Discover Treasure In Your Own Backyard With These Valuable Metal-Detecting Tips

Some of the most valuable and exciting treasures uncovered around the world each year are located with the help of metal detectors. “Detectorists,” or people who enjoy metal-detecting, are always searching for artifacts that have both monetary and historic value, and many of these hunters find fortunes in their very own backyards.

Whether you’re going to stay in your own neck of the woods or are planning a treasure-hunting excursion in the future, these useful tips will help you make the most of your metal detector and increase your chances of finding something valuable.

Buy The Best Metal Detector You Can Afford

Lilly Russell, 12, of Portland and her father Will Russell investigate a spot where their metal detector pinged
Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Metal detectors come in a wide range of qualities, features, and technologies. As such, prices can vary widely. Starter models will probably set you back from about $200-$400, while top-of-the-line detectors that specialize in locating gold can cost up to $10,000!

If you scrimp on quality in your initial purchase, you’ll just have to upgrade the equipment in the future. Buy the best one you can afford, no matter how small your budget might be. After all, you just might discover something that covers your equipment cost.

Start In Your Own Backyard

Jeremy Revoy, 34, holds a Fossil watch that he found with his metal detector
Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images

While you’re first getting started with metal detecting, exploring your own backyard is a terrific way to learn how to use the equipment and play with settings.

There are plenty of examples of amateur detectorists who ended up finding treasures worth a fortune right in their own backyards or in deserted areas near their homes. Starting small can lead to neat discoveries! The Fossil watch pictured here was found by a man in a nearby park. He says it was still ticking.

One Find Can Indicate A Hotspot of Treasures

A man searches the beach with a metal detector
George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Locating one valuable item with a metal detector is a double bonus because oftentimes, you’ll find at least one more great find in the same area. This means that it’s probably worth your while to rescan the spot a few times until you’ve thoroughly investigated the entire area.

Finding multiple items together is especially common on beaches since tidal actions tend to group objects together, but can happen anywhere. Be thorough!

Master Your Sweep

Metal detector discoveries
Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images
Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images

You’ll want to be sure you’re sweeping your chosen area thoroughly, so it helps to have a system in place. Here’s a great way to make sure you’re overlapping your tracks and not missing anything that could be of value.

Select an area to focus on and walk in a straight line. Once you reach the end of the area, step a foot or two to the side, then go back the way you came. This overlap can very well help you find any fringe objects you might have missed on the first sweep.

Keep Your Expectations Low (But Your Hopes High!)

George Pultz of Camarillo shows off the treasures he found while using a metal detector
Steve Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Steve Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Although the goal is ultimately to find items of value, you’re certain to find much more trash than treasure in your hunting. Discarded items like old bottle caps, pennies, and other debris, are frequently picked up by metal detectors.

Chris Krez, a detectorist in Wisconsin, spoke with On Milwaukee about this. “You won’t find the prizes right away,” he said. “I love metal-detecting. Some days are long and it’s easy to get disappointed. I keep a good spirit and that makes things move along a lot easier.”

Hunt After A Rain

Treasure hunter Michael Thompson holding a folded Viking age silver arm-ring
Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images
Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images

Your metal detector will be much more sensitive after a rain because the ground has a higher conductivity when it’s wet.

On FriendlyMetalDetectingForum, one detectorist verified this tip. “You can detect a dry piece of land and find some targets, and then after a nice rain go back over that same ground and find many more targets,” said FrankieFry. “It’s amazing how it seems to just bring more life to the ground. You may even find you get more depth too.”

Spring Can Be The Best Time To Hunt

participants of a course how to properly use a metal detector.
Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images
Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Of course, this depends on the climate where you live. But if you’re in an area that’s cold enough to freeze during the winter months, spring is the prime time to take that metal detector out on a treasure hunt.

This is because after the winter weather has thawed off, anything left behind will be close to the surface and therefore easier to locate. Another bonus is that the weather should be quite pleasant for a day spent outdoors!

Know All Local Rules And Ordinances

CENTERVILLE, MD - DECEMBER 30: A no trespassing sign stands at
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Anytime you venture off your own property for a metal-detecting hunt, it’s vital that you learn all the rules and ordinances for the area you intend to investigate.

For example, in many states, you cannot metal detect in state parks or on state beaches. This is usually to protect the areas, which often have important historic sites where the preservation of artifacts is critical. Not obeying the law can lead to a variety of penalties including hefty fines. Do your homework first.

Safely Carry Your Finds

a bag of change from all of the random coins he has found with his metal detector in Oshawa
Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Marc McDermott of SmarterHobby recommends that detectorists wear a two-pocketed belt pouch on their excursions. One side is for trash that you find (to dispose of later) and the other is for the “good stuff” you’ve hopefully found.

And if you discover something very exciting or potentially valuable, he suggests placing it into a plastic case that you’ve filled with cotton balls or other protective material. He says that a fishing tackle box works well for this. “It doesn’t have to be fancy. You just want something that you can transport valuable finds without getting damaged,” McDermott says.

Before Digging, Do Another Sweep

Josh Turner shows the location where he found a ring
Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

This tip can save you some time and labor on an outing with your metal detector. After you hear a ping, don’t immediately start digging.

Instead, take a couple of quick moments to clear away the top level of dirt or sand. Then, do another sweep of the area where you’ve moved the soil. If the signal is gone, the trigger was probably a small piece of mineralization or trash in the dirt and not worth your time to dig.

Do Some Research If You’re Looking For Relics

metal-detecting enthusiast David Booth with a medieval seal matrix that he discovered in a field
Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images
Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images

If you’re looking specifically for relics, objects with historical significance, you have some research to do. Start out by visiting your library, city hall, and local historical society to learn about the area you intend to explore.

Historical maps and old newspapers will come in handy too and will increase your chances of finding something valuable. Once again, remember to check all local laws and ordinances before investigating a site.

Record All Your Finds

The ring was discovered on the banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland, by a metal detector enthusiast Michelle Vall
Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images
Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images

Keeping a log of your finds can be very useful. Over time, this record will enable you to see patterns in your search. It’s also a great way to evenly rotate your hunting spots.

Your log doesn’t need to be too complicated. Just record the location, date, time of day, and a description of the item you discovered. You can do this with pen and paper, a spreadsheet, or a special app – whatever works best for you.

Apps Like Google Earth Can Be Extremely Useful

A woman looks at a view of the Italian capital Rome on Google Earth
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

If you’re planning a future treasure hunting trip, you can prepare for it before you even arrive with apps like Google Earth. Researching the area’s geography and history beforehand is an important way to learn what you might discover.

And in 2014, an amateur British treasure hunter discovered a historic Bronze Age settlement without ever leaving home. He simply explored the land using Google Earth, and his discovery floored archaeologists. You don’t even need to set foot outside to make an amazing find.

Be A Respectful Treasure Hunter

Treasure hunter Walter Fritz searches for a possible treasure using a metal detector
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

This is one of the Golden Rules that metal detectorists follow. When searching for treasure anywhere, it’s important to be respectful to both people and to the land you’re on. Being respectful will also increase your odds of being welcome back on a site.

Cover up any holes you dig once you’re done checking them out. Don’t leave trash behind – in fact, it’s extra nice if you collect any garbage you find and dispose of it properly. Being respectful will also increase your odds of being welcome back on a site.

Searching For Gold

Amateur treasure hunter David Booth poses at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on November 5, 2009 with the Iron Age gold neck ornaments (torcs), dating circa from 300-100 BC, he found in September 2009 with a metal detector in a field near Stirlin
Derek Blair/AFP via Getty Images
Derek Blair/AFP via Getty Images

If you want to discover gold flakes, nuggets, and artifacts, you’ll probably need some extra equipment. First of all, it’s best to use a metal detector that’s specially made for locating gold. These models are more expensive than standard detectors but are better at pinpointing the precious metal.

You’ll also want to bring along a cup that you can use to separate any nuggets from the surrounding soil, and a rake that can help remove the top layers of soil to get a stronger signal from the detector.

Hurricanes Can Uncover Treasure From Sunken Ships

A gold bar from a wreck, discovered in the Florida Keys.
Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The days following a hurricane or any significant coastal storm are prime for treasure seekers. Most of the time, any valuable items are likely buried several feet deep in the sand. During a hurricane, however, sand is pulled out to sea. Artifacts that have been buried for decades are suddenly revealed, including coins and jewels from long-lost shipwrecks.

If you live near the coastline, a visit to the beach with your trusty metal detector can result in a nice payday. Just make sure it’s safe to go first and make sure to follow directions from the local authorities. Pictured is a gold bar from a wreck, discovered in the Florida Keys in 1985.

Try Metal Detecting At Night

A detectorist sweeps the sand on the beach with his metal detector as clouds light up
Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

It might sound counterproductive since it’s usually easier to see during daylight hours, but some detector enthusiasts enjoy conducting their searches at night. Many people find the experience of being out under the stars to be peaceful. It can also be less distracting to hunt at night, with fewer noises and people nearby.

Viewing the ground in the circle of your headlamp’s glow can also help you focus on the area and lowers the chances of overlooking items you might normally not notice. Keep in mind that it’s safest to bring a buddy along for night investigations, especially in unfamiliar areas.

Getting Permission To Explore Private Property

picturesque streets of manicured lawns and expensive homes
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Many treasures are hidden beneath the grounds of private property, including backyards in your own neighborhood. If you’re interested in what gems your neighbors’ yards might hold, reach out and see if they’ll let you come explore.

Be sure to explain that you’ll leave their lawn in the same condition you found it in. If permission is granted, then you both need to decide who will get to keep any discovered items. Typically, the detectorist will return any lost items like jewelry or family heirlooms to the property owner but is allowed to keep anything else. Get everything in writing and dig responsibly!

Use Smaller Coils In Areas With Lots Of Litter

Denver's City Park
Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images

If you’re hunting in a spot that has a lot of trash or other debris, using smaller coils will improve your metal detector’s target discrimination and help you narrow your search to items that are more likely to have some value.

For best results, the coil should be six inches or smaller in areas that are congested with litter. For reference, medium coils, from eight to 11.5 inches in diameter, usually come standard with metal detectors.

Watch Treasure Hunting And Metal Detecting Shows

gold-rush
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel

Before you even head out to your own backyard to start investigating, you can learn a lot from television shows and movies about treasure hunting. These programs can also give you some great ideas as well as get you excited about what you might find out there.

Timothy Draper of Treasures In America has some viewing recommendations for metal detecting enthusiasts, such as “The Curse of Oak Island, Gold Rush, [and] even Matthew McConaughey on Fools Gold.” There are many more out there; find some that appeal to you and get inspired!