The Metal Detecting Mindset:  Willing Yourself to Win

The Metal Detecting Mindset: Willing Yourself to Win

Above is an extremely rare Civil War US Martingale that I recovered last week in Nashville, Tennessee.  So rare you will have a difficult time finding one online, and a tougher time finding one for sale.   From the reference books,  this was a breastplate for a horse, very likely carried on the chest of a cavalry or artillery horse.  This sets the imagination on fire – just one power a great metal detecting find seems to have.  What did the horse look like?  Did he die here?  Did he have a name?

Let’s go back to last year – 2014 was my greatest detecting year ever.   I had some amazing finds, and found more everything: more silver, more gold, and more relics than any of my previous 32 years detecting.    I attribute this to doing more research, working on my depth and trash detecting skills in the test garden, and hunting harder than any year before.

I also detected with others for the first time in years, and therefore also had loads of fun.  Many of the stories I tell aren’t about my finds, but about getting permission, or not getting permission, or some unfortunate event that befell me that is now gut-wrenchingly hilarious though it wasn’t the least bit funny at the time.   It doesn’t matter what you find, if you’re not having fun with other detectorists – not having a downright adventure like the movie The Hangover, you are really missing out.

Anyway, as I reviewed last year for improvement opportunities and to set my goals for 2015, I noticed something interesting about many of my best finds, and the same thing, I realized, was evident in some of my other great finds over the years.    I think I really believed in it before now, but out loud, I chalked it up to coincidence and wouldn’t dare write about it – but that was before I found the Martingale.

Last year I was very surprised that I didn’t dig a “plate”,  the all-encompassing term Civil War relic hunters use to refer to the large belt buckles, breast plates, and other big accoutrements of the Civil War.  Some are solid brass, like a sword belt plate or many Confederate belt buckles, but most are very thin brass and lead filled.  Almost every other detectorists I detected with dug one at least one plate in 2014, and a couple of them dug three or more.  I didn’t dig any.   And I was detecting in the same areas, and in a lot of instances on the same sites or literally in the same yards as them.   Not to worry – I recovered more than my share of other incredible finds, but I found it to be statistically odd that I had not dug a plate.  I joked that “maybe it is because my first one will be a good one!”

So when it came time to set my detecting goals for 2015, “Any Plate” was at the top of the list.     And I dug one only 22 days into 2015.  Blind luck?  Simple statistics?  Easy to argue that I was just lucky and my time had finally come.  Normally I’d tend to agree with you, but now I don’t think so.

I wasn’t even supposed to be detecting the day I found the Martingale.  But I had been working on some permission.  The property owner called and said I could come on Thursday.  I owed a friend that I consider a detecting legend a hunt or two, so I invited him along.    And we realized in about an hour the site I had lined up was going to be a complete bust.

We had three backup sites to try so we drove to ask permission.  The first one was the property of an old lady that never let anyone detect what is surely a monster site, but she had died and the caretaker there couldn’t give us permission.     The second one was just hilarious.   A nice lady smiled and nodded as I gave my spill about the Civil War activity on her land.  I was ready to hear “Yes” and start detecting when I realized with horror that she hardly spoke a word of English.   The funny thing is I speak a decent amount of Spanish, but had no idea what “Civil War” or “Metal Detect” or even “Bullets” were in Spanish.  I even tried to mime metal detecting to demonstrate what I was asking.  How embarrassing is that?   And we couldn’t get anyone to answer the door at the third property.

I was driving Bill back to his house when I the Bererker Detectorist in me kicked in: This is ridiculous we have to detect somewhere.  So I almost randomly turned and drove until I came to a street I recognized – one I’d had a little luck with in the past.   I randomly picked a big yard I hadn’t hunted, knocked and no one answered the door.   And as I walked back to the truck, I spotted two guys across the street talking in the driveway near the rear of the house.      So I asked them, they said “Knock yourself out.” and it was in that yard I found the Martingale.

So what does seemingly random set of events and unfortunate permission stories have to do with willing yourself to win?  Everything.

Last year I bugged the crap out of every detectorist I knew that had dug a plate.  How deep was it?  What did it sound like?   What was your first thought?  What other items were found at the site you found it?  Trying to glean every single bit of information I could think of that might give me some type of an edge in the field.

I also borrowed a US Plate and an Eagle Breast plate and worked with them in my test garden to get a feel for what a deep one might sound like.

I wanted to know what it was like to dig a plate.  If I was in a site that possibily had a plate in it, I wanted to know the signs to look for.   If I swung my detector over a plate, I wanted to have some familiarity or feel for what it might sound like, and look like on the display.   Above all, I wanted to know what it felt like to dig a plate.

I went through collector reference books like Stanley Kerksis Plates and Buckles of the American Military 1795-1874 and viewed dug plates on eBay and the forums.  Trying to commit to memory just a fraction of some of the plates that were possible to dig looked like.

Using all of this information, I created kind of a video in my mind.   Just like making a memory, except it hadn’t happened.  I imagined myself swinging the detector.  I imagined what the site might look like.  What the signal might sound like.  I literally saw myself break the ground then on my knees trying to pry a plate out of the bottom of a carefully dug hole with my fingers.  I imagined myself at the instant I realized what I had found.  I imagined the feeling and the emotion – if you’ve detected long enough to have a monster find – you know the feeling.   I imagined a dirty plate, and imaged the green or brown patina.

So, in effect, I created a kind of premonition.  And I reinforced it by playing it in my head as often as possible.


Sounds silly doesn’t it? But I believe this envisioning process works.  I believe the mind is powerful enough to pull you toward your vision in ways that we can’t understand – ways like a site being a bust, not getting permission at 4 properties, and then getting permission at a site with the plate.

So now I’m working on creating a vision of digging a Confederate button.  As before I’ll collect information from those that have dug one, practice on samples, and create a video image in my head with as much detail as possible.   And we’ll see what happens…

Update: The Metal Detecting Mindset: Willing Yourself to Win Part 2: A Confederate Button

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. nancester1 . at 7:41 am

    I don’t know anyone more dedicated to research,detecting techniques , and keeping their nose to the grindstone like you Clark so well deserved.

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