Interview Metal Detectorist Axel Macon: A True Explorer’s Journey from Coastal Carolina to Smithsonian Stardom

Axel’s story begins in the charming coastal town of Carolina Beach, North Carolina, a place steeped in history as the home of Fort Fisher, a legendary fort that stood strong during the Civil War’s final days in the southern United States. In his youth, Axel’s days were filled with surfing local waves and embarking on adventures through the lush woods that surrounded him.

As an adult, Axel’s adventure side that he had as a kid shows in his passion for unearthing hidden local history with his metal detectors and bottle digging. Axel’s enthusiasm for exploring the outdoors, and his insatiable curiosity, combined with a profound respect for history, propels him to shine in the metal detecting world, with a portfolio of beautiful historic finds. One of his finds has a place among the prestigious exhibits of the Smithsonian Museum.

He is a Minelab Detexpert and a Motley Digging Tools ProStaffer. Currently using a Minelab Equinox 900, Minelab Equinox 800, CTX 3030, and in the past a Bounty Hunter Lone Star.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into Axel’s remarkable treasure hunting journey, and his passion for metal detecting and bottle digging. See my questions and his answers below.

About Detectorist Axel Macon

When did you start metal detecting and why?
I’d say December 2018 is when I really started to take it seriously and do research daily. To be honest, I missed exploring, and I worked too much, so I reorganized my daily and weekly schedule. I changed up a few things that allowed me to start being able to devote a ton of time to metal detecting. All the research rabbit holes I get into are a lot of fun. It’s super challenging to find sites locally that haven’t been metal detected, so that drove me deeper into it all.

How did you get into bottle dump digging? 
It all started when I stumbled on a small pile of bottles, while metal detecting in a low, swampy, marshy area, which is my favorite way to explore. I asked a metal detecting buddy who had been on a few digs before to come to help me dig it out. We found over 200 bottles. I was hooked.

What are some of your remarkable finds?
South Carolina Militia buckles, rare Militia buttons, lots of Revolutionary War artifacts from cannonballs to South Carolina cast USA pewter buttons, only 7-8 have ever been found. I have also found quite a few slave hire badges, also known as “slave tags”. In Charleston, South Carolina, they were used as worker’s ID’s so the enslaved could work and make their own wages downtown to keep for themselves.

Of course, in my opinion, the Freeman’s fire badge is my most remarkable metal detecting find. I found the first proof of an all African American Volunteer Fire Brigade. African American people volunteered for their part of town, which was called Freedman’s Village. Which was off from Spring Street. Most of the local African American community were freed from slavery before the Civil War including Mr. Perry, owner of the badge I found.
Here in Charleston, South Carolina, we are quite spoiled with a rich old history. Good metal detecting sites are hard to find these days. However, when you do find a good site, almost all the finds are pretty remarkable.

How did the Smithsonian find out about your find? 
After a buddy Grant Mishoe helped me 100% identify the badge, I made a Facebook post. Apparently, the post was shared by others to a badge collector’s page and a Fire Badge Collectors Page, which is when it hit the Smithsonian curator’s radar, and he messaged me directly from that point.

Axel Macon’s Bottle Dump Digging Tips

Besides visually seeing broken glass, or bottles on the surface, what tips can you give on finding where bottle dumps are located?  
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who lived in the era of the things you want to find, then focus on how they would have to get rid of their trash back then. It’s important to remember people are lazy. Back then, the normal and the easiest way to get rid of trash on a site would likely be by throwing it or burying it far enough away to not see or smell, but close enough where it’s easy to dump trash. South Carolina, where I metal detect and bottle dig, it is low swamps, marshes, and landings on rivers.

Some Bottle Dump Diggers use Google Earth to look for debris. Is this something you do? Any tips or examples of how debris would look in a satellite Google Earth Photo? 
Yes, you nailed it. Google Maps has the most up-to-date aerials in my area: Charleston, South Carolina. I also use lidar, but if you remember that people are lazy and want to dispose of things in an easy way, you can spot areas that would likely have bottles and trash pits. 

Bottle Dump Diggers use old maps to find bottle dumps, by looking for barren patches or unincorporated areas. Is this something you do as well? If so, can you give examples of what they look like on old maps?
Here in Charleston, for downtown digging, we use the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Historical aerials are also helpful.

How deep have you seen bottle dumps go?
I’ve seen privies get super deep, never measured, but the one on Tradd Street we dug turned into a well and went super deep. You can see a video of it on my YouTube. It was maybe 30 feet deep.

Could you share any tips or techniques for cleaning and preserving the bottles you recover, ensuring they remain in excellent condition for display or collection?
The best way I know is to tumble them in copper bits or powder. Other than that, the ones I find in the rice marshes here have a cool pearlescent to them and I like that look.

Axel Macon’s Relic Detecting Tips

When you find a location to detect, what are the steps you take to detect it? Do you first dig all high tones, or dig in All Metal Mode or other?
I’m a firm believer in digging everything, even iron. Yes, others might find more buttons in a day, but I like the story all the artifacts tell, good or bad. Also, by digging it all, you clear out the area of all signals which can lead to covered good signals. My recommendation is to dig it all and always run in All Metal.

Are you a strong believer that you must detect or remove all the garbage to get to better finds? Detecting in layers? 
Yes, like above in the prior question. I have found that the more I metal detect a site and dig bad signals, even in concentrations of iron, I find great finds. I am looking for a trash pit anyway, so when you break the matrix of the iron that it casts into the soil, it 100% can lead to better signals blocked by iron red soil. I have been to super pounded out “highly metal detected” sites and dug a pit in an iron patch with no signals and found amazing finds still there just by moving some dirt. However, much is to be said about research to help lower the amount of modern trash you dig.  

When you find a location that is producing nice relics, how much time do you spend there, in days, hours, and years removing all the finds? When do you give up on a site and move to a new location?
For me, it’s a distance thing. I generally hunt within 2 hours of my house in all directions, but of course, you can only dig so many holes in a day. I’d say the close to home sites I’d metal detect forever. Even with no finds, I try different settings each time I go and learn my metal detector more. As far as a good site, when it starts producing, such as slave hire badges or good buttons, I will pretty much spend night and day there. I never give up on a site. There is no telling what you will find, and conditions change (rain, snow, dry ground) and make the ground more conductive or not.

Swing speed, there are two philosophies going around, low and slow, speed doesn’t matter, and go fast so you can cover more ground. Which do you believe and why?
Depending on the metal detector and the spot, during scouting, I use a big coil and swing fast. When I hear iron, I slow down. When I find an iron patch, I really slow down and switch to a small coil.

Axel Macon’s Minelab 900 Equinox Tips

What difference did you see in the performance from the Minelab Equinox 800 to 900?
Definitely faster. I like the light at night and the red screen. I actually do a lot of night hunting. It gets so hot here in South Carolina. I like the new handle and shaft design for sure. I have gone to sites where I have pounded with every coil on an Equinox 800  with the Equinox 900 and found stuff in iron patches that I had missed. It’s quite the upgrade from the 800 but that doesn’t take away from the 800 at all. I still keep two 800s with me at all times, both with different coils on them than what my Equinox 900 has on. So I can make quick changes on-site to what coil I want to use. The Equinox 800 is still always in use with me, but I have leaned more toward the Equinox 900 for my go-to since it’s lighter. 

It is unclear on the Minelab website, can Equinox 800 coils work on the Equinox 900? 
Yes, the Equinox 800 coils are compatible with the Equinox 900.

When it comes to headphones which do you prefer using with the Minelab Equinox 900 and why? Like the Manticore, is the Minelab Equinox 900 only able to run with proprietary Minelab headphones or can you use other brands?
I love the headphones, they sound great! I wish I could find an earbud brand that works well with the Equinox 900 because it gets so hot here in the summer.

I know the Equinox 800 can run other low, latency headphones. I’m not sure about the Equinox 900. I haven’t tried, and I don’t have a Manticore yet, so I’m not sure about the specifications of the headphones and which ones can be used.

What is your favorite setting on the Minelab Equinox 900 for detecting coins and relics in forests, swamps, and riverbeds?
So I go to a site and at the first good strong signal I flip through my settings and swing over the same target and see which one sounds the best, for example, Park 1 or 2, Field 1 or 2, and Beach 1 or 2. Then I use the settings in 5 tones. I mostly use 5 tones because of the ability to Volume Discriminate instead of using Iron Bias. Like Debbie from Minelab says all the time “If you want weak coffee use filters”. That has always stuck with me so I use my metal detector wide open on 5 tones and I turn down the volume level of the stuff I want to dig less of. That way I still hear items and don’t miss anything and the metal detector can do what it does best. Plus, I do a lot of scouting, and being able to hear the low iron grunts helps me know I’m getting close to the lost plantation that I’m trying to find. With the iron volume down, the high tones pop so much more in All Metal. As I say “it’s an iron picker’s dream setting!”

These settings go for all conditions, swamps, rivers, dry, and salty waters. I have used Park Mode in the salt marsh. I admit I test all modes a lot. I have used Beach Mode relic hunting on high ground and it has done well. Next time you are out relic detecting, give it a try, find your first good target, then put your Equinox metal detector into 5 tones and All Iron volume down. Then flip through the modes Park, Field, and Beach to see which sounds best, then run those settings and find tons of good targets.

How does the Minelab Equinox 900 handle EMI compared to the 600 & 800? 
I can say without a doubt it’s better in EMI. I have sites on or near big power lines and 900 is so much quieter.

Have you modified the Minelab Equinox 900 with any aftermarket accessories, or is that not your thing?
Not really my thing, I did mod my Equinox 800s to collapse a long time ago lol but the Equinox 900 is set up and ready to rip for me right out of the box.

I would like to thank detectorist Axel Macon for this interview. You can follow him on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

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