Below are a collection of metal detecting tips from advanced relic hunters.
Metal Detecting & Soil Condition
Soil conditions can really make a difference when it comes to metal detecting. In highly mineralized soil, most detectors will respond erratically, causing the detector to go unstable in some cases. When the soil is super dry or even very saturated wet, will cause your metal detector to respond differently from soil that is average and not too dry or wet.
I find the best soil conditions to metal detect in is when the soil is nice and moist after a rain, and the ground isn’t completely saturated (the ground makes a slushing sound when walking), and the ground isn’t too dry. Be sure and pay close attention to the soil conditions when out metal detecting and learn the proper way to ground balance and the best settings for your metal detector depending on the type of soil in your environment.
– Detectorist Gypsy Jewels
Non-Repeatable VDI Targets
You know, those signals that just don’t solidly lock onto a VDI number, regardless of it being a 92 on a XP Deus, and 82 on a Garrett ATPro, a 35 on a Minelab Equinox, and on and on. You want to dig the signal, it is a high signal, but the VDI and tone may not “lock” on or stabilize at each pass of the coil. Here are some considerations I’ve learned through many years of trial and tribulations in the field.
Location is key, they say. If you are in an area with a lot of trash, road trash, or can slaw, like at a yard or park, I tend to discount nonrepeatable signals more often because a shredded piece of aluminum can/will be very jumpy, albeit a high and good tone. I generally walk around those in a circle and listen for the metallic screech at the end of a swing that this metal can produce. If I have any doubt, I’ll dig it, especially if the ground is wet because I’ve had several coins that sounded/acted this way in wet conditions.
Another scenario that may happen while walking around the target with the “now you see it, now you don’t” scenario. What I mean by this is if the signal disappears or falls significantly, sweeping from different directions, this is also a good candidate for leaving it where it is.
At old home sites in fields, I tend to follow the following guidelines. If there isn’t a lot of trash on a site that is an old homesite, I will tend to dig more iffy signals. If I can pull my coil a good 6” above the ground and it still gives a loud but bouncy, non-repeatable tone/reading, it is most likely large and deep iron. If it is jumpy and faint but will still lock on while walking in a circle with the coil over the target while still having the coil at the ground, I will dig those. Why you might ask, because nine times out of ten, if it is jumpy and scratchy but faint and it still bounces back over and over to a high number (on my Deus), like an 80 through 96, it has turned out to be a coin or other good non-ferrous target with a nail in the same hole (or in several cases, several nails or small bits of iron). The separation in our newer machines really does a good job of “trying” to tell us, “hey, there is a good signal here”, it is just hanging out with trash iron. We have to have trust in the machines and, when in doubt, dig it out.
– Metal Detectorists Brain Tobias
A Small Sample of Brian’s Metal Detecting Finds
When to Dig Faint Signals
I would say when it comes to deep signals, I usually always dig them. I’ve been surprised more times than not in passing them up to be missing good targets sometimes. Experience says, dig or don’t dig, and that’s just from understanding my detector and digging thousands and thousands of targets over the years I have been metal detecting. For the most part, if a little bit of me says it could be something, I dig it. A perfect example of this was recently at a park. I got a really deep clean signal and almost didn’t dig it, but part of me said dig it, and it ended up being a wheat penny in that area, I have repeatedly got the same type of targets, and they were all old coins. If I had passed up that first target, all those coins would still be there.
For those who are asking what a deep signal sounds like, a deep signal sounds different, I am sure it is slightly different on each model of metal detector. On my Minelab E-Trac it gives me a really quiet, soft tone, so it does not have a sharp sound to it. Sometimes it cuts in and out, but experience and digging those targets with your machine help to figure out what they sound like.
– Metal Detectorist – Jason Flicker
A Small Sample of Jason’s Metal Detecting Finds
Metal Detecting Trashy Yards
I have found that a smaller coil will get in between trash and find those desirable targets. Dropping sensitivity a bit is a must, too, at trashy sites. Also, if you can hit the site after a good rain, the conductivity of targets increases, making for a bit easier day of digging. You’ll have to dig trash to find treasure because some VDI’s of trash mimic good stuff like relics and coins. And that trash will hide the good stuff also. Slower your swing speed and take your time, making sure you overlap your swings. Grid the area as much as you can, and make sure to swing from every direction on that grid so you can cover that area completely. If time is limited, then you might want to discriminate ferrous metals out a bit so you dig less trash, but you’ll potentially miss some really great relics as well. Picture it like an Oreo cookie, you want to eat that icing in the middle, but you have to take the top off to get to it. The same goes for metal detecting. There may be an extensive layer of debris lying on top of the good stuff. Patience and focus will get you far, and you’ll find great stuff. Happy hunting!
– Metal Detectorists – Nicole Baurer
A Small Sample of Nicole’s Metal Detecting Finds
Finding Old Campsites to Metal Detect
When looking for any type of military or work campsite from just about any era, from the Revolutionary War period to the training camps of World Wars 1 & 2, you can expect to find those campsites scattered with what we relic hunters call “camp nails.” Up thru the Civil War and into the 1890s, these nails are typically about 2 and one-half inches long and square in nature with blunt tips. Newer relic hunters encounter them by the hundreds and see them as a great hindrance to making good finds. In the case of the tens of thousands of camps whose exact location is not known, These nails give a relic hunter walking many acres of land trying to find these camps his or hers first indication that they are coming into the area where the campsite is located. There tend to be many times more of these iron nails in a campsite than high-value metal targets like brass buttons and buckles and coins. If a relic hunter turns off the iron audio on their detector so they do not hear these nails, they might well walk right through the campsite they are looking for and never know it is there because they did not hit a non-ferrous target. Hearing and digging two or three of the square camp nails gives the detectorist a pretty solid indication that they have found a campsite. They can then slow down and map the limits of the camp area by the nail signals that are found all over it. Once the scattered nail signals reveal the size of the camp, they can then begin to carefully work every square foot of it and great relic finds will start to appear and keep coming for many an enjoyable hunt. The more nail signals there are, the longer the camp existed and the more great relics and coins there are to find.
– Metal Detectorists and Civilwar Expert Dorian Cook
The above shows a civil war soldier with food crates and where they were nailed. The maroon dots represent the heads of the nails. This is why so many nails are found on civil war campsites. The soldiers burned the empty supply crates for wood and the nails got scattered in the process of breaking up the crates. Farmers plowing scattered them more over the years.
Adjusting Ferrous Setting
On the Minelab Manticore, I take my normal iron trash I find on my sites. Run them under my coil. I watched exactly where they came in on the ferrous upper limit. Then I adjusted my upper limits to that mark. Then I delete that upper limit. Now it still shows on the screen, but you never hear it. With the Minelab Equinox 800 at a couple of my metal detecting permissions, I have been fighting 1800s square nails. They ring in as silver most times. With the Minelab Manticore with the sensitive Ferrous Setting, I can screen out square nails and find other targets.
The Minelab Manticore really shines in Ferrous setting. However, other detectors, such as the Minelab Equinox 800 square rusted nails, would be screaming at me and masking other good targets. With the upper limit set properly on the Minelab Manticore, it shows the nails, but you don’t hear them.
Another way to put it is I basically eliminated 80% of my iron trash. It will still be false some, but that’s when you watch the screen 2nd screen on the Minelab Manticore. Because the dot is walking down toward the center, linen Indicates you might have a good target.
For My very trashy sites beyond adjusting the Ferrous settings, I also drop sensitivity down. You no how trashy my sites are. I run no higher than 18max. The Minelab Manticore is a very powerful detector. 18 will pick up very deep targets.
– Metal Detectorists Ryan McKnight
Relic Hunting and the Right kHZ (Frequencies)
When relic hunting, we encounter sites with an extreme amount of targets. Relic hunting is often associated with sites of age and consists of a lot of iron, and can be extremely difficult to detect. Using a Simultaneous Multi Frequency detector allows you to hear a larger range of target sizes and metals. This can be overwhelming and time consuming to get through but most effective.
Using a Low frequency is great for getting depth and finding higher conductors like copper, brass, and silver. Using higher frequencies are great for finding the smaller, finer items along with low conductors like gold, but it does lack in depth compared to what the lower frequencies have. In some situations, a single frequency can help cherry-pick a few relics from some extremely noisy sites.
In areas that have a deep sink rate and loaded with iron at different depths, I may choose a lower frequency, for example, 5 kHz. Low frequencies travel further, and many coins and relics are made from good conductor materials like copper, brass, and silver. The fact that lower frequencies don’t pick up lower conductors well, it helps with iron, it can really reduce the amount of signals heard but can miss some smaller targets or low conductors like lead and tombac.
When using a mid-range frequency example, 15-20 kHz, it has a balance of depth, conductivity, and target size. Some small lower conductors are now being heard.
When using a higher frequency, even though it does well with small and low conductors, it still has less depth. I find when dealing in areas with a lot of surface iron, 40 kHz really allows copper relics to stand out. At these locations, I know the depth is not as important, and running a higher frequency can also reduce the amount of signals heard.
There is always a give and take when using a single frequency, but sometimes it really helps to quiet down a location, allowing more desirable targets to catch your attention.
– Metal Detectorist Laurie Gagne
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.