In Depth Vaquero Field Test

by Ben Myers

Tesoro Electronics has excited the metal detecting community once again, this time with their Vaquero metal detector. As you probably know, the Vaquero has been receiving high praise for excellent depth and smooth operation. Furthermore, the 3-3/4 turn ground balance is making the difference in handling difficult soils. Add these attributes of top performance to an extremely lightweight package, and it spells success. The Gifford family's continual improvement of the product line and personal service has built a rocksolid Tesoro customer base. A company that has flourished for a quarter-century while providing lifetime warranties undoubtedly takes its customer's needs seriously.

Vaquero is pronounced vah-kero, with the a being short as in ah. Vaquero is Spanish for "cowboy," an apt comparison to a detector that is tough and hard working. Tesoro itself means "treasure" in Spanish, and as the name of a company of the great Southwest, it is a tip of the hat to the early Spaniards, who surely knew how to find treasure. Having field tested many Tesoro products in the past I was confident that this detector would prove to be a capable hunter as well.

Design & Controls

With a total weight of only 2.2. lbs., and three-piece, S-handled pole assembly, the backpacking and fatigue-free hunting possibilities are obvious. Twist-lock collars and spring buttons provide wobblefree swings. The Vaquero is a MicroMAX design with all controls on the housing face, easily within finger reach from the padded handgrip. It features a "Big Red" pushbutton for Pinpointing, Frequency toggle, and four rotary knobs to adjust Ground Balance, Threshold, Sensitivity, and Discrimination. The control box also holds an external speaker, a 1/4" stereo headphone jack, and a slide door for the single 9V battery. Beneath the elbow-rest is a built-in detector stand. At the other end is a 9 x 8" monolithic (carbon fiber), concentric type searchcoil, built to meet most needs of the metal detectorist.

Additional searchcoils are available for various applications. Tesoro offers a 5.75" concentric to allow closer searching near metal fences and playground equipment, plus improved target separation in trashy areas. Larger coils provide more depth and ground coverage. The 12 x10" is a widescan coil that better handles ground mineralization. The Vaquero uses HOT (High Output Technology) circuitry and therefore shares these coils with the Lobo SuperTRAQ, Tejon, and Cibola models.

Ground Balance (rotary knob) - "GB"

This is a control which unnecessarily baffles many people. Notice I said "unnecessarily," because ground balancing the Vaquero is as easy as ABC. This 3-3/4 turn potentiometer provides precise adjustments. Regardless of the mode used - Silent Search Discriminate or Threshold-based All Metal - the detector needs to be properly ground balanced to the area being hunted. The manual GB control makes the detector better able to hunt with peak performance and depth, even in difficult ground, by balancing out the effects of mineralization in the soil. On each end of the control's range, there is a slight drag to the knob. At this point, turn the knob in the opposite direction two full turns for a central position to l position to begin the procedure.

For those new to ground balancing, this explanation takes much longer to write than to demonstrate in person. To begin, turn the detector ON by moving the Sensitivity knob out of OFF, to about #9 or #10. Threshold (see next section) should be at the barely audible point to hear slight changes. Place the toggle switch to the frequency you will be using. With the DISC knob set to All Metal, sweep the soil and find an area free of metal. Hold the coil approximately 10" above and parallel to the ground (not tilted), then lower it to about an inch about the soil. As the coil approaches the ground, the audio threshold will do one of three things - stay the same (desired position), get louder and higher in pitch, or disappear. If it gets louder, turn the Ground Balance counterclockwise (left) a partial turn before trying it again. If it then goes quiet, spin the knob right (clockwise) just a bit. If it stays the same, slap yourself on the back because you have done it!

Picture yourself in the following scenario to make it clear. As the coil lowers to the ground, you hear the threshold tone get louder and rise in pitch. Therefore, you raise the coil up, turn the GB knob a quarter-turn to the left, and repeat the coil-to-the-ground procedure. This time the audio goes silent. OK, you know you went too far, and now you turn the knob back to the right only an eighth of a turn. The next air-to-ground try leaves the threshold audio unchanged and therefore properly ground balanced. Although some detectors are more difficult than others to ground balance, this one is relatively easy, and with just a little practice you will soon be doing it like a pro.

Threshold (rotary knob)

This control sets the background hum to your hearing so that slight changes in audio are heard. Too low or high, and small changes may not be noticed…and therefore a target may be missed. The best place to set the Threshold is at a barely heard audio (slight, steady tone). The Threshold can be heard in the All Metal mode by turning the Discriminate knob to All Metal or pressing and holding the red Pinpoint button. In Discriminate Mode, simply press and hold the Pinpoint button while turning the Threshold knob until a slight hum is heard. It's that easy! Although the background audio is not heard in the Silent Search Motion Discriminate Mode, it definitely affects it. This is especially evident when the detector is "Super Tuned." One improvement I would like to see is a tighter Threshold knob. In the heart of the hunt, it is possible for the control to be accidentally knocked, and that can mean a loss of depth. Granted, it is not something that happens often; nevertheless, it is a good idea to eyeball the position of the knob on occasion.

One can accomplish Super Tuning by turning the Threshold to very high levels while in the Motion Discriminate mode. Pass a good target under the coil to find the most effective setting. The Threshold in the All Metal mode will be too loud at this point to be of any use. Accurate pinpointing is lost until the control returns to the original position. Rather than hear the lessening volume of a deep or smaller target, Super Tuning assigns the signal of the deeper or tiny target the same loud audio response as that of a shallow target. While the Vaquero gets good depth without the use of Super Tuning, there are those times, such as on a beach or open field, when depth counts more than pinpointing. Fortunately, the detector allows the user to make the choice. Remember to ground balance the detector at the slight background hum before raising the Threshold to Super Tune. Then remember to return the Threshold to normal in order to use the Pinpoint.

Sensitivity (rotary knob)

New detectorists discover that more sensitivity means more depth, and that is where they often go wrong. They have not yet learned that ground mineralization or outside electrical interference can dictate how much of that sensitivity is usable for peak performance. Changing the Sensitivity control adjusts the power to the operational amplifiers, thereby changing the gain (measurement of signal amplification) for depth and sensitivity to small targets. The old rule of thumb is to turn the sensitivity as high as possible without the detector becoming erratic (chirping, false signals). This will provide the best performance for depth and sensitivity to small targets.

The Sensitivity control is marked with numbers 1 to 10, plus a Max Boost area in orange. As the control moves clockwise, it turns the detector ON, causing a series of beeps to indicate battery life (six or seven beeps, down to one or two when it is time for replacement.) If you suspect a low battery, recheck it about 15 minutes into the hunt by turning the detector OFF and ON again.

Discriminate Level (rotary knob) - "DISC"

Tesoro is famous for its discrimination circuits, with the Vaquero utilizing the ED 180 to better filter treasure from trash. The Discriminate control starts in the Threshold-based All Metal Mode. With the ED 180, relic, beach, and other hunters have the choice of using the All Metal or Discriminate Mode. I prefer using Motion Discriminate with the level at the bottom. But others may prefer the clicked-in All Metal Mode. Be aware that the autotune acts rather quickly to reduce the target size for pinpointing. As the knob is turned clockwise, it clicks out of All Metal into the Silent Search Motion Discriminate Mode to eliminate unwanted targets. For newcomers, the following explanation may help.

Picture the coil moving across the ground while a small electronic field generates beneath it to detect metal targets in the soil. Of course, this field cannot actually be seen. The detector sends and receives signals to create the field, and the amount of change created by a target determines its identity according to its ability to conduct electricity. The identities of many targets - for example, U.S. coins - are constant and easily ID'd. Even most types of pulltabs fall within a general conductivity range. Because of this, metal detectors are able to eliminate audio responses from unwanted targets. Around the DISC knob, several targets and lines indicate the point at which their signal will disappear (be discriminated) from the audio. The levels begin with iron through foil, nickels, pulltabs, screwcaps and other targets. It is a good idea to do some common target testing to see the effect that various levels of discrimination have on their audio signal.

As with any metal detector, increasing the discrimination level can result in the loss of good targets along with the bad. For instance, gold jewelry can appear throughout the conductivity range, depending mostly upon size and alloys used. A larger gold ring will continue beeping into the silver coin range without being eliminated. However, a thin ring with a diamond may read down in the nickel range or lower. A certain type of large gold wedding band may even read in the pulltab range. Set that discrimina tion too high and you will miss those good targets. The general rule of thumb is to keep discrimination as low as possible, except in extremely trashy areas.

Rather than maintain a high level of discrimination, many detectorists prefer to "thumb the DISC knob" and use their ears to determine target identity. If you are not familiar with that method, it is quite easy and predicts the identity of a target with high precision. There are legions of detectorists who prefer this method audio discrimination to visual discrimination with a meter. As an example, suppose that while hunting with the DISC set to avoid tinfoil, you encounter a beep. Making sure that the center of the coil is passing over the target, you slowly sweep the coil back and forth while making small changes to the DISC knob. As you bring the thumb up to push the knob just past the nickel mark, the signal disappears. That is a good indication that the target is a nickel or perhaps a gold ring. If the detector continued beeping until the pulltab mark, then disappeared, it is probably a pulltab. Depending upon how much trash is in the area, you might want to investigate such a signal anyway, in the hope that it is a medium sized gold ring. As you can see, when used properly this control can raise your success level substantially.

Frequency (toggle)

This is a threeposition switch, used to toggle the operating frequency between 14.3, 14.5, and 14.7 kHz. While this feature may be handy to avoid radio tower or other interference, its main use comes at competition hunts. Additionally, it permits two friends to hunt near each other while using the same model detector. Experienced competition hunters know the disaster caused by interference from other detectors. It can render a machine practically useless until the offending detector is identified and one can move out of range. In a normal hunt, most targets are plucked up in the first 15 minutes. An interfering detector at that time will cook your goose! Targets are still found later, of course, but not nearly as many. If you are using the Vaquero in that same scenario, a quick flip of the toggle shifts it to an operating frequency different from that of the offending detector. Rapidly recovering smooth operation could make all the difference for a successful hunt. You can even flip the toggle in the middle of swinging the coil, and never miss a beat.

Pinpoint ("Big Red" Pushbutton)

I call Tesoro's pinpoint button "Big Red" for a reason. Big Red fairly screams out from its obvious location, "Hey, you can't ignore me! Use me to avoid sloppy digging or damaging a nice coin." Big Red does not accept ignorance as an excuse for butchering a park lawn, thus adding another location to the detecting "Off Limits" list. The Vaquero makes pinpointing a snap, yet many times the Discriminate Mode signal is so sharp that pinpointing is not necessary. Do not forget, though, that where neatness counts, pinpointing is a must. Once a target has been detected, just push and hold down Big Red as the center of the coil comes over the center of the target. Move the coil very slowly to find the location where the volume is loudest. The detector will shrink the target size, but raising the coil a bit will also help narrow down the spot under the center of the coil.

In The Field

Since the Vaquero has three changeable operating frequencies, the first place I decided to take it was a competition hunt. In fact, two competition hunts were visited during this field test. Any success that I enjoyed in the hunts can be strictly attributed to the Vaquero, as there was a limiting factor in both. A couple of weeks prior to the first hunt, I had severely injured the muscle in my upper thigh, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. (Of course, it couldn't have happened after the fall hunt of the Lancaster Research & Recovery Club.) I knew it would not be possible to kneel and jump up quickly after each target but did not want to miss the fun. Therefore, I tied a bandana around my thigh to give it support and figured I would have to take it slower.

The Vaquero took over like a champion! This was one of those occasions when the human holding the detector was actually slowing down the machine. I thought of letting the Vaquero hunt on its own, but would likely been disqualifiedsort of like the horse throwing the jockey and finishing the race alone. There were some junk targets on the field. However, the planted targets were pennies and higher silver, so Discriminate was set to eliminate the trash. That saved a lot of digging and my leg. Many targets did not require Pinpointing with the nice narrow beep of the Discriminate mode. When Pinpointing was needed, the Big Red button made it quick and precise. Interference came from only one other detector. It was nice to flip that toggle in the middle of the sweep without stoppingend of problem. Since most targets were no more than 4" deep, I kept the Sensitivity low, which also helped to avoid interference.

The second hunt was a two-day open event held by LRRC. I could not be there for both days, so once again I was limited with just a one-day hunt. Nevertheless, the Vaquero came through with nice finds and prizes. This hunt exposed the Vaquero to the interference of even more detectors, but again only one caused any trouble. Quickly flipping the frequency toggle did not slow me down at all.

Three trips to ocean beaches proved that the Vaquero could handle the wet salt sand. Two of the trips were to southern New Jersey beaches, and one to a southern California beach while on vacation. I did not come across any black sand, but the Vaquero ran deeply and smoothly to find coins and jewelry in the surf. There were no block-buster jewelry finds; however, the jewelry that did turn up proved that it was only a matter of the coil going over the right spot. Although it is difficult to estimate depth when scooping sand, it was close enough to demonstrate excellent depth. My usual setup for the beach was ground balancing on dry sand, Discrimination as low and Sensitivity as high as possible, with Threshold moved to Super Tune. The result? A large pile of modern coins was garnered one at a time, some as deep as 12" or more. Super Tuning at the beach provided outstanding depth ability and sensitivity to smaller targets such as two tiny 14K gold charms and BB sized lead pieces. A man's plain gold wedding band had to be a good 12" deep. Silver also turned up in the form of a sterling religious medal, sterling "#1 Mom" charm, and several silver toe rings. An important discovery on the long beach walks was the lack of arm fatigue, due to the lightweight, ergonomic design of the Vaquero. Changing the detector to the other hand was rarely necessary.

Nearer to home, I was hunting a modern school playground where sports are also played. Modern coins were plentiful at up to about 5". Two deeper targets at about 7" turned out to be a pair of Mercury dimes. Obviously, this modern school field had seen earlier use, but I had no idea how much earlier until a solid signal at 10" turned out to be a round musketball. I've made this kind of serendipitous find before, and it is always a thrill. I'm no arms expert but easily pictured a musket-armed hunter in coonskin cap, passing this way when the landscape was a game-filled woods. The lesson here is not to judge a piece of land by its current purpose.

One day a neighbor knocked on my door and asked if I could use my detector to find a gold chain lost by her son. Naturally, I said I would try. We went to his friend's house, where they had been wrestling on the back lawn. Imagine my amusement when we pulled into the driveway of a mid-1800s house. Making friends with the homeowner, I was given permission to keep anything found while looking for the chain. To make a long story short, the chain never did reveal itself. I had thought it would be easy to spot it right on the surface, but the boy later admitted that he might have lost it while walking home. In only an hour, the Vaquero located a Seated Liberty quarter at 6" and a large cent at 8". Some areas had a fair amount of small iron nails; however, raising the discrimination just past iron eliminated most of those signals. I would love to get back there for a more thorough search with slow sweeps. Perhaps minimum Disc or All Metal would turn up more coins among the iron. My tests also included trips to several parks. In all areas, the detector ran quietly when discriminating out small iron, while larger iron gave a broken signal or disappeared as the discrimination was raised. Pinpointing was precise, which meant neat, easy digging. Several Wheat cents and silver dimes produced good repeatable signals at 8", or more.

The Vaquero was revealing itself to be an excellent coin hunter with quick and easy ground balancing. With the larger coil, some target separation difficulty can appear in super-trashy areas, and I found myself wishing for the 5.75" searchcoil at these locations, as I understand it gets excellent depth while zipping around the junk. However, lowering the Sensitivity and raising the larger coil a little did the trick. When hunting around playground equipment and fences, reducing the Sensitivity allowed the coil to get closer. The most difficulty encountered in one park was finding an area free of junk metal in order to ground balance. The opposite effect of the 9x8" coil is that it has a very good matrix area, which can extend up to 3" beyond its edge. This means extra coverage, in addition to the deep field beneath the coil, and that gives one confidence of not missing targets when covering ground in a field, park, or on the beach. Occasionally, I heard a signal that was not quite good, yet nearly. I discovered, when sweeping the area, that such signals often resulted from the outer edge of the coil signal just catching a coin. Running the central area of the coil back over the spot produced repeatable, solid beeps and a good target. Don't walk past this type of signal…check it out! The 9x8" coil will bring in extra finds for the detectorist who listens and is not in a hurry.


Having used a number of similar looking Tesoro models, I was not certain whether there would be any differences with this detector - there were. The ED 180 Discrimination circuit provides excellent discrimination throughout its range and runs quietly over eliminated small iron. In the areas hunted, the sensitivity ran at very high levels without chirping. Ground balancing is easily managed, even for new detectorists. These attributes and others made themselves more apparent with every trip. The Vaquero is extremely lightweight, goes deep for treasure, provides solid signal responses, and comes with a lifetime warranty. It is not fully possible to appreciate the abilities of this metal detector on the first or second trip; it builds over time. With each hunt I developed even more respect for Tesoro's Vaquero, and I have no hesitation in recommending it for your consideration.

* - Reprinted with permission from Tesoro, "Metal Detector Information" - 22nd Edition