Digging Etiquette and the Best Tools for Target Retrieval

By Michael Bernzweig

It’s exciting to dig right in when you purchase a metal detector and start unearthing everything. But before you do, it’s important to learn the basic courtesies expected of detectorists when digging. As part of our commitment to recreational metal detecting, we at Detector Electronics Corp. encourage responsible conduct and strict compliance with all local, state and federal regulations and restrictions, as well as unconditional respect for the rights and property of others, and for those held in common by us all. Please be sure to start your journey by reading the Treasure Hunter’s Code of Ethics.

Hobbyists looking for coins and small items in the park, beach or public areas usually have no problem using a metal detector. However, the expectation of any person who is hunting and digging is to leave an area in very good condition. Filling all holes and protecting the landscape are requirements within metal detecting clubs and organizations. And most well-meaning individuals follow their own code of ethics when retrieving treasure, as well. Detectorists who destroy landscape, leave trash behind or enter private property without permission cause detriment to the future of metal detecting. When hobbyists are careful and courteous it reflects well on the hobby and those that enjoy it.

Digging Tips from the Pros

Newcomers to this hobby will greatly benefit from reading books about beginning metal detecting and how to recover targets from the ground. This is because veteran detectorists are happy to offer valuable advice. You may not know that hastily digging a hole can scratch or damage your find. Items are appraised at much higher values when they’re in better condition. Tips from the pros also offer insight into facts only gained from experience. For example, in areas with clay or hard soil, coins and other small items are usually found closer to the surface than in loose soil. That makes a difference in the depth required for your searches and the recovery tools you’ll need. Perhaps a narrow coin probe and a hand-held pinpointer are the best tools for this scenario. Hand-held probes enable you to precisely locate an object, sometimes even before you start digging. When you are able to use a smaller digging tool, your holes will be smaller; therefore, there is less damage to the landscape. It is imperative to fill in your holes—the ground should look intact when you leave.

Deciding Which Digging Tools You’ll Need

Soil conditions and the depth of your target will determine which digging tools you’ll need. The challenge treasure hunters face is that each type of soil can require different tools. Examples: target retrieval on the beach is totally different than digging into hard-packed loam or clay. In a sod-covered sandy area, you may only need a probe and digging tool; whereas harder soil requires a small hand shovel or metal detecting knife. Really old and deeply buried relics may require a strong, durable shovel. Shovels designed for metal detecting usually feature a long tapered cutting edge for rigorous digging conditions. Most experienced hobbyists equip themselves with a variety of tools for digging and target retrieval. After checking out the ground conditions in your region, it will become obvious which digging equipment is best for you.

Here are a few of our recommendations for good quality digging and target retrieval tools.

Metal Detecting Knives and Trowels


Sand Scoops

Pinpointers and Probes

Best Methods for Digging up Coins

When it comes to retrieving a coin or small object under sod, there are a few different digging techniques. You can cut into the sod in either a half-circle, a “v” shape, a cone-shaped hole or dig a square plug. Below is the most preferred method of digging.

Sod plug or “flap” method of digging. With the flap method, you use a tool that has a serrated edge, inch marks and a flat top. A Lesche digging tool is ideal for this purpose.

  1. Pierce three sides of a square around your target going about 3-4 inches deep.
  2. Use the tool to lift the flap up to expose the hole. One side of the square is still attached to the grass, so some roots are still untouched.
  3. You can use a handheld probe to search the hole or continue digging until you find the target. Be sure to search the flap for the coin if it is not immediately visible.
  4. A towel or sheet of plastic is useful—if you dump the loose dirt there, it’s easy to pour back into the hole when finished.
  5. Finally, replace the plug and step firmly down with your foot, so it looks intact.

Be sure to read these related articles from our Learning Library:

MetalDetector.com has all of the digging equipment you could possibly need from knives and trowels to shovels to pinpointing probes and sand scoops. If you have a question or need advice about types of digging tools for your particular purpose, contact us. We are happy to help!

© 2014 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised 2021