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Metal detecting for beginners

With some research and patience, this hobby can be profitable. Plus, it's fun.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 3, 2011 12:16PM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.


As a kid, the majority of my 10th and 11th years was spent poring over treasure-hunting magazines. I was a budding archeologist, coin collector, historian, and ghost town adventurer wrapped into one junior-sized Indiana Jones.


When I realized there was a device available that could turn any backyard into a potential dig site, I had to have one. I honed in on my parents' own proclivities toward antiquing, collecting and exploring to make my case. I petitioned them for a metal detector like most other kids my age begged for a new bike or skateboard. (See also: "100 ways to make a little extra cash.")


Since my record of past requests was fairly modest and I tended to take very good care of my things, the folks indulged me. I was the proud owner of a brand new Garrett Groundhog detector by the time I was 12. Fast-forward 30 years and I'm still detecting -- still finding small treasures and great joy in this curious pastime.


Metal detecting is often misunderstood by the general public. It's typically a solitary activity that most people look upon with a mix of curiosity and comedy. We're a varied bunch, but we generally fall into four broad groups: the mineral hunter, the relic hunter, the beachcomber, and the coin shooter.

Mineral hunters use their detectors to "mine" gold or locate other valuable minerals based on local geography. Relic hunters look for artifacts, not necessarily coins or jewelry (think Civil War enthusiasts looking for Confederate belt buckles or musket balls). Beachcombers are looking for anything of value -- modern coins, jewelry, etc. Post continues after video.

Coin shooters focus on older, more valuable U.S. coinage. Dimes and quarters produced before 1965 contain silver, while the same coins produced after 1964 are "clad" (composed of baser metals like zinc and copper).


Where's the money?

But whatever category a detectorist falls within, he's a treasure hunter through and through. As hobbies go, there are few others that can combine sunshine, fresh air, and moderate exercise with a dash of adventure and the potential for profit.


Yes, metal detecting can be profitable, but that profit is driven by research, networking, common sense, dedication, and -- of course -- a little luck. For most detectorists, every hour working a site is the result of three to four hours of research and scouting.


As a coin shooter, I look for clues all around me to determine where people once gathered because -- much like today -- where people go, coins get lost. I know that the biggest tree in the old city park was probably where most folks gathered on a hot summer day. I know the open field next to the old schoolhouse was most likely the baseball field or playground. Like all old-coin hunters, I read the remnants of stone foundations like fortune tellers read tea leaves.


And then I wait. Metal detecting is an exercise in patience and persistence. Like most things in life, the rewards are hard-won. Sites get hit by other hunters and become tapped out, remote areas get overgrown, and I'm always fighting the weather. But even on perfect days with the freshest location, successful detecting takes a zen-like calmness and steely determination.


Hours might go by with no finds, junk finds, or just a few average finds (wheat pennies, post-1964 clad coins, etc). On particularly rough hunts, it seems like I'm in the business of professionally recovering rusty bottle caps and old nails.


But then there are those rare moments -- unmatched by few things in modern life -- when I pull something of real value out of the dirt. That gleam of a silver Mercury dime (1916-1945) or, better yet, a Barber quarter (1892-1916) snaps me out of my stupor and reminds me why I devoted two hours finding the exact location of this old schoolyard and spent 45 minutes in the car to get here. I'm immediately time-warped to the day that coin was lost, and I unearth it with something close to reverence.


On particularly good days, I might pull two or three of these "silvers" from their hiding places. Once, last summer, after hearing my detector's familiar beep, I found a perfect 1865 silver dime just lying in the grass -- no digging required. Those are the moments that keep all detectorists going.


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:

Apr 19, 2013 3:19PM

I love the hobby, agree great for exercise, like medition for me, great all around hobby, found many old coins, takes patience. I also meet so many interesting people, and use this to get on some old historical sites, just get involved in your community and it will open all kinds of doors!


Geo Detecting Treasure

Aug 4, 2011 2:20PM
What they neglect to tell you is the u.s. antiquities laws, make sure you know them or the fines will be more than any treasure you'll find, example, if the coin is over a hundred years old the antiquities laws actually expect you to bring the coin to them, its illegal not to report the find, and they will confinscate the coin, also there are many places and zones you cant even bring a metal detector on the property, one of the biggest issue's we have is when hunting on someone else's property when you do find something all the sudden the a-hole in the land owner comes out, found a 1971 penny(yep worthless) but the ignorant who owned the land comes running out the door whats that whats that, gimmie, gimmie, their land, their property don't matter if it took you seven days to dig it out, the claim is theirs, you can get screwed faster than you think, and its not like you can hide what your doing most metal detectors are as long as your leg and hard to conceal, and slipknot5 has a valid point the law even though they don't have any knowledge of detector regulations will harass you to the point that you walk away, its a cool hobby and can be profitable, but the constantly watching behind your back has its disadvantages, watch the beach combers they carry a net mesh sack they don't look at what they find it goes into the bag with the dirt around it, they look at home, this sorta detours the unwanted eyes on your potential gold find, lots of tricks and quidelines to this trade, every state has a society online i'd look your states up and question them if your new and dont realise they have laws and guidelines to use the detector
Aug 4, 2011 12:28PM

1865 dime lying on the top in the grass....can only be 5 things.

1. another detectorist dug it up and missed it...two coins in a hole.

2. ground burrowing animal dug it up.

3. dime was sitting on a shallow rock all its life.

4. crack head stole it from a collection and dropped it fleeing.

5. man making wishes threw out his material prizes for wishes. 

Aug 4, 2011 1:42PM
an unmentioned hazard to this hobby is you're likely to be mugged...also police and others will harass you to the full extent of their authority...
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