Metal Detecting Tips: The Ultimate Guide

By Daniel Bernzweig 
Table of Contents:

Must-Read Advice for Every New and Experienced Metal Detecting Hobbyist

How do I get better at metal detecting? That is a great question and can only be answered with a series of tips and experiences that we will share with you in this article. From beginners to expert metal detectorists, we cover every aspect of metal detecting you might encounter. In this comprehensive article of tips we cover the range of questions we have heard over the years from thousands of treasure hunters around the world. Expert detectorists who have traveled the world in pursuit of the hobby share their top tips and advice. How do I learn to metal detect? We have tips for everyone from beginners to pros and from weekend beach combers to the most hard-core relic hunters. You may be asking yourself, how do I know if I should metal detect? The truth is, anyone can enjoy the hobby. If you are up for adventure and ready to open up to some new experiences, the answer is you should start the hobby. Many people wonder what are the benefits of metal detecting? The benefits are many, You can get out and enjoy the outdoors, get in some excercise and possibly even come away with something of value. The hobby and its benefits are unique to each individual.

With a new metal detector in hand, most excited beginners bolt to their back yard or the closest patch of open land and fire up their detector. An enthusiastic attitude is definitely the way to go, but don’t let a pocketful of trash on your first time out discourage you. Digging up trash in the beginning is how it’s supposed to be… you are learning a new machine and hobby. After your initial day of metal detecting, every expert will tell you the same thing: Read Your Manual! Your manual will describe the factory recommended settings and explain what to do if you’re getting a lot of chatter on the standard settings.

First Week of the New Metal Detecting Adventure

Your next order of business is to run an air test (also called an above-ground test). Gather up some coins, a bottle cap, nails and other small metal objects. Place them in an open area on the ground and swing your search coil above them. You’ll be surprised at the different sounds and meter readings you’ll get with different objects. Try changing the discrimination control to get a feel for how it works before going off into the field. After hearing the sounds of coins and trash, you can test gold or silver jewelry. Make note of how treasure sounds different than trash targets. If your new detector has Target Identification, commonly referred to as Target ID, be sure to test it against known targets.

Our first tip - Create a Test Garden- It’s Easy & Well Worthwhile

Next, you will want to test the detector on buried treasure. Often called a “test garden,” or “treasure garden,” this is an area in your yard where you bury coins and other metal objects. Start with a collection of quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, bottle caps and nails. If you happen to have some older silver coins, these are great for testing. Somewhere in the corner of your yard, bury one type of each item about 1 inch down. You don’t even have to dig—just push the items into the dirt so they are not visible. Each object should be at least a couple feet apart if you have the space. Not only will you test your detector’s signals, you can practice your plug digging. Plant another row of items behind the first row; only this time, bury the items about 5 inches down. If you want, you can mark the location of your objects with golf tees. So, what metals cannot be detected by a metal detector? The reality is, that with your detector set in the all metal mode, your detector can find all metals.

Now, you can test how your detector reacts to various objects at contrasting depths. You can also mix up the rows, so they are not the same items in the same order. According to many experts: when you first bury a coin, it is not the exact same conditions compared to a coin that has been buried for weeks, months or years. There is a somewhat debated term among detectorists called the “halo effect” with buried metal. The halo effect is based on the theory that most metal (except pure gold) ionizes in the ground over time. This ionization gets trapped around the coin by the surrounding soil. The effect of this process is that a long-buried coin is more readily sensed by a metal detector because it is creating a larger target for it.

Metal Detecting Tips for Gold Prospecting

  • Gold is one of the most precious metals on earth, and there is no shortage of competitors that would love to find it before you. To this end, you need to invest in the best possible equipment to find it. If you are on a budget, get a high frequency gold prospecting VLF detector with a ground balance control. If money is no object, invest in a state of the art pulse induction metal detector. A pulse detector will find the tiniest nuggets in the toughest soil conditions.
  • Get your hands on the best digging tools to help you extract your gold from the earth. You will want a gold pick to get through tough rock and ground conditions as well as a plastic scoop for filtering your gold from the earth around it. You can run your detector's search coil over the plastic scoop to identify the gold.
  • When hunting in areas with rattle snakes and other poisonous creatures, be sure that you are wearing proper boots and snake chaps. Nothing will dampen your day quicker than a deadly bit out in the field.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detectors for Gold "When searching for gold nuggets, always use a high-quality set of metal detecting headphones. The slightest variation in tone will go unnoticed when masked by background noise. There are many small nuggets that will produce very faint signals."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detectors for Gold "Slow is the name of the game when it comes to finding small nuggets. Once you get familiar with your machine lower the discrimination and you will find deeper and smaller targets. Swing your coil in a slow and methodical fashion overlapping each sweep."

Metal Detecting Tips for Silver

  • Silver coins will typically ring out loud and clear and can be located even with average settings in place. With that said, you will want to be sure that you are hunting with a sensitive headphone that will allow you to hear coins on edge and other marginal signals that others have passed over. 
  • A spill of silver coins or small purse of coins is a common find near the base of a large shade tree. When searching parks fields and other grassy areas, always start near the largest shade tree you can find. Typically these trees are hundreds of years old and have seen many a picnicker over the years. 
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Silver "Make sure the metal detector you choose has a low to mid frequency. Silver has a lower conductivity than some other metals. For locating silver coins, rings, and jewelry, a frequency of less than 18 kHz is preferred."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Silver "You should keep your discrimination low when searching for silver. Finding silver with a metal detector can be exciting. Finding silver items like Morgan silver dollars, Barber quarters, and Mercury dimes can be a real thrill. The best results will be found in older locations since silver coins were minted before 1965." Hunting in an all-metal mode without discrimination can open up your world to a bunch of silver just waiting to be found. It is true, you may find more pull-tabs and junk but your silver finds will increase dramatically.

Metal Detecting Tips for for Coins

  • When searching for old coins, you need to go where they are. There are many public places just waiting to be searched. Early settlers to the United States brought coins with them from where they came. It is not uncommon in many parts of the country to find foreign coins from hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The best spots to find these coins are in loations where people would cue up to pay for admission or food. Old train stops, amusement parks, trolley stops, fairs and festivals are all hot spots for finding coins.
  • Research is the key to finding the best spots to find coins. Start at your town hall or library's local section. In it you will find historic maps, guides and directories. In these you will note many historic sites that may no longer be in vogue or even easily accessible. Sites off the beaten path are generally the most productive and offer the least competition.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Coins "With a metal detector, following a few straightforward tips can help you find the most coins. Be sure that you are searching in locations where people frequently congregate. Parks, ball fields, train stations, stadiums, and beaches are excellent locations. Look for areas in these locations where people tend to gather. Concession stands, seating areas, old shade trees and rock formations along the shoreline are great places to start."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Coins "To find coins, keep your search coil close to the ground and overlap each sweep. For added depth and sensitivity, consider a larger coil. Coins tend to be low to mid-conductors and most easily found with a medium frequency. Keep your discrimination low and be patient. As you dig more, you will find more coin spills, caches, and other great finds."

Metal Detecting Tips for Jewelry

  • Old diving spots and swimming holes are some of the best places to locate jewelry in the water with an underwater metal detector. Start your hunt in the most common spots where people would enter or exit the water. 
  • Public pools are one of the best and most under hunted sites that will yield exceptional finds. Look for old pools with grassy surroundings. Finding jewelry is a piece of cake around these pools' grassy areas. Many of these pools are no longer in use, but finding them can be quite fruitful. Make use of old news articles and maps to aid your search. Although many of these spots have been filled in or covered over with dirt, the treasure buried around them remains.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Jewelry "Jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes, and finding it can be rewarding as well as exciting. It is important to choose the right location when searching for jewelry. The beach, rivers, streams, and honestly anywhere people go in the water with jewelry on is a great place to start. For these locations, you want to be sure to select a waterproof model from our beach metal detectors"
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Jewelry "It may seem counter-intuitive, but focus on sites that have been hit by many detectorists over the years. By lowering your discrimination and digging more targets, you are sure to find jewelry that others have missed. Gold and precious metals are easily filtered out by many detectorists when they keep their discrimination too high."

Metal Detecting Tips for Relic Hunting

  • When you are treasure hunting, locating the site is your first step. Research is key to finding the best sites. Many of these sites are in remote spots where armies of yesteryear congregated. River crossings, encampments and spots where soldiers would spend the night during their journey, can prove fruitful. Speak to old-timers, attend a relic club meeting and team up with others that can guide you.
  • Search for early settlements to find relics. Maybe you've seen old stone walls or foundations while wandering through the woods. These are perfect spots for relic hunting. If you spot depressions in the ground, springs, old wells, or trash pits near the area, you may have discovered an ancient aquifer. Other great hunting spots include stone walls, rivers, and submerged or depressed roads and trails.   
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Relic Hunting "In order to find relics, such as buckles and buttons, or cannon balls, you must choose the right site. Throughout history, many wars have been fought in unusual places, such as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and others. Find out where troops gathered by looking at old maps of camp sites and battlefields. Respect local and national laws, and always obtain permission before hunting on private property."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Relic Hunting "The majority of relics are low conductors and require a detector that operates at a low frequency, usually under 10 kHz. Invest in a variety of search coils when looking for deeper or larger relics. Larger coils cover more ground and go deeper. The smaller coils will allow you to isolate targets on top of junk near foundations and in areas filled with trash targets."

Metal Detecting Tips for Beginners

  • Above we mentioned planting a test garden with common targets like quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, bottle caps and nails, but you are probably wondering how can I use this area in the years to come? As you add new accessories to your collection, be sure to return to your test garden to experiment with and learn your new equipment.
  • Be sure to add a handheld pinpointer to your line up of equipment. As we noted in our Pinpointer Metal Detector Guide "A pinpointer metal detector is a handheld device that will help you quickly and precisely narrow the detection field of the target in the hole."
  • What metal detector is best for beginners? As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Beginners "Getting started with a new hobby or activity requires practice and patience. Join a metal detecting club in your area when you get started. Learn the ropes of metal detecting quickly with the help of an experienced detectorist. Our club finder directory in the community section of this site can help you find a metal detector club in your area."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Beginners "When your detector has the option of ground balance, make sure you use it. Follow the instructions in the manual to get started. Before changing too many settings, learn the preset modes first. Slowly and methodically cover the area, take your time. Keep your coil even with the ground and overlap your sweeps. You have plenty of time to cover the area, don't try to cover too much ground in one sweep."

Metal Detecting Tips for Experts

  • Coax those deeper targets out of your favorite hunting spots. Do you have a spot that used to produce years ago, but now it has been hit hard and rarely yields results? Experiment with different types and sizes of after market search coils. Detech and NEL produce a wide range super tuned larger coils to your detector. This can significantly increase your finds. A large coil will punch down deeper to locate targets others have missed. Experiment with round and semi elliptical coils to see what produces the best results for your favorite old spots. Getting that slight edge will make your old spots new again.
  • Up your game with the right digging tools, adding the best shovel can dramatically increase your results.. A precision cut plug will help you retrieve your target precisely without damage. Adding a holster to your line up of equipment reduce the weight of digging shovels for long treks in to the woods.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Experts "You probably know the basics if you've been metal detecting for some time. Focus on marginal or iffy signals from your metal detector. You probably started detecting with a model with no visual identification. Retrace your roots by focusing on your hearing and other senses. Digging those marginal signals may reveal the number of targets you are passing up by relying too much on technology. Metal detecting is a combination of art and science, and skill is still a factor."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Experts "Find new hunting spots by doing some research. Many of the best sites remain undiscovered. Research some new diggs if you have become complacent in visiting the same spots repeatedly. Your local library's town room is a great place to find historic maps of your area. Search for those long forgotten meeting spots of yesteryear. These places, while not typically where people congregate today, could be your most productive new sites."

Metal Detecting Tips for Kids

  • When starting out with any new hobby or sport, it is important to do everything in moderation. In time, you will build up not only your knowledge but your endurance as well. Get involved in a local metal detecting club to learn the ropes. 
  • Consider saving up for some accessories by turning in your finds as your success and skill with the hobby increases. As you build experience upgrading your gear will help you find more. Explore the different types of metal detecting to see what are of the hobby appeals the most to you.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Kids "Make sure you invest in quality when choosing a kids metal detector. When focused solely on price, it's easy to overlook other factors. If your child enjoys the hobby, it can provide great exercise and keep them engaged and off the couch and away from the devices. Get them a waterproof kids detector if they are adventurous and enjoy the water."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Kids "Consider your child's personality when choosing a metal detector. If they love electronics and video games, consider a model with an LCD display screen. Newer models will identify targets and provide control via touchpads on displays. When choosing a model, consider their height and strength. Make sure the weight, balance, and length adjustments are appropriate. Those details can be found in each model's specifications section."
  • A plastic or composite trowel is a great tool for kids at the beach.

Metal Detecting Tips for the Beach

  • The tides are always changing and learning how they impact your beach terrain can greatly increase your finds. As the tides go out, you can easily search deeper out in to the ocean floor to discover targets that may have been beyond your reach. You can check the tides by searching latest edition of The Old Farmers Almanac.
  • Searching tidal pools can be a hot spot on the beach. In fact the swirling motion of the water can act as a giant siphon for pulling in loose items recently dropped on the beach. These pools can act as repositories for newly lost jewelry and coins.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for the Beach "Invest in a waterproof metal detector when metal detecting on the beach. Select a model with a ground balance control that will filter or balance the effects of salt water. Adjust the ground balance when you get to the beach. Recheck your ground balance every so often and adjust if necessary. A VLF detector with ground balance control is fine for most beaches, but a Pulse Induction detector is the best for tough conditions."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for the Beach "You will get the most out of your time spent at your beach by choosing the right sand scoop. For rocky areas or deep water, consider a heavy duty stainless steel or aluminum model with a long handle. In soft sand, a light weight mesh scoop works well. Consider using a handheld pinpointermetal detector for faster target recovery."
  • A great question is where are you not allowed to metal detect? In our guide to beach metal detecting tips we noted "This is a great question and will vary from state to state. In the United States, some state laws prohibit detection in certain public areas. Some laws prohibit hunting in national seashore areas. Some laws vary from town to town depending on local ordinances. To avoid problems, you should always speak to your local authorities or metal detecting clubs before embarking on your beach hunt. Pay attention to local postings and signage as well. You will always need to ask permission when hunting on private property. Beaches in certain areas have additional regulations.

Metal Detecting Tips for Deep Treasures

  • When you are looking to find treasure, it is important to know that the longer a target has been buried the stronger and more intense the signal will be. For this reason, it is best to search a site at different times of the year and in different seasons when searching for larger treasures. In fact, water helps to conduct signals, so it always a good idea to hunt after a recent rain storm. This little bit of know how can separate those who find treasure from those who do not!
  • Locating the coordinates and depth of your treasure is key. It is true that it can take a lot of time and the right detector to find a worthwhile treasure. Digging can be expensive and you do not want to dig for junk or in the wrong spot. Having a designate digger will help speed your recovery. Always be sure to approach your target from multiple angles. Look for solid repeatable results. Be sure to follow the precise directions included with your device for depth and target conductivity details.
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Deep Treasures "Do your research before searching for deep treasures. When you hear stories, separate fact from fiction. There are many treasures to be found. You may find a deep treasure hoard with the best deep seeking metal detector and some good research. Under the buying guide articles category in the Learn section you can find articles about well document treasures from around the world. Here you will see a detailed history of these famous treasures including Yamashita's GoldSutton HooConfederate GoldStaffordshire TreasureMontezuma's GoldOak Island TreasureBlackbeard's Treasure and more."
  • As we noted in our guide on the Best Metal Detector for Deep Treasures "With the right equipment you can locate treasures buried deeply below you. Section off the area in a grid like pattern to plan your hunt. Cover each area from several angles. Make sure to overlap each area and use multiple devices to get a complete picture of what is buried. Using a deep-seeking pulse detector or a model with deep penetration technology will give you the most accurate picture of what lies beneath you."

Metal Detecting Tips for Old Home Sites

  • Start by looking at the property when you visit a house site. Try to find areas of the yard that appear abnormally low in comparison to the rest of it. This might be where they burned their trash and dumped their garbage. Relics, old bottles, buckles, buttons, and other items from the past can be found in these places.
  •  Don't forget to check around old trees, post boxes, and fence posts. It was common for people to bury caches or jars of coins in these spots. Often, people buried in these spots as they were easy to identify for future generations when they went back to recover these hoards.
  • Another often overlooked hot spot is an old clothes line. A hand-washing process was the only means of cleaning and drying clothes before modern appliances. While being hung to dry, loose change and other items often fell to the ground.
  • Another spot that often produces well is the drive way. Just think of the thousands of people, cars bikes and others coming and going over the years. The drive way and walkway  leading to the house are both high-traffic areas that are like magnets for coins and other targets. 
  • One of the first spots I like to go when I am hunting an old home site is near the front porch. Often, coins and other valuables would be dropped on the porch area and fall through cracks in the wooden planks. If you are at an older site, it is not uncommon to find coins from the early 1700's right next to the front steps of a home site.  
  • Even a basic metal detector like the Garrett Ace will get your youngster started on the right foot. Be sure to research the best metal detectors for kids in our guide. 

Metal Detecting Tips for Parks

  • The best structures to metal detect around in parks are picnic areas, basketball courts, pools, ball fields, stands, stages and volleyball courts. In general when people are on the move and active, it is not uncommon for coins rings and jewelry to be scattered about. Take your time and work these areas methodically and slowly.
  • With a little research, you can find the perfect spot for metal detecting in parks no matter how challenging it may seem. The best areas to hunt are near the base of old trees, grassy areas, hills, and sidewalks. These are all top spots where people have gathered for years and are sure to produce some amazing finds.
  • Some larger parks will have concession stands and possibly even rides or attractions where people have gathered for years. People would drop change often along the way in these spots when they had to pay for service or admission. These can be the best places to start when you are metal detecting in a park that is new to you. There is a good chance that the older the park is, the more likely it is that you will find silver and older jewelry and coins.

Metal Detecting Tips for Avoiding False Signals

  • Adjust your sensitivity. Most metal detectors include a sensitivity adjustment. This control will allow you to make the unit more or less sensitive to metal targets. If the setting is too high, you can receive false signals from your metal detector. Simply reduce the setting to the point where you have found a happy balance between locating deep targets and avoiding chatter or interference. 
  • Check your surroundings. Other nearby detectors, power lines, radio towers and even electric dog fences can cause interference. You may need to return to the site at another time or move away from the interfering detector or source of interference.
  • Adjust your detecting frequency. Simply changing the frequency that your detector is operating at may solve your problem. Many models offer slight frequency offsets or full frequency shifts within the operating menu. Check your manual for the frequency adjustment options.
  • Adjust your ground balance. If your detector includes a manual or automatic ground balance control, be sure that you are setting it at the begging of each hunt. You can find instructions to make this adjustment in the manual or watch videos of the procedure on Youtube. If this is your first metal detector, do not be intimidated by the ground balance adjustment. Once you have done it a few times, it will become second nature to you.
  • Be sure that you have set up your detector per the instructions in your detectors operating guide. You will want to make sure that you wrap the search coil wire tightly around the pole. If the coil wire is loose or flopping around, the search coil can easily provide a false signal as it detects the metal in the coil wire. To prevent a loop of wire getting caught on objects protruding from the ground, wrap the coil wire over the pole, not under it, on the first wind around the pole. 

Metal Detecting Tips for Detecting in the Woods

  • There are state laws that prohibit detection in some areas in the United States, and some laws prohibit hunting in national forests. If you want to avoid problems, you should always speak to your local authorities or metal detecting clubs before embarking on your hunt. You can ask them about whether you will be able to detect in the woods. 
  • When metal detecting in the woods, you should bring bug spray and sunscreen so that you are protected from insects and the elements. Keep extra batteries handy in case your detector runs out of power after a few hours. You should stay well hydrated when you are detecting and have extra water handy. When hiking long distances, having a backpack is essential.
  • Metal detecting is a fantastic hobby for outdoor enthusiasts, but it is important you are prepared for the conditions. Pack a cell phone so you can stay in touch with a friend in case you get lost, a GPS so you know where you are, proper boots, clothing, and knee pads to protect yourself from rough terrain, and a bright vest and clothing to avoid hunters

Metal Detecting Tips for Gold

  • What are the most common metals found by metal detectors? The truth is, a wide range of metal scan be located with metal detectors. However, no metal is more exciting to find than gold. It is true that gold comes in all shapes and sizes. From gold rings and jewelry, gold coins, gold nuggets and bars of gold it is all waiting to be found. It is important to note that not all gold is pure 24 carat gold. Nuggets and natural gold are indeed pure in their form. All other gold objects are typically refined in some way and mixed with other base metals. This process strengthens the final object and assures years of enjoyment. Understand the type of gold you are searching for and choose the detector best suited to your search.
  • Gold is a very good conductor of electricity and is most easily detected with a pulse metal detector or a high frequency gold detector in the range of 18 kHz or higher.
  • Keep your discrimination setting low or off when detecting for gold. The sad truth is that at the point that you eliminate aluminum on most metal detectors you will also filter out some gold. While you may detect some more trash targets, your chances of finding more gold will significantly increase.

In Getting Started (Part 2): Your 1st Month Metal Detecting we take you to the local park with tips and tricks on how to return home with treasure!

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