In other words… is your target digging and recovery technique as good as the “Old Pros…” or… is it robbing you of MANY good finds??? Find out which by reading on. The backstory I start with will “set the stage” for what I will share about how to maximize your finds.
A couple of years ago, I met a big hulking fellow detectorist who had a strong “Viking-look” about him who invited me to go Civil War relic hunting with him on a permission he had on the famous Perryville, KY battlefield. For those who don’t know it, Perryville was one of the 20 biggest battles in the entire war and thousands of men died in the all-day fighting there.
Permissions are hard to come by there and harder to keep once you get one, so I took him up on the offer immediately and it turned out that the 6 to 8 acres of pasture that made up his permission had been the site of some of the most desperate fighting of the entire battle. The downside was that it had been hunted by scores, if not a couple of hundred, relic hunters for the previous 35 years.
That, however, did not discourage me at all because for nearly 50 years I had done well on supposedly “worked-out” sites.
When we arrived at the permission for the first time, the Viking, as I will call him because he wishes to remain anonymous, said to me… “Don’t expect to find a lot of relics here because it is pretty worked out. You will be doing good to find one or two today.”
I replied back to him, “That not good enough for me… I am setting my goal at a minimum of 20 for the day. (I believe, based on long experience, a detectorist should ALWAYS set goals for good finds on a site and to set them a bit high.).”
The Viking laughed at me and said, “You’re crazy!”
He had been metal detecting for about 3 years when I met him and was using a XP Deus metal detector in which he had invested about $2,000 and an expensive hand-held pinpointer. I, on the other hand, was using a Garrett AT Pro detector, which had cost me less than $600 and I had no hand-held pinpointer… don’t use one… don’t need one. The Viking was confident that his “superior” detector would overcome my advantage of having a lot more experience.
So… we started hunting about 8:30 AM… he on one-side of the pasture that had a ridge on each side and a valley in the middle, and I on the other. About noon, he wandered over to me on my side and said, “I see you have been digging a lot of signals… find anything good? I haven’t found any relics.” I pulled 8 Civil War relics from the battle out of my dig pouch and he was plainly shocked! “You are the luckiest relic hunter I have ever seen!” I replied to him, “It’s not luck… it’s skill.” Well, he didn’t believe that for a minute. He decided my side of the pasture just had more relics than the side he was hunting and so he moved in on me and hunted near me all afternoon. At the end of the day, the Viking had managed to find two fired bullets from the battle. I, on the other hand, had not reached my goal of 20 relics, but I had come close with 18 found.
All the way home, I had to listen to him whine about my success and his lack of it.
On the next hunt, in this pasture, the Viking did a little better finding four relics while I found 22. Finally, he was realizing that my success was NOT “luck,” and asked me what he was doing wrong. I had been waiting for that because I wanted to help him have the kind of success I was enjoying.
Here is what the Viking was doing wrong… his digging and target locating technique was absolutely terrible and it was costing him so much time, that he was losing HOURS of search time in a day’s hunt… which means… you find less targets and dig less good finds… MUCH less!
Once he got a signal on his Deus, he would swing back and forth over it for several minutes trying to pinpoint its location… and failing. He would then dig a hole up to 16” or wider and a foot deep and in the process scatter piles of dirt from it all around the hole and sometimes as far as a foot or more away from the hole. He then would get down on his hands and knees and stick his hand-held down in the hole to see if the signal was still there. He should have been checking the dirt from the hole with his detector before doing that. Once he determined the signal was out of the hole, he used the hand-held to search the piles of dirt he had scattered around the hole, using up more precious minutes of what should have been search time. When he finally found which pile the target was in with the hand-held, he would put it down and start rummaging through the pile with his fingers trying to spot the relic. He should have been grabbing handfuls of dirt from the target pile and running them across his detector searchcoil instead. By the time the Viking finally found his target, he had spent 10 to 15 minutes recovering the relic… and that did not include the extra time it took him to gather all the scattered dirt back into the huge hole he had dug. I, on the other hand, averaged about 2 to 3 minutes of pinpointing and digging time per target. THAT is why I found so much more than him at that site.
I showed him his mistakes and though he did not get it down perfect, he improved his recovery time on the next hunt there and found 11 relics for the day’s hunt… a new record for the Viking. I found 32 civil war relics on that hunt, which was our last, as the owner died of old age and the new owner ended our permission there.
Quality Metal Detecting Finds in Less Time
Here is how I do it and… how you should too, if you want to make a lot more good finds per hour of metal detecting spent on a site:
1. I am deadly accurate at pinpointing a target with my search coil on ANY detector that I use. I use a process called “DE-TUNING” which I developed way back in 1979. It takes some practice to master but once you do… you do not have to dig a big hole to avoid hitting a good target… a 6” plug is sufficient over 90% of the time. The process involves swinging your search coil back and forth over the signal for a few seconds while hitting, releasing quickly, and then holding… the pinpointing button on your detector… kind of like pulling the trigger on a gun. When done properly, this reduces the “size” of your search coil to one hot spot area about the size of a quarter directly in front of the coil bracket where the shaft attaches on most detectors. Remember the pinpoint button has to be held down to do this. The coil will now only give you a signal when you put the hot spot you have created right directly over the target. On targets bigger than say a coin or ring, like say a horseshoe or axehead, you can use this hot spot technique to actually trace the shape of the signal before you dig it. Once mastered, De-Tuning allows you to pinpoint a target very accurately in less than 30 seconds.
2. Once the target is accurately pinpointed, you dig a 6” wide plug approximately 8 inches deep and pop it out of the ground. This takes another 30 seconds. Once the plug is out of the ground, you check it with your detector to confirm the target is in the plug. This takes about 10 seconds. For me, the target will be in that plug about 90% of the time.
Here Both Hunters Have Dug Their Targets
Both hunters have found a high value target. Both found a $10 gold coin 6 inches deep.
Hunter #1, did not pinpoint well before starting to dig and
digs a large hole 16-inches wide, and 12-inches deep.
Dirt from the hole is scattered all around in piles. The coin can be anywhere.
Elapsed Time: 10 to 15 minutes.
Hunter #2 pinpoints well and
digs a 6-inch wide by an 8-inch deep intact plug.
The coin is in the plug, making locating it and recovering it fast and easy.
Elapsed Time: 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Break the bottom half of the plug off the plug and run it in front of your search coil… takes about 15 seconds. If target is in that clump of dirt, break the clump in half and run the two halves in front of your search coil to find the target clump. By this time, you may well spot the target in the small clump it is in… if not… break that clump in two and repeat the above. All this takes about a minute. Note: I do not get down on the ground to do this. I do it bending over… saves more time and wear and tear on my old knees. Also, drop the clumps without the target in them back in your dig hole… saves more time.
4. Once target is recovered, replace plug in dig hole, step on it to push it down into place. You have filled your dig hole within seconds… not minutes… and it will be VERY hard to spot by anyone checking on you.
5. No hand-held pinpointer is necessary to make the kind of quick and accurate recoveries I have described to you. When you rely on one, you are losing precious time using it and that will add up to less total finds at the end of the day.
All of the above usually takes me about 2 to 3 minutes per target which means in a target-rich environment, I can dig 15 to 20 targets per hour. And THAT means… I have the potential of digging up to 120 high-value targets for an 8 hour hunt. The person who locates and recovers targets like the Viking above, has only the potential of 2 to 3 targets recovered per hour which means… they will max out at potential high-value target recoveries for an 8 hour hunt of only 16 to 24.
6. Next time you go detecting, take a watch with a second hand and time yourself on each dig from the time you get the signal to the time it is out of the ground and in your pouch. Learn what the average time it takes you to recover a signal is and you will see how much you need to improve that if it is more than two or three minutes.
Study the diagrams and pics included with this article for further clarification.
Hole… or “Holey” efficiency, as I called it, is a BIG key to maximum success at metal detecting!
Dorian Cook is a native of Huntington, West Virginia, and spent the greater part of his childhood growing up in the Appalachian Foothills near the small town of St. Albans. From age 10 to 17 much of his time was spent exploring those foothills and the old cabin ruins they contained, as well as fishing and trapping along the Coal River.
After graduation from St. Alban’s High School in 1965 he moved to Dallas, Texas, acquired landscape design and construction skills and started his own business which he maintained for 44 years. During the eighteen years spent in Texas he became involved in Civil War artifact rescue activities in which he discovered Civil War campsites and battlegrounds previously lost to history. To date, he has found and recovered over fourteen thousand Civil War artifacts from over 140 sites in 22 states… the majority of which now reside in museums from Texas to Cincinnati. He also spent nearly four years as the marketing and advertising manager for Garrett Metal Detectors. In addition, his responsibilities included field testing new metal detection equipment as it was developed by the company.
His travels in pursuit of nearly every aspect of treasure hunting, prospecting, and metal detecting have taken him to historical locations in 42 of the United States and six foreign countries, as well. He has participated in official archaeological excavations for the state of Texas Antiquities Commission and the nation of Israel’s Israeli Antiquities Authority. Recently, he located the actual battle site of the Kentucky Militia’s defeat at the famous Battle of Blue Licks (which the historians had marked in the wrong place in the Blue Licks State Park) in what is often called “The last battle of the Revolutionary War.”
He is the author of five books on Kentucky’s pioneer and Civil War history, as well as over 200 articles published in various metal detecting related magazines.
His love of discovering “the lost and the hidden” and his extensive field experience in searching for the same for the past forty-four years has led him into Bible-related archaeological explorations in Israel and Egypt and similar American history-related projects all across the United States, as well. These numerous experiences have helped hone his “History Detective” skills to a “sharp edge.” One of the main goals in all his journalistic efforts and public presentations is to pass on as many of those skills as possible to his readers.
He currently resides with his wife, on a small farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeastern Kentucky and remains active in metal detecting historical sites and sponsoring a Civil War history and relic hunting group on social media.