What Not To Do When Asking Permission To Detect

What Not To Do When Asking Permission To Detect

Recently, while perusing the detecting forums I came across a permission thread that piqued my interest.

What caught my eye was this: “The receptionist at the city hall office asked what metal detecting was and I explained to her that it is finding valuable coins in the ground and then you have to retrieve them. She asked how I retrieve them and I was honest and told her you have to dig a hole and remove them. She kinda got a little mad and said detecting is definitely not allowed!”

That got me thinking! There are several mistakes in that post that will make sure you get a NO every time you ask permission, and he got just that! The purpose of this article is not to draw negative attention to the original poster, but rather to bring awareness to the “Do’s and Don’ts” of asking permission.


The first obvious mistake was telling someone that has no idea what metal detecting is that “it’s finding valuable coins.” By stating that you find valuable coins, some property owners will be left with the impression that their yard is filled with valuables that you are going to get and they are not, so they immediately say No! Even though the truth is that we “may” find a coin from time to time that is worth more than face value, but more often than not that isn’t the case. The property owners don’t know that though!

A better reply might be something like, “I enjoy metal detecting and looking for things like buttons, relics and hopefully coins from time to time. I mostly just do it for the exercise and really enjoy the hobby.” By replying that way, the finds are somewhat minimized. The property owner is left with the impression that most of what you will find is random junk and relics, and that you detect more as a hobby than as a means to get rich from finds in their yard.


Mentioning that you “dig” holes is another way to get a no when asking permission. By using the word ‘dig’ the property owner visualizes you digging all over the yard with a shovel. A better choice of words might be that “I ‘retrieve’ the target from a small plug” Which brings us to the next word you may want to avoid when asking permission.


“I told her you have to dig a “hole” and remove the items.”

Mentioning “holes” can give the property owner the impression that you’re going to dig up the entire yard and leave ‘holes’ all over the place! No one wants holes all over their yard, so naturally a property owner is going to tell you No!

A better choice of words in this instance may be, “I ‘cut’ a small ‘plug’ and retrieve the target and then flip the plug back down in place.” By exchanging the word Hole for Plug you are easing the property owners mind. Plug doesn’t sound nearly as destructive as the word hole. When you say that you flip the plug back into place it lets the property owner know that you will fill all of your ‘holes’ when you’re finished. Both words mean the same thing, but one word leaves a better impression than the other.

In the original response to the clerk it might have been better to say “I search for ‘metal items’ and ‘retrieve’ them from a small plug. I throw away all of the sharp objects and rusty metal that could cut people’s feet or hands.”

Notice that I didn’t mention “valuable items,” didn’t mention digging, and never mentioned a hole. I did mention removing sharp objects showing that I provide a service to the community.

Likewise, when seeking permission to detect at a public area, you should ask one simple question: Are there any laws or ordinances against metal detecting in such n such city / county parks? That is a yes or no answer, if it is a yes, I ask to be directed to the ordinance so I can be familiar with the wording.

In other words, show me where it says that I can not detect on public property, in writing. Not “I don’t think so.”

While we are on the subject there are few other ‘Don’ts’ that we should go over:

Don’t carry your detector and digger up to the door. Leave your gear in the car when knocking on a property owners door. You haven’t secured permission yet, so there is no need to carry your detector to the door. When you get permission to detect there you can always go back to your car and grab your gear.

Don’t wear a shirt with vulgar or offensive texts. This should be self explanatory, but if your attire displays an “I don’t care” attitude then you can bet the property owner isn’t going to want you on his property. Like it or not, as humans, first impressions mean everything and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t waste your one chance before you even get it!

Don’t bring a cigarette to the door with you. What you do with your body is your business, however, if you show up and knock on a persons door with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth property owners may look at you as a liability. As a property owner I wouldn’t want you catching my yard or house on fire, so I may tell you no just to avoid the issue.  You always want to give a good first impression to increase your chances of getting a Yes.

Don’t stand close to the door, take a step back. Allow some space when door knocking in an effort to appear non confrontational. Allowing a little bit of space between you and the property owner will put them at ease. It’s also good for you in case you encounter a disgruntled property owner or an over zealous dog. Take a step back and give them some space and you will come across as respectful.

DO compliment their house, car, yard or cat…anything to appear friendly and social will increase your chances of getting a yes.

Final Thoughts

When asking for permission to detect someone’s property you are asking a lot of them. They don’t know you or what type of person you are, and many people don’t even know what metal detecting is.

By using a few select words you can increase your chances of obtaining permission to detect that awesome property.

By using the wrong words you can pretty much be assured that the answer will be no more often than not. Perception is everything in our world, so practice how you want to be perceived and you will increase your chances of getting more “Yes’s” in the future.

We wish you the best with your future permissions! Remember, we are all ambassadors of the hobby. We each have a unique opportunity to represent metal detectorists everywhere in a positive light.

Practice the technique of exchanging specific words when asking permission and you will have more places to detect than you can ever get to!


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There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Tommyjay at 10:38 pm

    Great article, and good advice Rob. Another point I would make, and its related to all aspects of the hobby, is to never stop learning.

  2. Dakotademon7 at 8:06 pm

    Just read the what not to say article. Super great tips there. Good wording for not scaring the property owners. I do agree hole and dig is a red flag to some. I admit that I would have made that mistake if not for this. I didn’t want to say them two word but wasn’t sure of the correct way of explaining it till now. Thanks.

  3. B.R. at 10:58 am

    I recommend having business cards made that describe what you do as “retrieving” or “recovering history”. Appear presentable, never go to the door wearing your gear nor holding your detector. To some it can appear intimidating and possibly pretentious.
    Hand the property owner the business card during your introduction. The business card can always serve as a reminder in the future to the property owner should they decline your offer at that time. People do change their minds.

  4. Joe Cheperuk Sr at 9:48 am

    Rob,Very good info and read,I agree on the plug,never say holes and dig that’s a big no no. When door knocking act like they’re your friend and always smile and be polite, Always compliment like you said. You will know in the first 30 sec if its going to be a yes or no.

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