What to Do When Your Right to Detect is Challenged.

What to Do When Your Right to Detect is Challenged.

If you hunt new sites regularly you are probably from time to time approached by people who challenge your right to be on the property you are hunting.  Challenges occurring on private property are best handled differently than challenges on public property, so we’ll discuss each type separately.


Metal detecting on private property without permission is trespassing.  An ethical detector user does not detect without permission, and is aware of all property boundaries prior to commencing the hunt to avoid trespassing into someone else’s property.

A typical piece of private property may have many people associated with it such as various family members, renters and custodians.   Very often when permission is granted, few or any of these people may have been notified that you will be on the property.    So if one of those people happens by and sees you, or someone who knows them sees you detecting and calls them, then they more than likely are going to come and check you out.  Challenges over private property are obviously more likely to occur on property that is not inhabited by the person that granted permission.

The most common challenge by someone associated with the property is a stern “Can I help you?” and the second most common challenge is “Is there a problem?”  Sometimes the detector user is simply referred to the “No Trespassing” signs posted everywhere.

The worst thing I can do in this situation is to provoke the challenger by saying something like “Well so and so gave me permission so you need to talk to him.”   After all, I probably am not 100% sure that the person granting me permission had the clear legal authority to do so. Lots of times they are leasing the land from the owner, in worst case are just the custodian, or have brothers or co-owners or husbands or wives and all types of people who could kick my rear end off their property. The person challenging me may be at odds with the person granting permission, as is often the case with estates, for example.

Flkr Lamoix All Rights Reserved

Please allow me to retort.  I’m about to demonstrate what I think about your permission.

The challenger may be further exasperated, for example, by previous trespassers, theft, or lousy detectorists that left holes and trash all over the property.

You should respectfully treat this situation in the same manner as you got permission in the first place. You do not want to turn this person around and get him out of your face; you want to turn this person around and get his blessing and referrals.

First of all, as you are approached it is critical that you do not act nervous or ignore him/her.  When possible, always stop detecting, take off your headphones and walk – detector in hand – to meet the person halfway, with a smile on you face. This is the single best thing you can do to mentally disarm the person. You feel comfortable being there. It’s no big deal. You are relaxed. He or she relaxes a bit.

Secondly, it is important to not assume you are being challenged and be too defensive. I have made the mistake of explaining myself to a guy that saw me and was just trying to get my vote for local mayor. I wasn’t eligible to vote there but he gave me permission to hunt his yard. I hope he won the election!

Don’t be afraid to speak first.   Introduce yourself and explain your hobby.  You might establish yourself as a history buff.  Then change the subject. Yep. “Wow is that a Ford F-150 you are driving?”  Get him talking and relaxed. He may come back and challenge you anyway but most times the situation is already disarmed.

I’ve never been challenged by a law enforcement officer. I imagine I would pretty much do the same thing but assume a direct challenge is forthcoming and skip the subject change as that would sound pretty stupid. “Wow officer is that a Glock 17? Cool!!!”

Only if you are directly challenged should you explain that you met so and so and they graciously granted you permission to hunt.  Many times they are already comfortable or even excited and don’t even press it further, so defending yourself unnecessarily might open up a can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened.

For what it is worth, until your are sure the threat has been disarmed, you are not having any luck, it is too hot out or too cold out or there is too much trash in the ground, and you might imply that you may be getting ready to leave soon.  If you have found some decent items, you don’t want to share this information with someone who is challenging your right to be there in the first place.

Almost always the threat ends pretty quickly. “Heck if Joe said it is ok that is good enough for me! I hope you find something!!!”   You can then take your time and talk with him/her. He/she is now just another curious passerby and no longer a threat.  You may get information about other historical sites in the area, referrals, permission to hunt other properties, and perhaps even offers to introduce you to other property owners.   Yes your hunt has been interrupted and daylight is burning, but if you can just get one new place to hunt, or at least not get shot, it is worth it.

If the threat doesn’t end, you should identify the person’s objections to you being there and address them. You are, in effect, having to get permission all over again.

If for some reason the person is mean-spirited or threatening, or continues to challenge after I have explained myself and my permission, Always ALWAYS cheerfully apologize and gather your things and leave. You then take it up with the person granting you permission before deciding whether or not to return. If you do leave, always report the challenge to the person granting you permission to give them your side of the story and make sure your good reputation is maintained.


When you are challenged on public property, it is critical that you have done your homework.  For more information see Your Right to Hunt on Public Property.   You should be fairly certain that there is no specific law or code restricting metal detecting, as well as no signs posted stating such.   You should have some type of evidence in your glove box to back your story up and demonstrate that you did your homework.

On public property, you risk being approached by two types of challengers:

Law Enforcement

The obvious challenger on public property is law enforcement.  This could be an officer passing by on patrol,  assigned to the public property you are detecting, or one responding to a call by a busy body (see below).    Sometimes they are cool and curious.  Sometimes they are Barney Fife and are out to get you.  The less shady you look and the more respectful you seem to be of public property and the other people on it, the less likely they are to give you a hard time.

Flikr Paul Keller Some Rights Reserved

What you gonna do when they come for you?

Again, don’t be too defensive.   Readily go and meet the officer, and introduce yourself.  He may simply ask you what you are doing.   Be friendly and just talk with him or her and relax.   They will more than likely know you are within your rights.  They may just be curious just like anyone else.  Maybe they’ve always wanted to get into detecting, or they are bored and just checking you out.

Sometimes they might finally say that someone called them and reported you, probably anonymously.  Most law enforcement can’t stand busy bodies either, so you both can likely laugh it off.   Sometimes he might ask you to do him a favor and leave and come back another time.  If he does that, I strongly recommend that you do him a favor and leave and come back another time.

However, if he is indeed challenging your right to be there, you calmly explain that you made the necessary inquiries (in other words you Googled it) and found that there was no law against detecting.  You are very tidy and feel within your rights.  In fact you have a section of code in your glove box if he/she would like to see it.

Here is where I know some people disagree, but I always bow to authority.  “But sir if you have a problem with me being here then I completely understand.”  I know for a fact that phrase has kept me detecting more than once.

Unless you are dead wrong about the law or are otherwise causing a disturbance or leaving a mess, most of the time they are going to back off into the cool zone and tell you to “be careful and have a nice day”.  The tough cops will issue one of those unnecessary warnings, like: “Well just make sure you don’t make a mess or bother anyone” or something.

If the officer is mean-spirited and threatening or flat-out asks you to leave, I highly recommend that you cheerfully get the heck out of there.  Rights or no rights, It’s just not worth the hassle.  Heavens forbid someone would actually fight some actual crime, right?

Busy Bodies

Busy bodies are those mean-spirited people you occasionally find everywhere.  I read many stories on the forums about them.   They will act like they are the law or threaten to call the law.  Sometimes they just scowl at you and call the police.  Invariably they act as if you were sabotaging a bridge, threatening children or shoplifting.  Typically spit will fly out of their mouth like venom as they yell at you.  Perhaps they live in an alternate reality and do not perceive things the same as what we do.  I’ve never understood people like that, and I try to stay away from them because  in all likelihood nothing you can say will change them.

And when they call the cops they leer saliciously from a nearby perch as you get what you deserve.   And when you don’t and they see you and the officer chuckling it up at their expense, then they seeth in anger and then they tell everyone they know of the injustice or write a rambling letter to the paper, adding up to three new accusations they thought of in the interim.

Flikr Some Rights Reserved Kenneth Konica

You know the type.

If a busy body confronts me directly, I’ll normally be cheerful and laugh like I can’t believe their demeanor or I think they are joking.  Do they realize how ridiculous and petty they look?   Normally I’ll just leave and come back later.

Dig Deeper: You might want to check out these related articles for more information on permission and objections:

How to Handle Objections and Ask Conditionally

Your Right to Hunt on Public Property


There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Gary Kemper at 5:47 pm

    Yeah, good points. Keep in mind that it may be legal to detect on a piece of public property but it may be illegal to continue if authority says you can’t. There are situations where someone has the authority to monitor and control what is happening on that piece of property. Nothing wrong with discussing the situation in the field but arguing is best left to other venues.

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