Getting started in metal detecting

How to get started in metal detecting without spending too much money, or doing anything illegal.
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Getting into metal detecting allows you to trek off the beaten path while searching for the treasure of yesteryear, or yesterday. If you like slot machines and hiking, metal detecting might be the perfect middle ground. Also, if you’re like me and are a radio nerd, metal detecting involves learning much of the same technology.

While I have a strong understanding of electromagnetic frequencies and exploring the great outdoors, I’m not an avid metal detector. So I asked Todd, a metal detecting expert, to review this article.

This is what you should know to get started in metal detecting … in 5 minutes.

How a metal detector detects metal

Similar to how radio waves radiate energy towards a tower, metal detectors operate by sending energy into the ground. Anything that picks up that energy will subsequently give it off, therefore being “detected” by the metal detector.

The right metal detector to buy

Metal detectors come in a number of different forms; from the ones you walk through in the airport to the versions you see people prospecting with on the beach. I’m assuming you’re looking for information on the latter—a metal detector that allows you to scan the ground in front of you and to seek out potentially valuable objects in not so visible places.

You could conceivably spend anywhere from $200 to $2,500 on a metal detector.

Metal detectors can vary in price based on several factors:

  • Resistance to water
  • Depth (how far can it “read” into the ground
  • Weight (who wants to carry a heavy metal detector around all day?)
  • Accuracy
  • Accessories
  • Discrimination

A great mid to high-end option would be the  XP Deus (below), which Todd owns and operates.

The XP Deus metal detector. MSRP is $1,299 with everything included in the photo above.

Know what metal you’re trying to detect

The right metal detector for you is heavily dependent on where you’ll be prospecting. Metal detectors come in different forms based on the landscape and environment in which they’ll be operating.

Some metal detectors are better for finding coins while others are meant for beach (water) operations. Very low frequency metal detectors are the most common form of detector, but may not be sufficient for someone looking for gold (gold is best found with a higher frequency detector).

Relic Hunting

Relic hunting is a very popular phrase used in metal detecting and refers to the search for mainly historical artifacts or old “relics.” Relic hunting Is somewhat more popular outside of the US, as the United States obviously doesn’t have the vast history of Europe or Asia when it comes to precious metal goods.

A relic metal detector is usually just a fancy way of saying a more premium metal detector beyond an entry level version. Relic metal detectors have target features to distinguish between coins and precious metals, as opposed to scrap, making it less likely you’ll dig up garbage and allowing relic hunting to be more enjoyable.

Features you want to have

We mentioned that your mileage may vary when finding the right detector depending on what metals you want to detect. But by and large, these are the features you should be looking for in any metal detector:

Good target identification and discrimination

When metal detecting, you’re going to come across a lot of scrap metals and junk. Target identification and discrimination are the metal detector’s ability to alert you when it believes it’s found something of value. Positive and negative feedback is usually dictated by pitch on a metal detector. A detector with good target identification will produce a more discernible sound when hovering over an object of value (like a gold coin).

How does it do this? Many metal detectors have programmed modes where you tell it to target coins. While the LED visual readout may register other metals, it will only give you an audio signal when it believes it has found coins. This signal is based on the frequency signal the metal detector is giving off (remember coins are more easily identified through higher frequencies).

Durability

You’re going to be taking your metal detector to some remote places. Extreme temperatures, wet climates, lot of rocks and debris are going to be common elements that you want peace of mind knowing your metal detector can handle.

Do metal detectors detect all metal?

Yes and no. A good metal detector is meant to detect all metals AND communicate to you what’s worthy of digging up opposed to what’s likely just garbage. Metal traces or metal dug too far into the ground are unlikely to be detected. As a rule of thumb, most metal detectors can dig anywhere from 6 to 12 inches, with advanced metal detectors can dive a foot or more.

Where you can’t metal detect

The American Antiquities Act of 1906 predates metal detector technology, but states no one can excavate or remove property on Federal Land. State Parks are also off-limits, with some states requiring permits. Detecting will usually involve a fair amount of digging. So as a rule of thumb, be cognizant of the nature of the land you’re impacting. For instance, a public beach is usually going to be fair game as you’re not changing sand by digging in it.

Private property will always be off-limits unless you have permission from the owner. And as common sense, don’t leave holes open that you may dig up during your metal detecting.

What to take with you

Metal detecting can take you to some incredibly remote places, which can most of the time be the point. While the escape metal detecting provides can feel cathartic, running into wildlife while venturing off the beaten path can be disconcerting.

Forgetting your sunscreen or running out of water while you lose track of how far you’ve strayed from your car is not a varsity move.

In addition to buying the right metal detector, these are must brings on any metal detecting journey where you anticipate not being around a lot of people:

  1. First aid kit
  2. Self-defense (knife, bear spray, or potential firearm if around large animals)
  3. Food/water
  4. Radio (in addition to your cell phone)
  5. Long pants/hat
  6. Sunscreen

Final Minute

There might be nothing nerdier then setting out into the middle of nowhere and trying to detect precious metals—and I say this as someone who is a certified Ham radio operator. But that is one of the traits that makes it so special and unique. To those getting into metal detecting to make money, your guess is as good as the next person as to how profitable your adventures may be.

From making a little coin to putting some of your radio savvy to use, the benefits of metal detecting are numerous. Like ham radio, metal detecting offers people the chance to join a community who share a love for a somewhat unique technology. Metal detecting might just be the perfect ticket for those who enjoy exploring the outdoors, but would like to interact a bit more with their environment.

This article was written by:

Todd is a jack-of-all trades who is an expert medical detector, laser show technician, search and rescue volunteer, ham radio operator, and award-winning video producer. Follow him on Twitter @ToddRoy for everything from odd riddles to metal detecting videos.

Paul is the Founder & Editor of in5minutes.com. He is a Certified Salesforce Marketer, FAA Drone Pilot, HSK Chinese Speaker, Ham Radio Operator, NASM Personal Trainer, and Certified Canon operator amongst other things. He hosted and produced the first original programs for Hulu and Twitch and helped launch a pilot program for teaching soft skills to incarcerated students. He currently runs content marketing for an aerospace company in Los Angeles. If you'd like to request a consultation, contact Paul here.

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