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.

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.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTDKXethwnk

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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  • January 12, 2009
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