Unearthing Excellence: Stef Tanguay’s Journey to Prominence in Metal Detecting

Stef Tanguay stands out as a prominent figure in the world of metal detecting, particularly known for her exceptional skills and impressive discoveries. As one of the top female detectorists in the hobby, Stef has garnered attention for her remarkable finds, cultivated a successful YouTube channel under the name “Stef Digs,” and built a warm and engaging online presence. Commencing her journey in 2016 with a Garrett ACE 250 metal detector, Stef officially launched her YouTube channel in 2019, quickly amassing a substantial following of 4.7K subscribers within four years. What sets Stef apart is not only her adept metal detecting abilities but also her genuine personality reflected in both her videos and authentic finds. Through her content, Stef provides an accurate representation of the metal detecting experience, showcasing the possibilities that come with honing one’s skills to uncover relics and old coins.

I have been an admirer of Stef’s metal detecting journey from a distance for years. Our paths recently converged when she joined the Motley Digging Tools Pro Staff Team, of which I am also a part. Upon our initial conversation, it became evident that we shared several common interests, prompting me to extend an invitation for an interview.

Below features the questions I posed to Stef and her insightful responses.

Stef the Detectorist

Are there any specific historical periods or events that you are particularly passionate about exploring in your metal detecting adventures?

I can appreciate just about any period in history, but I have a soft spot for the colonial era in the United States.  I’m always searching for the oldest sites possible, and any time I can dig up some 17th or 18th century relics and coins is a great day!  I also have a fascination with the fur trade era, which was most prominent in the 17th century in my area of New England.  I never thought I would be able to dig up “arrowheads” with a metal detector until I found my first brass kettle point.  A kettle point is a projectile point that was crafted by the Native Americans out of the brass kettles that early European settlers traded to them in exchange for beaver pelts.  I’ve always been interested in Native American cultures, specifically the Woodland Period through Contact Period, as it marks a narrow snapshot in time when the Europeans and Native Americans coexisted amicably and thrived from each other’s existence.

Can you share a memorable find or discovery that marked a turning point in your metal detecting journey?

There are two distinct turning points in my metal detecting journey; one is metallic, the other is a partnership.  

My first nonferrous colonial find was what set my heart on fire for metal detecting.  On the 4th of July in 2017, I was detecting an old mill site in town when I noticed that just behind the mill, there was a trail up on top of a hill across the stream.  The sun was shining down on one particular area of that trail, and I took it as a sign to check it out.  Within 5 minutes, I had found a circa 1690-1720 shoe buckle frame – and yes, it was exactly where the sun had led me.  After I made that find, I hunted every weekend and often after work, as well (daylight permitting).  I haven’t looked back since, and I have always referred to that shoe buckle as the find that I can “blame” for my obsession with the hobby.  

In regards to a non-metallic “find,” my 2nd turning point was in 2021 when I was selected to partner with Minelab as a Detexpert, which is a Minelab-appointed brand ambassador who helps to promote the hobby and Minelab Metal Detectors in equal capacities.  Becoming a Detexpert has afforded me some amazing opportunities.  I’m able to attend events far away from home, I was extended an invitation to do an exclusive product release video on the new Pro-Find 40 pinpointer, and I’ve been presented with gear that allows me to grow as a detectorist and an expert on machines that people always have a lot of questions about.  I love helping other detectorists, and Minelab has given me the best opportunities to do this.  The advantages of this arrangement have gotten better and better since I became affiliated with Minelab, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.  Partnering with my manufacturer of choice has always been an “end goal” of mine, and to have achieved this feels like a dream.

A Small Sample of Stef’s Metal Detecting Finds

Who are your metal detecting mentors?

I have been fortunate to connect with some great mentors over the years, but a few names stand out first and foremost in my mind.  

Jocelyn Elizabeth (aka “Relic Recoverist,” more widely known now as “Crazy Lamp Lady”) and Drew Waholek were the first people to give me the boost in confidence I needed to begin uploading YouTube videos, and Jocelyn got the ball rolling on day one when she shared my first video with her Crazy Lamp Lady audience.  She has always been a great confidant, and both she and Drew were instrumental in helping me navigate the “who’s who” of detecting when I decided that I wanted to make a career out of my passion.  I didn’t always listen, and I’ve made mistakes along the way as a result (I’m quite stubborn), but I’m not ashamed to say that they were always right.  I must attribute some of my success in the hobby to these two fine people.  

Debbie Smikoski, my team leader at Minelab, is a strong female role model in the industry who always has incredible stories to share, and she is an excellent resource for all things Minelab, as you can imagine.  Her work ethic is simply unmatched, and it’s always an inspiration to me when I see her zipping around the tent to make sure everything is perfect before any given event begins – I can only do my best to keep up!  She is always quick to help anybody, no matter how simple or complex the question may be, and I’ve learned a lot from her in regards to how I can fine-tune both my customer service and sales skills.  Not to mention, through our partnership with Minelab she has become one of the people I trust the most in the detecting world (a rare treasure, indeed).

Between these individuals and others, I have learned a lot and grown because of them.  

From your observations how has the hobby or metal detecting evolved from when you first started to now?

The hobby has evolved in several ways since I started detecting, particularly in regards to social media and of course, the new technology available to today’s detectorists.  

When I started detecting 7 years ago, there weren’t nearly as many YouTube channels dedicated to metal detecting as there are today – it seems like 100 new channels pop up daily!  The evolution of uploading short videos to TikTok and Instagram has also skyrocketed, as those platforms make it simple for someone to become a content creator overnight.  It seems like some of these new content creators (note that I’ve referred to them as “content creators” versus “detectorists”) purchase their first metal detector and a GoPro on the same day, with the end goal of “making it big.”  This is the wrong approach, and the uptick in content creators of this type has had a negative impact overall on the detecting community.  

The ability to easily monetize on nearly every social media platform is probably what’s caused another alarming uptick: planting and faking finds for views and notoriety.  This gives honest, passionate new detectorists unrealistic expectations of what they’ll find in the field, and I imagine they’re dejected when they come home with a few buttons while “so and so found a pile of silver coins on their first hunt.”  I’ve not spoken about this in any interviews previously, but the dull roar of faking has become too loud for me to ignore.  To null out their noise, we need to get louder about them, lest the sanctity of our hobby be jeopardized. 

Now, onto a far more positive note!  The technology available to today’s detectorists far exceeds what was available when I first started digging, and it’s tough to deny that the “technology boom” boils down to one detector in particular: the Minelab Equinox. 

When the Equinox was first released in 2018, we were presented with Minelab’s simultaneous multi-frequency technology (Multi IQ) packed into a speedy detector for under $1,000.  In a short period of time, the sea of Garrett AT Pros at rallies turned into droves of Minelab Equinoxes.  Whenever I attend one of these rallies, I take a mental note of the percentage of people who swing this detector or that one, and to this day, the Equinox is the detector I see at least 70% of people swinging at events.  The Equinox took the power of Minelab and presented it in such a way that it was relatively easy to learn and boasted an affordable price tag.  

A few years after the Equinox was released, every other manufacturer wanted to employ simultaneous multi-frequency technology.  Would the Deus II exist if the Equinox was a flop?  Would the Nokta Legend have been released?  What about the Garrett Ace Apex?  I think we know the answer.  Even if you don’t like Minelab for whatever reason, you’ll still need to tip your hat to them because the fact of the matter is that your Legend, your Apex, and your Deus II were all efforts to compete with the Minelab’s array of detectors.  Simultaneous multi-frequency technology has become a necessity to other manufacturers who want to compete for your business, and that’s thanks to Minelab.  

Stef Digs YouTube Channel

What inspired you to start a YouTube channel?

YouTube videos are what inspired me to get out and detect in the first place, so I wanted to pay homage to that by starting my own channel in an effort to inspire a new wave of detectorists in the exact same way.  I also wanted to challenge myself and see if I could gain a footing on YouTube like my inspirations.  While I may not have 1,000,000+ subscribers like my number one inspiration (Aquachigger), people seem to appreciate my videos not only for the “exciting” finds like coins, but also for the history lessons I slip into the videos at every opportunity.  If someone leaves me a comment telling me that they feel inspired to go out and dig, or that they’ve learned something new, then I know I’ve done my job.

How have you observed the evolution of metal detecting YouTube videos from when you first started to the present day?

While I don’t think there’s been a huge change overall in the YouTube scene since I started uploading videos, the number of metal detecting channels has grown at break-neck speed.  “Shorts” have also become popular, but to be honest, they don’t interest me so I tend to scroll past them if I’m searching for digging videos to watch.  I think I’ll always prefer long-format videos, and thankfully, that’s what largely hasn’t changed since I became a content creator (good thing, too, since that’s all I post at the moment!).  “Shorts” are a great way to get a lot of views with minimal effort, but I don’t feel that they provide the same level of adventure or learning opportunities that long-format videos do.

What challenges have you faced as a metal detecting content creator, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge is always getting enough content to make a full-length video that I feel people will want to watch.  It’s not always announced in my videos for the sake of continuity, but sometimes it can take 2-3 outings at any particular site to get enough footage for one video.  The only way to overcome this?  Dig at every opportunity, and if you’re dying for footage, bring a friend!

In terms of the technical side of content creation, I went through my first year on YouTube without the aid of a tripod and ring light.  I look back on some of my first videos and shudder at how much the camera is shaking when I’m trying to hold it still during my cut-ins (not to mention, I could be squinting into the sun from filming those cut-ins outside at the wrong time of day).  Initially, I also had some sound issues because I did not realize how much wind noise was affecting my footage until I’d pop it into my video editing program and play it back, only to find out that some clips were unsalvageable.  I’m far more cognizant about the wind now, and I use a “dead cat” slipped over the end of my phone to deaden some of the noise.  While I’d still like to replace my phone with a proper DSLR that can shoot 60fps in 4K, for now, my system is working!

Are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way that you wish you had known when you started your channel?

This is a great question, but to be honest, I don’t think I would change much about what I did in the beginning in comparison to now (minus the tripod/ring light and “dead cat”).  I had great mentors in the YouTube community from the get-go, and they helped guide me in the direction of success.  

If I were to change anything, I may have decided to diversify the channel in the beginning, because I would like to branch out to dump digging and Native American artifact hunting.  However, I’ve always uploaded videos of old finds from colonial sites, so I am not sure if my existing audience would have any interest in other types of treasure hunting.  Diversifying your channel late in the game can either hurt or help you, and unfortunately, there’s only one way to find out.  For now, I’m happy to continue uploading colonial relic hunts!

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting a metal detecting YouTube channel?

First, a few “Don’ts”:

Do not use YouTube as a platform with the sole intention of getting “famous,” making loads of ad revenue, or to land a sponsorship.  Come to YouTube with a genuine love for detecting and content creation after you have some digging experience under your belt.  Only experienced diggers can help others through their videos with machine settings or relic and coin identification.  A newbie can’t do this effectively, no matter how many YouTube videos they’ve watched leading up to their channel launch, and the audience will appreciate someone with technical and historical knowledge over someone who has no background with detecting.

And now, a few “Do’s”:

Have a plan!  Decide what your approach will be in terms of the type of content you intend to upload before your first video drops.  For example, if you plan to upload weekly, long-format videos, prepare a backlog of half a dozen videos or more in the pipeline; this will provide you with a “cushion,” should you hit a dry spell (and you will).  Brush up on your artistic skills, because engaging thumbnails are vital to your success.  For example, I spend up to 2 hours each week editing the thumbnail alone.  The ones I spend the most time on render higher views than the ones I rush through due to time constraints I’ve placed on myself.  Make the time to put out quality content that you will always be proud of, and don’t procrastinate when it comes to editing, because I can assure you that you’ll trip across many unexpected bumps in the road.  

Totally off topic from metal detecting but what products do you use to make the impressive spikes in your hair we see in your videos? 

I love this question!  It’s almost a sore subject, though, since they’ve just discontinued my beloved Joico Ice Spiker hair glue that I’ve used for over 20 years.  I’ve found a couple of viable replacements, but I’m always going to miss that hair glue (and I’m not willing to spend $70 for a 6 ounce bottle of it on eBay).  At the moment, I’m using Beyond The Zone hair glue paired with Aussie “MEGA” Hairspray.  When my hair is still wet, I apply both hair glue and hairspray, then brush and blow-dry it into an afro.  After that, I spike it meticulously with the hair glue and then seal it with the hairspray for extra hold.  

Stef’s Metal Detecting Tips

What is your favorite relic and old coin setting for the Minelab Manticore?

  • Search Mode: Either ATG or ATLC (ATLC performs very well in heavy iron)
  • Sensitivity: 20 – 24
  • Noise cancel: Yes
  • Ground Balance: Generally 0, unless it’s a particularly challenging site, in which case I use the tracking Ground Balance
  • Threshold: 0 – 5
  • Recovery Speed: 5 (this can change depending on the site, but 5 is my baseline go-to)
  • Discrimination Pattern: All Metal
  • Ferrous Limits: 9 Upper, 2 Lower (sometimes I reduce the Lower ferrous limits to 0)
  • Ferrous Volume: 3
  • Ferrous Pitch: 1
  • Stabilizer: For hunting in heavy iron, I run the Stabilizer between 4-6 without the filter.  If I’m not in heavy iron, the Stabilizer is turned off.
  • Target Tones: 5-Region All Tones
  • Audio Theme: Normal
  • Audio Profile: Simple
  • Frequency: Multi

What is your favorite relic and old coin setting for the Minelab Equinox 900?

  • Search Mode: Field 1
  • Sensitivity: 20 – 24
  • Noise cancel: Yes
  • Ground Balance: Generally 0, unless it’s a particularly challenging site, in which case I use the tracking Ground Balance
  • Threshold: 0 – 5
  • Recovery Speed: 4 (sometimes higher if necessary)
  • Discrimination Pattern: All Metal
  • Iron Bias: 4 or 5
  • Ferrous Volume: 3
  • Target Tones: 5 Tones or All Tones
  • Frequency: Multi

When it comes to researching new places to metal detect, what tools, websites, or apps do you enjoy using?

These days, I generally use maps from the 1700s through the 1850s lined up with Google Maps and play with the opacity in Adobe Illustrator to figure out what’s still standing today, or what may now be a filled-in cellar hole. 

I do not use a certain “L-named” mapping software as much as I used to (yes, it’s still frowned-upon to mention the name, I’m afraid), because in my state, so many detectorists use it that you cannot solely rely on this method and be successful – those days have long since passed us by.  99 times out of a 100, if you can see a cellar hole on “L,” the site has been hunted numerous times already.  Therefore, I try to find hidden homesites that can’t be seen on this mapping program, like filled in cellars that I find in the woods based on old maps alone.  Oftentimes, I’m also able to find cornfields with multiple razed and forgotten homesites.  After that, it’s a matter of getting permission if it’s on private property.  Thankfully, detectorists are able to hunt town land here without express permission, and I live in the country where I’m surrounded by thousands of acres of woods and cornfields, much of which are town-owned.

One app I do use pretty often is OnXHunt.  This saves me from getting lost in the woods, and it’s also a very accurate tool to determine where property lines fall so that I do not trespass onto private property by mistake.

What tips can you give for metal detecting patches of green grass in parks?

While I do not hunt parks very often, I do hunt yards from time to time.  Personally, I believe a proper metal detecting shovel is better suited to making a clean plug versus a grass knife/edge digger.  Always be sure to leave a “hinge” on your plug to ensure that the grass continues to grow once you’ve retrieved your target and flipped the plug back into the ground.  Also, be sure to cut a deeper plug than you feel is necessary, because the weight of a large plug will keep it firmly in the ground after you’ve flipped it back down.  If your plug is shallow, animals can open them up and leave a mess behind.  Do not walk away until your plug is invisible.  If you’re at a park, odds are, some people are curious and watching you, so make a good impression!

Another note: If it’s 100 degrees outside or you haven’t had rain in 2 weeks, please avoid parks and yards altogether, as there is no way to avoid killing the grass in those conditions.  Digging in dry grass will always leave a messy plug behind, standing out like a sore thumb.  Put ALL trash in your pouch instead of leaving it in the ground or on the grass.  Lastly, if an onlooker approaches you for an item return, attempt it without thinking twice.  

What tips can you give metal detecting forests?

First and foremost, be aware of your surroundings.  Keep a GPS on you (OnXHunt hasn’t failed me yet, even when I have poor cell service), and always let somebody know exactly where you are.  Pack plenty of water (I use a 2 liter water bladder in my backpack), an EpiPen if you’re allergic to bee stings or other hazards that may present themselves in the woods, toilet paper, a knife, a firearm if possible, and other survival essentials.  This may sound like overkill, but you can’t be too careful if you’re hiking out to a remote site alone.  Oh, and make sure you’re wearing durable, waterproof boots no matter what time of year it is.  

In terms of detecting sites in the forest, I generally work the outer fields (now overgrown, of course) away from the cellar hole.  I do detect the lip of the cellar hole as well, but much of the time, the lip and immediate living area have been previously detected, so I search for interesting landmarks like glacial rocks, streams, or peaks and valleys in the surrounding fields – things that would’ve been there 300 years ago, essentially.  I also try to envision where I would want to spend time if I lived out there and detect those areas.  Lastly, I detect off the side of the cart paths leading up to homesites, because a lot of coins like to hide about 6 feet from the edge of the cart path.  I believe the reason for this is because men leading oxen from one area to another would’ve walked alongside the oxen to give them space (getting stepped on by an ox sounds like a bad day to me).  Oxen seemed to be utilized the most in my area of New England, so this advice may not apply to a lot of detectorists.

If time is limited, where do you concentrate when metal detecting an older home foundation?

When time is limited, I’ll contradict my previous interview question a bit by saying that I will generally stay right on top of the cellar hole lip.  I’ll circle around several times slowly, adjusting machine settings if I feel it’s necessary, and I will have already equipped my machine with a small coil to prepare for heavy iron infestation.  

If it’s quiet (apart from iron), I’ll work between the cellar hole and the well, because this area would’ve seen a lot of foot traffic.  If no well is present, then you can be sure that a water source (usually a stream) is closeby, and unless it’s the middle of Summer where the forest is ripe with overgrowth, you should be able to see it.  So, hunting the area between the cellar hole and stream is a wise move.  If the homesite appears to have a “driveway” coming up from the cart path, I will detect that area.  Naturally, detecting along the rock walls that serve as property boundaries for the homesite is always a good idea.  

If none of those areas produce finds, I’ll determine where the backyard would’ve been and work that area.  Homesites situated directly on a cart path would’ve faced frontward toward the cart path, so that’s an easy way to determine where the backyard was.  If there’s no cart path or it’s a remote cabin site, note where the Southern exposure is, because wherever that lands is typically the front yard, not the back.  I do not know why more finds present themselves in the backyard, but that’s where a lot of stuff is hiding when all else fails.

Another Small Sample of Stef’s Metal Detecting Finds

In conclusion, Stef Tanguay’s journey in metal detecting is a testament to passion, skill, and the joy of discovery. Her exceptional abilities and genuine personality have not only propelled her to prominence in the metal detecting community but have also created a welcoming space in the online realm through her YouTube channel, “Stef Digs.” From her early days with the Garrett ACE 250 to becoming a Minelab Detexpert, Stef has not only evolved as a detectorist but has also contributed to the changing landscape of metal detecting content on YouTube. As our paths crossed through our shared involvement with the Motley Digging Tools Pro Staff Team, it became clear that Stef’s insights extend beyond her impressive finds and into the very essence of the metal detecting experience. Through this interview, we’ve delved into historical passions, lessons learned, and valuable tips that showcase Stef’s depth as a detectorist and content creator. As we continue to uncover relics and explore the world beneath the surface, Stef Tanguay remains an inspiring figure in the vibrant tapestry of the metal detecting community.

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