From an early age, James has harbored a deep fascination with lost treasure, history, and relics. His initial exposure to metal detecting came through his father, who possessed a couple of older White’s metal detectors.
In 2016, as an adult in Western Washington State, James embarked on his own metal detecting journey through the acquisition of a 20-year-old White’s Silver Eagle off of Craigslist. Soon thereafter, he upgraded to another White’s detector, an Eagle Spectrum, via eBay, which he then took to his first group hunt at a gold mine/ghost town in the mountains of Idaho which won him best find! Part of that grand prize included a 50% off certificate for any new First Texas product, which he used the following year to buy a Teknetics T2 Ltd.
As he gained more experience, James also picked up a used Garrett AT Pro, and a used White’s DFX. About one year before White’s Electronics went out of business, James was invited to join their Field Team. James represented them as their first team member in the Western US, and they gave him a waterproof White’s MX Sport to learn and gain experience with.
He then upgraded one more time to the ultra-light XP Deus, which is the current machine he swings most of the time, though he still has every one of them except the initial Silver Eagle, which he sold to a friend to get him started.
In August of 2022, James, his wife, and their four children moved to Southern Idaho, where he actively acquired new permissions to hunt. He is willing to travel and hunt wherever/whenever he can get away, to teach anyone interested in learning how to detect. He also runs a weekly coin/token giveaway on his Facebook page Tough Run Metal Detecting.
Below, you will find a series of questions I posed to James, along with his insightful responses:
James Opfar’s Metal Detecting Adventures, Finds, and Tips
What drives your passion for metal detecting? Is it the thrill of discovery, the connection to history, or something else entirely?
Two things drive me to get out each time that I can. First, not knowing what will pop out of the ground as my next target is exciting, like Christmas or birthday gifts, especially when we get lucky and encounter virgin ground. Second, the historical nature of the things that we can find is incredible. I have learned so much about history through the items that I personally have recovered, as well as through those that others find and share on social media, things that I never would have even thought about before. I thank you all for that.
Can you tell us about your three favorite finds you have found detecting and what you learned after finding them?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just three, but here we go:
1) My first real old western relic was found at the gold mine hunt that I mentioned before. I entered a YouTube contest and won a spot to hunt at this property back when I had just started, and I took my 20-year-old White’s Eagle Spectrum with me to join up with 30+ other random people. I remember looking in awe at everyone else’s detectors and thinking I would never be able to compete with them. As I was hunting along a ridge at the top of a hill above camp, I clambered across some small logs that were laid out parallel to each other. I decided to swing across them with my stock coil, and I got a loud but solid hit in the penny range. It was showing similar bars on both sides of the VDI bar chart, signifying large iron, but I decided to dig it anyway, and out of the dirt beneath the logs came the iron skeleton of an 1870s rolling block single-shot pistol with an octagonal barrel. I was reminded that despite my detector’s age, it was (and still is!) an incredible machine, and knowing what it is telling me through experience is the most important factor when detecting.
2) My next favorite find came from the same property, a year later, at a reunion hunt (I became friends with most of the people from the initial group and the awesome guy who hosted us all). I used my gift certificate from First Texas that I had won the previous year to buy a Teknetics T2 Ltd. However, due to shipping delays, I didn’t receive this detector until 3 days before leaving for this gold mine trip. Therefore, I had no time to learn its nuances. I read the manual a few times completely and headed off to Idaho for metaphorical gold once again. After arriving and settling in for the evening, I tested it out and pulled a couple of bullets and other relics out of the road coming into camp. Early the next morning, I headed out into the unknown with this new and unfamiliar machine. A short while after climbing in the heat, I found a promising spot further up on the side of a hill and proceeded to work it from the bottom up. After an hour and a half of digging small pieces of roofing tin and chopped brass that sounded so good, I was nearing the brush line at the top. I almost gave up in the heat but decided to finish that patch at the very top. The next target sounded similar to what I had been digging but had a sweeter tone to it, and I pulled out a super rare trade token good for 10 cents in trade at a store from the actual ghost town we were digging in, that was no longer there. There are only a small handful of these tokens known to exist, and I would have never found it if I hadn’t forced myself to keep going despite all of the garbage I had previously dug.
3) My last favorite find that I want to share is my very first relic from the first private permission that I ever acquired, a place about 10 minutes from my home back in Washington. After researching some old maps of my area, I noticed that this one particular property had a homesite marked on an 1890s map, but it was missing in the 1940s version. I contacted the landowner, and we met up and signed a liability waiver, as well as a finds agreement. On my first few visits to the property, all I found were mostly shotgun headstamps and older .22 LR casings. Eventually, I located the gas lighting well that was used to power/light the home, and about six feet away, I got a deep hit with my detector. After digging the plug, I pulled out what I thought was a beautiful token, but it ended up being a commemorative medal celebrating Admiral George Dewey’s swift victory over the Spanish forces in the Bay of Manila, in the Philippines on May 1, 1898. It features the portrait of Admiral Dewey on the obverse and his ship, the U.S.S. Olympia, on the reverse. This beautiful find reinvigorated my hunting fervor and reinforced the vital importance of research to improve one’s finds. I pulled several other neat items in subsequent hunts. That part of his land has since been sold off and developed into 7 new homes. I am grateful for the opportunity I sought out to save what history I could before it was lost to development.
Who are some of your metal detecting mentors?
First and foremost, Rob Johnson (a.k.a. Spud Digger) who hosted that initial hunt (Ultimate Permission) up in the mountains of Idaho that got me out of my shell, Marc Hoover from Adventures in History (who I met at that same hunt, he came all the way from Florida!), as did Patrick Stover (from Park Rat Metal Detecting), Gary Penta (of mydetecting.com), Clinton Kaae (from Lost Ways Detecting and Treasure Hunting), Todd Jackson/everyone else from the Ultimate Permission Group, Rich Nesbit (a.k.a. Richie Rich’s Mining Supplies), Gerry McMullen (of Gerry’s Detectors in Boise), Jerry Burbaugh, Phil Massie (who invited me to several hunts with him), Jon Meyer (a good friend and excellent detectorist from Aberdeen), Dirk Ayala and the leaders of the Outlaws/Outlaws South Sound groups, Lane and Evie Bills (who lived by me and who I met through my giveaways/contests), Lee and Kimberly Hines, Giuseppe Russo from Washington Unearthed, all of the Admins of the Treasure Valley Metal Detecting Club, the entire White’s Electronics Field Team, Jim Tippett (aka JimmyCrossbones, who let me hold his treasure in my hands!), Kelly Stewart from Sevier Dirt Slingin’ and Swingin’, and everyone else from Washington, Idaho, Florida, and elsewhere who has been kind to me, helped me and invited me along with them. I’ve met so many great people it would take up the entire sheet here- please forgive me if I left your name out.
How do you go about finding properties you want to metal detect, what tools do you use to find the owners, and which methods do you use for asking for permission to detect them?
I either look at old maps, notice properties as I drive by them, or bring up metal detecting in my conversations with people. It helps to have a couple of neat finds from the area to show to people, as tangible history speaks louder than words. I mainly use onXmaps to locate the contact information for property owners. It is only updated one or two times a year, so I sometimes use publicly available information like tax records and such if it is available, to confirm. I used to be fairly shy, and I still am not much of a door-knocker; as such, I have gained most of my permissions either through word-of-mouth or via a letter explaining myself with my contact info and containing my hobby “business” card that I hand out to people. The letter usually works out about 20% to 30% of the time.
When you get to a property to detect it for the first time what visual signs do you look for other than building foundations for where you want to start and concentrate on detecting?
It depends on what was there. If there are signs of any old structures or any standing structures, I typically go around them in a 6’ band, then spread out from there. If it is an open field, I’ll try to find some older maps that possibly show layouts of how it used to be, and focus on any signs of previous occupation or travel, like roads, fences, camps, etc. I also look for any development or plowing that may be ongoing (i.e. road tearouts, sod replacement, etc.) and focus there as much as possible before the opportunity is lost. I have yet to detect any cellar holes, but if I come across any here, I will definitely focus around them.
When you start swinging at a new permission, do you use All Metal Mode right away? Or do you detect and cherry-pick all the high tones first, then work your way down, clearing the property?
I run my detector with minimal discrimination, making sure I can hear the iron at a lower volume to at least find the right spots, and to know when to slow down my swing or speed up the machine’s processing ability. I dig pretty much anything that repeats confidently, even iron tones if they sound good enough. I’ve found some neat relics that way.
XP Deus Metal Detector Tips
Which headphones do you use with your XP Deus?
I prefer the ws4 backphones with the puck, although I have a pair of the stock ws5 over-the-ear phones for exceptionally windy and/or cold days.
What is your favorite coin and or relic program for the XP Deus?
I run two programs side-by-side, one based off of the fast program, and the other derived from the deep program. I typically run the (HF 9” coil) fast program in 14.4kHz (HF coils, 17.7 kHz for x35 coils), with iron audio at 0 (or 1), depending on my purpose for searching and how much iron there is, with a reactivity of 2 to 2.5 but jumping up as needed, audio response of 3 or 4, and sensitivity around 90. For my deep program, I open it wide, with no discrimination, reactivity at 1, audio response at 5 or above, and sensitivity as high as it can tolerate. I use this for checking any kind of blip that I can’t verify with my fast program.
What tips can you give to reduce chatter for the XP Deus and increase depth?
I’ve found that switching to a different frequency band or even shifting the frequency inside the current band up or down under Expert mode, can get rid of the chatter. If you are detecting near power lines or other sources of EMI, decreasing the sensitivity of the coil by about 25% to 30% can help, it will still pick up a majority of the targets under the coil except those at fringe depths. Likewise, decreasing the machine’s processing speed by dropping the reactivity, while slowing your swing speed, will enable deeper detection in this type of environment. Also, frequent ground balancing can do wonders if you are constantly switching to and from different kinds of ground. Even enabling Beach ground balance mode in heavily mineralized sand or other dirt can help.
Do you have any additional recommendations or insights that you would like to offer to fellow XP Deus users?
I still don’t know, or use, every mode on the Deus and I have been detecting with it now for several years. I suggest playing around with the same target, whether it be on the surface or buried at depth, and changing programs/tweaking settings one at a time to get a feel for what each one does. Also, make sure to get at least one of the HF coils if you don’t have one. I love the 9” round one, but I found my first gold nugget with the elliptical HF coil in 74kHz. Plus, XP offers a neat backpack that it all can fit into.
I extend my sincere gratitude to James Opfar for his insightful responses to the questions presented above. Should you wish to stay updated with James’s treasure hunting and metal detecting endeavors, you can connect with him on YouTube Channel “Tough Run Metal Detecting”, Facebook Page, Instagram, X, or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
XP Deus Handbook by Andy Sabisch
The XP Deus Handbook contains the information detectorists need to help quickly master the XP Deus Metal Detector and unlock all of the performance it is capabilities. See the best settings and techniques from advanced detectorists for various soil and sand conditions.
Joanna Jana Laznicka, a Czech-Canadian residing in Southern California, is passionate about all things associated with metal detecting. She mainly detects on the West Coast, from Southern California to Northern British Columbia. As the founder of Focus Speed, her goal is to bring quality content to metal detectorists.