Metal Detecting Tips For Newbies

Metal Detecting Tips For Newbies

After 25 years in the hobby of metal detecting, Clark Rickman has learned a thing or two along the way. After all of these years, he still has a passion for detecting and hunts primarily at old homesites and battlegrounds. During that time Clark has used several different types of metal detectors in many types of environments.

Here Clark shares with us a few of his metal detecting tips that he’s learned through experience that can help both new and veteran detectorists alike.

Know Your Metal Detector!

Know your metal detector! Learn every little thing about it! This sounds obvious, but I have often ran out screaming into the field with a new detector and used it for hours (or months) without knowing something very important about that model. Read the manual, then search for your detector model on and watch videos of others that are an expert with your detector.

Two commonly overlooked settings on a detector are Sensitivity and Frequency. My Garrett’s factory setting is around 80% sensitivity! You can vary the depth and number of targets you hit by adjusting the sensitivity. You may want maximum sensitivity in areas where you are getting few hits, and may want reduced sensitivity in high trash areas. You can always go back over the area later with higher sensitivity after you have removed some “low hanging fruit” and major trash. Your detector ever start acting “Haywire”? It could be interference from another detector, powerline, or the like. Change the frequency!

Create a Test Patch

Create a Test Patch and warm up before every session! Take an area free of any targets and bury some coins and trash at different depths. Scan this area for a few minutes prior to going out to make sure your batteries are good and your detector is working properly, and to get a feel for what a coin hit feels like. Nothing beats knowing you are digging a coin before you break the ground! Another advantage of warming up is that you can’t say you didn’t find anything!

Positive Thinking

Prior to commencing a hunt, envision yourself digging a gold coin up. Relive your greatest find ever in your memory. Try to mentally take yourself back in time and pretend that old homesite is still there, or the battle is raging, or kids are running through that park in 1905, or the congregation is singing inside that old abandoned church. You catch my drift? Get your mind in a winning state every time you go out!

Enjoy Yourself

Enjoy Yourself when you’re out there! I look at it like this, I am outdoors and above ground if I don’t find a darn thing! Take in and appreciate the history you are looking at. Don’t let anything get you down. You are enjoying your sport.

Slumps happen. I happen to be in a slump right now, which I feel is mostly due to the hard dry ground in the Southern US during this hot summer. You feel better if you can identify a probable cause for the slump and not feel like the metal detector dieties are after you personally. Try to break the slump by mixing it up some – hunt a new area, think outside the box, try different settings, change your batteries….


Some of the dangers I have encountered during my days detecting are snakes, fire ants, open abandoned wells, glass, wasps, sunburn, and poison oak/ivy. Just be aware of your environment and take the proper precautions. Get permission to hunt, or you can add “Shotgun” to the list of safety hazards!

HOT TIP: If you are in a remote area, take plenty of water and some toilet paper with you. Thank me later. 🙂

Respect The Area

Don’t ruin the site by having someone come along and it looks like vandals have been there. Don’t make someone regret giving you permission to hunt. Respect the dead and don’t dig in cemeteries please. An old man once told me that as a metal detector user, you are one part historian, one part archeologist, and one part treasure hunter.

Share Your Finds!

School children learning about history by viewing some of your finds in a display case at a local museum or from you first hand is the greatest joy you can ever get out of this hobby and is far more satisfying than finding gold. Trust me.

Hot Tips:

Look Under The Porch Area

In old crumbling and abandoned homes that are still standing, I have the most luck in the area under the porch (often find coins under less than 1/2″ of dust) and in the bottom of the inside of the outer walls. Look for chewed up very old newspaper. Rats hid coins over the years and I have found many silver coins like this without even having to use my detector.

Technique For Trashy Spots

In high trash areas, I like to move way out to the outskirts of the area where there is less trash and work my way in. I like to begin a hunt in a new area with no discrimination to get a feel for the concentration of trash. I usually switch to discrimination only if I am tired of hearing trash signals, or just to switch approaches because I am not finding anything.

Finding The Hidden

To identify very old home sites in the woods where there are no obvious visible signs, look for anything out of place such as a depression in the ground that may have been a cellar or a well, or out of place stones or rocks. High areas nearby a water source are good candidates as well. Keep in mind the original road/roads may be long gone. A quick scan with the detector will hit nails and verify a structure was once there. Spending the time to find an old topographical tax map of an area is a huge shortcut. I carry one of the handheld Garmin GPS devices to mark sites in the deep woods so I can find them again. It also keeps me from getting lost like I was in the Blair Witch Project!

Dig Some Trashy Signals

Don’t be afraid to dig trash. I used to refuse to dig up anything that my discriminator didn’t like. When I started digging up more trash, I started also digging up more treasure. Remember a gold ring shows up as a pull tab on the detector, and remember a gold coin could be lurking under that cola can you refuse to dig up. You know the one I’m talking about!

Locate The Old Driveway

I love old driveways that are no longer visible from above ground. You can identify them because the ground will be very hard about 1 to 2″ deep and has a dense concentration of small rocks in it. Old driveways hold great targets very shallow as they cannot sink. Once you think you have found one, survey the entire thing with a screwdriver or your shovel to get an idea of how the whole thing is layed out, and hunt it all on low sensitivity. Silver coins, jewelry and even a hood ornament to a 1950’s Plymouth are some of the shallow targets I’ve found in such.

Get A Good Digger

Use proper digging tools and cover your holes appropriately. My digging tool of choice is a drain spade/shovel!

Take A Kid Detecting!

Pass along the hobby and teach the kid something. A child that is detecting is probably not out getting in trouble. Not only are you being a positive role model, you can negotiate with the kid for half of his finds! Just kidding LOL! Metal Detecting also can be fun for the entire family. My wife and daughter love it. If you only have one detector, take two shovels and alternate using the detector and digging holes. You’ll dig more stuff!

Get A Good Pinpointer!

Ever dig a giant pit and can’t find what the detector is yelling about? Spend the money and get a good pinpointer probe! Thank the Lord (and by proxy the manufacturers) for these things. I like the Vibra Probe and the Garrett ProPointer.

Check Yer Holes!

Redig and rescan every hole you find a winner in. When I was a kid, I didn’t have a metal detector, but I followed this guy around and dug coins out of the holes he had already extracted a target from and abandoned! True story. I like to spend the extra time to dig a few more inches and use my pinpointer one more time. Sometimes you will get an extra coin that your detector wouldn’t have hit. Also, check your shovel. I’ve had a coin stuck to it with gummy mud before.

Respect Your Detector

Take care of your detector. Don’t sling it to the ground every time you get ready to dig. Keep it clean and dry and store it properly. Take the batteries out if you plan to store it for a long time. My Garretts are tough as nails, but these are expensive, sensitive instruments. Take care of your detector and it will take care of you.

Final Thoughts

Happy detecting. Best of luck to you, and thanks for reading:

Clark R.
Nashville, TN
Editor in Chief Detecting365

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Photo Credits

R. Williams