How To Use a Metal Detector


Metal detecting is often interesting and potentially very rewarding activity. The ground of different areas hides many secrets and discoveries of various treasures are possible. These happen on a daily basis and people who metal detect often find many interesting items. However, it is necessary to know some important things in order to avoid trouble. Not all countries have the same laws regarding this matter, but you have to know if you have a legal right to metal detect in some particular places.

The very basic guidelines on how to get started with your detector are, first assemble the metal detector, (covered below) then add batteries and power it on. Select your mode setting, for what you want to search, iron, gold, silver, etc. Then select any advanced settings your particular type of detector may have, finally do a ground balance, and start detecting.

Metal detecting is not hard, and you can start as a beginner by learning in small yards and local areas until you master techniques and methods. When you complete that step, you can then transfer to more complex metal detecting tasks. In the article below, you can find out some important things and details every beginner should know so that’s definitely a good reason to continue reading.

Basics of Getting Started

When assembling the metal detector, most just have you attach the search coil to the bottom of the lower shaft, making sure you wrap the cable attaching the top of the metal detector to the coil.  Wrapping the cable will help prevent false readings. Some metal detectors will have you connect the armrest and connect all the shaft pieces together and then add the search coil. Just make sure you follow the specific directions for your model.

Once it is all connected you need to add in your batteries, normally just some double As, and then turn it on.  Most detectors have basic mode settings where you can detect either all types of metal or you can fine-turn and only search for gold or silver.  Normally if you get a higher-end type of detector like a Garrett GTI 2500 you will have some more advanced settings to adjust as well, ground balancing, setting noise, thresholds, setting discriminations, and sensitivity.

Ideally, if you have a local metal detecting group you can visit or join there will be people there that would be more than willing to take you out and walk you through getting started and show you the techniques of getting started.  I have a list of clubs in each state, and I try to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

If you do not have that option, there are a few safe places you can start out and practice. Start with your own backyard, if that is not an option try a local park that is close to you.  Most towns will not have an issue with people metal detecting in their local parks, but some will require you to have a permit which you can normally get from your local town for around $10 or so.

One other option is BLM lands. With BLM land you can freely detect without any issues at all. You can get online and look up BLM lands close to you, or I use an app called OnX Hunt Map App. It is mainly used by hunters to find public or private land to hunt on and it provides contact info for the landowner, but it also shows you BLM lands as well.

Once you are out and ready to get started you will want to ground balance your metal detector, unless it has an automatic ground balance feature built-in.  Ground balancing is normally done by holding down the ground balance button on your detector and then quickly pumping your detector up and down close to the ground until the signal noise fades away.

Ground Balancing the Garrett AT PRO

Different Metal Detector Models

As you may know, there are different metal detectors on the market so you have to select the most appropriate one for your needs. Not all have the same capabilities and specifications so the results might vary, depending on the circumstances. When you already have a metal detector, it is also necessary to know its strengths and weaknesses. That’s how you can maximize efficiency while achieving the best results.

For example, some metal detectors are waterproof (Like the Garrett AT Pro) so you can use these on river banks and beaches where the situation requires entering into the water. You cannot, of course, go too deep because, however, you can metal detect some areas that are covered with shallow water. Still, you would not be able to perform such an activity with a metal detector that does not have water protection, and that’s one of the reasons why you have to understand your device properly.

Some other specifications are also very important and can save you a lot of time and energy during the process. For example, the heaviness of metal detectors is not the same all the time, and some of these items weigh more, others less. It is definitely good to use a lightweight model because the exploration sometimes can take hours, and you would reduce the strain that a heavy device can cause to your hands and body.

Not all of these devices have the same shape. Some are, for example, developed for kids (Like the Garrett Ace 200) and they have limited capabilities appropriate to the activities of this group of users. Others are made for beginners to intermediates, such as the Garrett AT Pro. Those metal detectors are pretty good but still not the strongest types on the market.

However, they are generally very easy to use so you can master the skills pretty fast with the help of one of such devices. And there are, of course, metal detectors developed for experienced diggers. Those devices usually provide a list of excellent features.

Quality devices usually provide several important things when it comes to settings. They give you a chance to make an appropriate selection during exploration. For example, it may happen that you investigate the area with a lot of trash so you can adjust the settings to avoid items made of materials such as iron. Although, if you want to find cool items like this 50lb chunk of metal from the treads of an old Caterpillar D8H Crawler Tractor / Dozer (1958-1974) that we found and dug up, you will need to have the iron setting turned on.

Quality metal detectors also give you a chance to adjust the appropriate detection mode. It can also help you avoid useless items while discovering only important ones including jewelry, coins, and other potentially valuable artifacts made of metal. For example, if you are at a beach, you may only want to turn on just the gold setting to find only rings, or you may want silver turned on as well to find coins and other types of jewelry.

You should also be able to set up the appropriate sensitivity of your device in accordance with the type of ground where you perform the explorations. For example, higher sensitivity can help you to find out more, however, it is even better to lower the sensitivity if the ground is full of inappropriate iron. Again if you are on a beach, turning the sensitivity way up will help you in finding things much deeper in the sand. If you have a good sand scoop digging through the sand is very easy. 

There are handheld plastic scoops, and there are full-length metal scoops that work similarly to shovels. They both have larger holes to let the sand fall out quickly while keeping your treasures inside the scoop. All you need to do is shake them and then the sand will fall right out, and if you are close to the water you can dip the scoop into the water and the sand will fall out even quicker. Since sand is fairly easy to dig through you can dig deeper than you normally would if you were in a park. 

Normally in a park, you are not allowed to just dig holes all over, you are normally only allowed to use the probe method.

To find out more about the ground and area, you can test these with and without your metal detector. It is usually not a hard thing to achieve for some more experienced investigators. They know from past events what they can expect just by performing fast testing of a location. In some locations, the ground can be extremely hard, and you will have a very hard time digging for what you are looking for, especially if you only have a small hand shovel with you.

You should also test your device before every search. That’s how you will know everything is working properly, and you will not make a blind exploration. You can, for example, bury several metal items at different places in the ground and then let your metal detector find them. That’s not going to be a problem if your device is working properly so you can be sure everything is alright with the device.

Batteries, batteries, batteries. Always make sure you have plenty of extras.  Metal detectors normally do not just burn through batteries quickly, but if you have just driven hours to get to your location and you are out in the middle of nowhere on BLM land with no towns or stores close by and your detector dies and you need batteries, that can put a huge damper on your trip.

Additional Equipment

A metal detector is definitely the most important part of the equipment, however, there are also other additional items that are quite necessary for this kind of activity. They can help you increase the efficiency of the explorations while protecting your body and health at the same time.

The ground, for example, can contain a lot of unexpected potentially harmful items. Some of these might even harm you during digging so it is definitely recommended to use some pieces of protective equipment.

Durable and strong gloves are probably the most important when it comes to that matter. Dex Fit gloves are excellent for this, they come in many sizes and colors and are very reasonably priced. They can keep your hands safe while exploring the ground. There is nothing like using your hands to brush away dirt only to find out that the metal you have been digging for has a very sharp edge and you just sliced your finger open.

Protective knee pads are also necessary to have, any style or brand will do, however, the Bodyprox protective knee pads just slip on very easily without any straps to deal with. Even if you are younger and think, “oh I can get down on my knees just fine.” Getting up and down close to 100 times if you are out detecting for the afternoon will certainly do a number on your knees, especially if you didn’t notice that rock in the grass that is now pressed hard into your knee and you bend down to start digging. They can keep your knees safe during digging so you will not have to worry too much about the potentially problematic surface of the ground.

Headphones are also useful during exploration, normally when you buy a metal detector it will come with a set of headphones. If you buy a set there are many different brands to choose from. Ideally, it is best to buy the brand of headphones that match your metal detector. Sometimes, the sounds from surrounding areas, such as highways, can prevent you from hearing metal detector signals.

You would then lose a chance to discover some potentially valuable artifacts and items. Headphones are also very useful in places such as parks and beaches. They not only drown out the noise of kids playing or the sounds of the ocean, but it is also just polite to keep all the constant beeping from disturbing everyone around you. You may or may not care, since you are out in a public area, but it is just polite and respectful to have headphones on when you are around a lot of other people. That’s why you should have a pair of quality ones.

One other thing to keep in mind when you are at a beach or a park, kids. More times than not you will have a kid or kids come over and watch you and want to know what you are doing.  Especially if you tell them you are looking for treasure in the ground.  I have also had plenty of kids ask if they can have the coins I pull out of the ground.

When you discover an item in the ground, it might be quite deep so it is also important to have tools to dig it out safely and efficiently. A little shovel or trowel can help you to perform this kind of activity while keeping the ground of surrounding areas in good shape. Do not forget to fill the hole when you pull out the item because that’s in accordance with a code of conduct of professional diggers.

You should also have an appropriate bag where you can collect all of your discoveries. This piece of equipment should be of the proper size, according to the type of your search. Sometimes, it is possible to find a large number of items at the same location so you will need to store these quickly. It also doesn’t hurt to have a separate bag just for the trash you find.  If you dig it out of the ground and it is trash, keep it with you and throw it away. Do not put it back in the ground or toss it to the side.  Yes, you will likely be digging a lot of trash out of the ground and it can get annoying, but don’t leave it behind.

It is also suitable to have an appropriate bag or cover for your detector. This piece of equipment might prevent any possible damages that may reduce the efficiency of the device. Normally when you buy a metal detector it will come with a bag like this, but not always, make sure you check when buying one. Metal detectors are vulnerable to hits and scratches. These, unfortunately, happen more than often on terrain, and a good bag can keep your device safe and protected from such accidents.

The quality equipment generally has a higher price, however, it saves money in the long run. If you, for example, purchase a cheap and low-quality shovel or bag, it might break out right away after stumbling onto a harder obstacle. Good quality equipment, on the other hand, can endure far more so you will not lose your money by buying a useless product.

Select The Appropriate Location For Metal Detecting

Choosing the right location for metal detecting is also one of the crucial steps in the entire procedure. There are various areas where you can find different interesting things and hidden treasures in the ground, however, you are not permitted to use the metal detector everywhere. That’s why it is necessary to check the list of locations where you can perform this kind of exploration without any obstacles.

In the United States, you can usually go to state and local parks, beaches, woodland, meadows, and so on without issues.  Many towns and cities will require you to pay for a permit (normally about $10) before you can dig in these locations. As mentioned, it is not allowed to dig artifacts from official historic sites and national parks, but it does not mean that you cannot find very valuable discoveries at some alternative destinations.

The history of humankind has been full of important events. However, many of these are poorly documented and people know very few things if anything about them. It is quite easy to find a historical site because there are usually some objects that survived the passing of time so they still exist. However, there have also been a large number of historically important locations that still wait to be discovered by someone. It is usually not easy to find these because they typically do not exist on the surfaces. However, the ground often hides the mysteries of these locations, and various items are still buried in those places.

If you are wise enough, it is not impossible to find some of those locations, and many detectorists have already done something similar in the past. For example, many battles during the Civil War in America took place all over the country. Many soldiers died and they lost personal properties at the same moment. Those generally include money, jewelry, and different types of weaponry. Some of their bodies stayed in unmarked graves and no one today knows that they were buried there.

Some investigators succeed to find such mass burial places, thanks to their metal detectors. However, they first explored the history of the area and the Civil War. They used all available documents to get precise coordinates, and they successfully finished the mission. It is not an easy task, but it is possible. You should, however, always report such discoveries to the authorities because it is your legal obligation. The sights of that type have significant historical value so that’s a must to do.

If you, however, need something easier, then you should consider going to a beach, for example. Many people often lose different valuable items, such as jewelry and coins, in those locations, and you would be able to discover these with the metal detector. I am very surprised at the amount of jewelry that is worn to the beach, especially expensive wedding rings.

Start Detecting

Metal detecting is not hard to get started with, however, you have to follow some steps in order to avoid mistakes during searching. For example, the head of the device (called the coil) has to have an appropriate position just above the ground. You should not hold it too high because you might lose a chance to find some interesting discoveries. It has to be as close to the surface as possible, but you still need enough space to freely move around.

While you walk through the area, you should try and keep a straight line. As you walk you can slowly move the detector from side to side, as you keep it close to the ground.  You will hear many detectorists say “slow and low, slow and low.”

When you hear a beep, it is time to stop searching and start digging. The detector might give you precise coordinates so you will know how deep you have to dig. You can use your little shovel for this purpose. Your metal detector will also help pinpoint the exact location, so you are not needing to dig a large hole.

When you pull an item out, you can store it in your bag and fill the hole back in. If you are digging and have a hard time finding the item, you can stand back up and use your detector, or the better option is a good pinpointer that you can use inside the hole to better locate your item.

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Jason Smith

I am a former Marine who works as a Software Engineer. I have five US States left to visit. My sarcasm is legendary as is my knowledge of movie quotes. I can name the song or artist of just about any 80s or 90s song. I like whiskey, wine, coffee, soaking in hot springs or my hot tub. I enjoy getting out hiking, and taking pictures, along with metal detecting & magnet fishing from time to time. I do enjoy the occasional gaming by breaking out the original NES or SNES. I do spend a lot of time building other websites, (about 30 some in total).

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