Mark Dayton, a distinguished metal detectorist renowned for his popular YouTube channel, “Brass Medic,” is a stalwart figure in the realm of educational metal detecting content. Proficient across all facets of metal detecting, including relic, gold, park, beach, and meteorite detection, Mark’s comprehensive expertise is evident in his detailed how-to videos and captivating finds. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced metal detectorist, his content imparts valuable knowledge.
Those fortunate enough to metal detect with Mark immediately praise his depth of knowledge and the invaluable lessons one can glean from detecting with him. Besides his YouTube channel, Mark also speaks at metal detecting events and club meetings, further solidifying his status as an authority in the metal detecting community.
In 1973, when Mark was just a kid of nine, he received a metal detector as a present—a Radio Shack Treasure Finder. In 1976, while hiking with his brothers in and around Mt. Diablo at the age of 12, he found an old foundation. He ran home, got his detector, and returned to detect it, finding a beautiful ornate, old cast iron stove door. Discovering the stove door marked the moment when he caught the treasure bug.
Currently, his favorite metal detectors include the Minelab CTX-3030, Minelab GPX-6000, Minelab Gold Monster 1000, Minelab Manticore, XP Deus II, Nokta Makro Legend, Minelab Explorer II, and Minelab GPZ-7000.
When he’s not on the hunt for buried treasures, Mark leads a dual life as an accomplished musician, gracing stages with his guitar skills and as a singer for various bands in the country music genre. Prior to that, he was a Firefighter-Paramedic for over 25 years. He gets his YouTube name (“Brass Medic”) from both being a Paramedic and the fact that he restores dug brass relics for many others in the hobby.
As we delve into Mark’s insights in the following interview, we unravel the journey and passion that define how he became so adept at metal detecting.
Learning More About Mark Dayton the Detectorist
If you had to line up three of your best metal detecting finds what would they be?
That is a question that I am often asked and it’s a very difficult question to answer as after all of these years there have been so many incredible metal detector finds that I would consider to be the “Find of a lifetime” for both myself and perhaps many others. I always have to think very hard about this question and my first reaction is to go to some of the large gold nuggets and large gold specimens I have found with metal detectors as they are the most valuable. But, are they truly my “Best” finds or favorite finds? Not necessarily. One find which was definitely one of my best is when I dug three $20 gold pieces in one hole! I was very fortunate that this was captured on video too so I could always go back and relive the moment. I was nearly speechless as there are just no words that come to mind as you try and comprehend a discovery like this. Other remarkable finds that could be considered my best finds are a matching set of very rare 1850 “Elisha Steele” patented IOOF Odd Fellows suspender clips in museum quality condition found completely intact. I have several favorite finds which are not necessarily my “Best” finds such as a Sterling Silver thimble with the name “Electa” engraved on it. It was found at an old stage stop where the first California State Senator lived with his wife Electa and the fact that it is a personal item that can be traced right to its original owner makes it very special to me. Same thing with a nice fork I found that was used at a very upscale French restaurant in 1851 in old Sacramento (California), the fork was found at the ranch of the owner of the restaurant with his name engraved on it, I love those personalized items that are tangible and can be traced right to a person. I guess if I have to choose a 3rd best find it’s another $20 Gold Piece dated 1851 found at an old stage stop as well.
Who are some of your metal detecting mentors? When someone is as knowledgeable as you, where do you go to find your knowledge?
I often speak directly with the engineers at the manufacturers to get my questions answered that are technical in nature. As far as metal detecting mentors i like to watch a couple YouTubers like Loren Lemke and Sid over at England’s History And honestly I am drawn to anyone who is passionate and knowledgeable in this hobby such as Tom Dankowski and Kevin Hoagland to name a couple.
I am aware that you are a Minelab Detexpert and a Motley Digging Tools Prostaffer. Are you sponsored by any other companies besides these two?
All of the top manufacturers have sent me machines to try and use in videos and I have a good relationships with all of the top manufacturers as well as manufacturers of accessories. With my relationship to Minelab as a Detexpert I definitely hang my hat at Minelab and it makes it real easy to do so as I have been primarily using Minelab machines since the Sovereign first hit my hands back in 1995. I can honestly say that all of my best finds and 98% of all of my treasures on display from the 35+ years of detecting have been found with Minelab machines. It’s definitely my business as a content creator to own and know intimately all of the settings and pros and cons of all of the most popular machines on the current market so I use them all but when I head out for some “Me” time I am always reaching for a Minelab machine. My affiliation with Motley Digging Tools has been amazing, I remember when I first saw one I was really drawn to the design and colors. I just had to have one. I did a little research and found the company online and was blown away with the website, I could tell that the owner was very passionate about the company and it’s image as well as with the very artistic designs.
If you could go back in time armed with your current knowledge of Metal Detecting, what advice would you give your younger self? Are there metal detecting growth tips or pitfalls if you knew better you would have done more of or avoided?
Great question . . . Advice I would give my younger self? . . . Buy stock in Minelab and XP! Joking, but honestly there is one thought that crosses my mind often and that is that I wish I would have put more emphasis early on in looking for relics and gold nuggets instead of just coin shooting in modern parks, schools, etc. It’s just that I really enjoy the history and research aspect of this hobby so much that I feel I spent too much valuable time looking for the wrong treasures that speak to my soul. Pitfalls and growth tips would have to do with getting a handle on research and permissions instead of being too afraid to find new sites and going to the old tried and true sites where everyone else goes. The first machine at a site is going to find all the good treasures.
Metal Detecting Meteorites
For those who want to get into meteorite detecting, what are the best steps to be successful at it?
In the world of detecting meteorites I have to classify it into two categories; 1. Historical falls in “known” strewnfields (the area where they landed) and 2. Fresh or current falls where the stones have fallen recently and are therefore right on top of the ground in most cases. So I typically don’t “Detect” meteorites because I am more of a meteorite hunter where I chase recent events looking for freshly fallen stones, I use my eyes only for this and I have been very successful over the years doing so. However there is another side of the hobby where meteorites from ancient or historical falls can be detected. There is an area down in Arizona near highway 40 and the Franconia exit where a large expanse of land has many layers of known, historical and ancient falls with criss-crossing strewnfields. The area has been labeled the “DCA” or Dense Collection Area and using metal detectors, meteorites can be detected and recovered. There are many types of meteorites, some are iron, some are stone but most are a mixture of the two. Obviously the more metal content (nickel, iron, etc) the more they can be found with a metal detector. Some detectors are better suited for this type of detecting. I have had good luck in that area using older machines such as the Fisher Gold Bug 2, The Whites GM2 and my go to favorite, the Whites GM3, if you can still find them. Other machines will work too including the Pulse Induction Gold machines, but generally speaking, most of today’s metal detector circuits are designed to ignore this type of iron and some don’t perform well. The 3 older machines I mentioned are very good at detecting them. Just like when you looking for gold, you get a throw down nugget to test your machine with so that you can change the settings to make it ideal to find other gold nuggets, I recommend that you get a throw down iron meteorite to do the same before you head out into a strewnfield to try detecting them. It’s a very deep topic but I do have a really helpful and educational video on my YouTube channel called “How to Find Meteorites and Other Shocking Facts”. I highly suggest someone getting in to this hobby to check online databases such as the Meteorological Bulletin (MetBul) to see if there are any known historical falls in their area where they can go search. Deserts, dry lakes beds are the best due to the lack of ground cover. Some other websites are very helpful as well, such as: https://amsmeteors.org, https://meteoritical.org, https://ares.jsc.nasa.gov/meteorite-falls/
What is your favorite detector or detectors for meteorite detecting?
In this order:
- Whites GM3
- Whites GM2
- Fisher Gold Bug 2
- Minelab Gold Monster 1000
- Minelab GPX-6000
Besides using a magnet to see if a rock is a meteorite “Meteorites will attract a magnet but are not magnetic.” and seeing if the rock is heavy is there any other way to tell if you truly have a meteorite versus a hotrock besides sending it into a lab to get verified?
This is a hot topic and there are meteorite identification Facebook groups that can be very helpful. One has to keep in mind that a VERY small percentage of stones found that the finder thinks might be a meteorite, turns out to actually be a meteorite. They are extremely rare to find. There is the porcelain scratch test that can be helpful, where you can flip the top of your toilet bowl tank cover over to see the raw, exposed porcelain underneath, then see if your stone leaves a mark on the raw porcelain. If it does, it is not likely a meteorite but rather a terrestrial stone such as hematite or magnetite. There is also the window test where a small inspection window to expose the inside of the stone can be cut or grinded and polished to see the internal matrix of the stone. Knowing the typical characteristics of a meteorite with it’s fusion crust, topology and morphology will be helpful as well but be warned that most find it very hard to actually find an expert or an academic who can verify.
You live in a relic rich area, historic California Gold Country, metal detecting in and around Placerville, what tools do you like to use for researching and narrowing where to detect?
I use a combination of research materials comprised of local history books, historical newspaper archives, online and printed maps, place name books and the journals that the miner’s themselves wrote daily entries in. I also use google earth, apps such as GAIA or OnX and I like to talk to older generations to hear stories about long lost places handed down through the years. I try to find sites where somebody had a reason to be there, such as mining, logging, pioneer living, farming or ranching. Once I get there I look at the terrain to figure out where water and food was, shade, natural wind blocks, etc. Things that the early pioneers would have had to think about before establishing a camp or town.
What approaches have you found the most lucrative for getting metal detecting permissions for older land to hunt? For instance do you still knock on doors still, or do you send letters, by post or email or other.?
I definitely prefer to meet land owners face to face and gain their trust by being well dressed and professional in my appearance. I also try to know something about the history of the area or property. I ask them what concerns they may have and if they don’t mention some of the ones I am prepared to answer I offer up some of these other things I will do to be a good guest on their land, this often includes some kind of barter strategy such as mending fences, hauling out trash or metal when I come across it or even offering my services as a drone pilot where I can make them videos or photos of their land. I personally do not send letters or emails but I can see how these strategies might be helpful.
Relics, especially iron, can be missed due to being discriminated out by metal detector factory settings. What setting on a detector should be tweaked to hear iron relics better?
This is a great question and what many detectorists don’t realize is that discrimination on a metal detector (that has an adjustable discrimination range) is simply just drawing a line where anything below a certain Target ID is ferrous (iron) and anything above that line will be conductive. This line doesn’t mean that when discrimination is on, all iron is not detected, in fact a large iron target may come in well above the line where you set the discrimination at and therefore you may think it’s going to be conductive due to the high target ID but in fact it’s just a large or dense iron object that reads above your line. You have to decide what iron objects are desirable and make sure that you lower that line to the point that the desirable iron objects can be heard. Another strategy is to turn discrimination off completely and just dig all repeatable signals and the iron relics will be found, of course at the cost of many undesirable iron targets such as nails. But in review I would recommend lowering your discrimination settings so that iron can be heard, just not so low that nails are being dug.
Why and when do you feel a lower Recovery Speed is important and will yield better finds?
This term is called Reactivity on other machines but lowering the recovery speed just tilts the processor in modern metal detectors to put more priority on depth of detecting rather than hearing a colocated conductive target such as a coin, under, next to or on top of a ferrous or iron nail. So if you raise the recovery speed in heavy iron with lots of nails and other small bits of iron you are tilting the processor to prioritize target separation and processing speed, at the cost of depth. I only see lowering recovery speed as a strategy when you need maximum depth in cleaner ground with minimal trash and iron.
When relic detecting say a field, woods, creek…. do you go by the philosophy you dig every signal or what do you discriminate and don’t dig?
My philosophy is always to dig any and all targets if they repeat and give a nice close/narrow range of target ID’s and does the same when I turn 90 degrees on it. Most modern metal detectors. I do this regardless of where I am detecting, sometimes I get a target that sounds great in one direction but bad in 90 degrees and I will still dig these, especially if they sound especially good in the good direction. These can be coins on edge or relics in weird orientations, sometimes even dissimilar metals in the same relic.
Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets
How do you choose the creeks and rivers that you detect for gold?
I look where the miners were active and I have a pretty limited knowledge of geology as it applies to precious metals. My strategy has always been to search in areas where the early miners spent a lot of time and effort digging because they would not have spent all of that time digging like that if they were not getting good gold. I look for their tailing piles and diggins using google earth and LiDAR imagery.
Is it possible to configure a Minelab Equinox or Manticore to match the performance of a dedicated gold detector? What factors contribute to its effectiveness or limitations in this regard?
Not really, unfortunately. What I mostly mean by this statement is the dedicated gold machines such as the Pulse Induction machines made by Minelab and Garrett are impervious to heavy mineralization in the typical soils found around gold patches. The Equinox and Manticore machines are undoubtedly affected by the soil and therefore suffer in overall depth when compared to the PI machines. However, the Equinox 800 was (and still is) a great machine for gold nuggets but there is a huge advantage from a productivity standpoint where machines like the Equinox 800 and the Minelab Gold Monster 1000 (VLF Technology Machines) give you a dig-no dig signal. This level of discrimination prevents you from needlessly digging small bits or iron like you have to using the Pulse Induction machines. It’s a bit of a trade off between the two technologies, but the PI machines are much more expensive. In a perfect world you want to have both, PI for nice clean ground with minimal iron trash to detect the deep nuggets. And VLF to use in nugget patches where there is lots of small bits of iron trash. I have done very well with both technologies.
As we conclude our interview with Mark Dayton, we’ve gained invaluable insights into his journey, expertise, and passion for metal detecting. Mark’s dedication to educating and inspiring fellow detectorists is evident through his metal detecting YouTube channel, Brass Medic. Happy hunting, and I hope that you’ve learned something new.
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.