Metal Detecting Tips and Techniques

Metal detecting tips and techniques about detectors, where to go metal detecting, permission forms, and how to dig for coins and relics.
Written By: Marc McDermott
Last Updated:

If you’re just getting started in the metal detecting hobby, here are a few tips and tricks to make your hunts more productive.

What is the best metal detector?

The best metal detector is the one best suited for the job! If you are primarily metal detecting for coins, you should be looking for target ID and depth indication. If you are primarily metal detecting for relics, then you should be concerned about how well the detector will compensate for ground minerals. If you are both relic and a coin shooter, then a multi-purpose detector is what you should be focused on. Once you have made your decision and purchased your new detector, READ YOUR MANUAL! The best metal detector is also the one you know how to use.

Where can I buy a metal detector?

There are a variety of places to purchase a metal detector. I personally buy detectors and accessories from Kellyco Metal Detector Distributors. Don’t forget to check the Yellow Pages (metal detector) of your nearest dealer. They can be extremely helpful to new treasure hunters. You might want to check out eBay! for detectors. Just type in “metal detector” or “white’s metal detector” in the search field. I have noticed on eBay that “whites metal detector” makes a difference (no apostrophe). The internet offers many places to purchase a metal detector…just shop around and call for best prices.

What accessories will I need while metal detecting?

The basics should consists of gloves, probe, knife, Gator digger, (trowel) 24″ x 18″ ground cloth, and a two pocket apron. Tool belt pouches are a good choice that will hold all of the above to include your finds and trash. The “tarp clip” and “S” hook can be purchased at your local Home Depot. The tarp clip is perfect for attaching to your ground cloth since it is made of a hard plastic. Years ago it was fine to carry a marine knife in your tool belt on school property or even in public parks. Doing so these days could possibly be asking for trouble. Best to leave it in the vehicle (or at home) and stick to something like the Gator digger.

Should I use headphones when I am metal detecting?

This is purely a personal preference. They do not drain the battery as much as a speaker. In high auto traffic areas they are a must to drown out the background noise. If you use metal detecting headphones in a suburban area you will not draw attention to yourself as compared to a speaker blasting out. Do I use headphones? ALL THE TIME! I use Pioneer model SE205 stereo headphones and any of the cheaper ultra-lights. When using my V3i I use the White’s wireless headphones with the updated ear muffs…they are really comfortable and you can wear them all day.

How do I pin-point once a target is detected?

“X” the target area. Swing the coil from left to right and from top to bottom over the target area. Loudest point is center of the target. If the target appears too large, then raise the coil further away from the target. You can also de-tune your detector by rapidly depressing the pushbutton (if your detector has one) as you swing the coil over the target area. This makes the target smaller and easier to pin-point.

How do I retrieve the target from the ground?

Once the target is pin-pointed, use a Lesche digging tool or Gator digger to cut a “half round” plug. Cut straight down into the grass, never at an angle. Hinge it up and over to one side (kind of like a flap). This will keep the grass roots intact. Run the coil over the plug and the hole. It will be in one of them. If it is in the hole, remove the dirt and place it on the 24″ x 18″ ground cloth. This will make clean up easier. Once the target is retrieved, pour the dirt back into the hole, hinge the plug down and tamp it down with your foot. Next jab your probe into the plug a few times so the rain will get into the roots instead of surrounding it like a moat. You should not be able to see any evidence of your ground disturbance. Of course, out in the woods, one does not have to be as meticulous as digging in a nice lawn.

Do you recommend using a hole plugger?

NO!!! Unless you are a golf course groundskeeper. Using one will certainly create a “brown” spot (dead grass) and could be pulled up by a lawnmower. It is best not to use a hole plugger OR cut a round plug. Never ever cut a cone shaped plug! Cutting a half round plug in dry ground will also result in a brown spot. If you must hunt a nice lawn during a dry spell, try cutting a slit in the grass.

Where should I start metal detecting, treasure hunting, or coin shooting

In your backyard! It is a good place to practice the techniques after reading your manual. Have someone “plant” coins at varying depths for you to find and practice on. Once you gain some confidence in using the detector, head on over to the nearest elementary school (with permission) and put your newly acquired skills to work. Why an elementary school? Because kids tend to lose money on the playground. Finding new coins will get you use to how your detector responds and sounds, plus you can practice your digging techniques. Once you are confident in using your detector, read the article “Best Places to go Metal Detecting“.

Do I need a special metal detector for relic hunting?

Only if metal detecting for relics is your number one priority, then purchase a detector that is specifically made for relic hunting. The White’s V3i, DFX, DFX300 and the XLT are excellent relic hunting and coinshooting machines. White’s TDI and TDI Pro are manufactured specifically for relic hunting. I use a White’s V3i and TDI for relic hunting. If the area is too trashy I use the V3i, not so much trash I use the TDI.

How do you clean coins?

You shouldn’t clean coins, but if you must, then read the article entitled “Coin Cleaning…To Clean or Not to Clean“. When you dig up a silver coin NEVER ever rub the dirt off to check for the date. Doing so will lower the value of the coin because of the scratches caused by the dirt. You may not see the scratches, but when you take it in to a dealer I guarantee that he will inform you that it is scratched and offer a much lower price.

Where can I find out the value of my coins?

On The Links Page is a link to Best Coin which will aid you in determining the value of your coins. When you sell your coins to a dealer you can expect to receive about 40-50% of retail. Sometimes a dealer will offer more if it is a coin that will sell quickly. eBay is a great place to sell coins, especially for Mercury dimes and Indian head cents.

How do I write a permission letter?

Click here for information on obtaining permission to metal detect and permission letters for metal detecting. Click here for a permission letter to metal detect on private property. Just highlight, copy, and paste into a word processor and modify it to your liking.

How do I identify a coin, token or other metal detecting find?

There are a lot of ways. The internet has opened up an unlimited amount of information for identifying metal detecting finds. Most of the metal detecting forums have a “What’s It” or something similar for indentifying finds. There are books and magazines devoted to just about anything that is collectible. If you have exhausted all of your research avenues then try Mark Parker of Western and Eastern Treasures magazines. Over the years he has identified several items for me. The name of his column is “Ask Mark Parker”.

How can I find a metal detecting club or treasure hunting partner?

Visit Metal Detecting Clubs that lists clubs in all 50 states plus other areas of interest. Another way is to visit the Lost Treasures web site. Most metal detecting forums have either a page devoted to finding a partner or you could post that you are looking for a partner in a specific area. Under the Departments button is a drop down menu and one of the links will take you to a variety of forums. Also, your local dealer may know of individuals/customers that may need or want a hunting partner.

How deep do coins get?

This is a very touchy subject and I will give out information based on my experiences. Coins can get very deep at the beach due to wave action. Coins on land can also get very deep because they were covered over. I would venture to say that 95% of my coins were found in the 3″ to 5″ range. Some were found a little deeper, mostly in fields that were plowed. A good example: The year was 1984 and I was hunting an old church built in the late 1700’s. I found two large cents almost side by side that were only three inches deep. One was an 1797 and the other an 1810. Fast forward to the year 2000. I was hunting an old ball field that used to be a corn field. I received a signal that indicated a dime at 7″. Sure enough, it was an 1874 seated Liberty dime. On my last relic hunting trip to Virginia I pulled up a large cent from a depth of 1 (one) foot. Using the Deep Silver mode on my White’s V3i I pulled up a Roosevelt dime from 7.5 inches. In the same school yard I also dug up a wheat penny from the teens at a depth of 8 inches using the Mix Mode Pro.

How do I find gold?

In a simple two word sentence. Dig everything! If that is not practical because you are in a trashy area, then you are going to have to set limits. By limits I mean using a discrimination scale like 0-100 and dig everything from 10 on up. On my White’s V3i, a 14K gold pendant came in at a solid 10. A 10K ring came in at 16 which is usually nickels. A 9K ring came in at 23 which is normally a pull-tab. To find gold you have to dig all the trash signals, there is no way around it. You will be digging small pieces of foil, pull-tabs, parts of pull-tabs, ace bandage clips, tops of pencils that hold the eraser, small bits of wire, and a host of other small junk…BUT all of these signals could be a piece of gold. You will also learn something else by digging these junk signals. Small thin silver rings and jewelry can also produce a junk signal. I will dig a solid hit of 5, 6, 7 and above when looking for gold. A thin gold chain will hit very low, usually under 8.

How do I search an area that has been hit hard by other detectorist?

First, lower your discrimination and dig the lower solid signals. You will be surprised how many wheat’s and silver dimes on edge you will find this way. On a recent hunt in a school yard I received a solid signal of 63VDI (using the White’s V3i) at a depth of six inches. Digging down I found a 1952-D quarter that was on edge. Coins that are on edge have a much smaller profile/footprint than a coin lying flat. Thin silver rings and earrings will not hit high on the meter, they hit low in the pull-tab range. I have dug Indian head cents that show up as pull-tabs. Silver half dimes can also show up as a pull-tab. Search the borders of the property. Search under and inside the larger bushes. They were not large bushes 60 years ago. Slow down and take your time and search every square inch of ground with your coil. Don’t leave “gaps” with your coil and keep your swings and speed consistent. Keep your coil on the ground! Every inch the coil is above the ground is an inch loss in depth. Be the first one to hit the area after the ground thaws. The freezing and thawing of ground over winter can bring targets within range of your detector. Experiment with using different size coils.

How do you search a trashy area?

There is no doubt about it…trashy areas are very hard to search and are a lot of work. Start with a small coil around 6″ or less. Turn up the discrimination to at least reject pull-tabs and hunt a small 10′ x 10′ area. Search in different directions. Next, turn the discrimination down and search again. Think of it as searching in layers. Now hunt the area with a larger coil to find the targets that were out of range of the smaller coil. Before searching under bleachers (or any trashy area) it would be worthwhile to rake the surface trash out.

False reading or lost target.

Have you ever received a good coin reading, dug your half-round plug and flipped it over, scanned the plug with no reading and then scanned the hole and no reading? Sometimes a coin lying flat that gave you the good signal can fall deeper into the hole and land on edge. It is especially hard to see wheat pennies. A coin on edge is much harder to detect. Remove some of the dirt from the hole and place on your ground cloth for scanning with your detector. Foil can be another culprit of false readings. While digging to retrieve the target, foil can get crumbled up and become less of a target. Some minerals and salts can also cause falsing but not so much with the newer detectors. Nails, especially the rusted type can also be hard to find making you think you have a false reading. When this happens I start looking on the sides of the hole for the nail. This happens quite often when relic hunting and sometimes while coinshooting.

What to look for when metal detecting in the woods.

Metal detecting in the woods can yield great results. Logging trails are the easiest to find and identify. The trails are often larger paths through the woods and wide enough to accommodate a wagon with a horse team. A small clearing in the woods is a good sign that the logger may have set up camp there. The trails are easier to find in the winter when the leaves are down. I have spotted many a trail this way just travelling in a vehicle. Search the logging trail itself and both sides of the trail.

Years ago most homes were heated with wood. The entire family would go out into the forest to collect firewood. This would include small children who ended up playing more than working and of course would lose coins. Trees with initials carved into them is another good place to search around. I have found at least four trees on our property with initials carved into them and have found either wheat pennies or old buttons around the trees. Look for trees with the old telephone pole spikes driven into them. These trees were used as deer stands in the old days even though the stand has long since vanished.

The top of a mountain where it levels out is another good spot to search around as it was most likely used for hunting and picnics. The intersection of where two trails meet is an excellent spot to search. That is where I found my Spanish colonial coin along with large cents and Indian head cents. Any large tree that stands out in the woods is worth searching around. Trails that follow along a creek will usually lead to an old picnic ground. If you find trees with initials carved into them you can bet you are in the right location. It goes without saying that stone wall fences out in the middle of the woods should be searched on both sides of the wall and the wall itself. I remember years ago of a treasure hunter finding a stash of large cents behind a rock in a stone wall fence. If you stumble upon an old well (be careful, safety first) an old foundation should be nearby. It may just be a shallow depression but the whole area would be worthy of a thorough search.

Why are fields good places to metal detect?

Farm fields, hay fields, meadows, whatever you want to call them are excellent places to metal detect. Why? There are a few reasons. Farmers have been plowing the fields for at least 2-3 centuries here in the U.S. If you figure all of the farmers, farm hands, hunters, and people just passing through that could have pulled coins out of their pockets over a period of 200 to 300 years, the coins, buttons, and bullets can add up quickly.

There is a possibility that a colonial fort could have stood on the land at one time. Old home sites could also have been in the field at one time or another. Pottery, glass, and iron objects are usually a dead giveaway of an old home site. If there is a tree row in the farm field, search both sides as this is where a hunter would normally walk. Dirt roads leading into the fields are another area to search. Look for places that may have been used to park a car or truck.

The fields could also have been used for tent revival meetings in the off seasons. These areas would be a silver mine (and maybe a gold coin or two).