Please be aware that the legality of collecting items can vary depending on the location in which you’re collecting. Before performing any collection tasks, it is ultimately your responsibility to check local and state rules, regulations, and laws to see if there are any legal limitations on what you can collect and how you can collect those items. We are not responsible for any legal consequences that may arise from your collection activities.
One of the biggest thrills in metal detecting is when you finally score an exciting find, and your hard metal detecting work pays off. However, you might be wondering if you can keep anything you find or whether you have to report your finds to an authority.
You can legally keep the things you find with a metal detector as long as you follow the law while detecting and you aren’t on forbidden land or private property without permission. If the find is a historical or archaeological artifact, it may be illegal to keep it.
In this article, I’ll explain when keeping what you find while metal detecting is illegal. If you want to continue metal detecting and avoid breaking laws, keep reading!
Is It Illegal To Keep Metal Detector Finds?
It is not illegal to keep metal detector finds as long as you didn’t break the law by detecting somewhere you shouldn’t have. If the find is an artifact, it is illegal to keep it unless you found it on private property.
In most cases, keeping what you find while metal detecting is legal, as long as you weren’t breaking any laws by detecting on the land in the first place. Some federal laws influence where it is legal to metal detect, including the following:
- American Antiquities Act of 1906. This act protects prehistoric ruins and monuments, so it is illegal to metal detect on these lands.
- Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1997. This law protects all archaeological resources, including weapons, projectiles, and tools. Under this law, it is illegal to keep any artifacts found on federal property.
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This law protects Native American burial grounds and requires that the remains of Native Americans are treated with dignity and respect. This means that metal detecting on Native American burial grounds is completely prohibited.
All states also have different laws regarding metal detecting and keeping finds. The following table outlines everything you need to know:
|State||Metal Detection Laws|
|Alabama||Metal detection finds discovered on state property are reviewed by park staff to determine if it is a personal possession they need to report. If the object is not a reportable personal possession, you can keep it.|
|Alaska||You cannot metal detect in national parks, archaeological sites, or recreational areas. If you find something in an area that doesn’t fall into one of these categories, you can keep it.|
|Arizona||You’ll need authorities’ permission in some cases, but metal detecting and keeping the finds are generally acceptable.|
|Arkansas||Hobby metal detecting requires a permit that you can get from the local authorities.|
|California||Metal detection is only allowed on saltwater beaches in shallow waters. It is illegal to dig any holes or destroy vegetation.|
|Colorado||Metal detecting in almost all areas is allowed, but you’re not allowed to dig any holes or keep anything you find.|
|Connecticut||You can metal detect in lands that belong to the Department of Environmental Science without a permit. You can metal detect in public parks only with a permit. If you find a personal belonging, you have to report your find to the authorities.|
|Delaware||You can metal detect in state parks during opening hours as long as you have a permit. You must report any artifacts older than one hundred years old to authorities.|
|Florida||You can metal detect on most saltwater beaches, but only in shallow waters. Artifacts that are more than fifty years old are the property of the state.|
|Georgia||Metal detecting is not allowed on any state or federal land.|
|Hawaii||You can metal detect on the beaches of Hawaii without any permit and keep your finds.|
|Idaho||You can metal detect in state parks only with permission of the authority.|
|Illinois||You can only metal detect in state parks or public lands with a permit.|
|Indiana||You can only metal detect recreational areas with permission. You cannot metal detect in state parks. You cannot remove an artifact over a hundred years old.|
|Iowa||You must have a permit to metal detect in public parks and only on specific dates and during specific hours.|
|Kansas||You cannot dig holes in public parks, so you wouldn’t be able to reveal any finds.|
|Kentucky||Hobby metal detecting is prohibited. To metal detect on state lands, you’d need a specific permit.|
|Louisiana||Hobby metal detecting is prohibited.|
|Maine||You must have written permission from local authorities to metal detect.|
|Maryland||You can metal detect in parks and public lands.|
|Massachusetts||You can metal detect in fresh and salt water. You need a permit to metal to detect on beaches, camping sites, and within cities and towns.|
|Michigan||You can metal detect without a permit in public parks, but the park staff must review all finds to determine if they are valuable personal belongings they need to turn in to the police.|
|Minnesota||All non-official metal detecting is prohibited. You can only metal detect if you are a licensed archaeologist or official staff; all finds belong to the state.|
|Mississippi||You cannot metal detect landmarks and must have a permit to metal detect in state parks. Park officials need to review all finds before you can keep the object.|
|Missouri||You must have a permit to metal detect in state parks, and park officials must review all finds.|
|Montana||You cannot dig any holes on public lands, so you won’t be able to reach your finds.|
|Nebraska||In general, metal detecting is forbidden.|
|Nevada||You have to obtain a permit to metal detect, but generally, you can keep your finds.|
|New Hampshire||You can metal detect and keep your finds in state parks, playgrounds, and beaches.|
|New Jersey||You can metal detect and keep your finds anywhere except state and national parks.|
|New Mexico||It is prohibited to metal detect in many areas.|
|New York||The laws vary greatly by area, but generally, metal detecting is prohibited or requires a permit.|
|North Carolina||You can only metal detect and keep your finds on some public beaches.|
|North Dakota||You cannot metal detect on public lands, and it is illegal to dig anything out.|
|Ohio||You must have a permit to metal detect in Ohio. Generally, you can keep your finds.|
|Oklahoma||You need a permit to metal detect on any public lands. You can keep your finds as long as they aren’t valuable personal property.|
|Oregon||Metal detecting without a permit is allowed on public beaches, and you can keep your finds.|
|Pennsylvania||You can only metal detect in parks with official permission. It is illegal to dig out any artifacts or culturally valuable items.|
|Rhode Island||You need a permit to metal detect on public lands. You’ll likely not be allowed to keep your finds.|
|South Carolina||You can only metal detect in designated areas in some state parks. You can keep your finds as long as it isn’t valuable personal property.|
|South Dakota||You need a permit to metal detect, and in many state parks, you may only use a metal detector to find your lost personal property.|
|Tennessee||All hobby metal detecting is prohibited.|
|Texas||You must have permission to metal detect on any private or public lands; most of the time, you cannot keep your finds.|
|Utah||You can only metal detect in public parks with a permit, and even then, you cannot remove any items that are not your personal property.|
|Vermont||You cannot metal detect on or near historical sites or archaeological sites. You can keep anything in areas disturbed by construction, campsites, or parking lots.|
|Virginia||You must get permission to metal detect on any state lands. You cannot remove artifacts from the ground near any historical areas.|
|Washington||Some parks require you to get permission from park officials before metal detecting, but others do not. All finds are subject to official review by park officials.|
|West Virginia||Any disturbance or removal of objects on public land is forbidden, so hobby metal detecting is prohibited.|
|Wisconsin||You may only metal detect on sandy beaches with no vegetation. You cannot search on land. You must first obtain a permit if you want to use a metal detector to search for a lost object.|
|Wyoming||All hobby metal detecting is forbidden.|
It is extremely important to know these laws and pay attention so you don’t end up metal detecting somewhere where it is illegal to do so. You should also consider the ethics and morals of your decisions. For example, it may technically be legal to metal detect in a cemetery in some locations; it’s just not morally very acceptable.
Is It Illegal To Keep Artifacts?
Federal laws, including the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, protect historical artifacts and prohibit you from keeping any artifacts you may find on public land. An artifact is any object created or shaped by humans that is of archaeological or historical interest.
Any artifact you find on private land is considered part of the estate. This means that if you’re metal detecting on your private property or someone else’s private property with permission, you can keep what you find.
You can keep some of the things you find with a metal detector as long as you weren’t metal detecting illegally in the first place. Federal and state laws influence where it is legal to metal detect, so it is important to research the area where you want to go metal detect. You may be unable to keep your find if it fits the description of a “historical artifact.”