Garrett Guide to Beach Hunting - Where to Search

Well, here you are, on the beach at last, proper detector in hand and dressed for any kind of weather. You’re equipped with a selection of digging tools, and you have the pouches and pockets to store that treasure you expect to find.

So, what next?

When you walk out onto a beach, where do you begin? How do you select the most productive areas? This is possibly the question I am asked most frequently by beginning beach hunters (and, more experienced ones as well). The answer, first of all, is that nobody should go pell-mell onto a beach and begin scanning here and there without a plan. This is truly for beginners. There is a right way and a wrong way to search for treasure. As I have stated so often in my books, “Start fight and be successful!”

You must begin by being in the right place at the right time. The following discussion of research will suggest sources that will lead you to productive sights. This Guide will also suggest how you can take advantage of tides and weather to put you there at the right time.

The dedicated treasure hunter always first answers the question of “Where?” With research. Beyond that, experience must be the teacher. Inquiring and attentive hobbyists continually pick up ideas from other more veteran beachcombers, but the final decisions must be based on individual perceptions and intuition. Experience alone will educate the beach hunter about places that never produce and other places that are often rewarding. A knowledge of storm, wind and wave action will often rescue someone studying a new beach. Later, I’ll relate how this helped me.

My books and those of other treasure hunters list numerous research sources where both general and specific leads can be found for searching beaches with a metal detector. As the hobbyist researches these various sources, techniques and abilities will improve. That’s why I urge anyone to apply himself of herself to beach hunting for at least a full year before attempting to judge this aspect of treasure hunting. And, when you seek to carry out research, I implore you not to be haphazard or sloppy. Be diligent and methodical; your progress and success will be amazing.

Always begin locally; your home territory is the area you know best. Use every source of leads and information; seek out old timers; visit or write chambers of commerce and tourist bureaus. Don’t forget to contact historical societies; leave no source untouched in your investigation of an area. To speed up work always be specific. Ask about information concerning both past and current swimming beaches, resorts and recreational areas. Throughout history, certainly that of this country, swimming has always been a popular activity. Don’t overlook the favorite beaches of years gone by, either. Also, ghost towns are not limited to mountainous areas; they can be found on beaches as well. Treasures from the past are always found in and around them.

When checking newspapers, pay particular attention to accident reports that will usually give the location or at least the name of a particular beach. Review old newspapers; be especially alert for the Sunday weekend or recreation columns that proclaim the holiday joys of swimming and sunbathing at local beaches. Advertisements of beachwear occasionally offer clues to areas of activity.

Don’t overlook old postcards; antique shops can be a good source. If there is a postcard collector in the area, pay him or her a visit. Old picture postcards can be reliable X-marks-the-spot waybills to treasure.

If you are not a member of your local or regional treasure club, consider joining. If no club exists, get together with other hobbyists and start one! While you can’t realistically expect to discover many secret “sweet spots” for finding treasure you can get to know others who share your interest and enthusiasm. I can assure you that swapping treasure tales and techniques broadens everyone’s knowledge, sharpen skills and increases success rates of members. It always helps me!

Don’t be content to work only local beaches. Broaden your scope; it may pay rewards. For example, if you live in northern California, make a study of the history of the San Francisco Bay area. Many ships have gone down there, losing valuable cargo’s of silver and gold, much of which has not been found. Violent storms often churn up ocean bottoms and cast sunken treasure on the beach. Other estuaries and harbors may not yield the precious metals of the Golden Gate, but historical study of any coastal area can often reveal locations for profitable metal detecting.

Never overlook the possibility of finding flotsam and jetsam washing ashore from offshore shipwrecks. Regardless of the age of a wreck, some cargo-especially gold, silver, copper and bronze objects-will probably remain in fair to excellent condition for years, decades or even centuries. Gulf coast and Caribbean shipwreck locations still yield silver and gold from the mines of Mexico and Peru. Gold and silver from California and other western states can be found along the Pacific coast.

When researching reports of shipwrecks, don’t overlook Coast Guard and Life Saving Service records. Newspaper files and local and state histories are good sources of information. Insurance companies and Lloyd’s Register may provide precisely the data you need.

Assategue Island, off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, has proven to be the depository of much cargo from shipwrecks of yesteryear. Treasure hunters, scanning the beaches with their metal detectors, have found valuable coins and relics, some of which “marked” the location of larger treasures. Although much of the island is controlled by the National Seashore Service, portions are open to the public. Permission to search with you metal detector can sometimes be obtained on National Seashores; it never hurts to request permission.

Stay alert to current weather conditions. You’ll want to search at low tides-the lower the better. After storms come ashore, head for the beach. When oil spills deposit tar and oil on beaches, there’s a good possibility bulldozer and other equipment used to remove it can get you much closer to treasure. Watch for beach development work. When pipelines are being laid and when seawalls, breakwaters and piers are being constructed, work these areas of excavation.

I hope these examples of potentially productive areas offer ideas that will encourage you to expand your territory. Treasure hunters often travel thousand of miles in their quest for treasure. You can do likewise, especially if there is a pot of gold (or escudos) at the end of your journey. But, I must stress that considerable local treasure is all around you-wherever you are located. I am positive of this because I know that lost or hidden treasure exist everywhere. Find what’s in your backyard first; then, hit the treasure trail!

Garrett Guide to Beach Hunting - Search Coils and Other Equipment

Most search coils are submersible. All of those manufactured by Garrett can be submerged to the connector, but always check with the manufacturer when uncertain. Be careful of water in the detector stem since not all units have a plug to prevent water from running into the control housing. To be safe, immediately after using a detector in water, drain the lower stem. IF water is not drained, it may flood the instrument the first time the search coil is placed higher than the control box.

For greatest success on the beach always use headphones. Of course, most veteran treasure hunters use headphones no matter where they are searching. They are especially necessary on the beach where wind, surf and “people” notice will mask detector signals and cause many good targets to be missed. Any type headphone is better than none at all, but the best are those with ear cushions and adjustable volume controls. Coiled cords are recommended along with right-angle plugs.

Since large cushioned headphones can become hot and uncomfortable, smaller versions are available. Even though these light models with smaller ear coverings mask out less noise interference, they can be used effectively.

Since almost any kind of digger can be used in loose beach sand, many beginners overlook the importance of a digging tool. Why, some even use their hands! I strongly counsel against this for several reasons-first and foremost being the abundance of broken glass. In fact, I strongly recommend gloves, at least for the hand that does any digging.

Another reason for not depending upon hands as a digging tool is that the beach hunter cannot always expect to find targets in soft beach sand. I prefer two types of diggers: a heavy-duty garden trowel and a light-weight pick with a flat blade on one end. Just a quick whack with the pick, and I usually have my treasure. Of course, pinpointing is essential before digging is attempted. The hobbyist should begin with a trowel or small shovel and graduate to a pick-type digger with a long handle when pinpointing improves. The long handle permits uncovering targets without having to kneel on the ground.

Scoops are reasonably good in dry, loose sand. A quick scoop, a few shakes and there’s the find. In wet sand, however, scoops are just a waste of time. It takes too long to work damp sand out of a scoop, except in the water where onrushing surf can help clean wet sand from the scoop.

Occasionally, a strong, thin digger-like screwdriver is needed. A good percentage of my finds are buried in roots beneath trees and tree stumps. Digging can become difficult within a complicated root structure, and a strong, thin rod is needed to loosen the soil and make a hole from which the find can be recovered.

And speaking of holes, let’s talk about them. Some treasure hunters leave the holes they dig. Don’t you! Always, without exception, fill every hole you dig. It doesn’t take much time, and you are doing it for the sake of our hobby. Plus, you don’t want someone to step in one of your holes and twist an ankle. I have filled so many holes that I do it automatically. Even in deserted mountainous and desert areas, I kick dirt into the holes I dig.

Other gear needed for beach hunting includes an assortment of pouches, a secure pocket for storing especially good finds and a pocket for storing especially good finds and a place for personal items. If you’ve hunted for treasure at all, you probably already have some ideas about recovery pouches. Let me offer just a couple of suggestions for the beach:

  • Place all detected items in a pouch; carefully inspect your finds occasionally and discard trash properly.
  • When I find an especially valuable article, I return to my vehicle or camp to stow it properly.
  • Use care in handling rings with stones. Often, mountings corrode during exposure. Examine jewelry with your pocket magnifier; when a mounting shows corrosion, handle that ring with extra caution.
  • A fastener on a pouch is not a necessity on the beach unless you lay your pouch down carelessly or let it bounce around in your car.
  • Pouches should be waterproof to prevent soiling your clothes and sturdy enough to hold plenty of weight.

Many pouch styles can be mounted on a belt. I often wear a web-type belt carrying a canteen and an extra pouch or two.

Concerning clothing, the best advice is to dress comfortably. But, protect yourself against the elements you’re sure to encounter on the beach. Obviously, you’ll want to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but I caution you to shade exposed skin areas to protect against sun and windburn. In warm weather I wear shorts or lightweight trousers, a light (but long-sleeved) shirt, socks and comfortable shoes or sneakers. I wear a wide-brimmed cotton hat with some sort of neck shield. Even when hunting only on the beach, I’m always prepared to get wet. Sometimes an attractive low place in the sand will be yielding recoveries, and I must be prepared to follow it right into the water.

Garrett Guide to Beach Hunting - Using the Metal Detector

What sort of metal detector should be used on the beach? This is a good question for the veteran hobbyist who lacks beach hunting experience as well as the novice. Knowing what to expect on the beach is helpful and knowing where to find it is even more important. Without the proper equipment, however, such information is irrelevant at best and essentially useless.

First, comes the choice of a detector. While the sand on most beaches looks innocent enough, the “wrong” type of detector can spell trouble for a beachcomber. Depending on ground mineral content, some detectors are practically worthless, others so-so, and yet others perfectly suited. A quality automated VLF detector with discrimination is the best choice. These instruments ignore iron magnetite (black sand) and salt minerals, and they permit discrimination to be adjusted.

This is good news for most hobbyists since the automated VLF detectors such as those in the Garrett Freedom and AT (all terrain) series are among today’s most popular models. High quality manual adjust VLF detectors such as the Garrett Master Hunters are equally suitable for beach hunting, especially when operated semi-automatically in their Discriminate Mode, which I will discuss shortly.

So named because they operate in the Very Low (radio) Frequency spectrum of 3 to 30 kilohertz, VLF detectors generally ignore minerals, including salt water. Some instruments have an internal switch that cuts out salt minerals. Automated models can be operated from zero discrimination through pull tab rejection.

Now, that doesn’t mean a hobbyist without an automatic VLF detector can’t search beaches effectively. Neither does it mean that a veteran treasure hunter has to leave at home that “Old Faithful” BFO or TR detector that has already found so many coins, rings or nuggets.

On iron mineral-free beaches such as those of Florida, a BFO, TR or most any of the later designs works well. When a BFO or TR features a discriminating mode, water-saturated sands can be worked easily. With discrimination control set near bottle cap rejection, salt minerals in the water are eliminated from detection.

Manual adjust VLF’s give good depth in most beach sands. Unless the circuits are “automated,” however, performance may be somewhat limited on beaches with heavy iron mineralization. A VLF with TR discriminating mode should be set at approximately the bottle cap setting. Of course, that setting imposes limitations, especially if the hobbyist decides to advance the setting to pull tab rejection and dig mostly coins. Many veteran beach hunters are probably aghast at that recommendation, since few of them use any discrimination unless the beach is a veritable “junk yard.” And, it is true that a hobbyist using discrimination is more likely to miss some valuable treasures than one who is “digging all targets.” That’s a fact of life; but, there are times when I believe that discrimination is needed.

Pulse induction models such as the Garrett Sea Hunter underwater detector operate nearly flawlessly on all beaches. Giving good depth, they are a pleasure to use. Generally, they are heavier because of extra battery requirements and the heavier case needed by submersible/land models. One shortcoming of pulse detectors is that small iron pieces, especially nails and hairpins, may not be rejected.

On beaches where black sand (iron magnetite) is present, the choice of detectors is narrowed considerably. BFOs and TRs are out of the question because they cannot cancel the effects of the natural iron. Pulse induction detectors ignore it as do both manual and automated VLF models.

They hobbyist who likes to hunt with a BFO or TR instrument should take it tot the beach and use it over wet sand with discrimination set near bottle cap rejection. If the detector’s audio cannot be “smoothed out,” black sand is probably the reason; another instrument may be required. I urge all beach hunters to consider purchasing one of the late model automated (sometimes called “motion”) discrimination detectors. Even better are the environmentally protected units which permit hunting in rain or splashing surf.

When a detector is not protected by its manufacturer against the environment, it is necessary to cover its control housing with a plastic bag. This will protect the detector from mist, rain and blowing sand, and offer less opportunities for ever-present beach sand to work its way into the electronic controls.

Garrett Guide to Beach Hunting - On the Beach

garrett_logoAdmit it! Everyone who has ever listened for that buzz of a detector locating its target has dreamed of unearthing great wealth. Even in a sedate, well-kept part where one really can't expect to find an outlaw cache or pirate treasure, there's always the possibility of an antique piece of jewelry or a priceless old coin. At the ocean's edge, the imagined treasures grow even grander. On a more practical note, most hobbyists are just as happy to dig up a single coin and are overjoyed to find more than that. The Typical beach hunter would gladly settle for just the coins and rings lost daily by those who use the water for recreation and commerce.

Thus, if should be a continuing goal of hobbyists to search where targets are most plentiful... to seek treasure where it is hiding, if you will. You can believe me when I say that it has been my experience over decades of treasure hunting that beaches will yield treasure more valuable and in greater quantities than sites away from water.

Think of all the coins, jewelry and other valuable objects that fall into the sand. While you scan a metal detector over the beach or ocean bottom, constantly keep this vision in mind: only a few feet beneath the sand's surface a veritable "blanket" of treasure awaits the treasure hunter. And, this blanket is continually being replenished!

My advice to any metal detector hobbyist, therefore, is to become a beachcomber. The joys are countless, and the rewards are constantly surprising!

Just what is a beachcomber, anyhow? I describe him or her simply as a person who searches along shorelines. And, what is being sought? Just about anything! There's always plenty of flotsam, jetsam and other refuse. Often, it's merely junk, but it can be lost wealth. Out of sight below the sand lies that blanket of treasure awaiting the metal detector. Always remember, however, that the value of any treasure is ultimately determined only by its finder. Keeper finds can be anything from a weathered float to a costly piece of jewelry. Oftentimes, the greatest joy for the beachcomber comes simply from walking the beach, from experiencing soft winds off the water and feeling the sand under bare feet while listening to the tranquilizing sounds of surf and sea breeze. The rewards of a metal detector are but an added bonus.

While beach pickings can be good almost anytime, certain seasons, months and even hours of the day will prove to be better than others. This Guide will point these out. Let me caution you here and now, however, that as a first-time beach hunter, you will probably meet with disappointment. But, don't most great ventures begin awkwardly and without great reward? Persistence is the key! After just one year, a pleasant "season in the sun and sand", most reassure hunters will find themselves forever hooked on beachcombing. Too, they'll be richer for the effort, both in pocketbook and spirit.

Where people congregate, treasure can be found. There can be no disputing that statement; it's that simple. Try this test. Visit any local park on a pleasant spring or summer day. Count the people and watch their activity. How may did you count? Chances are that you saw a few dozen. What were they doing? They were probably walking, picnicking or perhaps engaged in some sports activity.

Now, drive to a local swimming beach. Make the same observations. How many did you count and what were they doing? You probably counted the same few dozen, plus several hundred more who could lose valuable treasure. And, they too were walking, picnicking or engaged in some sports activity. But, their frolicking and horseplay in the surf or dunes seemed far more likely to dislodge jewelry and other treasures than the sedate activities park.

You can be sure that treasure will be lost at that beach every day. And, I don't mean "cheap" treasure. People consistently wear expensive jewelry while sunning or swimming. They either forget they have it on, or they don't understand how they could lose it. It can't happen to me, they must think. But, it will... and does!

Beach treasures awaiting the metal detector include coins, rings, watches, necklaces, chains, bracelets and anklets, religious medallions and crucifixes, toys, knives, cigarette cases and lighters, sunshades, keys, relics, bottles, fishnet balls, ship's cargos and other items that will soon fill huge containers. And, for some lucky, persistent and talented hunters, their dream will come true. They will indeed find that chest of treasure hidden by some buccaneer or 17th century Spaniard who never returned to claim his cache.

It’s hard to understand why people wear jewelry to the beach. Yet, they do, and they often forget…even about valuable heirlooms and diamond rings. But, whether sun bathers and swimmers care about losing their possessions or not, it’s just the same for the beachcomber. All rings expand in the heat; everyone’s finders wrinkle and shrivel in the water and suntan oils merely hasten the inevitable losses. Beachgoers play ball, throw frisbees and engage in horseplay. These activities fling rings off of finders and cause clasps on necklaces, bracelets and chains to break. Into the sand drop valuables where they quickly sink out of sight to be lost to all save the metal detector.

How many times have you watched coins, jewelry, keys and other beach “necessities” being placed oh-so-carefully on the edge of a towel or blanket? Then, in a hurry to escape a sudden storm or just through carelessness, the sunbather grabs and shakes the blanket. There go those “necessities” into the sand. Even though the valuables are sometimes immediately recovered, many are never found except by a metal detector.

Boys and girls play in the sand. Holes are dug, and sand is piled up and made into castles and other elaborate structures. In this process toys, coins, digging tools, jewelry, knives and other possessions are lost until the metal detector or keen observer discovers them.

The tale of one such pair of keen eyes on the beautiful beaches of Grand Cayman was related by my good friend Robert Marx. This beachcomber spotted something shining on the sandy bottom in shallow water. To his astonishment it turned out to be a gold cross covered with diamonds. Without telling anyone, he returned later with scuba equipment and really struck it rich. Using only his hand to fan away thin layers of sand, he recovered a fantastic cache of treasure, including a large bar of platinum dated 1521, various bars of silver bullion, a silver bracelet in the form of a serpent covered with emeralds and a large gold ring bearing the arms of the Ponce de Leon family. Since there is no evidence of a shipwreck ever having occurred in the area, the treasure – perhaps the booty of a conquistador – was probably buried ashore and washed out into the shallow sea as the beach eroded.

Few are this lucky –and, believe me, luck is important to the treasure hunter, no matter how great his skill and training-but beach treasures await all of us, ready to sing out in response to the signal of a modern metal detector.

How to Dig a Plug

Here's an excellent video describing a technique for properly digging plugs by MissouriJim

Fill Your Holes

Regardless if you're new to the hobby, or an old pro, FILL YOUR HOLES! One of the fastest ways to generate some negative PR is to leave unfilled pits in school yards, parks and home yards. I even kick the sand back in when digging at the beach!

Imagine for a moment you know very little about metal detecting. Someone... (friend or otherwise) comes up to you and says "you live in one of the oldest houses in town! can I metal detect your yard?". You think a moment, then say "well, sure...I guess" (not really sure what that means)... The next weekend that person shows up, grabs this strange looking device out of his pickup truck, and hangs shovels and other digging implements from his belt! You're thinking "what's up with the digging stuff?" Next, you see this person swinging this silent weedeater around the yard, then stop, stoop over and start DIGGING! You're thinking.. "I hope he doesn't kill the grass!". In a moment, the fellow stands up, rubs the dirt off his hands and starts doing a jig in the yard. You're thinking "he must have found something good! Maybe he'll come show it to me!"... next the fella looks cautiously over each shoulder, then subtly slides the mystery find into his pocket. You're thinking "well, maybe he's too busy having fun.. he'll show it to me before he leaves". Next the detector guy picks up his stuff, and uses his foot to sort of push the dirt he dug up in the general direction of the huge hole he made. He then stomps on the hole, and starts swinging again. You grab your binoculars, and peering out of the window see that there's this ugly brown dirty patch where there used to be gorgeous grass! You think, "well, it's too late now...but I'll know better NEXT time!....there won't be a NEXT time!" Needless to say, when the detector dude gets ready to leave, you, the homeowner, asks "Did you find anything good?" Your friend the detectorist says.. "Naw, not much. Just mainly old pieces of junk!" He volunteers to show you what is in his apron, which is pulltabs and rusty nails. However, he neglects to show what got "slid" into his pocket.

Your metal detecting friend drives off into the sunset and you look over your once lush and beautiful yard... it now looks like someone has been lobbing mortars over enemy lines. The holes that did get "filled" are just dirt depressions... You think "never again!"

Here's an excellent how-to video by SouthCarolinaTeacher.


Now do you see why I say it's important to fill your holes? 🙂 ....And fill them properly? We'll have another article soon for proper recovery techniques that don't "burn your bridges" when it comes to having hunting privileges.

Any other tips or pointers (or gripes 🙂 ) on digging? Post them below in the "comments" box!

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