Detectorist Spotlight: Joel Donovan

Detectorist Spotlight: Joel Donovan

Joel Donovan is an accomplished new detectorist that we are very impressed with.   In spite of having only been detecting about six months, he has had some astounding success.  He caught out attention at a recent club hunt.  We were hitting a site that had absolutely been pounded to death by the club and others over several hunts, and targets and keepers were now quite sparse.   In spite of this, he pulled a monster find out of the site -the best find of the hunt – in the company of the best detectorists in middle Tennessee with some pretty hard-hitting, high-dollar machines.  Joel did this with a relatively inexpensive machine.  He has an excellent mindset and technique and has mastered his machine.   He is a textbook case study, in our opinion, for someone new to the hobby, and I think even the “experts” can learn something from him.

We ran into Joel at the recent Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club’s monthly meeting and he agreed to answer a few questions for us:

D365:  Thank very much for taking your time to answer some questions for our readers, Joel.

Joel:  First off I’d like to thank the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club for getting the hunt together where I found this item.

D365:  Please describe your find at the recent MTMDC hunt.  What is it?  Is it a saddle shield or is it a martingale?

Joel:  My find is a Martingale Star/Shield Saddle Ornament. With all of my information gathered and having taken it to a well known relic dealer in middle TN this was the description for which I choose to describe it when showing it. The fact as to whether it was used in the civil war or whether it was pre civil war (militia) is still up for debate but since there were numerous cavalry in the area during the civil war I can only guess it was of the civil war period.

D365: The site had produced some great finds in the past, but had been pounded to death over the years by detectorists, and 30 or more MTMDC members had hunted it many times, including some of the best detectorists in middle Tennessee..  Yet you pull this “monster” find out of the ground.   How do you explain that?

Joel: I will start by saying that I am not a believer in ANY ground being completely “dug out.” The only personal proof I have of this is that I have an area where I live that used to be an old railroad trestle that was guarded by soldiers during the civil war. I was always told that it was “hunted out” many years ago but I had to see for myself. So far I have found many shot bullets, cleaner bullets, dropped bullets, and a general service button along with a smaller “C” cavalry button. I have also witnessed many other good finds come from the area. Having seen that I would have to dig for myself to see what I can muster up. I am very new to MD but I have a passion that drives me to dig a lot and to dig for longer time periods than most. I had watched numerous videos showing proper swing technique and have become very intimate with my machine. I hunt nearly every chance I get and I dig in many different places. I have found well over $120.00 worth of clad and several other “treasures” since I began in November of 2014. I dug every steady signal I got during the club hunt in Triune and even some that were not so steady. For the first 4 hours I dug tons of nails and other scrap iron pieces such as horseshoes and farm implements. I tried to separate myself from the other members since I had no idea of how I should act at a group hunt. When I finally decided to mingle a bit at an old homesite I began to get many mixed signals. Most of those were nails but I did happen to get a 1916 wheat penny in a hole that had 3 nails in it. Once I couldn’t stand it any more I wandered off to one of the last areas I hadn’t already been through. I dropped down to the edge of the property along a fence line and began to slowly work parallel with the fence. I found a few scrap pieces of iron and then I got a weak but steady signal. The tone didn’t stand out but the signal was what I was digging so I dug it. About 5 inches down I found the Saddle Shield. I dug slow so not to hurt anything fragile. I knew this because I broke a nice button just 3 weeks prior by forcefully digging. Needless to say I was excited to show what I had found since I didn’t really know what I had. I worked the spot good for about 20 minutes until moving up to find someone who could identify the find. Once identified I was even that much more excited.

D365:  What was your mindset going into the hunt?   Had you been told the site had been hunted heavily in the past? Were you well rested?  What was your attitude like?

Joel: My mindset going into the hunt was one filled with excitement. I had prepared a small backpack to carry the needed items that I thought would help me through the day. I found out about the hunt during my first meeting and that gave me only one full day to get everything together. I was told that this would be the 5th time that this site was hunted so I knew hunting hard and long wasn’t going to be an option if I was going to find anything good. The drive is about an hour away so I made sure I went to sleep fairly early the night before. I also knew I wasn’t going to stop detecting until the last possible minute. My hunt started out well as I began to get iron signals right away. That told me that I was in an area that held “something” but also told me I may have to slow way down to get through to the better targets. I also wanted to look in as many places throughout the property that I could just to convince myself that I gave it my best shot. My attitude never changed as I was just excited to be part of a club hunt among others who could teach me many things I needed to learn. Just seeing the other members work was a lesson alone.

D365:   I noticed that the find was close to the “base”, an old house place on the land.  You didn’t wander off to the “hot spots” with many of the other detectorists that knew where things had been found in the past.   Why?

Joel: Once the hunt began many members went to the old home site location near the higher point of the field. I didn’t want to get real close to those others and I also figured that since it was the 5th hunt I probably wouldn’t find much in that area anyway. I was also told that many buttons had been found in a lower area of the field so I set my sights toward that area. Once I stopped getting good hits I wandered even further from the homesite looking for anything that wasn’t gone over real well but I had no luck. Lots of iron but no lead or brass. I went through a couple small wooded areas but found more trash. That’s when I decided to make a big sweep back toward the homesite and the other part of the property I hadn’t already tried. Looking back I would do about the same today as I did then with a location like that.

D365:  I’m told you didn’t use a high end $2000 detector to make this find.   Tell us about your detector. How well do you know it.  What do you like about it? Are you successful with it on a regular basis?

Joel: When I decided to get into metal detecting I wanted to find a machine that would have qualities that would help me for long outings and that would be good for different locations as well. Not knowing the high end machines well and just by comparison alone I searched for a lower priced machine with more features of the higher end machines. I settled on the Bounty Hunter 3300. It was the 3rd in it’s generation and it had several features I thought would be good for me. The best feature was the weight (2.4 lbs). I knew I would be swinging it for long periods so that has worked great. Some other great features are the auto ground balance, the 4 tones, the display, and also the ability to discriminate. The pinpoint feature makes it nice since I just push the button and it stays in pinpoint mode and condenses the pinpoint area as the button is pressed again and again. The price made the most impact. It was ver inexpensive and it has a limited warranty not found in some other popular detectors (5yr). I have become very familiar with what the machine can do and I am very successful in areas that hold good finds. It is also a clad magnet. I have found well over $125.00 worth of quarters, dime, and nickels so far. It has helped me find my first Merc dime also along with several pieces of jewelry to include silver jewelry.

Eagle Breastplate recovered by Joel Donovan

Eagle Breastplate recovered by Joel Donovan

D365:  What advice can you give some of our readers out there that might be new to detecting and struggling to make their first significant find?

Joel: My first piece of advice is DO NOT GIVE UP! If you really want to detect and make it a long term hobby then stick with it. My philosophy has always been that “if they can find it then I can too.” I just have to put myself in the right locations and take my time looking. You WILL dig a lot of trash items before you learn your machine but even the best still dig trash. Learn EVERYTHING you can about your machine. This will take time. Find a club as well as other people who enjoy to metal detect. This will make your finds that much more special and it will start a network that will allow you to explore other areas you may not have thought of. Go SLOW. Find a good technique and stick with it. Most of all HAVE FUN. It isn’t a job, it’s a fun hobby to enjoy.

D365:   What is your favorite find so far?   What is on the top of your wish list to find this year?

Joel: My favorite find is my Star/Shield Saddle Ornament. Just the unique aspect of it puts it to the top of my list. My wish-list for this year is anything Confederate, a Belt Buckle, a gold ring, and different early period coins.

D365:  Thanks, Joel!!!

Joel: Thanks for allowing me to answer some questions for detecting365. Once again I hope to see you at the next MTMDC meeting and as always Happy Hunting to everyone out there.

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Joel Donovan



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