Over the past few years, I’ve worked extremely hard to continually improve my detecting skills to a point where I can dig the “unfindable” with some regularity.  And I’m still improving, always trying to find one more edge.

After all, unlike 30 years ago, I am usually hunting a site that has been hunted before, and the better the site, the more times it probably has been hunted in the past.  I no longer actively seek out sites that might not have been hunted.  I successfully hunt the most “hunted out” Civil War sites in Middle Tennessee.

When I have a very good day, most detectorists that don’t know me extremely well immediately look at my primary machine – a worn out e-Trac with a 13″ Detech Ultimate Coil and talk about how great it is – how it finds things that other machines can’t seem to get.

Imagine that you are a professional basketball player.  You go out and score a triple double during tonight’s game, scoring 45 points, 11 of 12 three pointers, and perfect on free throws.  You are in a zone and just kill it.   And after the game a fan walks up and asks “What kind of basketball is that!  Wow!  What a great basketball!”

Never mind all the hard work you put in all week, and for years before.  In the weight room, on the practice court.   Staying after practice and shooting 300 free throws.  Never mind all the coaching, modelling, and techniques you’ve learned and developed.   The basketball did it.

Conversely, when I have a bad hunt compared to that of my hunting partner, there is only myself to blame.  It is not my machine, just like it isn’t the basketball.  I didn’t have my head in the game, or was not rested, or made fundamental mistakes.  By recognizing them, I can be better prepared for my next outing.

Now this is not to say that some detectors do not have distinct advantages over other,  but anyone that is willing to put in the work could do what I do with any capable machine.  This is why you can’t buy a new cutting edge machine and take it to your old honey hole and find stuff with it.  Sure you might find something, and you might make yourself find something to justify your purchase, but usually you would have found it with your old machine.


The difference between a test garden and actual detecting is KNOWN TARGETS.  Targets are not known out in the field until you dig, if you dig.   Knowing that there is a silver quarter at 16 inches right there that you can’t detect, or shows a nail number, is eye-opening.  Your test garden is where you learn the reality of how tough targets, such as those that are deep or masked by trash and iron, can sound and read.  You learn that the targets are there, but you do not have the capability to reach them or recognize them.  This knowledge makes you want to do the work – fool with ground balance and discrimination and sensitivity and detector-specific settings so that you can reach them, and free your mind from the detectors display by learning what tough targets sound like and read like – that often they sound and read like nails, but with some work, you can make them give away their true identity.

All targets are marked with golf tees so I can see their exact location.  I have a map on paper so I can remember what is what. My test garden is divided into three sections.

a) Warmup:  These are some fairly easy targets, good and bad, that I can use to quickly make sure my machine is working properly, and “get my ears back” accustomed to hearing different sounds.

b) Deep Targets:  I have bullets and silver coins and other items at depths where I cannot detect them at all, or can barely detect them.  These are my free throws.  I work to get to them, and clear up their initial nail sound through technique and detector adjustments so that they at least give me the auditory and visual clues I need to dig.  I work with three different machines to hear the differences.  One of my machines is relatively new, and even though it is superior technology, I am struggling with it to reach the targets I can with my older machines.

c) Crazy Targets:   Things like a belt plate at two feet with a horseshoe near it.    A bunch of square nails with a silver dime.  I’m constantly changing and reconfiguring this part of my garden.  This is very eye-opening.

My favorite part of my test garden are the few targets I cannot detect.  Some of them would surprise you.  A button at only four inches with a horseshoe about 4 inches under it.     These targets re-affirm that no site is really hunted out.

So when I walk onto a “hunted out” site that has produced relics in the past, because I work in a test garden, my mind understands and really believes that many, not just a few, great relics are still in the ground, but I’ve got to work to get to some of them.   And by work, I mean ground balance my machine a certain way, and be willing to modify sensitivity and discrimination levels, and listen carefully to try to identify tough targets like those in my test garden.


Work in the test garden gives you supreme confidence in your settings, because you KNOW what the settings do, and why.  If you are frustrated with your detector, or feel like you have hit a wall with its capability, or are constantly switching machines, I bet you don’t work out in a test garden regularly.  Use the settings and recommendations of other successful detectorists as guides and starting points, but don’t be afraid to go with what you find works best for you in the places you actually hunt, for typical things you are looking for, and your skill level.   Optimal settings for a yard coinshooter are a completely different animal than those employed for beach hunting, or Civil War relic hunting, for example.


Very few detectorists bother with working out regularly in a test garden, like playing in a golf tournament without playing a practice round or hitting the driving range in preparation.   If I abandoned my test garden, I’m certain it would reduce my finds by 75%+.


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