PRACTICE UNDER CONTROLLED CONDITIONS: THE TEST GARDEN
You would not start hunting without learning how to shoot, play basketball competitively for the first time without practicing, or play guitar in front of someone without a lot of practice. Doing any of these activities with no practice would obviously lead to embarrassment and frustration. Detecting is absolutely no different. You need to practice detecting prior to beginning to hunt for real. Metal detecting in a test garden is practicing. Metal detecting in the real world is experience. You will certainly learn from both, but the practice should come first.
Setting up a Test Garden
A test garden is a controlled area with known targets you can detect to practice and regularly check the performance of your machine.
1) First you’ll need to find an area of your yard free of any metal objects. Something like a ten foot square is good. This can be some good practice in itself. Turn your detector on and use the manual to find out how to use zero discrimination, then find a spot in your yard with very few signals. Dig anything you find and continue until you are fairly sure you can sweep the area with no signals.
2) Get together some test objects including 5-6 good items of the type you will be looking for such as various coins. Also include some common trash in the test group: a soda pull-tab, a bottle cap, a soda can, and a rusty nail. Also obtain a pile of brightly colored wooden golf tees to mark the targets in the garden.
3) Take the test objects and bury them at various depths of 3-6 inches and at least a foot apart from one another. As you improve, you may want to bury some deeper targets, and move the good and bad targets closer together. Make a map of your test area on a piece of paper showing the location of each object, its identification, and its approximate depth. Press a brightly colored golf tee in the ground directly above each target so you can see its location.
Try to visit your test garden prior to each hunt. Even after your become an “expert”, the test garden is a great place to warm up, try out new settings, and make sure the detector is working properly with fully charged batteries.
Test Setup and Settings
Your routine while practicing should match your routine you use in the field as closely as possible. If you plan to wear headphones in the field, you should wear them practicing, for example.
Turn your detector on and, using what your learned from the manual, turn it onto one of the programs – i.e., COIN or RELIC – that matches what you plan to hunt for with the detector.
FUNDAMENTALS: Swing Height and Speed
A good, consistent swing is extremely important in order for the detector to provide consistent signals and feedback to you. A good detector swing has the following important characteristics:
Good Height: Because bumping of the search coil into the ground, grass or other obstacles will cause distorted and false signals, you should swing with the search coil 1/2 to 1″ above the terrain. Be careful not to let your search coil rise up at the end of your swings, which it will naturally try to do.
If you are having problems keeping the detector at a constant height, you might try keeping your arm fairly rigid and swinging back and forth with your shoulder, or your waist.
Good Width: Just outside shoulder width is fairly common good width for your swing. Consult your manual for recommendations for your detector.
Good Speed: Consult your manual for the recommended swing speed for your detector. The speed should be constant. You may have multiple swing speeds for different conditions. To start you might consider two seconds per swing to be a slow swing in a trashy area, and one second per swing to be a fast swing in an area without a lot of targets. Count the seconds in your head as you swing: “1001, 1002”.
Overlap: Your swings should overlap about 1/3 – 1/2 of the search coil as you move forward. Take your time moving forward and let the swing dictate your pace. Your test garden may be small, so step away from it and practice your pace and overlap by approaching the test garden from a distance.
With practice you will get a feel for what the optimal swings are for your detector. A poor swing is the root cause of many new detectorists problems locating good targets, so practice all you can.
FUNDAMENTALS: Repeatable Signal
Once you have a target, you will shorten your swing to just pass the search coil completely over the target until it clears it on both sides.
Select a target in the test garden and practice sweeping the search coil over it back and forth. Keep swinging it until you are certain you “feel” the signal. You hear the same thing each time, and the detector displays pretty much the same thing each time. This is called a repeatable signal, and this is what you will be looking for on an actual hunt.
Once you have a repeatable signal, you want to practice using the pinpoint feature of your detector to isolate the target. In the real world this is going to tell you where to dig. Once you have pinpointed, note the location of the golf tee in on your search coil so you’ll know where to mark the location on a target in the real world.
SET DETECTING GOALS
If you are looking for silver coins, the yard of an old house is perfect. If you are looking for spare change and jewelry, a park that has not been hunted out may do nicely. If you are relic hunting – perhaps you want to hunt a pasture that used to be a military camp or part of a battlefield.
Make sure you have permission to hunt the site you have chosen. Do not be a trespasser!
To be most effective to the new detectorist, it is important that you choose a site that has not been hunted out by other detectorists. It is also advisable to find a place that is not unusually trashy.
THINGS YOU WILL NEED ON YOUR HUNT
It is highly recommended that you use metal detecting headphones to be able to clearly hear the detectors signals. Deep signals, for example may be fainter than those from shallow objects. Headphones also keep the detector for being noisy if you are hunting in a public place.
2) A sample item
Carry a sample coin or other item with you. If you become frustrated, toss it down on the ground and practice sweeping it until you are confident enough to continue.
Comfortable gloves are important as you will be sifting through dirt. Will also protect your hands from getting cut, and from poisonous plants.
4) Treasure Pouch
Something to carry and secure your finds in. You do not want to get in the habit of shoving your finds in your pockets as you can easily lose or damage them. You can buy a “finds pouch” or treasure pouch online, or make one yourself. A good treasure pouch is sturdy to keep from holes being worn in it for finds to drop out of, and has room for larger finds and trash, and a zip or hidden pocket for the good stuff.
5) Digging Tool
We’ve written an entire article about Digging tools. Some common tools are a garden spade, a screwdriver, or a Lesche digger for yards and parks. A Sampson shovel may be used for fields and woods hunting.
6) Pinpointer (optional)
Not to be confused with the pinpointing feature on your metal detector, a pinpointer is a hand probe that you can stick in the hole you have dug to find the target quickly. Though a good pinpointer can run over $100, the hobby is much more enjoyable with one. Using a pinpointer decreases chance of damaging your object, and greatly increases how fast you can recover it, which means more keepers per hour.
7) Environmental Items: Think about where you are going to be detecting and prepare. Dress accordingly and bring the things you need to be there a while. Wear comfortable shoes that can get dirty. Do you need insect repellent? Sunscreen? Water? Snacks? If you are going to be out in the fields or woods, did you think about bringing toilet paper?
Read More: Finally! Let’s Detect Some Metal…>