive, but it is up to you to do the research. A church may have been founded in 1820, but the original building may be long gone and the site miles away from the current building. Find out all the information you can and make sure to get permission before you start swinging.
6. Sports fields
Gameplay. Concessions. Sunburnt parents in camp chairs with questionable spinal support. Sports fields, as another place where people congregate, are great places to metal detect. They are good places to find coins and can also yield silver and gold jewelry. It is also useful to find out where old baseball or football fields used to be as these can yield silver coins and older jewelry too.
However, any detectorist hunting a sports field must be especially certain to leave no trace of his/her presence. Athletes or spectators could trip or turn their ankle on an open hole or poorly replaced plug. Especially when the sport is in season, it’s best to detect the sidelines and leave the field itself to the players.
Whether historic or modern, fairgrounds are great places to find coins, jewelry, and other desirable targets. They have the advantage of generally being wide open fields that are relatively simple to grid out with your detector and there are usually photos available that can be used to pinpoint potential hotspots. Some fairgrounds are also publicly owned, which may mean that you can metal detect without permission when the fair’s not in town.
The roads and population centers of today don’t always tell the story of where people lived and worked in the past. In many places, it’s not uncommon to have cellar holes or the remains of old, long-abandoned cabins in the woods, waiting to be rediscovered. Sites like this can yield coins, relics, tools, and everything in between, but don’t get discouraged if you come up empty at an old home site – some folks in the past barely got by and didn’t have much to lose.
9. Gold-bearing regions
Not all of us are fortunate enough to live in regions rich in precious metals, but if you do, a metal detector can be used to find gold in its natural form. Any detector could sniff out a nugget large enough, but machines designed for finding gold flakes and nuggets are best suited for this task. In these gold-bearing regions, some have had success searching old mining sites and detecting tailings or dredged material from previous operations. Naturally occurring placer gold can also be found in creeks, streams, and rivers or the dry beds where these once flowed.
No matter where you live, you can find places to metal detect that will produce worthwhile finds. Don’t get too discouraged by striking out – with patience, knowledge of your machine, and a good location, you’ll be finding treasure soon enough.