Metal Detecting Laws


The number one thing you need to know before going out to metal detect anywhere. GET PERMISSION

In the Untied States there is a law called the Treasure Trove Law, which states that a ‘treasure trove’ goes to the finder. That is, as long as the finder is NOT TRESPASSING. If this is the case then the finder that is trespassing must give the treasure trove over to the owner of that land / area.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer and this is in no way legal advice. This is just some general information about the US laws regarding metal detecting, magnet fishing, gold prospecting, or just any type of ‘searching for treasure’ that you may be doing. I do not know every single law, and I do not keep up on every single law for each state. I will do my best to provide you with everything I know and or can find online regarding these types of laws. Many of these laws can be and are very complex and they do differ from state to state. As always, this is just a start, do your own research for your own state before heading out.

Defining a Treasure Trove

A “Treasure Trove” can mean many different things. It can be refined gold and or silver, it can be bullion or something that is made into coin. Paper money is also considered a treasure trove, and it also has been referred to as “any treasure that has been found”.

The age of the treasure is also taken into consideration when it comes to the treasure trove laws. As example, any coins, gold, silver, paper money, or any treasure that has been found, must have been lost or hidden for a long period of time and the original owner was very unlikely to have recovered it.

Spud Diggers – The Old Gold mine pays out! – 5 pieces of Gold found metal detecting – White’s 24k

Property, Civil Law and Common Law

There are three different types of property when it comes to the law. Mislaid Property
Lost Property
Abandoned Property

Mislaid Property is when that owner of the property sets aside that item intentionally and then forgets where they put it or just forgets about it completely.

Lost Property is such property in there the owner involuntarily loses it due to their own carelessness. The owner of the said property also has no knowledge of where that lost property is. If you come across ‘lost property’ the finder receives title to that property, unless the true owner is able to come forward and can properly claim the lost property.

Abandoned Property is a case where the owner throws away, discards or voluntarily gives up possession of the property. In this case the found property is given to the first person that finds it.

Many US states have agreed that the treasure trove laws rule in favor of the finder of the property or the treasure found. Kind of like the ‘finders keepers rule’. Now this DOES NOT apply if you have NOT asked permission and are on someone’s property illegally and ‘find’ treasure. The courts will NOT rule in your favor. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

The Civil law is fairly simple and straight forward. If you own the land and find the treasure it is yours to keep. If you are on someone else’s property (legally) and find treasure it will be split 50/50 between finder and property owner.

Be aware that when it comes to State and Federal lands, the laws of finding treasures become much more complicated.

There are two main laws that all states follow when it comes to any treasures found. The Antiquity Act of 1906 and ARPA Act of 1979. The short and non legal definition of the Antiquity Act is in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill because it was deemed necessary after two decades of looting, desecration, and destruction of Native American sites in the Southwest. Basically stupid people digging up artifacts and destroying national monuments and treasures. The ARPA Act is somewhat similar to the Antiquity Act in where it puts laws in place to stop bad people from playing a bad Indiana Jones and looting and possibly destroying archaeological sites on federal and Indian lands in the United States.

From my research it really seems that many archaeologists are very much against anyone NOT in the archaeologist field or having a degree in that field digging in the ground at all and should certainly NOT own a metal detector at all either.

Spud Diggers – GEM State Metal Detecting Club Seeded Hunt – Idaho

Metal Detecting Laws By State

After doing some research on this topic, I have decided that it is just way to big and something that would require much upkeep & constant research. Many people out there have tried to put the information about each state’s laws on their website. That information was put out there when they built their site back in the early 90s and is now severely outdated.

I was initially thinking the same thing, I could just put up the current laws per state and a disclaimer that you need to do your own research for your state. So why would I put a disclaimer for old state metal detecting laws when you are going to need to go do your own research anyway?

The general rule of thumb is that all states are either following the Antiquity Act of 1906 and or the ARPA Act of 1979. Plus or minus some of their own rules or laws that may or may not make metal detecting more restrictive in their area.

The bottom line is that it is up to YOU to do your own research for the state you live in and or the state you plan on metal detecting in. Each State and even sometimes each county sometimes have their own laws as well. Not only that you still need to ASK for permission if you are looking to detect on private and sometimes even need permission for public lands.

Just be nice, and be respectful. It will get you far when it comes to metal detecting. Now if you want to sneak around at night and try to metal detect around area 51, and get yourself snatched up by some MIBs and you are never heard from again… Sorry… Not Sorry…

Metal Detecting / Treasure Hunting Questions Answered

Can I use a metal detector on public land?
Metal detectors may be used on public land in areas that do not contain or would not reasonably be expected to contain archaeological or historical resources. The purpose of the restrictions to metal detecting on public lands is to protect historical remains.

Is it legal to metal detect ghost towns?
This again follows the laws laid out by whichever state you are in. The general rule of thumb is that all states are either following the Antiquity Act of 1906 and or the ARPA Act of 1979. If you would like to go exploring ghost towns in your state, I have created a resource for you. United States Ghost Towns. At the top of the site you can see a link to all ghost town by state.

Can you use a metal detector anywhere?
Most beaches are either private or public and permission can be obtained from the owner or from local authorities. Permits granted for metal detecting on the beach are for the offshore only. Beaches are good places to go metal detecting.

Can you find platinum with a metal detector?
The two most common items found with a metal detector are coins and jewelry. Almost all metal detectors are designed to signal gold, silver, platinum and bronze.

Can a metal detector find a gold ring?
Lucky for you, all metal detectors will detect gold rings. Gold rings have additives in them that your metal detector coil will respond to in addition to the gold, so any metal detector will do. That being said, with metal detectors as with many kinds of electronics, you get what you pay for.

Is it legal to metal detect in (Insert State)?
In most states, metal detecting on private property requires the permission of the landowner. It’s best to get this permission in writing to avoid any potential disputes in the future. Treasure hunting on state-owned land is not completely off limits, but it does require special permission.

Do you need a permit to use a metal detector in (Insert State)?
Central Florida Metal-detecting is permitted, and no permit is required. Please don’t leave holes. In Orange County, where Orlando is located, metal-detecting is allowed with a permit, but anything you find must be reported to park staff.

Is it legal to metal detect on California beaches?
California State Park Laws In general, according to the California code of regulations metal detection is not forbidden in a state park, but since it is forbidden to disturb archaeological or geological remains including animals and plants it becomes very difficult to search there.

Spud Diggers – We found Gold Metal Detecting in California! Using the White’s 24k

Can you metal detect in a national park?
Metal detecting is prohibited in National Parks and also on many public lands including city and state parks. Be sure to check your state regulations before you dig.

Do you have to pay taxes if you find treasure?
Federal tax law, specifically IRS code section 61., states, “Gross income means all income from whatever source derived.” So the treasure trove (or any unexpected cash flows) are taxable income and must be reported on your income tax return in the year in which it was found.

Is there buried treasure in Florida?
Buried treasure in Florida is not just along the famed treasure coast where hundreds of Spanish Galleons wrecked, and now are coughing up loads of gold and silver during and after violent storms. Florida is one of those States that has hundreds of other treasures hidden throughout the State.

Can you find gold in Florida?
There are no known gold deposits in Florida. There are many documented, yet undiscovered shipwrecks around Florida, and coins can be found washed ashore on many beaches. You won’t find this gold by gold panning, but a metal detector will certainly work!

Does Black Sand mean gold?
An indication of a mineral rich area is the presence of black sand. Placer gold is usually found with black sand but the presence of black sand does not necessarily indicate the presence of gold.

Has anyone ever found buried pirate treasure?
In reality, pirates burying treasure was rare. The only pirate known to have actually buried treasure was William Kidd, who is believed to have buried at least some of his wealth on Long Island before sailing into New York City.

Can you pan for gold in Montana?
Pan for Gold in Montana and Wyoming. In Montana, you can see gold panning demonstrations in several locations. At the Kootenai National Forest near Libby, an entire area has been dedicated for gold panning. You can also try your luck at Alder Gulch, in Nevada City.

Where is gold found in rivers?
The first step is finding the right spot in the river where the gold might collect, such as a crook in the bedrock, idle pools, log jams, inside corners of rivers or spaces between boulders. Then start digging, filling your pan with gravel. From there, continuously weed out the bigger rocks and pebbles.

Is metal detecting legal in the UK?
You don’t need a licence to use a metal detector in the UK, but there are laws about their use. Using a metal detector is: Illegal on private land without permission from the owner. Illegal on a scheduled ancient monument or in an area of archaeological importance.

6.33 Ounce Gold Nugget - Gary Long
6.33 Ounce Gold Nugget 2020 – Photographer Gary Long

Jason Smith

Former Marine, IT Guy & Builder of Websites.  I have 5 US states left to visit. I enjoy hot springs, adventures, hiking, photography, sci-fi, wine, coffee & whiskey.  I am fluent in sarcasm, name that tune, & speak in movie quotes.  I spend most of my time building websites, fixing computers, metal detecting, magnet fishing and gaming occasionally.

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