A good detectorist realizes that, at the end of the day, the metal detector is giving you the best information it can, but in many instances it is dead wrong. Deep thin gold may sound like a nail. A deep silver dime’s reading may be thrown into an undesirable area because of a horseshoe in the ground a whole foot away from it. Desirable targets oriented crazy in the ground, or on the outer edge of your detectors depth capability can show up all over the place. Plus the best targets at a given site might be straight under tin cans or iron, and therefore undetectable.
You’ll hear “dig everything” over and over from many great detectorists. This is, in theory, excellent advice. With all due respect, using a backhoe and a series of screens to filter out the targets – or strip mining are also great approaches! But digging everything is usually not practical, or is definitely not the best strategy for a given site. Sure you may hit some good stuff, but you are going to wear yourself out for no reason.
And very often digging everything just isn’t an option. You can’t tear someone’s yard up. Perhaps you have limited access to a site. Or maybe there is so much trash that digging everything would be akin to just not using a detector at all and just digging.
A smart alternative to “digging everything”, yet still not miss anything, is to employ a series of phases, an approach that culls most or all of the good finds from the site over several passes, perhaps even over several detecting sessions:
Phase I: Cherry Picking
Cherry picking is simply getting all the obvious good stuff out of the site. No iffy targets. If I’m not pretty sure I’m digging up a silver coin or something deep with a good sound and numbers, then I’m coming back to it later. My discrimination is typically on, sensitivity is automatic and I’m having a great time. I wish every session could be cherry picking. It’s what we dream about when we take up the hobby, before we realize The Reality of Metal Detecting.
I can cherry pick a typical front yard in an hour or two. I’m going to cherry pick every great site I have the opportunity to hit. I’m not spending hours doing half a front yard for someone else to come grab the silver quarter from the other side of it.
Phase II: Standard Detecting
Once I’m confident the cherries have all been pretty much picked, it’s time to go to work. I go into my disciplined detecting routine. I’m sectioning off the site, overlapping my swings, and re-scanning each area from multiple angles. I’m making the proper adjustments to my detector’s sensitivity and other settings as the site dictates. I’m digging targets left and right. I like deep, iffy signals. Life is good.
Phase III: All Metal Mode
If I am door knocking and hunt, say, an old front yard a single time and am not likely to come back, I like to try to hit at least the “hot spots”, those little areas where all the good stuff seemed to be, in all-metal mode “zero discrimination” before I leave. I also generally employ all-metal mode or minimal discrimination for field hunting. And once I’ve hit a site I am hunting repeatedly a couple of times, I’ll attempt to hit it hard with little or no discrimination as well. Often I employ a bare minimum discrimination pattern because it seems to cut down the false signals coming from deep iron, reducing the instances where I pull a bent, rusty nail with a knot in it and say “Seriously” out loud. All metal mode is also employed with special audio settings to hunt in nail beds where a structure once stood, and in heavy trash. I need to hear everything so I can hear the good stuff “blip” or “chirp” briefly in between the trash so I can focus in on it.
Phase IV: Hunted out site / Sparse Targets
When I accept that a fact has been “hunted out” and the pickings are slim, I stay with minimal or no discrimination, crank up my sensitivity, and adjust my detector to the deepest settings, the ones I have worked out in my test garden . I’ll pull out my oversized search coil to get even deeper. Then I’ll pull out my small, sniper coil to attempt snag a few stragglers out of trash or from areas near trees, buildings, fences and other obstacles where a standard search coil can’t reach.
It’s hard work, but it is very satisfying to have a few great finds when someone told you “That site has been hunted to death. You’re wasting your time. You’ll never find anything.”
More on this mode can be found in the article Winning Anyway: Detecting the Hunted-Out Site.
Phase V: Dig Everything
This is such hard work, that I rarely “go there”. The site has to be one that is likely to have some monster finds still hiding in it, because when I dig everything – I dig everything. If I’ve found some great targets in the nail bed of an 1800s home site, for example, I’ll try to dig out most of the nails to try to snag an extra keeper or two. Dig out the trash and large items. Cut back bushes and anything else I can to expose potential hidden “treasure”.
I define “everything” in one of two different ways, depending on the nature of a particular site. If I’m working an incredible site where digging endlessly is not a problem, I may literally dig everything, a section at a time, over many hunts. If I’m working the yard of an inhabited antebellum home, or a manicured church grounds, I may consider “everything” to be every non-ferrous (not iron) target, as well as large ferrous ones.
Employ Common Sense
This culling approach is very general and flexible. Often, I’ll start with Phase II Standard Detecting, and drop back into Phase I Cherry Picking when I realize I’m hitting great targets left and right. Or based on a brief survey of the site with my detector prior to beginning the session, I’ll realize that finding anything good is going to be tough and drop to Phase III or lower and be prepared to work hard.
If you are just getting into detecting, by all means try “digging everything”. It’s a great way to learn your detector, and get a feel for what different types of objects can be expected for different types of signals. For example, 0nce you dig enough nails, you’ll get tired of it and will generally know a nail when you hear it.
One of the aspects of metal detecting that appeals to me is that it gives you the opportunity to make decisions based on the auditory and visual “clues” the detector provides. As our skills improve at this, we can let the nature of each site we detect dictate to us how we set our detector up, and what types of signals we should to dig to maximize our probability of finding some great keepers during each hunt. Can you dig it?
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