Winning Anyway: Detecting the Hunted-Out Site

Winning Anyway: Detecting the Hunted-Out Site

“I don’t know why you are bothering.  You’re not going to find anything.”

An owner of an 1800s home tells me that his yard had been hunted heavily in the past.   A smug detectorist tells me that he has already hunted the old church yard that I am about to hunt to death, so there’s nothing left to find.

Sometimes, a short time into a detecting session, it becomes painfully obvious that the great site I have found and received permission to hunt has been heavily hunted before.  A small voice inside my head says the same thing.  “You’re not going to find anything.”

In these situations, two things are important to me.  It is important that I not get discouraged and ruin the hunt.   It is also important that I evaluate the site carefully and change my approach as required in order to have a productive hunt.

Just How Heavily Hunted?
These days a lot of places have been hunted before, but that doesn’t mean they have been hunted thoroughly.  Never make the mistake of taking someone’s word for it.   A quick random survey with your detector without digging can give you more information to aid your decision making.   If the site has really been heavily hunted, you generally won’t get many signals, and the ones you do will likely be those in the iron to pull tab range, and perhaps some recent, shallow trash.

Often during my random survey I get a variety of signals at different depths and realize the site is still a great one to hunt.      If I’m getting a lot of deep iron and trash, that is encouraging as well because I know chances are some good targets were masked by such and I stand an excellent chance of success.   The site has been cherry picked, but certainly hasn’t been exhausted.

Should I stay or should I go now?
Usually if a property owner that doesn’t detect tells me their property is hunted out, then it is loaded, especially if they say it has been hunted many times.

Only after actually detecting the site, if you determine that the site has been heavily hunted, now you need to make a decision – are you going to undertake a tough hunt, or instead go hunt somewhere else?   If you have another site to go to, by all means head that way.  You can always come back another time.   If it’s a tough call, consider the size and the nature of the site.  I’m much more likely to attack a heavily hunted old park, school or church yard than someone’s hunted out yard, for example.

Strategy Time:  Change your approach
In order to be successful hunting a site with sparse targets, it is important to think outside the box and not waste time hunting the site like you normally would.   It reasons that the best thing you can do is to do something different than those that have already hunted here, else you may be “beating a dead horse”.   In a really hunted out site, all of the obvious targets are gone.  The reality is that if you are going to find anything, it is probably going to be one or more of the following:

– Extremely deep;
– Hard to read or hear as a good target, perhaps due to orientation or proximity to trash;
– Hidden under something undesirable like trash or iron;
– A low conductive target such as a nickel or jewelry that no one bothered to dig up, or
– In a spot that previous detectorists either wouldn’t or couldn’t reach, such as in underbrush or right next to an obstacle like a fence

Consider the site: Different tactics are in order for a site that you feel is going to have very few targets at all versus a very trash site from which all of the obvious targets have been removed.

Here are some of the adjustments that I might choose from to develop a strategy to successfully recover good targets from a hunted out site:

Coil Selection
If the site is hunted out, but not trashy, I am going to pull out a 15″ or larger search coil.   If I can get a few extra inches of depth, then I stand a good chance of hitting some targets that were just too deep for previous detectorists.

If the site is hunted out and very trashy or has areas with heavy iron, then I am going with my small 5″ coil to get in between that trash and hit targets that were missed by previous detectorists.   I’ll also use my small search coil to get closer to fences, buildings and other obstacles as to snag a few targets others couldn’t hit with stock coils.

All Metal Mode
I am very likely to abandon discrimination altogether unless the site is very trashy.   If  I am going to hit few targets, then discrimination is pointless to me. I want to hear everything.

Deep Thinking
I’m really looking for deep targets.   The deeper and harder to read, the better.   I’m looking and listening for depth and plan to dig every deep target I feel is over 8 or so inches deep.   I know how to set my detector up for maximum depth from working in my test garden.  For more information please read Detecting Exercise: China.

Slow Motion
I’m hunting very slowly.  My swings are overlapping each other by over 50%.  I’m in no hurry.  If I get a hit, I stop and listen and try different angles, taking my time.  I know I have to be patient.  If there is only one good target for me to hit during this session, it could well be very difficult to hit.  I don’t want to miss it.   If I’m in heavy trash then I may spend several minutes hitting each square yard or so at different angles – very slowly trying to catch a hit between the trash.    Also, silver dimes standing on their edge can be fairly difficult to detect even when they are not that deep.

Nickel and Jewelry Mindset
Chances are, other than very deep stuff, the remaining good finds in the worst hunted out sites are going to be low-conductive keepers like nickels, necklaces and gold rings.   Many good detectorists just don’t bother to go after nickels for some reason – perhaps due to discrimination.

Garbage Mode
You gotta do the work to win.  I’ll clear as much obvious garbage and iron out of the way as I can.  I’ve hit enough monster targets hiding under aluminum cans or scrap iron to make it well worth it.   Also, often my best bet is to work the nails beds and trashiest parts of a site in order to pull a rabbit out of a hat, so to speak.

Pick Your Spots
Be clever and imagine where good targets may still lie.  Some of my favorite spots that have reaped great targets in hunted out sites:

Against obstacles:  This is where a small coil can come in very handy.   Some of my best finds in hunted out church and school yards were next to fences, buildings and other obstacles
Very close to the road:
  Most detectorists think of road trash and construction fill near the road and don’t hit it very hard.

Across the road:  I hunted a church last year with almost zero targets.  Across the road from the church was nothing, but it is there I found a 1906 Barber dime, a 1947 Washington Quarter, and a war nickel.
The underbrush:  likely wasn’t underbrush back in the day.   It’s all about how hard you are willing to work to win.

Final Thoughts
“You’re not going to find anything.”    Wanna bet?   It’s not easy, but with a little strategy and the willingness to hunt hard you can win anyway.  I’ve learned that I’d rather hunt a site that has been hunted an unbelievable amount of times but has produced relics over a random site any day, and twice on Tuesday.  All of my greatest finds have come from yards that have been hunted scores of times by others.

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Photo Credits
Adapted from Public Domain

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