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Three Letters Re: A Treasure-Hunting Prepper

Hi James.

I only have a few comments on Greg’s treasure hunting article.

First! All people new to metal detecting need to know the first rule is: what ever you dig- fill in your holes, please fill in any holes you make, learn to dig a ‘plug’. You Tube has a ‘how to’ do it the right way video [1]. (Note: He’s using a Mine Lab detector in the video)

Damaging the grass in your own yard isn’t a big deal, but if a million people (since Greg posted on a very popular blog, and people might rush to buy a new detector!) started hunting the parks they will become closed to metal detecting forever in no time. Just think OPSEC [2]. New people just don’t know how to camouflage their digs, this is a major concern to everyone in the hobby. What should happen is the ground should look like it never happened when your done recovering your treasure!

I personally don’t want to be banned from my local parks and when I leave they look better then when I find them. I pick up trash while walking around looking for targets. If everyone did this, no one would be thinking that we just trash places where we recover coins. I tend not to use the word ‘dig’ when asking for permission to recover coins also. People get the idea that you have a really big shovel and are going to leave a hole you can hide a body in.

People everywhere are watching us like hawks, so I totally agree with using head phones – it annoys people to hear beeps and squeals, it’s really distracting as they think your finding treasure while in reality your digging pull tabs and bottle caps! 🙂 They are really watching you because your walking around with “that Geiger Counter-thingy”, detecting is weird and unusual to most people- understand that everyone is watching, wondering what your doing. Some people will stop and ask you if your finding anything. Think smart security before you answer. My stock answer is “I’m finding mostly trash, some change.” and I show off the pull tabs, rusty nails, and other junk I recover. One sure time going detecting with little or no hassle is when people are scarce like early in the morning, or for me later at night. Got headlamp? 

As a beginner metal detectorist, I starting this year I’ve found some good stuff (keepers!) and a lot of trash. it amazes me to see that people have hit areas leaving uncovered holes and trash they decided they didn’t want, even missing targets and giving up all together after digging a hole!  The quickest way to get metal detecting banned in your local park it to dig holes and leave messes for some poor grounds keeper to deal with- city workers and grounds keepers hate dealing with messes they didn’t make. They already have to deal with picking up after other people’s kids. So they won’t be very tolerant of any problems. 

Next to the purchase of a quality metal detector getting a pinpointer should be next of your list of needs.

The Pro-Pointer [3] from Garret is the best pinpointer on the market- it isn’t cheap at $130 but it helps you zero in on your target making you able to dig smaller holes. Meaning less chance your work will attract negative attention from making big two foot wide bomb craters. Some people will even use a screwdriver to pop out targets. This tool is a must! with it you can figure out depth with out digging, and zero in on your target without digging a crater.  It’s one of my “must haves.” In fact if I didn’t have this tool I’d consider taking a pass from detecting until I had one again- it’s that important. I know, people that detect can zero in on coins with practice, but with this probe you can zero in with ease!

My experience is I started out with a cheap detector in the spring time of this year (so I’m no twenty year vet or anything) -I first purchased a bounty hunter for $200 and I was totally disappointed with it – I backpacked up to remote coal mining camping area and ghost towns here in PA and after five outings it broke. The cheaply made connecter failed on it. Sadly a cheap Chinese machine is just that cheap. My calls to the company were never returned and since it was still in it’s warranty period I returned it to the store where I purchased it. I’m sure some people have good luck with them, but I did not.

And it was a good thing, since I traded up to something better. Don’t go cheap when you first start out, you’ll only regret it later.

I purchased a Garrett Ace 350 Metal Detector [4] from a company in Florida called Kellyco [5]. (It is a good company, and they have been in business since 1955 according to their web site.) My finds of goodies continued and I decided that I enjoyed the hobby enough to purchase a Mine Lab E-trac from Mike Post at Woodland Detectors [6]. He gave me a great deal, I called him when I received my detector and he walked me through the setup of the new ETrac. His customer service is tops!  (I am a happy customer, and have no financial incentive with this company) No other company does what Mike does, and he’s been Mine Lab salesman of the year a few times for a reason. He’s about one of the best in his field, and he isn’t just selling the products, he’s using them -as this is his hobby too – he’s got over five thousand hours on the ETrac. If you ever have a question just call or e-mail him.

I can say from my experience that metal detecting is hard, dirty, work! People will be discouraged over not finding goodies enough to make it worth while if they don’t have the right attitude. Persistence is key.

A friend of mine joked that I paid $1,500 to find change, and to a point they are right! it’s not always easy, as the local parks have been hit to death, but it’s fun when you hit a nickel signal and it turns out to be a gold ring, or you find your first barber dime.

There is a down side and at worst not knowing your local laws will get you in to trouble with the local law enforcement. At very worst they will confiscate your detector and your car (depending on state, instruments of crime)- detecting in state parks, or government property is a no-no and they will use your detector as evidence against you until your court date, you might get your detector back, or you might not. Never detect around rail road tracks that are ‘in use’ as the people who run those places have the local police on speed dial. Civil war sites in some areas are historical, and in some areas ‘state park sites’ that are protected, if the ranger finds you out detecting at night expect heavy fines and some kind of monetary loss.  Learn your local laws, and GET PERMISSION for posted private property in writing to protect yourself. Don’t wait until the police roll up to ask them to show you the law on the books (I’m not a lawyer, and Don’t play one on television so it’s best to find out what your legally allowed to and not allowed to do before your out actually doing it!)

I personally detect at night, since I work nights – it matters to have it in writing. if you can’t get permission to detect go some place else. I know that in the area I live there are about ten baseball parks close to my place- how did I find them? By searching using Google Earth. So if someone asks you to leave, I personally haven’t been asked to leave yet- but I’d just pack up and move on to less annoying pastures.

For the most part parks that aren’t posted specifically in their rules having signs that say ‘No Metal Detecting’ you are usually safe to detect. Just keep in mind if you cut in to their lawn and don’t clean up after yourself and they see you doing it they will likely fine you on the spot for damaging their property. I’ve noticed two extremes in my being out, either no one cares or everyone does- depending on times of day while who ever is around … it’s best to go when the people aren’t there if you can help it.

Remember most municipalities are broke and looking for excuses to steal more money from the sheeple. Don’t be that sheeple. Finding places to go can sometimes be challenging, but research is the key. Older homesteads that are now empty fields are about the best, if you have permission to hunt them from private owners. Going to the older gathering places, fairgrounds, even swimming holes no longer used might be productive.

My trash to treasure ratio improved greatly going from a $290 Ace to the $1,500 E-Trac. But if your budget doesn’t allow for this, getting an “in-water” capable detector from Garret in the $550 to $650 range is a great comprise. The Garret AT Pro [7] is one detector you can use in fresh water, recoveries are more technical- but no holes to fill. You know the theory is cold causes fingers to shrink while people are swimming and rings fall off in the water never to be seen again. I’ve seen some websites that people will find a few rings while out diving and detecting. (I’d also say the products they are using is way more then just what a dirt hunter is using for land use, SCUBA gear and underwater probes and detectors are pricey. so things will get expensive if you want to really get serious about detecting.) your finding gold might support your hobby, but I wouldn’t count on that- my last few outings I netting about $3 both times out, no silver no gold- just clad change. it happens! I plan on going out again because it’s addictive when you do find cool stuff.   Check out this amazing video link [8]– his finds are not typical, but wow -outstanding water finds is all I can say!

I will also say as a warning watch out for sunburn, ticks, mosquitoes, wear gloves (due to glass in the ground) and tennis elbow from digging -I have it in both arms and it’s like a toothache that doesn’t go away–ouch!, and I still go out when I can because I purchased a chest rig that basically allows you to move the detector with two fingers while keeping weight off your arms. You still have to dig! the rewards some times out weigh the trash, some weekends you just can’t win.  Other times you do find good stuff, just not every day.

Good luck and happy hunting! – Fitzy in Pennsylvania  


I thought the article on metal detecting was a good read. I have owned an inexpensive model detector for a few years, which I got shortly after borrowing one to find a gold wedding ring that was lost while hunting. We knew the general area that we lost it but after sitting through a snowy winter, the Mark 1 eyeball wasn’t enough to find it! Money saved and a happy wife were well worth making an investment.

Just a quick additional way to “make” money using a metal detector. I reload my ammunition and my shooting range is my back yard. My detector has the ability to discriminate between metals to a point so set it to ignore steel and make a tone for brass. Now I can find all my brass in the tall grass and forest underbrush without dealing with any iron trash, if it beeps it’s a case. I don’t have to use a brass catcher, I can move around while running shooting drills and never have to pay to replace lost brass. Plus detecting is a good way to get off your rump and exercise a bit..

Thanks for your work! – Prepared Teacher


Dear James Wesley,
I have been wrestling with the idea of “caching” emergency supplies along my main and alternate routes to my retreat location. With OPSEC [2] foremost in my mind, what recommendations would you or other readers make under the following conditions?

My current retreat is 170 miles from home.  With no friends or relatives on the primary or alternative routes, my options for caching are limited to public land.  This would generally be state or county parks and forests. Many of these have access restrictions based on time of day, and some on the calendar as well.  With the heightened “environmental awareness” that pervades our society, any disturbance in the terrain would draw both ire and a curiosity that would put the cache at risk.

Related to the article ” A Treasure-Hunting Prepper”, what recommendations would there be to minimize the cache being found by a metal detector?  Are there any containers that could be used to hide the “signature” of the item used?  Hiding survival tools, weapons, coins, food, etc. for an emergency doesn’t do much good if it cannot be hidden until it is required by the owner.

The “Redoubt” is out of reach right now.  I live in the central part of the country on the “wrong” side of the Mississippi River.  Though not in the metroplex of the East Coast, certainly more folks live here than in the west.  This just adds pressure to the method and location of placement. 

Thanks for all the hard work put in by you and your staff. – “Old Dog” in Wisconsin

JWR Replies: The best ways to protect cached gear from metal detectors are: 1.) Pick cache locations on side-hills where no one is likely to be wandering with a detector, and 2.) Find rusty scrap metal to use as false targets. Bury a couple of layers of those above your caching container. That way, upon finding the “trash” target, most people with detectors will simply move on. (Even the most dedicated hunter with the very best equipment wil give up digging if they think that they are in an old dump. )

Coin shooting [9] rarely brings in more than enough to recoup the cost of a detector within two or three months of work. But there are lots of people–mainly retirees but even some younger unemployed and “downsized”–that are making a decent living in the western U.S. and in Australia hunting for gold nuggets [10] in placer mining districts. Many of these folks use high end detectors from companies like Minelab. [11]