Metal Detecting in the Woods: Tips and Techniques

Written By: Marc McDermott
Last Updated:

Metal detecting in the woods is not the first place a lot of people think to look, which can make it one of the most advantageous. 

By broadening your horizons, you could be the first to make a unique discovery, but there are several things to remember to make it a successful hunt. Before you pack your bag and test the detector, we have some useful tips for metal detecting in the woods. 

Can I metal detect in the woods?

The first thing to remember about exploring new areas and terrains is that you represent other metal detector enthusiasts. 

This is why it is always prudent to obtain the landowners’ permission before you detect any area of land. You may not have the right to keep your finds, this will be all the more painful should your target end up being something of value.

Is It Legal?

Laws change from state to state, so it is best to check the regulations in your area but it is legal to use your detector in most woods.

Detecting activities are often prohibited in National Forests, but a quick conversation with the local authorities should tell you all you need to know about what you can and cannot do. 

Places to metal detect in the woods

The woods themselves! It all starts with the trees. 

Beech trees and trees that shed leaves in large quantities should be avoided. They create piles that can be over a foot deep, making it difficult for your detector to pick up signals underground. 

Fir trees and evergreens are good as they do not lose their leaves or create as much foliage, making it easier for your detector to pick up signals. 

Footpaths and the surrounding areas can be fruitful, but you are more likely to discover recent treasures like jewelry and recent coins. If you are on the hunt for historical relics and old coins, you may wish to think outside the box.

It will also be easier to dig if you stay away from a path where the ground is trodden and more compact. 

Some of the best places to detect in the woods are further afield. Going deeper into the woods will mean it is less likely that other people have detected there before, so you get to be one of the first. Your detector is also less likely to pick up trash such as ring pulls and bottle tops in these areas, saving you time as you hunt.

Your signals may be few and far between in these areas, but the chances of them being special is a lot higher.

Old foundations

Old foundations have a reputation for being home to a lot of trash, but using a small coil will give you a better chance of finding a valuable target. Large coils may pick up a lot of junk but if you have a detector that discriminates against iron, then you will have an easier time detecting old foundations as you’ll avoid nails and the likes. 

Knowing a bit of the history behind an old foundation can help. If it used to be a saloon or near a recreational or camping ground, you may find your coin count increasing.

Try digging all non-iron sounds and go from there. 

Old homesites

If you have access to old maps then you can look for buildings that may no longer be there, but other methods can be faster, and more fun.

Start by looking for things that do not look natural to the area. This can be in the form of trees that are larger than usual, stone foundations, or plants and flowers that seem out of place in the area.

An old spring is also a good indication that people used to dwell near this site, making it a great place to hunt. 

Searching for old roadbeds can also unveil old homesites. The ground will be pressed down, and along with non-native-looking flora, look for large stones and bricks that otherwise have no place in the woods.

Logging trails

Logging roads are great for two reasons: they can be a source of left behind treasure, and lead you to old campsites.

It was unusual for people to carry money in the old days, which is why logging trails can be challenging but find a camp and you can pick up lots of signals such as pocket knives and watches.

Detect to the side of the roads and areas where loggers may have relieved themselves. This is where they are more likely to drop coins and other spoils along the trail.

Explore the creek banks as this is where someone will have retrieved water or bathed in the water, removing their clothes and potentially dropping valuables for future detectorists to discover!

Near old large trees

Because of the amount of shade they provide, old, large trees can be a good spot to detect. 

Over the years, many people will have enjoyed a nice nap against the shade of the trunk, and things may have fallen from their pockets, making them a good area to move your detector around.

If you notice any carvings on the tree, then this is a good area as it may have been used as a place for people to hang out in days gone past. 

Creek and river banks

This can be a murky business, but fruitful if you know how and where to detect. A lot of them do not require permission such as any that run through public areas in state parks. 

If you are hunting for precious metal and jewelry, then go to areas where the general public likes to swim, especially after the summer months. Be patient, as bottle caps and other useless iron finds will be common in these areas. 

Any river that is low or would make a good crossing area all those years ago for a wagon or horse is going to be a good strategic place to search for historical relics.

A few words of caution when detecting around creeks and river banks – water can move fast, so we always recommend wearing a life jacket should the unexpected happen. 

Old wells

Any water source is going to be a good place to hunt as it is an area where people throughout time would have gathered and hydrated. 

Precious metals may find their way to the bottom of old wells in the woods, but it is best to stay safe and stick to the upper levels and hunt in terra firma.

If exploring old wells alone, make sure someone knows where you are and what you are doing in case the worse happens! 

Intersection of paths

These are the areas where people would have crossed paths on long journeys and would have been cause to contemplate the next directional move.

Any location where people gather can reveal interesting finds so spend a little time exploring intersections when you find them. 

Hiking trails

Any hike can be made better when you metal detect so combine the two and you get the best of both worlds. 

Besides the benefits to your mind and body, you could also dig up some neat treasures on hiking trails. 

Sure you may find a fair amount of rubbish, but your detector could lead you to jewelry, coins, and any number of unexpected gems along the way. 

Old campgrounds

The best thing about detecting old campgrounds is that you never know just how far the campers explored. The surrounding areas can be full of coins, jewelry, and any number of relics depending on when the camp was abandoned.

Any modern camp is likely to feel like a graveyard of pull tabs but stick with it and you can find plenty of coins.

Don’t forget to search the surrounding woods as it will be an area where campers went to relieve themselves – dropping valuables in the dark no doubt. 

What you can expect to find in the woods

You may be surprised at what your detector signal picks up when you scan the woods. Here are some of the most common finds you can expect:

  • Relics 
  • Old coins
  • Bullets
  • Trash
  • Buttons
  • Bottles
  • Nails

So, there is an abundance of treasure and worthless items to find. Because you are hunting around old camping grounds, don’t be surprised if you even dig up penknives, live bullets, and even arrowheads. 

Finding nails can be a sign that an old homesite is nearby, so be sure to explore the area thoroughly for a chance to discover some interesting finds. 

With a little patience and good fortune, you may detect the odd relic in the woods. 

What type of detector is best for the woods?

Pulse Induction (PI) machines are useful for hunting on mineralized ground and will give you greater depth than your standard detector. They are good and bad for the same reason – they don’t tend to miss targets. This means you’ll be digging everything up from relics and coins to bottle tops and pull tabs.

For most detectorists, there will be too much trash in the woods to use a PI detector.

However, some of the advantages of a VLF machine are also lost when searching the woods. They are less susceptible to external noise, but there isn’t a lot of it in the forest, and they don’t have a broad target range that may be required to find certain treasures in the woods. 

They are energy efficient, and the easiest to use as this is the simplest type of detector we’re talking about here, but they are limited to a single frequency and are not well suited to working with mineralized soils. 

Multi-Frequency is your best bet. They have a greater range and can detect a variety of metals and at different depths. They also handle mineralized soils a lot better and some work on multiple frequencies simultaneously. A lot of these detectors will also be fully waterproof, making them ideal for underwater detecting so it doesn’t matter where the hunt takes you, you can pick up signals in different terrains.

A metal detector that can work with multiple terrains is going to work best, especially those that can detect through conductive soil. Also, consider the rivers and creeks that may require a detector that can be submerged.

Exploring old campsites and homesteads will mean you are pulling up a lot of iron and trash if your detector cannot discriminate. So discrimination settings and tones to pick out iron are going to be useful. 

Only consider detectors with depth capabilities as you will be moving over uneven terrain and areas with piles of leaves.

Multifrequency target functions will benefit users of any skill level as target ID will help you decide whether or not a dig is worth it. 

Importance of researching the area first 

Before embarking on any hunt, it is always best to do your research to get the lay of the land, and the law! Public land and private land have very different laws spending on the State you are in.

If you are exploring private land, be sure to get permission before you start. This way, you will avoid any awkward conversations and even lawsuits should you be caught or find a relic of treasure you wish to keep.

Know the parameters of where the property markers start and end and stick to the rules – you are representing all detectorists after all. 

For federal land, you must do your due diligence. With so many laws and restrictions, metal detecting on and around protected national monuments and historical sites can be tricky, to say the least. 

National forests are indeed safe for recreational metal detecting even without permission, but it is always best to check in at the local park ranger’s office to stay on the safe side.

Tools For Detecting In The Woods

It all starts with the digger. Using a hand digger can be the easiest method as you may wish to explore far and wide, so traveling light is important. Some prefer using full-size diggers, which will be useful when battling tree roots.

Because of this, take something to cut small tree roots that obstruct your dig, and you’ll make life a lot easier on yourself. 

A pinpointer is good for saving time and effort when you locate the general area of your find. Plus, they have the advantage of being lightweight and conveniently sized.

Anyone who has hunted in the woods before will tell you that knee pads are a saving grace of any hunt. This is different from your beach hunts. In the woods, you will encounter sharp objects like broken glass, but even stones and uneven tree roots can be painful to lean on when digging. 

Bugs and ticks can spoil a day’s detecting, so load up on bug spray and tick repellant for a more comfortable hunt. Ticks, in particular, can be dangerous as they carry diseases such as Lyme disease.

Water might seem obvious, but some people forget it, and soon regret it! It is as sensible as taking your cell phone. There are hazards galore including fast-flowing rivers, uneven terrains, drops, and even dangerous animals so you never know when you might need to call for help.

Speaking of, a whistle can be a simple yet life-saving addition to your carry bag if you need to draw attention to your location. It may even scare off an animal should you have an unwanted encounter. 

Your carry bag is also important. Because you are likely to be out in the woods for hours on end, you will need to fill your bag with more tools than usual, plus food supplies and snacks to keep your energy levels up.

Boots are arguably the most important consideration as you are going to be walking on a variety of terrains and potentially in changing conditions. There are plenty of boots that are tailor-made for metal detecting, so go in comfort with quality boots.

Finally, you may wish to consider a smaller accessory coil for tight spots or areas with high amounts of trash. These are going to save you a lot of time, and hopefully, make every hunt in the woods a great success. 


With so many places to hunt, the woods are often neglected. However, they are some of the most interesting and unexplored places making them ideal for a day’s detecting.

With our useful guide, you will have a better chance of finding targets that are worth keeping and telling your friends about.

You may also be interested in our guide to the best places to metal detect outside the woods.