If you’re like me, you think that you are too darn good at detecting to screw around with a test garden or stupid exercises. You could be spending that time detecting, not swinging your detector in your freaking backyard like a rookie, right?
By practicing often and effectively, you will become sold on the fact that no matter how great you are, practice is critical to getting better at detecting. Just like practicing free throws, or throwing practice bowling games, or hitting the driving range improves proficiency in those respective sports. You learn different things under controlled conditions than the things you learn in the field. Practice becomes even more critical if you are trying to master a new detector. Practice is how you accelerate getting from novice to good, from good to great, from great to expert, and from expert to legend. I don’t know what level I’m at, but I get out and practice about once per week or so. The old test garden is great for warming up, checking detector functions, trying new things and working on basic skills. I also utilize various games and exercises that help in other areas as well. Some of these I learned from my mentor and other detectorists. Some of them I made up myself over the years.
The Easter Egg Hunt is a great exercise to do with a detecting buddy or at a detecting club meeting. Else you simply need to get a helper to “hide your egg.” So here we go:
Identify Test Area
First you need to identify a grassy area (maybe your yard) of that is not overgrown, preferably with fairly soft ground so that a dime or other target can be introduced into it without leaving a trace. The designated area shouldn’t be too small or too large where it takes too much time to sweep the area. Something like 200-400 square feet (20×10 feet to 20×20 feet) should be fine. Area should not be completely covered with iron and trash, but unlike the test garden, it doesn’t matter if the area is totally clear of other targets. Usually this will be your yard or part of your property or a nearby lot. If you usually hunt on a beach, though, do this exercise on a beach.
Step 1: Boil Eggs. Ironically, I literally do not know how to boil an egg
Target and Depth Selection
For this exercise I use a mercury dime at six inches – a small common target in the class of things I like to find at what I call a medium depth works best for me. Of course you should choose a target and depth that matches a typical scenario for the type of hunting you do. If you hunt relics, use a common relic you are after. Nugget hunter – use a nugget. I don’t recommend using a random item and random depth each time as it defeats the purpose of the exercise by killing the “controlled conditions”.
Have Your Helper Hide the Egg
Have a family member or friend select a random spot and punch a 6 inch hole in the ground without disturbing the grass. There are many ways to do this – its much easier to put a target in the ground without a trace then get one out of the ground without a trace. My wife can do it with a large screwdriver and a hammer. She pushes the screwdriver about 6 inches into the ground, using the hammer if necessary, careful not to disturb the grass. She’ll work the screwdriver slightly, just create enough space to drop a dime into the hole. We use a worn mercury dime. She’ll make sure the dime gets near the bottom of the hole then she’ll just press the grass to close the hole, and she’s never left. Takes her all of 2 minutes to do…
Find the Target
Now, taking into consideration what you know – that there is a dime out there and it is at approximately 6 inches – then you just try to find the target with your detector. Sounds easy right. You’ll find that dime in four swings every time. Boring, right? Wrong.
This shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Sometimes I do find the dime in a couple of minutes – usually it takes me 5 minutes or so. Occasionally I get very cross as it takes me a half hour.
I like to do the exercise about 5-10 times or maybe for 30-45 minutes depending on how fast I am recovering the target and when my helper gets tired of helping. After trying enough times to get a feel for it, you can adjust the size target and the depth up or down to suit you better. It shouldn’t be too easy – every session should have at least one time when finding the target was at least a bit problematic.
Every time you find the target, give yourself a mental score of 1-10 and note what kept you from finding it quicker, and what you could have done to find it quicker. How many times did you scan the spot the target was at? If you missed it the first time, why do you think you missed it? Is it more efficient to scan slower, or to scan multiple times.
If you are hunting with a buddy or at a club, it is fun and productive to know where the target is and watch and critique the detectorist as he/she attempts to find the target. Often someone watching the exercise can point out something the detectorist didn’t even know he/she was doing as well as make recommendations.
Applying Knowledge to Real Hunts
Try this exercise several times and you’ll be enlightened. Easter Egg Hunting may change your thinking completely about when to declare that a site has been “hunted out”. Though i use the term, I don’t really think “hunted out” anymore. I think in terms of increasing difficulty to find good targets as more and more targets are removed from a site. I no longer declare a given site “hunted out” just because I, the almighty master detectorist, “swung” my mighty coil over its entire girth and didn’t find anything.
The Value of Rescanning Same Ground During Same Detecting Session
From this exercise we learn that we are more willing to detect the same ground again during the same session when we know a desirable target is is out there than if we do not know whether anything is there. As you do the exercise enough times, think about how you balanced detecting slowly and carefully with your willingness to make additional passes over the same ground to find it. You balanced these and other aspects of your detecting habits to make finding the known target more quickly and efficiently. In the field, the same approach will apply to finding the unknown targets that are surely out there waiting.
In real hunts, my preference is to try to break up larger sites into manageable sections, and hunt each section at least twice even if it takes multiple sections. All of my other “rules” I have developed for myself apply – for example I’ll cherry pick virgin sites and hunt “hot spots” I find on a site exceptionally hard.
I try to alternate angles each time I re-hunt the same section of the site. This reduces the likelihood and number of gaps and spots completely missed as well as affords a better opportunity to hit targets that are “obscured” by trash or are otherwise difficult to detect from a given angle. Directions are irrelevant but for example I’ll go North to South first time, then East to West when I hit the section again. If I hunt a third time I will go South to North, and if I hunt the section a fourth time I’ll go West to East.
It Doesn’t Matter How You Find the Target as Long as You Find the Target
It doesn’t really matter if you missed the target the first time as long as you came back and hit it. This is not to diminish the need to continually improve all of the ways you can miss a target. See Study: Missing the Easy Target (Will be Published August 31)
Do you scan agonizing slowly to be careful not to miss a thing? Or do you scan faster and just count on hitting areas multiple times. Or do you scan fast the first pass and then slower on the next pass? Through practice coupled with your experience in the real world, you’ll learn what works for you.
To mix it up further, try this exercise with different settings – a couple of different discrimination patterns and with no discrimination. You can even time yourself as a scoring mechanism.
Just like shooting 100 free throws each day improves your shooting in an actual basketball game, practicing with exercises like these is how you continually improve your detecting skills and you find more “Easter eggs” out in the field during actual detecting sessions.
Dig Deeper: This article was written in conjunction with the Study: Missing the Easily Detected Target, which details 25 common reasons a silver quarter at 4 inches could be missed during a hunt by a good detectorist.