Best Practices for Organized Hunts. Interview with Andrew Vacco

I hear from metal detecting clubs regularly that they are struggling to increase memberships. Metal detecting clubs have importance. They educate new and seasoned detectorists on the ethics, local laws, and best practices. One of the common events that metal detecting clubs do is organized hunts, either fellowship or seeded. 
Recently, I spoke to Andrew Vacco, and we talked about organized hunts. He had some great tips. I decided I would do an interview article with him on how to keep organized hunts fun and the best practices. Andrew Vacco has been detecting for 37 years. He is the president of Nutmeg Treasure Hunters Club (, a member of the Yankee Territory Coinshooters (Wethersfield, CT), as well as a member of the Empire State Metal Detecting Association (Berne, New York).

Metal Detecting Club Awards
Awards From George Streeter – Metal Detecting Hall Of Fame

He was inducted into the Treasure Hunters Hall of Fame for Service and Dedication to Treasure Hunting Hobbies on April 28, 2012. Another award was also presented to him from the BONE 19 Treasure Club of 2012, Nutmeg Treasure Hunters Club, for Dedication & Service. He was also a metal detecting expert on the Travel Channel show called “Expedition Unknown” The Captain Kidd Episode with Josh Gates.

Expedition Unknown Metal Detecting
Andrew Vacco and his friends Bill Ladd, Josh Gates “Host of Expedition Unknown”, and I on Block Island Shooting the Captain Kidd Treasure Episode.

Andrew Vacco has put on over 50 organized hunts in my club and has attended approximately 100 organized hunts as a participant. He has some great tips that other metal detecting clubs and companies that put on organized hunts could find useful.

For newbies, a seeded hunt is when there are purposely planted items for detectorists to detect at a specific location. A fellowship hunt is when there is an organized time and place where a group hunts for items that are there from the past. We call this a natural hunt. For example, detecting an old fairground, homestead, field, or beach.

Below are my questions and Andrew’s answers broken up into sections of Seeded Hunts, Fellowship Hunts, and Marketing the Event.

Metal Detecting Events, Seeded Hunts

You mentioned you use tokens instead of burying the valuable prizes at your club events. Then the participants turn in the tokens for prices. Can you explain further? Are different tokens for different valued prices, or are prices handed out by the number of tokens handed in?
Tokens are usually pennies that are color-coded. We use colored pennies since they are cheaper than putting real silver coins in the ground. Silver is very expensive, especially if it isn’t found during the hunt. To minimize loss, I would recommend creating a color-coded scheme that equates to a colored penny being exchanged for a silver coin. For example :

  • Red = Silver Dime 
  • Black = Silver Quarter
  • Yellow = Silver Half 
  • Green = Clad Dime 
  • Blue = Clad Quarter 

The idea is that the huntmaster will collect the fees for the hunt. It is his or her responsibility to spray paint tokens for the hunt. He will be responsible for “seeding” the beach and putting up the stake markers which identify the boundary markers for the hunt. Participants/detectorists usually are lined up outside of the boundary markers. Participants are to have their coils up in the air at the start of the competition. The huntmaster will blow a horn to start the hunt. 

What tips can you share with us on burying the tokens or spacing them? What kinds of tokens to buy and not to buy, and where to buy large quantities? Basically, tell us anything we should know about tokens for seeded hunts.
Pennies can be used as well as numbered dog tags, which can be purchased online. I like to keep things simple. We spray paint them different colors. I like to use at least 20-30 tokens per detectorist as a standard. Time limits are usually 30-60 minutes. You might ask why pennies instead of silver coins? The answer is simple. I would rather give up the penny instead of losing a silver coin if it is not found.

When we spoke, you discussed how your club does night seeded hunts. What are the best practices you can tell me for putting them on? When we spoke over the phone you discussed painting the tokens fluorescent colors.
We enjoy doing night seeded hunts with my club. Painted tokens like the ones above are used.  I like using brown-colored or dark earth tone colored tokens. We do not bury them, so no digging is required. It doesn’t damage the soil of the soccer field since they are placed on the surface. We use reflective cones to mark the corner markers. The huntmaster will instruct the participants where the corner markers are located. The detectorists wear illuminated headlamps. We all line up on one of the boundary lines. The huntmaster will call for coils up and begin the hunt on his command. Participants are given 30 minutes to find as many tokens as they can collect. At the end of the 30 minutes, a horn is blown to end the hunt. To make it simple, each detectorist pays an entrance fee of $5. A tally of each detectorist is recorded.  The total amount of money is disbursed in the following equation: 50% of the total for first place, 30% for second, and 20% for third place.  

Can you give some ideas to make seeded hunts fun, things your club has done, or you have been a participant in that you wished other seeded hunts did more?
Sometimes we like to have a pirate-themed seeded hunt. We plant small pirate chests with special tokens. We also plant keys. Many keys will be planted, but only the right one will open a special chest on the table. We also number special tokens that resemble pirate coins. These special numbered tokens will be redeemed for prizes, such as silver coins, half dollars, silver quarters, or silver dimes. Sometimes special objects are also buried, such as thimbles, jewelry, and rings for prizes. We also add other relics which are donated by other club members.  This makes for a fun hunt. Remember to take pictures of the event. 

What other best practices can you share that I have not touched on above? What do you think is important to address for seeded hunts?
We usually set the hunt fees at $10 – $25 per person. This allows the club to purchase silver coins for the hunt. We have rules that each member has to follow on our hunts. Coils must be 12 inches or fewer, no speed bags (metal bin with a large screen) are allowed, you may use a long or short-handled scoop, and you must use headphones. You also must dig your own targets and fill in your holes. I like to use a ground cloth when detecting.  A ground cloth comes in handy when you dig your plug and place it on the cloth. If your target falls out of the plug, you can recover it quickly instead of losing it and trying to find your target back in the soil. The ground cloth can be folded and the dirt collected can be funneled back into the hole. 

Making a plug metal detecting.
Using a ground cloth in recovering a target will allow for easier ge to the owner’s lawn.
1912 Barber Half Dollar
Close up of a 1912 Barber Half Dollar, found a few inches down.
Metal Detecting Silver Coins Barber
Replaced plug, less damage to sod, and the recovered target.

Metal Detecting Events, Fellowship Hunts

What are the best locations for a fellowship hunt and how can you make sure it is a fair place to detect. For example, that there isn’t a concentration of finds only in one area.
We do a lot of research to locate spots for a natural finds hunt. If it’s private property, permission must be granted by the landowner. To keep things fair, you will be invited to meet in a central area and follow the organizer to the location. If it is a seeded hunt, a way to control that there isn’t a concentration of finds only in one area is to create quadrants. Think of a tic-tac-toe board layout. Each person is given a bag of the same type of tokens to seed, each person seeds a different quadrant, ensuring an equal distribution over the whole area with an equal mix of coins.

What do organizers need to be aware of to keep things fair for all participants? Such as rules.
We publish the rules before each hunt. Members are informed of the rules before the hunt starts. We do not allow coils larger than 12”. Headphones must always be worn. Digging tools must not be wider than 3”. No speed bags are allowed. The detectorist must dig his/her own targets. Long or short scoops are allowed. You must be at the line with coils up at the start of the hunt. 

What are some fun ideas for fellowship hunts to keep them interesting? I remember you talked about themed hunts.
I recently came up with another idea. I planted several small boxes with a token attached with instructions inside at several local parks within a 30 minute radius of our meeting location. At our monthly meeting, I disclosed that the boxes were buried about 3-4 inches down at a list of parks.  All were buried within view (not buried under anything) out in the open. I was careful not to leave any traces. If found, the instructions told the detectorist to take a photo of the box and text it to my cell phone as proof of being located. A special prize was given for each box located. If not found within a month or two, photos of the area were given to help assist with the general area of the hidden location. It was a lot of fun and members searched for hours and found lots of other finds. It took several months, but all boxes were eventually located. At each meeting, the detectorist who found the box was photographed with the box they found and was given their special prize. If you are wondering, I gave out half the silver dollars to each one located. It was a big hit with our membership!

What other best practices can you share that I have not touched on above, that you think are important to address with seeded hunts?
Seeded hunts are a great revenue earner for the club. I always incorporate a 50/50 raffle and a silver raffle into our hunts. The members love to get silver, it adds to the fun and helps the club. I created a matrix for selling tickets. The more you spend, the better the deal on tickets. You may partner up with your friends to buy tickets. I have a ticket schedule for $5 -$100. The greater allows for 316 tickets, while $5 only gets you 5 tickets.  We have an annual summer picnic where the club buys hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken patties, soda, and ice, and also provides the grill. We do a big silver raffle!!! We also have a Christmas party where the club pays for portions of the dinners. 

Marketing Seeded and Fellowship Hunts

How early in advance is it smart to market organized metal detecting hunts?
We like to organize at least 3 months in advance. We collect money for the event and have a deadline date. You can not pay on the day of the event. The huntmaster will already have the hunt and tokens planned out. 

How do you get metal detectorists to come to the club-sponsored events that are not members? What marketing and outreach have worked? How do you sell the idea of joining the club to them when they attend the event?

Our hunts are members only. You must be a paid member in good standing to be included in our seeded or natural hunts. We attend hunts that are sponsored by other organizations for individual participation. Our selling points for joining our club are simple. We have several seeded hunts each year, a summer picnic with a silver raffle, a Christmas party with a silver raffle, and monthly meetings with finds of the month (5 categories) to win a silver prize with the most votes. A strong support team has many weekend hunts with permissions at private locations. 

Any other best practices you can share with us on marketing organized metal detecting hunts?
I believe that when a hunt is organized, it’s important that all funds that are generated be paid out to the competitors. It is usually stated that 100% of the money goes to prizes and that they are given out. Raffles are also important to generate revenue for a club. You need to allow enough time to market your hunt for 6-12 months. Get the word out to other clubs via word of mouth and send emails to other metal detecting clubs. Social media works well for us. Make it interesting and fun with lots of different ways to win prizes. A website for your metal detecting club or group is essential in letting potential new members know the date, location, and time of your meetings. Our website has a contact tab where you can message us. I like to talk to people and let them know a little about the group, how meetings are performed, and some activities the club has throughout the year.  

I would like to thank Andrew Vacco for his insightful and detailed answers on the best practices for organized metal detecting hunts. If you are located in or around New Haven, Connecticut, and would like to join a metal detecting club, make sure to check out Nutmeg Treasure Hunters Club ( I am sure Andrew would be happy to answer questions about his club if you contact him.

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