Securing a metal detecting permission, especially good permissions as a detectorist, is a big score. Jim Winter, known as the Driftless Digger, of southwest Wisconsin, makes it seem effortless. He has over 75 permissions, many on historic land, and he is letting me pick his brain and learn how to more easily obtain metal detecting permissions.
Below are my questions and Jim’s answers.
What tools do you use to research the areas to metal detect and start concentrating on where you want to focus on obtaining permissions?
I start with looking at old maps. Mostly I use historicmapworks.com and historicaerials.com. Once I’ve identified a location that looks promising, I use county GIS maps to identify the property owner. Once I know that I use truepeoplesearch.com to find a phone number. Or I see if they’re on Facebook and message them.
When we first spoke, you mentioned you use social media as one form of getting metal detecting permissions. For our readers, can you elaborate on that?
Sure. I use Facebook primarily for this. I look for community or history pages for the communities around me. I then post on those pages an introduction of what I do, if allowed, along with an info letter and info sheet that contains much of the important information about what I do – the code of ethics I follow, my LinkedIn profile so they can see I’m a professional and recommendations from past property owners I’ve dug for.
In our chats, you also mentioned you do talks at civic centers, senior centers, and libraries which gives you an in to get metal detecting permissions. So first, how do you get in the door to talk? Second, what topics do you talk about? Third, how do you lead it into “Do you mind if I metal detect your property?”.
I’ve talked at our local senior center and to our local Optimist Club. My talks focus on who I am, how I got into metal detecting, what equipment I use, the process from research to obtaining permission to the actual detecting to what to do with the finds and highlights of my best finds.
I’m giving another talk at the senior center in October that will be history behind my best finds of this season.
Many times people will come up to me after and chat and we establish a relationship which will lead to a permission. I also hand out slips of paper at my presentations that people can fill out if they’d like me to come detect.
You shared a letter you used to secure metal detecting permissions, which I will publish below. Do you find sending it by traditional post more effective than walking up and leaving it at their doorstep?
I’ve never had to actually send it in the mail. Occasionally I’ll leave it at a doorstep but mostly it’s shared in online conversations with a potential permission or in a Facebook community group.
You also shared a classy, one-page flyer where you share testimonials of permissions you have metal detected, samples of your finds, and a bit of what you do and where to follow you. It is posted below for our readers to see. Do you include this with the letter you post and bring it to your talks to hand out?
Yes I do. I believe recommendations from property owners of past permissions is one of the most effective tools I have in trying to obtain new permissions. A property owner who may be on the fence about granting permission may be more apt to do so if they see so many other people had a good experience and recommend me.
What deals do you make with the land owner to detect the yard? Do you give them a percentage of the finds?
The code of ethics I follow states that the property owner always has first right of refusal to what I find. It used to be 90 percent of property owners didn’t care to keep anything I found. They just wanted to see the finds. Lately it’s becoming more common for property owners to want to keep something. I always show owners what I find and being to them what they want to keep. After all, it is their property.
What paperwork do you have for land owners and yourself once you secure the permission? For example, some landowners want a waiver that the detectorist will not sue if they get hurt. Or some detectorists like to make it clear in writing who gets to keep what if valuables are found.
I haven’t had the need for any type of paperwork. Everything has been agreed to on principle. I’ve only had one permission where it turned out the property owner kept everything and refused to return correspondence asking about it.
Do you have any more tips that you feel were not covered above regarding researching and obtaining metal detecting permissions?
When doing research, word of mouth is huge. Ask your friends and family members if they know someone who may be open to you coming to detect. That’s a great way to establish yourself in a community. Once people see you detecting in a small town, more possible permissions will come.
If someone would like to follow you on social media to see your latest finds or tips, where are you most active?
I’m most active on Facebook: Facebook.com/driftlessdigger
I can also be found on Instagram @driftlessdigger and TikTok @driftlessdigger
I would like to thank Jim Winter, the Driftless Digger, for his detailed answers and hope some of his advice scores you some historic metal detecting permissions. If so, we would love to hear about them in the comment section or the Focus Speed Facebook group. Happy detecting, and remember to make your holes look like no one was there.