Metal detecting is a great activity for people of all skills, but if you’re dedicated to the hobby, you’re probably set on becoming an expert. Luckily, expert status may not be as far away as it seems.
Becoming a metal detection expert involves acquiring the necessary equipment, learning about the laws of metal detecting, determining good places to go, learning about advanced technology, practicing identification, cleaning your finds well, and practicing.
Let’s take a more detailed look at everything you need to do to become a metal detection expert. If you’re ready to take your love of the hobby to the next level, keep reading!
1. Acquire a High-Quality Metal Detector
To become a true metal detection expert, you must have the right metal detector. Metal detectors vary greatly in price and quality, but if you want to experience the most success and glory for your metal detection skills, I highly recommend investing in a metal detector with the best technology and features.
Here’s what you should look for when you’re shopping for a new metal detector:
- Modes. Metal detectors usually come with different modes to help you discover specific materials and objects. Many of them are already set on the “all-metal” mode, which doesn’t distinguish between various metals and gives a signal for everything. Still, you should ensure that your metal detector has other options, such as a “coin” mode or “prospecting” mode for finding gold.
- Sensitivity. I suggest getting a metal detector that has a wide range of sensitivities or frequencies that it can operate at. This way, you can adjust the frequency settings according to your goals for the outing, and you can turn the frequency up all the way if you don’t want to miss anything. Your metal detector should be able to reach at least 20 kHz frequency.
- Depth. Some of the best treasures are buried deep underground, so you’ll want a metal detector that can sense these finds and give you a signal so you know when to search! Entry-level metal detectors and cheap metal detectors usually can’t detect objects that are too deep, so if you’re ready to become an expert, you may have to pay a bit more.
- Coil size. There isn’t necessarily one coil size that is better than the rest in all situations. Larger coils allow for greater depth, but smaller coils are usually more accurate, especially in trashy areas. Therefore, you’ll need to consider which is more important to you before purchasing or getting more than one metal detector to use in different scenarios.
- Pinpointer. Some metal detectors come with a pinpointer, and others don’t. Many metal detection experts consider a pinpointer an essential tool when detecting, so if your detector doesn’t come with one, you should consider purchasing one separately. Most high-quality metal detectors come with one.
- Weight. I recommend holding a metal detector in person before purchasing it, so you know how heavy and bulky it is. High-quality metal detectors can include all the most important features and parts while keeping the detector at a reasonable weight.
You can expect a high quality metal detector with a powerful coil to find objects even through bricks and concrete. However, there are some nuances to be aware of. Read my full article on the topic to learn more about them. I’ll also share a few tips to help you metal detect through other dense materials: Can Metal Detectors Work Through Brick and Concrete?
I like the Garrett ACE 300 Metal Detector from Amazon for those on a tighter budget. This metal detector is also waterproof and comes with a submersible search coil, volume control headphones, and an environmental coverup to protect the tool in all kinds of weather. I also like that it comes with five search modes, eight sensitivity levels, and depth adjustments.
2. Get the Additional Tools
Getting a high-quality metal detector is an important first step in becoming an expert, but the best metal detectorists use various other tools to help them find, recover, and clean their discoveries. Here are some other tools you’ll need to acquire to increase your metal detection game:
- Headphones. A quality pair of headphones makes it easier to hear and identify signals.
- Finds bag. Many metal detecting finds are small and easy to lose, so it’s always better to keep a finds bag on hand that you can use to store your items before you get them home.
- Pinpointer. A pinpointer identifies a target’s location more accurately.
- Carry bag. Carrying your metal detector can be a hassle, but transporting the detector is easier with a carry bag. The bag can also protect the metal detector in various weather conditions.
- Trowel and shovel. Once you make a find, you’ll need to dig it out. A high-quality trowel and shovel make the digging process easier and quicker.
- Sifter. Sometimes you’ll need to search through loose soil for the target item. A sifter makes it easy.
These tools will make you a better and more efficient metal detectorist.
3. Understand the Laws and Ethics
One of the most important parts of becoming a metal detection expert is having a thorough knowledge of the relevant laws and regulations about metal detecting and keeping finds.
You can usually keep the things you find with a metal detector as long as you didn’t break any laws by metal detecting somewhere you shouldn’t have. Here are some laws you should have a good grasp on:
- American Antiquities Act of 1906. According to this law, it is illegal to metal detect on land near prehistoric ruins and monuments.
- Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1997. Archaeological resources, including weapons and tools, are protected by this law. Additionally, this law prohibits you from keeping any artifacts you may find on federal property.
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This essential law protects Native American burial grounds and prohibits all metal detecting on these grounds.
Laws about metal detecting vary by state and county, so look up your local rules and regulations, so you don’t get into legal trouble. Contact a local authority or ask a local metal detection club member if you have questions.
Not only should you be well-versed in the legalities of metal detecting, but expert metal detectors also need to understand the ethics of metal detection. It is technically legal to metal detect in some places, such as in a graveyard, but ethically looked down upon.
Other ethical guidelines include the following:
- Respect private property
- Don’t contaminate any water sources
- Try to disturb the land as little as possible, and fill in any holes you dig
- Pick up any trash you find or dig up
- Report all your finds, especially if you uncover an artifact
- Try not to disturb peaceful, sacred, or spiritual areas, such as a graveyard, church grounds, or a zen garden
Being an expert metals detectorist means being a legal and ethical metal detectorist, so you mustn’t take these issues lightly.
4. Learn About Good and Bad Places To Detect
Metal detecting is largely about location and discovering which places are hidden treasure troves, and all the experts know the best places to go to discover the best finds. Here are some recommendations for places that are typically good places for detecting:
- Sporting fields
- Carnival fields or fairgrounds
- Concert venues
- Near bus stops
- School campuses
- Ski resorts
- Near bars
Knowing where you should avoid is just as important as knowing the good places to detect. Some places are so popular for metal detectorists that there’s hardly anything left to find, and other places are so new that you probably wouldn’t discover anything interesting. The best way to gather this knowledge is by trial and error, so get out there and experiment!
5. Join a Metal Detecting Club
Joining a metal detecting club is a good way to make new friends and find a potential metal detecting buddy to accompany you in the field, but it’s also an essential part of becoming a metal detecting expert.
Most metal detectorists join local clubs, so you can use the people in your club as a resource if you have any questions or need any advice. You can also take your metal detectors to the club to have someone else adjust them if you’re experiencing technical difficulties. You can also ask your club members if you have any questions about the community’s detection laws.
6. Use Advanced Technology, Such as GPS
Learning to use a metal detector is just the tip of the iceberg. As technology improves, there are more and more advances that experts must keep up with if they want to maintain their status and keep making the best discoveries.
For example, some metal detectorists use GPS technology to map their finds and paths so they don’t repeat themselves and so they know where to return if they make some good discoveries.
7. Learn How To Cut Good Plugs
A major part of metal detecting that is often overlooked is digging to uncover a find. Cutting good plugs disturbs the land less and helps the detectorist uncover their object more quickly and without damage.
A “plug” is the piece of earth that a detectorist must cut into so they can discover what’s buried underground. Here’s how to cut a good plug:
- Pinpoint the exact location of your target using a pinpointer. It is possible to metal detect without a pinpointer, but if you’re on an expert level (or if you want to be), you should use a pinpointer. Beginners can refer to my article on metal detecting without a pinpointer: Can You Metal Detect Without a Pinpointer?
- Cut a hole in the ground with a four-inch radius around your target. Cut until you have three-quarters of a circle.
- Flop the land over so you can open the hole, but leave the “hinge” of the earth connecting the uprooted earth to the ground.
- Use a pinpointer to find exactly where the target is.
- Carefully dig for the target using your hands so you don’t damage your find.
- After you’ve recovered the find, fill the hole with any uprooted dirt.
- Flip the plug over so it covers the hole.
- Pat the earth so everything is secure.
- Clean up the surrounding area.
Digging is a huge part of metal detecting, so experts must know how to dig effectively and with minimal disturbance to the earth.
8. Learn How To Identify Old Items
Item identification is one of the most difficult parts of metal detecting, but it is an essential part of the hobby, and a good identifier can bring someone from the intermediate level up to expert status.
Many advanced metal detectors come with a target identification system that helps you establish the type of metal an object is, which is a good start. Once you know the kind of metal, look at the object’s color and shape to learn more about it.
If you have no idea what you’re looking at, take your find to an expert and have them investigate. You should ask them what they see and what they look for so you can improve your identification skills.
9. Use Better Recovery Tools
Recovery is an important part of metal detecting that many non-experts struggle with. If you’re not careful, you can damage your find while taking it out of the ground, reducing its value if you were planning on selling.
Luckily, many great tools are available that lead to better recovery and fewer damaged finds. Expert metal detectors own and use these tools regularly.
The most important tool to have for successful recovery is a pinpointer. Pinpointers narrow down an object’s location, so you’ll know where to be careful and more mindful of your digging methods.
10. Clean Your Finds Properly
Metal detector finds spend lots of time buried underground, so they’ll be dirty when you recover them. Metal detection experts know how to clean their finds without damaging them or losing value. Some metals and materials are fragile, so you’ll need to customize your cleaning method according to the specific object you find.
Cleaning methods can include the following:
- Oil soaks
- Hydrogen peroxide soaks
- Soap and water
- Rock tumbling
- Baking soda bath
For a more thorough guide on cleaning your metal detection finds, check out my complete guide. I’ll share all the tips you need to know: How to Clean Metal Detecting Finds (Ultimate Guide)
11. Sell, Donate, or Recycle Your Finds
After you find an object, you can keep, sell, donate, or recycle it. You can keep most of the things you find with a metal detector, although the laws differ depending on the area, the type of land you’re on, and the type of find you uncover.
If you don’t want to keep the find, you can sell, donate, or recycle it, and expert metal detectorists know how to do it.
Selling finds isn’t as easy as it might seem. Experts usually use online platforms that have buyer and seller protection, such as eBay or PayPal. You can use other websites, such as Facebook or Craigslist, but these platforms don’t have as many protections and can be risky.
For donation, you can usually donate interesting artifacts and finds to local museums or historical sites. Expert metal detectorists should have a local contact at a museum or historical center.
Many of the objects you find while metal detecting are made with materials that are useful for recycling. Specifically, copper and brass are desirable metals. An expert should have a go-to company they know will take their finds.
12. Practice, Practice, Practice!
The best way to get better at something is to keep doing it and learning from your experiences. The more time you spend metal detecting, the better you’ll get at knowing where to go, what the various tones you get from your signals mean, and how to dig for and retrieve finds without damaging them.
If you want to be an expert, I recommend metal detecting in as many different terrains and environmental conditions as possible. You’ll be able to find more interesting items this way, and you’ll learn more about the hobby and the technology every time.
As with any hobby, the most important part of becoming an expert in metal detection is doing it regularly. If you practice and stay up-to-date on the latest technology, digging techniques, cleaning practices, and metal detection laws, you can reach and maintain expert status in the metal detection community.