Getting permission to metal detect seems to be one of the most common obstacles to getting access to great detecting spots. Many people get nervous or feel silly knocking on someone’s door to ask for permission.
And understandably so in some cases. Let’s face it, metal detecting is not super common in certain areas of the country, and people living in those areas might not have any idea what you’re talking about. Likewise in areas that are more suburban and full of beautiful, well-kept green lawns, a lot of people might tell you to bugger off. After all, they’ve spent so much time and money on their lawns and don’t want you coming in to dig it up.
While this can be a dealbreaker for a lot of homes, it can sometimes help to show the homeowner how exactly you dig small plugs for targets and explain your process of only digging good signals. Because if you remember from our metal detecting code of ethics, you’re going to leave the property exactly as you found it. You just have to convey that to the homeowner.
If you don’t feel comfortable knocking on someone’s door to start, some alternatives are to send them a letter, drop a flyer/business card in their mailbox, or even call them on the phone. Either way, just be honest and straightforward with them.
The deal that is most often made between the detectorist and homeowner is that the detectorist keeps everything they find unless the homeowner specifically asks to keep something. The detectorist is also obliged to return any lost items, jewelry, and family heirlooms to the property owner. This is also just good ethics.
Remember that trespassing on private property can result in your being arrested or jailed. Your finds, metal detector, and even your vehicle could be confiscated and later sold at public auction. Fines could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Before you even set your coil on the ground it is best to be absolutely positive that metal detecting is allowed or you have permission from the landowner.
How to get permission to metal detect
A landowner could be a private individual, mayor, city police, county police, school superintendent, or even park rangers. It all depends on where you are going to metal detect.
To metal detect on public property, contact the mayor’s office (city hall) or city police. They will be able to either grant you permission or refer you to the person in charge of the property.
School superintendents and principals can grant you access to public school grounds and athletic fields. All schools have an office with a principal that can grant you the permission you need. A superintendent of schools can grant you access to more than one school. You should still contact the individual school principal and let them know that you have been granted permission from the superintendent just out of common courtesy.
City parks usually have a Parks Department. The head groundskeeper or Park Superintendent can grant you access. Sometimes the parks come under city property and a permit may be required. The permit is usually free and good for one year. Inquire at city hall for more information about metal detecting city parks.
Courthouse and county owned parks and property come under the authority of a county judge or sheriff department. There may even be a County Parks Department and they would be able to grant access or refer you to someone else.
Before metal detecting a state park inquire at the park office or the head ranger. Some parks allow detecting and some don’t. Some have special hours or even months that you cannot detect…like during peak tourist season.
All federal parks are covered by the 1979 ARPA law (Archaeological Resources Protection Act). Check with the park ranger. Maybe they allow metal detecting at a beach or shallow water hunting. It cannot hurt to ask. Leave your detector at home before inquiring. You do not want to be caught with a metal detector in your possession if metal detecting is not allowed.
Lakes, beaches, or swimming areas that are along navigable waterways could be controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Check with them for permission or referral.
Churches are not public property. They are private and you need to acquire permission. Larger churches have an office. Rural churches may require a little detective work. Some have signs posted with contact numbers (if you are lucky enough).
Graveyards can fall into any category of ownership. I personally will not hunt in graveyards.
Drive-in theaters are private property usually owned by an individual, investors, corporation, etc.
You know you need permission to metal detect a private residence. This is going to require an interaction between you and the home owner. When I was stationed at Tooele Army Depot I went knocking door to door in Tooele, Utah. My hunting partner Jeff Herke was with me. I would say we received permission at least 75% of the time. We would knock on the door, introduce ourselves and politely ask if we could search their lawn for old coins. This was around 1977-1978 and it worked very well for us. I am not so sure that I would take this approach in 2010. If the homeowner was out doing yard work or washing his car or something to that effect, I would casually introduce myself and ask. I personally would not knock on the door but instead would send a letter of introduction.
Permission letter template
Dear Property Owners Name,
I would like to introduce myself. My name is (Name) and I have lived in (Your Town) for (Number of Years). I am (Age) years old, (married/single) with (number of children). Normally, I would prefer to meet you in person, but I feel that a letter beforehand is a better approach than just knocking on your door at an inconvenient time and invading your privacy.
I have been engaged in the hobby of metal detecting for (Number of Years) years and find it a healthful, enjoyable pastime that allows me to meet many interesting people. The thrill of finding old coins, buttons, etc. is very rewarding to me.
Recently, I have researched information that your property and the area surrounding it goes back many years. I would like to obtain permission for myself and a friend to detect your property.
I want you to understand that I always respect the property that I search and leave it in the same condition that I found it. Normally the targets are no deeper than 4 or 5 inches and I retrieve them such that the ground appears not to be disturbed. In addition, I would like to offer my services to you.
Perhaps you or someone you know has lost a valuable ring, a cache or a farm tool. I would be willing to assist just for the thrill of the search. I have enclosed a self addressed stamped envelope for your convenience and would be happy to meet with you if further discussion is required.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Metal detecting overseas in a foreign country has it’s own set of rules and regulations. It is best to inquire at the government level of the city or town nearest to where you want to search. Contact metal detector users from foreign countries in the forums. There is metal detecting in England, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy, etc. and one should be able to find a contact through these forums.
This is just a guide. It is up to each individual to obtain permission to metal detect on public and private property. Remember to read our metal detecting guide for beginners.
Next chapter: How to Dig When Metal Detecting