Interview Metal Detectorist Tom Tanner

Beach Metal Detecting Tips Tom Tanner

For those who frequent the Friendly Metal Detecting Forum, you have probably seen Tom Tanner’s informative posts. Tom is very experienced in metal detecting on both land and beach in California, with a special niche of Central to Northern California. His knowledge and finds impress even seasoned metal detectorists.

How many years have you been metal detecting, and what beaches are you most familiar with detecting?
Approx. 45 years detecting. Since about 8th grade. Most familiar with Monterey, California beaches.  Like Del Monte to Marina vicinity. I didn’t start hunting the beach (storm erosion events) till 1980.  Prior to that, it was just tame-land hunting (turf, sandboxes, etc….). 

What machines have you used and are currently using to beach detect?
In the past for the beach, it was various of the 1980’s Garrett Detectors. Then in the 1990s, switched to all the various Whites Detectors of that era.  Like the Eagles, the Spectrums and XLTs, etc….  Then by the late 1990s, the Minelab Excalibur was “all-the-rage”, touted as a waterproof discriminator of that era. That was my introduction to Minelab.  Which led to the Explorer II in the early 2000s.  Currently stuck with that, for both land and beach.   Although various successors have blown that out of the water for the intentions of the beach.  Like the CTX, and now the Equinoxes.   Both are waterproof, while the Explorer isn’t.  And both can be made hotter-on-low conductors, if a person so-elects.

What are some notable finds you have found?
16 gold coins so far.  Four of which were beach storm erosion finds. The rest of the 16 are land finds. Like stage stops, oldtown demolition tear-outs, etc….  Also have over 100 Spanish & Mexican Reales found in California, dating as far back as the 1750s, up to the California statehood era times (mid-1800s).

Besides all the highly informative information you have shared on metal detecting forums, have you had any notable appearances? TV shows, YouTube Videos, Podcasts, Metal Detecting Events……
As for “TV”, there was a hidden murder weapon (gun) recovery.  I had coordinated between the San Jose Metal Detecting Club & the Monterey County Sheriffs in the early 2000s. The suspected area where the gun was stashed, was a mile of country terrain.  So the club’s members fanned out over the remote mountainous region, at the directions of the investigators.  After an hour or so, one of the members found the buried hidden gun. Which resulted in the solving & closing of a criminal case. Many years later, one of the Hollywood CSI “Cold Case” type shows profiled that particular case. Several of us, who’d been involved in the original search, agreed to come to pose for the camera.  Because they wanted to recreate that part of the story.  A few-second clip can be seen, with a few of us in the background.   Most of it ended up on the cutting room floor, except for an interview with the particular member who found it.  He got time recounting the actual signal, the recovery, the day’s event, etc….

As far as YouTube videos, I’ve made a few solo videos.  Like one where I explain my type of pistol-grip/arm-cuff one-hand-action sand scoop.  And several others that my main detecting partner and I showcase some of our ghost-town hunts.

I was blessed to learn how to use my multi-frequency detector on one of the most mineralized black sand beaches in SoCal that even PI machines struggle to detect; it was hard but taught me a lot very quickly. I see even seasoned detectorists have a problem detecting black mineralized sand. Do you have any tips for handling such beaches?
For standard coin-machines (of which, yes, Multi-Frequency modern types are the current popular breed), then the only thing you can do is turn your sensitivity down (or go in “auto”).  And raise your coil a hair more off the ground.  And move the coil much slower (which, for Multi-Frequency, isn’t a detriment). But ultimately, for the very bad wet-salt-sand-black, you will simply have to switch to a PI (Pulse Induction) machine. The problem then becomes, is that you have no way to ID iron (paper clips, bent nails, bobby-pins, etc….)    Fortunately, where I’m at in California, we have very few beaches with this jet-black problem.  But yes, there’s been a few times, even in my part of California, that I wished I’d had a Pulse.   At all other locations though, I much prefer to have the full TID of standard discriminating machines.  The debate of pros & cons is endless and very nuanced for each site, beach, objectives, etc…

When a detectorist arrives at the beach, what should they look for when looking at the sand and surf?  What kinds of waves and or water conditions should they keep an eye for or avoid.
If your question is about beach erosion, then:  The answer can fill a book.  Too much to compile into a paragraph or two.  But if you google “Tom’s Beach Tips”, the top hit is an article I wrote on the subject.  Some of the surfer web links might be out of date by now.   And others (in this digital day & age) are better.  Also, beach webcams now often times can show you certain beaches.  Where you can discern if erosion is going on at some beaches where cameras exist, that aim-down on the sand (as opposed to aiming out to the surf).

Basically:  High tides combined with high swells and surf, and preferably on-shore or cross-shore winds.   If mother nature is eroding the beach, then find if she’s made any zones into a natural riffle-board sluice-box effect.

Recently I had terrific success at a very large fresh cut after a storm. What intrigued me was watching the other detectorists tackle the same cut with less success. Some needed to slow down; some I could tell were not understanding sand patterns and where to detect. What tips can you give those detectorists struggling to detect a cut and get good finds?
Again:  Refer to my article. And yes, I’ve seen many times where only-those-in-the-know are scarfing up on goodies.  While others are wandering around the wrong areas and are oblivious to the “right zones”, the right sounds, the right machine & settings, etc…

We all hear about if a beach is producing fishing weights, it is good, but let’s talk about other metal items. For example, if a beach is producing a lot of aluminum, it shows the light targets haven’t been washed up and out. What other metals or finds say the beach isn’t ideal for detecting because the erosion isn’t in your favor?
As you say, if you start getting lightweight aluminum on the wet intertidal zone after supposed erosion events, that’s a bad sign.  E.g.:  tabs, foil, etc.….  Also, to answer your question:  crown bottle caps. They are also lightweight. 

And if you see half-buried fresh seaweed sticking out of the sand, that’s a bad sign.   And if the sand is soft-to-the-step (you’re making footprints on the wet), that’s a bad sign.  The sand should be firm and hard to the step (such that you could imagine riding a bicycle on it, for instance).  Waves should preferably be chocolate brown (rather than glassy blue).  Because that means the water is suspending recently pulled-off-sand.  Waves should preferably be crashing on-shore, rather than crashing off-shore and only “rolling” up.

If our readers want to follow you, where should they?
I currently enjoy posting on the “Friendly Metal Detecting Forum”.   And for a YouTube Channel, to find my hunting partner’s channel (of which I’m in several of his videos), type in keywords “Spanish Trail” + CalCobra.  And then watch any that are attributed to CalCobra.   For my video on sand scoops, search for “Sand Scoop” + “Tom Tanner”.  It’ll be the top hit.

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