What Are The Metal Detecting Laws?


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

In the United States, a law called the Treasure Trove Law states that a ‘treasure trove’ goes to the finder. That is if 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 or area.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer, I am certainly NOT your lawyer, and this is in no way legal advice. The information here is only general information that has been gathered about U.S. laws regarding metal detecting, magnet fishing, gold prospecting, or any ‘searching for treasure.’ I do not know every rule, and I do not keep up with each state’s laws. I will do my best to provide you with a general understanding of basic laws. Many of these laws can be overly complicated, and they do differ from State to State. It is always best to do your research for your state before heading out.

Defining a Treasure Trove

A “Treasure Trove” can mean many different things. It can be refined gold and silver; it can be bullion or something made into a coin. Paper money is considered a treasure trove and 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. For example, any coins, gold, silver, paper money, or any treasure found must have been lost or hidden for a long time, and the original owner was doubtful 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 the property owner intentionally sets aside that item and then forgets where they put it or forgets about it altogether.

Lost property is such property in there the owner involuntarily loses it due to their carelessness. The owner of the said property also does not know where that lost property is. If you come across ‘lost property,’ the finder receives title to that property unless the actual owner can come forward and can adequately 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 U.S. states have agreed that the treasure trove laws rule in favor of the property’s finder 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.

Civil law is simple and straightforward. 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 the treasure, it will be split 50/50 between the finder and property owner.

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

There are two primary laws that all states follow when it comes to any treasures found. The Antiquity Act of 1906 and the 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. What was happening, people were digging up artifacts and destroying national monuments and treasures.

The ARPA Act is somewhat similar to the Antiquity Act. It puts laws in place to stop people from playing an “Indiana Jones” character looting and possibly destroying archaeological sites on federal and Indian lands.

After a little research, it appears that many archaeologists are against anyone NOT in the archaeologist field, or possessing a degree in the related field, to be digging in the ground, and should certainly NOT own a metal detector.

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

Metal Detecting Laws by State

After researching this topic, I have decided that it is just way too big and requires much upkeep and 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 to do your research for your state. Why would I put a disclaimer for old state metal detecting laws when you need to do your research anyway?

The general rule of thumb is that all states are either following the Antiquity Act of 1906 and 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 research for the state you live in and or the state you plan on metal detecting within. Each state and even sometimes each county have its laws as well. Not only that, you still need to ASK for permission if you are looking to detect private and sometimes even public lands.

Just be nice and 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 have archaeological or historical resources. The purpose of the restrictions on 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 the ARPA Act of 1979. If you would like to explore 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 towns by state.

Can you use a metal detector anywhere?

Most beaches are private or public, and permission can be obtained from the owner or local authorities. Permits granted for metal detecting on the beach are for 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 brands of 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 that any metal detector can pick it up. 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 entirely off-limits, but it does require special approval.

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. Still, since it is not permitted to disturb archaeological or geological remains, including animals and plants, it becomes challenging 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 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) is 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. Many documented yet undiscovered shipwrecks around Florida, and coins can be found washed ashore on many beaches. You will not find this gold by gold panning, but a metal detector will undoubtedly 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 black sand’s presence does not necessarily indicate the presence of gold.

Has anyone ever found buried pirate treasure?

Pirates burying treasure was rare. The only pirate known to have buried treasure was William Kidd, who is believed to have buried 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 to 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 waterways, 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 U.K.?

You do not need a license to use a metal detector in the U.K., 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 - Photographer Gary Long
6.33 Ounce Gold Nugget – 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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