The Ultimate Guide to Metal Detecting For Beginners

3 Men metal detecting in a field

How to Get Started with Metal Detecting – Everything You Need to Know (And Some Stuff You Really Don’t?

You’ve seen that seemingly crazy old guy skimming the sandy beaches in your area, with his metal detector beeping at a steady pace. 

Then suddenly it sets off on a particular spot as if in a eureka moment, prompting the man to dig with his fingers and picking up what looks like a coin or some random metal.

Metal detecting has been an entertaining hobby for a lot of people. And it is easy to see why. 

There have been astonishing finds over the years, ranging from the Anglo-Saxon gold haul found in 2009 to a 500-million dollar worth of gold and silver coins referred to as the Black Swan Project. 

While the latter took a large scale business organization which is Odyssey Marine Exploration for its discovery,  many reports of unearthing precious gold coins and artifacts by ordinary hobbyists have surfaced (pun intended) over the years.

When you find something of historical value, you become appreciative of their corresponding events from the very distant past.  You are eager to know what they were used for back then, who created those items, and why they were buried in that particular location where they were discovered.

You’ll be fascinated to know that most metal detecting purists are not in it for the prospective monetary windfall (although that happening won’t be so bad after all).

Instead of cashing in, they often turn their finds into precious keepsakes.

One example was the thirty 24-carat gold bars that were intentionally hidden by a German artist in Folkestone beach in UK as part of the town’s art festival in 2014. 

Like a modern-day gold rush, metal detectorists and even regular folks consequently flocked to the said beach hoping to find at least one gold bar. While several bars have been retrieved, a few more are still waiting to be resurfaced to this day.

And of course, there are unexpected finds that are the sweetest of them all.  But remember that metal detecting is not only about treasure hunting.

Not everyone will be lucky enough to come across a ginormous gold nugget.  Just like winning the lottery, you may not win the jackpot and walk away with a minor prize instead, or maybe nothing.

Aside from learning history, metal detecting is also a good physical activity – your arms can burn after hours of swinging a 3-pounder metal detector and walking at the same time.

Another bonus is making friends along the way, doing what you do can be a conversation starter for the curious cat.

If you are serious about learning more about this hobby, there are a number of things you need to know before considering it.

If you’re the naturally curious, inquisitive kind who likes to do something fun in his/ her spare time, then that could be a good starting point. 

Instead of hunting Pokemons or other virtual treasures using your mobile app, why not take your chance at serendipity with invaluable metal coins and other interesting finds. 

Getting Started With Metal Detecting

Doing Your Research

Should you be out there just to pass time or simply have fun, you can skip this part if you wish. Finding recent coins or buttons could be enough to make your trip worth it. 

However, research prior to actual fieldwork will surely help you a lot when you want to go full-on with metal detecting.  This way, your chances of finding a nice haul will be pretty high.

Most people would prefer a 100-year old relic to a pocket full of quarters.

Libraries and Historical Societies

Mysterious old library with dusty books

Go to your city’s public library or historical societies to read on old maps, old newspapers, and local history books

I’m sure your librarian will be more than happy to lend you these old materials which may be in microfilm format especially with niche localities.  Such are usually kept under lock and key. 

For a small fee, you can even borrow these microfilm materials from out of state library sources if you really want to dig at it (and you already have prior research as to the specific dates and newspapers you are after).  Local historical societies are great sources of information as well. 

You can even ask for any treasure guide a particular state might have.  If it is not available, you will most probably be able to get it from metal detecting equipment suppliers. You can browse through metal detecting magazines, too.

There you can find historical sites, battlegrounds, marching routes, local folklore, among many others.  You will be amused by all the data they have yet you will be bummed to discover that most of them would require special permits if not restricted to metal detecting enthusiasts like you.

Online Resources

Check online resources as an accessible alternative

Thankfully, the internet is also a treasure trove of historical information just as long as you know which sites are trustworthy sources. 

One would be which enables you to overlay an old map of a certain location on its new map version. This way you can identify which houses once stood on certain spots which no longer exist in the present day. 

Who knows, curios may have been buried there all along.

For old newspapers, you can check out the eponymous site which is a paid online tool. It is capable of providing results using narrower keyword searches like family name, place or particular event. 

Their archives however mostly contain newspapers from large publications. Meanwhile, you can get historical books such as “The Images of America” and treasure guides via

Elder Folk

Who better to talk about history than those who have lived through it all. Especially when you are after Civil War relics, the oldest members of the community may give you valuable and useful info.

You wonder though if you could trust their stories which could contain distorted memories. 

Don’t discount the fact that the elderly can retain vivid recollection from their childhood, knowing which houses stood once in which locations and other brief yet important histories in the town they came from.

Finding The Right Metal Detector

It’s pretty obvious what a metal detector is for.  The question is, which is the right one for you.  All metal detectors will detect metal below the surface.

But what makes a $120 dollar device different from the one that costs over $2,000 dollars? 

Offhand, there are more bells and whistles to the more expensive one for sure.  Let’s say there’s one gold coin and 2 rusty screw nails buried deep in the ground. 

Both $120 and $2000 detectors will tell you that there is metal underneath but the more expensive metal detector will be able to indicate that there is a gold coin and 2 worthless nails while the cheaper detector will not be able to distinguish the coin from the rest.

There are also detectors built for special purposes, like working underwater, on beaches or specifically designed to find gold.

Since we are discussing this topic under the assumption that you are not yet into metal detecting, I will provide below the best brands according to the enumerated categories and their corresponding features.

Accessories and Other Helpful Tools

Metal detector accessories

Alongside your metal detector, you will need other items that will facilitate your metal detecting trips. 

These include:


it aids your metal detector by being more specific to the location after you dig your hole or plug.  It will beep once it has targeted your object within several inches.  This way, your digging will be more efficient and as a result, you will have better yield at the end of the day. 

Best recommendation: Garrett Pro Pointer AT


you will need this to create your plugs which will create holes on the ground where you normally stick in your pinpointer.  It’s basically one big knife with a serrated blade that enables you to dig neatly on the ground and cut roots along the way.

Best recommendation: Lesche Digging tool

Carry Bag

This is better than a backpack as it conforms to the shape of your metal detector.  Those ugly fanny packs will also be great with your other stuff as they can be accessed easily in front of you. You can also put in there your emergency kit and other items such as sunscreen, gloves, whistle, spare batteries, Swiss army knife, etc.


Most entry-level detectors don’t come with this accessory.  You can just use the one you already have so you can isolate outside noises and hear the beeps clearly which you heavily rely on more than the provided info on the digital screen of your metal detector. 

Additional Coils

Your metal detecting game is strong when you start bringing these.  To achieve optimal results, you may need different coils for different types of locations. 

For open fields or large spaces, you will need a bigger coil which is heavier than usual.  In urban locations where trash is present, a double D-configured coil is preferred.


This is an optional accessory to protect your coil from dings and scratches and prolong its effectiveness. You can get it cheap for about 10 dollars.

Metal Detecting Rules and Regulations

Man using metal detector on the beach

Your metal detecting hobby may seem innocuous to you however, as they say, ignorance of the law will excuse no one.  Violations can have irreversible consequences such as confiscating your paraphernalia, paying of fines, and worse, going to jail for it.  So breaking the law is never an option

As a rule of thumb, always check with corresponding authorities in your state when you want to do metal detecting in a land that you don’t personally own.  Private property or land, city parks, beaches, and public schools are good spots provided you have permission to do so.

For private property, simply get approval from the registered owner. It is often you will find owners that are iffy about metal detecting especially if they don’t know much about it. This is where the power of your charm will come handy. 

Explain your digging process and assure them that you will only do so if anything of interest to you is detected by your machine. 

Of course, you will also leave the dug spot as if it was never touched on in the first place. 

Not only are you being a good human being, but this will also facilitate your reentry to the same property if in case you wanted to go back.

Contact the local government if you plan to hunt at a local or city park. Best to explain your metal detecting procedures and assure the person of authority that you will not do anything to damage the land.

For state property such as archaeological sites and state forests, you will need to secure a state permit.  A federal permit will then apply to national parks, military bases, wildlife conservation areas, etc.

Realistically, getting permits on this level may be difficult given the restrictions as set by the Antiquities Act, ARPA (Archeological Resources Preservation Act) law, among others that are applicable in several states. 

One of these is that any artifact that is 100 years or older cannot be dug up on such public lands.  In case it turns up, you need to inform authorities accordingly.

There has been an ongoing debate on how stifling and outdated these nuances on the laws are and how archaeologists are manipulating access to themselves. 

But, until a new law has been passed, needless to say, we are bound by the current rules.

Observing Protocols

Here is a look at the current code of ethics by metal detectorists:

  1. Always get a verbal or better yet, written consent from the owner or administrator of the location you will be hunting on
  2. Respect other people’s property, do not trespass
  3. Get to know state and federal laws when hunting on public sites
  4. Do not break archaeological artifacts
  5. Fix the holes and plugs you’ve made during your metal detecting activity
  6. Do not leave trash on the site you’ve worked on
  7. Be courteous to people you meet along the way
  8. Your footprints should be the only thing you will leave behind
  9. Avoid digging dry soil grounds
  10. Cover holes entirely when relic hunting
  11. Inform local historian for any item that has historical significance
  12. Advise police for any deadly weapon find
  13. Make sure to keep gates in the state you found them (open or closed)
  14. Use the right digging tool to minimize intrusion on the property
  15. Leave cemeteries alone
  16. Do not disturb animals in the area
  17. Never tamper signs or contaminate water areas
  18. Pick up trash you may see as you go along

Best Places to Find Treasure with a Metal Detector

Research is the key to finding the best spots to hunt. Places where old homesteads and trails used to be often turn up good finds. Just about any place where people go will turn up something.

Places that haven’t been searched before are ideal, but there are many stories of people going over places that were just hunted over and finding good stuff.

Kids have learned about metal detecting by following behind another metal detector and digging up the same holes- and finding all the things that were missed!

Most American coins made before 1965 were 90% silver. Coins dated 1965 and later contain no silver.

So, Coin Shooters try to find areas that were inhabited before 1965. The trick is to find somewhere that is not off-limits to metal detecting.

Any historical parks, sites, or monuments are usually off-limits. Wherever you metal detect, you need to have permission.

You can get permission from the owner or care-taker of private property. For public property, go through the city or state. City Halls often give-out free permits.

1. Old homesteads are classic places to search. So many people have found amazing things from searching them: buried treasure boxes with money and jewelry, jars filled with old coins, or just stray coins. If you know someone who owns a farm where an old house is, or once was, ask if you can go over it. The owner will probably give you permission simply because they are as curious about what you might find as you are.

2.“Treasure” is a tricky one, because one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Things that were considered rubbish years ago can even end up in museums today. Old campgrounds and children’s summer camps often turn up good finds. Think about how neat it would be to find an old pocket-knife.

3. Swimming areas are good places to find jewelry because it falls off in the water. Saltwater and sunscreen both make skin slippery, and rings fall off all the time. Sometimes a ring will have an engraving and the finder is able to return it to a grateful owner, but most often the rings get added to a collection.

4. Any abandoned areas are worth searching, even trailer parks. Developers buy up property and they don’t mind you searching over it because it is all going to just be demolished for new construction.

5. Towns and cities build up around waterways, often rivers. Searching along the rivers in and around towns and cities can turn up things from long ago which were lost and waiting to be found. You almost need to think, “Where would I be if I were a long lost coin?”

6. If you want to find old things, you have to go to old places. Churches are regularly some of the oldest buildings in any community. As long as you are respectable, they don’t usually mind you searching the property. Quite often they are large properties too; just make sure you stay out of the graveyard part if there is one.

7. Schools are another place, but you have to find the old schools. Sometimes old schools are now private residences. This is a place where some research definitely pays off.

8. Any abandoned buildings you come across could yield treasure. Oftentimes, along older highways that were once more major routes, you will find cottages that used to be rented out but are now all boarded up. You will also see gas stations that haven’t been operational for years. Who knows what is hiding under that overgrown grass, or that gravel driveway. The owners might think you are crazy to waste your time searching, but they will probably let you.

9. People didn’t use to go to public pools to swim, they used to go to lakes and swimming holes. The farm with the pond in the middle of the field with the diving board that you always wondered, “Whoever used that?” Go and see what you can find.

10. Any place where people used to gather outside, an old drive-in movie lot, or a town square, all of these are places where you can find things from the past. Although searching public parks and beaches which are frequented today might yield more loot, a single thing found from a time past can hold much more value.

How to Use a Metal Detector- Ten Tips

A metal detector is an investment. Knowing how to use yours properly will help you to get the best return for both your time and money.

Metal detecting can be a pleasurable pastime, a profitable hobby, and a useful tool. Metal detectors have been used to detect landmines, discover weapons (to prevent people from crossing borders with them), and locate bullets (for surgical removal).

Mine detectors are also used in archaeology and prospecting.

There are many different types of metal detectors with a variety of beeps, noises, and settings. Learning to use your specific model will give you the best experience and ensure that your machine is well taken care of.

1. Figure it out

All metal detectors come with manuals. Read through the manual comprehensively. You need to know certain things, like how to “ground balance” and when to do this.

2. Test it out

The best way to become familiar with your new machine is to give it a test run. Try using different settings. You remember more of something you have actually done than just something you have read. As you go through the manual, test out your metal detector and make sure that you understand how each setting works.

3. Try it out

Take your metal detector out for a test run. See how it performs out in the field. When you go out searching, make sure to follow an ordered path, as opposed to a random one. This way you won’t miss any spots.

4. Get familiar with the beeps

This means learning to use the “discriminator.” Metal detectors can be set to make different beeps when they detect different metals.

Play with the settings and get familiar with the signals. You will need to train your ear to notice the difference in the sounds.

You can begin doing this by placing various metal objects around an area and then detecting them. The more practice you get, the more accomplished you get.

5. Get used to wearing headphones

The majority of metal detectors have speakers, but there are benefits to wearing headphones.

Depending on where you are detecting, there can be many other noises to distract you. If you are out on a beach by the ocean, there might be the noise of the wind. If you are in a public place, there might be people talking or noises like traffic.

Wearing headphones will help you to focus on the sounds coming from your metal detector. It will also reduce the number of curious people coming up to talk to you about what you are doing.

6. Bring tools

Think about what you might want or need while you are out.

The basic tools to bring with you are gloves, knife, probe, trowel, shovel, and ground cloth. You can carry all of these things with you in a tool belt to make them easily accessible. The gloves protect your hands.

The knife and probe are used to specifically locate something you hit on. Cut the ground with the knife, and use the probe to pinpoint the exact location. The probe will cut in half the time it takes to dig out your treasure- or junk.

Yes, you will encounter lots of junk. Have a pocket, or bag, designated for the junk you find, which you can later throw in the trash. The trowel and shovel are simply for digging up more ground.

The ground cloth is just a piece of cloth, although you can buy ones specifically for metal detecting which have hooks and handles on them. When you dig up the dirt, put in onto your ground cloth.

This makes it easier to find your object of interest in what you have dug up, and it also makes it much easier to transfer the dirt back into the hole it came from.

If you are new to metal detecting, you might also want to get a cover for your coil. These only cost about $10 and protect your coil from damage.

When you are starting out, it takes a while to learn to maneuver the machine without scraping it on the ground too much.

Replacing the cover is much less costly than replacing other parts, so it is worthwhile. These covers make your detector slightly heavier and also reduce the amount of depth you get.

For these reasons, many people don’t like the cover.

7. Don’t go full-throttle all the time

The sensitivity setting controls the power, or depth, that the machine detects. Depending on the environment, though, high sensitivity can frustrate your search.

Constant beeps can drown out an important beep. Do not just put this setting on full and leave it there; it is adjustable for a reason.

Turning down your sensitivity will get rid of some of your false signals.

8. Be aware of false signals

Sometimes the amount of something, such as iron, in the ground can send false signals to your detector.

Ground balancing can often get rid of these false signals. Turning down the sensitivity is sometimes the best option though. Metal detectors can be sensitive to things other than metal.

Salt, for instance, can interfere with a signal. Working at an ocean beach would be an instance where this would be a consideration. Turning down the sensitivity can stabilize the signal.

9. Try different coils

Depending on where you get your metal detector, you might not be able to try it before you buy it.

If you can’t test out various ones, then do a bit of research and figure out what you think might suit your needs best.

Smaller coils are lighter and easier to carry around. Smaller coils also get to the goods among other targets better.

Larger coils cover more distance and get more depth, but they can’t get into hard to reach places. Serious searchers will often pack more than one coil size or type.

Knowing what type of treasure you are hunting will also help to determine the type of detector you get.

10. Know the dangers

You might come across some unforeseen problems when you go treasure hunting. Some people go out at night to avoid traffic, noise, and other distractions.

At night, though, there are different creatures out and about. You might encounter a skunk, which isn’t too bad unless you surprise it!

If you are a night-time hunter, some night vision might come in handy.

Some other dangers to be aware of are: boards with nails, abandoned wells, used needles, sunburn, glass, wire, fire ants, wasps, snakes, bears, and poison ivy/poison oak.

About the Author

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap