Metal Detecting 101: When to Dig Everything

Metal Detecting 101: When to Dig Everything

“I walk along beside the garbagemen ’cause I dig everything – dig everything.  I wave to the policemen, but they don’t wave back –  They don’t dig anything – dig everything. Ain’t had a job for a year or more and I don’t own a thing – dig everything. Everything’s fine and I dig everything. Everything’s fine and I dig everything.  Dig.”  – David Bowie: I Dig Everything

I  was having a conversation with a reader recently about Civil War relic hunting and he asked me if I was successful because I just dug everything.   Good question.  Unlike coinshooting, Civil War relics can be all over the place on the audio and visual scales of our detectorists.   And all bets are off on extremely deep items whether they be coins or relics.     They can sound like anything.   Here’s how I answered him:


Detecting is all about digging smart.  You typically can only dig so many holes during a session, so in general, the smarter choices you (not your detector) make about what to dig, the better chances are you will dig keepers and monsters.  We call the continuous improvement process on choosing targets “Digging Better Targets”, and as you learn new techniques, and learn to listen for how an incredibly deep Civil War bullet or deep coin sounds, for example, you just get better at it.

Besides, you just can’t dig every signal back to back, even excluding obvious nails, on a typical site.   If the site is trashy, we wear ourselves out quickly.   You’d probably dig a ton of garbage, too, if the site is not productive.   If you are hunting with a partner, you are going to dig everything while he/she selects better signals and likely gets all the goods.    Digging everything on a good site is something that occurs over time.   Someone came in and cherry picked the site years ago, and it has been hunted many times after that, each time reducing the number of remaining targets, so that it may seem that nothing but nails and foil are left.

One of the great phenomena in detecting is beginner’s luck.   If you’ve detected long enough, you know it well.   A kid or spouse or friend with very little experience goes out and digs a monster.  The signal they dug was often not a good one.   They didn’t know any better so they dug it.   The very first hole my daughter ever dug was a WWII dog tag – a canslaw signal in a field full of canslaw.   And with all my experience and “smart target selection”, I didn’t dig anything that session.


1)  I am hunting a “hunted out” site that has produced a ton of relics in the past.  Recently one of my hunting partners dug a super rare Mississippi Artillery button in the most hunted out yard I can think of.   He said it sounded like a nail.

2) I dig a monster find such as a rare Civil War item.  After I’m confident all the good, obvious signals have been dug, I’m digging everything.  Just too much potential not to.   I want to get all the canslaw and other trash, and big iron out of the ground because experience shows it pays almost 100% of the time.

3) I have a honey hole that I can hunt long term at will.     I have several spots with permission that I can hunt after work or just to fool around with detector settings.  I’ve long since dug all the easy signals.  I dig everything, and almost always walk out of there with a flat button or a bullet.

4) Hot Spot:  I dig a pocket spill or a bullet spill or something really good or rare.  I’ll usually at least dig every single signal within a reasonable radius of the find even if I don’t go into “dig everything mode” for the entire site.

All of the items in the photos below came out of the same yard recently over the course of two hunts.  About 75% of these were iffy signals.  Some of them I expected to be trash or nails.   I rarely hunt a yard more than once, and if I do, you can just about bet it is a good yard and I’m going to dig just about every signal.

Photo Jun 02, 4 52 07 PM

The Williams Cleaner was laying on top of the ground in plain view!

Dig Everything

Dig Everything

What is Everything?

Now technically when I decide to dig “Everything”, I am not digging every nail.  I dig every signal that is not iron, every deep signal that at first sounds like iron but “jumps” or “squeaks” at all, and every signal I think is big iron.   I also watch my depth meter and decide to dig anything deep that doesn’t sound like obvious iron.    And I don’t really dig a lot of iron like you’d think when I do “dig everything”.

When the site is one of the greatest ever, I will dig nails once even iffy targets have diminished toward zero.    I’ve dug lots of great things after digging the nails that were masking them in the ground.       Also, lots of deep “nails” have turned out to not be nails at all, but desirable relics.   From work in my test garden, my theory is that targets that are on the very edge physical detection range of a given detector are outside of its effective ID range, and most detectors either default toward a nail number, or actually read the target as such due to the weak signal.

To be clear, It is important to note that I will only dig everything if I’m on a site that has produced a lot of good things in the past, either for me, or it has for others.   Once you learn that no such site is ever really hunted out, you realize that the relics are there, but you cannot get to them with discrimination and standard settings for ID.    The finds are still there, we just have to find a way to rescue them.


“That’s how it’s done, sweetheart.”

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