Every metal detectorist has those great, historic spots, ever yielding great treasures – coins and relics – that we can’t help to go back to, over and over.
Most properties don’t reach that level. Most properties yield good finds, but in shorter supply than the sacred spots full of treasure.
And then there’s the properties full of promise or preconceived notions of perpetual treasure that to turn out to be devoid of anything other than can slaw, bottle caps and nails.
What do you do when faced with a property like this? You should use it as a learning experience.
“View not finding anything as a lesson and not a failure because there’s so much to be gained from not finding anything,” said Josiah Lee Henson, a metal detectorist in Byron, Illinois. “It allows you to look inward and reflect on your technique, your permission choice, your machine’s programs.”
Henson said he’s been let down countless times in his many years of metal detecting by what appears to be a great permission with the possibility of finding amazing treasures.
Metal detecting is like fishing – you have to have patience and persistence to succeed.
“Detecting old homesites can be a roller coaster,” said Dan Shay, a metal detectorist in Wheeling, W.V.
Shay said many factors can determine the success of the detector/detectorist. If Shay is at an old site, he usually seeks high signals to see what is in the ground. If he finds old trash, he will try the spot a few times. If he finds something good or many old items, then he digs every non-trash signal.
“Staying persistently patient is key in my opinion,” Shay said. “You will never find anything if you do not swing the detector and sometimes it takes digging the trash to find the treasure.”
Rob Rizzo, a metal detectorist in Oconomowoc, Wis., said varying soil conditions and equipment can lead to different results on different trips to the same location. Last summer, Rizzo detected a late 1800s farmhouse that had just been sold to the new owners. To their knowledge, it had never been metal detected.
“Needless to say, I was more than a little excited,” Rizzo said. “To my surprise the first session of detecting on a very hot, summer day, in dry ground … yielded NOTHING of consequence.”
Rizzo shared his surprise and disappointment with the owner but asked if he could return in the fall to give it another try.
“I was hoping that some different soil conditions and a different machine might produce different results,” Rizzo said. “Guess what? They did! I found an incredible amount of finds on that second trip. A different approach on a different day was all it took!”
Rizzo makes sure he is applying enough time, based on the property size to vary his detecting depth, frequency usage, coverage pattern and even type of machine before he decides to move on.
Persistence is key. Henson knows firsthand. He was detecting a cut bean field in northern Illinois in mid-December in subzero temperatures with blustery winds. He hadn’t found anything in six hours of detecting. As sundown approached, something inside me told Henson to just keep moving, don’t stop until the sun set. About 15 minutes later, he had a scratchy signal.
“I decided to go ahead and dig it and when I pried the ground open, the signal became clear as a bell and it was a U.S. large cent,” Henson said. “I nearly fainted from excitement. After the excitement, about 10 steps away, same signal and wouldn’t you know it? SAME THING! another U.S. large cent! It was at that very moment that I knew that I had just been rewarded for not giving up!”
Rizzo reminds us being granted permission to metal detect another’s property is an honor. Someone has decided to entrust us with permission to search their property in a careful and respectful manner.
“Depending on the situation there is also likely some anticipation that I’ll recover some unique or historical item that the property owner can keep or share with me,” Rizzo said. “I try to manage expectations upfront before I ever detect. I share that I am hopeful, but I communicate that we never know until we start detecting what treasures we may uncover.”
Bad detecting days are going to happen. The key is learning from them and applying that knowledge to future permissions and hunts.
It’s imperative to avoid being discouraged by these days,” Henson said. “You must forge forward, try new techniques, find better permissions, and always have other permissions lined up once you’ve exhausted all other options.”
Jim Winter lives in Platteville, Wisconsin, smack in the middle of The Driftless Area, a unique topographical region that was untouched by glaciers of the last ice age. Known as The Driftless Digger, reflecting where most of his treasure hunting takes place, Jim metal detects, bottle digs, creek walks and magnet fishes. He’s passionate about saving history, one item at a time, and passing what knowledge he can about the hobby on to others.