The Single Most Common Reason for Missing a Great Find

The Single Most Common Reason for Missing a Great Find

“Every day is a new day.  I’m thankful for every breath I take.  I won’t take it for granted, so I learn from my mistakes.” – P.O.D.,  ALIVE

Here are some of my favorite finds that I’ve dug this year:

1) US Civil War Martingale (Horse Breastplate)

2) 1869 Shield Nickel

3) 1895-O Barber Dime (key date)

4) US Civil War Belt Plate

5) 1878 Morgan Dollar

What do these finds have in common?  They were all found in sites that had been hammered to death.  For whatever reason, they were left behind by others.  And, I instinctively did not want to dig any of them, initially  thinking each was either a beer can, a deep nail, or a shallow penny.   These are just some major finds for just 2015 that fit this description.

Now I understand we can’t always dig everything.    I also understand that beginner to intermediate detectorists need to rely on the guidance of their metal detector in order to dig good targets and not get frustrated with junk.   I still evaluate each site separately and hunt them in passes.  I enjoy the occasional virgin site or good construction site and initially cherry pick it just like anyone else.  However,  a major concept that I feel has taken me to an HNL (hole notha level) has been developing the confidence to make my own decisions about what to dig, using the sounds, numbers and other feedback from the detector as only a recommendation.

Ironically, this accounts for some of the monster finds made by newbies hunting with experts in areas that have been hunted heavily.  Often they dug because they didn’t “know better.”


Keep in mind that I am a dirt hunter, not a beach hunter – primarily a relic hunter in Civil War areas that I hunt, and a coin shooter in non-Civil War areas.  The reality of metal detecting is, in the year 2015, the vast majority of such sites that I hunt have been hunted, many either by dozens of detectorists over the years. Many by expert detectorists that took the site apart long before I graced the ground with my coil.

So I hunt a lot of sites, a numbers game waiting to get to that next virgin or otherwise super site.  But in the interim, as difficult as it is to get permission and get out and hunt, I like to attempt to get something out of every single site I hunt, no matter how hard it has been pounded by others.  So my bread and butter is iffy signals such as super deep signals and stuff partially masked by iron and trash.     In fact, I’m currently really due up for a good site.  Here are my finds for the last few days from over ten sites that had been hunted in the past.

Photo Sep 01, 8 58 11 AM

Nothing astounding there, but I had to work to get them.   And if I had relied on my detector to tell me what to dig, you’d be looking at a picture above with one, maybe two items.   And that’s the kind of work that has produced some of my big finds this year.


Most beginner to intermediate detectorists follow this process:

1) Use a default program or set up a discrimination pattern that allows the detector to only make a sound when it feels like it – such as when a coin or falsing nail produces a number seventy, for example.  Some detectors even say “cha-ching” like a cash register.

2) When they hear a sound, they look at the display to see where the indicator is.  “It’s right on the icon of a quarter!”

3) They dig, or maybe they don’t dig. “Not high enough number. It’s just a pulltab.”

I’m not mocking this.  This is how we all hunt to learn the ropes, and I still do it to learn a new machine initially.    But the reality is that you and I are not going to dig a lot of silver dimes at 16 inches sitting in proximity to a nail with this approach.

One of the things that used to bother me about using heavy discrimination, btw, was being in heavy trash or iron and the detector just feeling random, as it only produced audio feedback for certain good targets and falsing targets at certain angles.

Over time, through regular work in the test garden, and experience out in the field with actual targets, both good and bad, I learned to hunt with either no, or very minimal discrimination.    Why?  I want to hear everything in the ground and make my own decisions about what to dig.  And just killing the discrimination caused my finds to explode over the last few years.  But understanding when to dig unstable and “iffy” signals is what really made the difference, and turned me into a magician when I’m on a “hunted out” site.  Here is my process for deep targets on heavily hunted sites.

Note:  In heavy trash and iron, such as a nail bed where an old house stood, I’m listening for tiny chirps of high tones, and the depth meter is typically useless in those instances.   See This Article for Hunting in Heavy Trash and Iron.

1) Sound

I’m listening for a sound, any sound.   Keep in mind this site has been hunted heavily so anything here probably isn’t going to sound good.

2) Depth

When I hear a sound in my headphones, the first thing I look at is my depth meter, not the numbers on the display.

If the target shows deep on my meter, I want to take a closer look at it.

3) Numbers on Display

I will isolate the target and use a tiny “wrist wiggle” swing on top of it.   Often a “nail” reading will start jumping back and forth between “good” and “bad” numbers.   When the numbers jump, so does the audio and I’ll hear high and low signals.  I call this “making the target talk to me”.

4) Make Dig Decision

I am listening carefully and watching the numbers, leaning on my experience to know what a good “iffy” signal feels like, but in general, if the numbers are jumpy and the target is deep, I’m probably going to dig – especially on a hunted out site.    And more often than not, I’ve got an awesome deep find!


Many iffy signals, especially the crazy deep ones, are in actuality just outside of the effective depth range of the detector’s target ID functions.   So I have to make them talk else I won’t hear them and would walk on.

Yes I dig a few bent nails and iron with holes in it, but techniques like raising the coil, stomping the ground, and re-evaluating a given target at different angles greatly reduce the amount of false bad targets I dig.   I’d say 70% or more of the time, when I decide to dig an iffy target, it was worth digging.  And I’m constantly working to improve on that.

So there it is.   My secret to how I dig good stuff where few can – how I dig good targets at unreasonable depths that has people coughing “BS” into their fists because it sounds like a big fish story.   This takes a lot of work to master, but the point of this article is that, regardless of where you are at detecting, consider adopting the mindset that you, not the detector are the one finding stuff.  The detector is only a tool, and only provides guidance about what to dig.   Then, as you get comfortable, concepts such as reducing discrimination, and jacking up sensitivity which reduces accurate ID by the machine, might start to make sense.  And you can find great stuff with the best detector you can afford and don’t have to have the latest thing.

Finally, if you are having fun, finding stuff, and finding good stuff, don’t fix it because it is not broke.    You might have to work so hard it kills the fun.  This tip is for a hardcore, heavily experienced detectorist that needs to pull more good targets out of hunted out sites.

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