Proper Target Recovery with your metal detector
By Dan Breitenstein
The general public perception of Metal Detecting has suffered greatly in the past few years. Most of this is due to a sudden influx of new hobbyists who have left our public and private lands looking like a crater filled moonscape, but there is nothing "filled" about the craters they leave behind. They have taken to the field in droves and gone about happily digging holes with the misconception that maybe God would refill them. Every day I read about another park, city, or large relic site that's been closed to detecting due to the careless behavior of a hobbyist that still has no idea what they did wrong.
If you're reading this and know you're guilty of leaving your holes unfilled, don't be pissed off by what I have to say, keep reading and learn the error of your ways and your path to redemption. Proper target recovery etiquette is just a few short sentences away.
There are several methods of target recovery that can be used to make it look like you've never been there and the ground was never disturbed. All of these methods will work well, but the first thing you need to learn is how to pinpoint the target with your detector. This doesn't take a rocket scientist, it takes practice and patience. I've watched folks get a signal and drop to their knees to dig without even trying to draw an "X" with the coil over the target. Needless to say, many of them dig holes you could damn near crawl into and still don't find their original target. You need to learn to sweep side to side and then forward and back to find the general location of your target. You might be trying to pinpoint a Buick (not fun). Determine to the best of your ability how big you think the target is before you dig. If you have an all-metals mode on your detector, this can be done with greater ease. After all, even if you're digging in Aunt Martha's yard, I'm sure she doesn't want a major excavation.
The first method I want to talk about is cutting a plug. I like to use a soil knife or similar digger and cut a 3"-4" round plug in the sod. No matter how messy I am filling the hole back in, the plug will be placed back over the hole (green side up) to cover my mess. Some people carry a hand towel with them and place all the loose dirt on the towel making a much cleaner work area. Usually, I can find the target somewhere in the bottom of the plug. Once I remove the plug, I simply wave it over the coil to see if the target is still in it. Many people don't realize it, but if you lay the coil near the hole, you can wave the cut plug or handfuls of dirt over the top or bottom of the coil. The signal goes both directions and will go right through your hand (harmlessly). The downside of the plug cutting method is that dry weather will make the grass in the plug die out temporarily. A few good soaking rains will bring it back and the landowner will probably let you hunt there again.
A variation of this method is to "trap door" the plug by leaving one side still connected to the adjoining sod. Only cutting three sides of a four-side hole and swinging the plug up like a trap does this nicely. Leave the trap door connected if possible and you stand a better chance of not having the grass die out. It will still die to a certain extent, but not as severely.
The "probe method" is one of the most popular recovery methods used today by coin shooters. This is done by inserting a probe (lots of folks use a screwdriver) straight down into the ground where you think the target is located. They keep inserting it in different places until they hit the coin. They usually move over off the coin and try to get under it with the probe to pop it out of the ground. This method disturbs the ground the least and is great for coins. A word of warning belongs here because careless probing damages many coins. Donít get in a hurry. Try and insert the probe slowly.
Letís talk a bit about electronic pinpoint probes. These little devices can save you a lot of heartache and agony. Most dealers carry a probe of some type and they range in price from around $50 to over $100. They are not built to be pushed into the ground, they are built to help you find a target in a hole thatís already dug or in the loose dirt. Iíve gotten fairly good at pinpointing with my main detector before I dig, but just about every time I go on a hunt, I need to use the probe at least once. Many times Iíll find the coin stuck up on the inside wall of the hole or realize that I need to dig a bit deeper or off to one side. Most of these probes have a maximum range of about an inch. I use Crazy Edís Pinpoint Probe and have had very good luck with it.
Diggers Ö there are dozens of them out there on the market. Almost every detectorist I know started out buying one of those cheap K-Mart garden trowels and they bent or broke it within a week. They simply were not designed for cutting plugs like we detectorists cut. They were designed for light garden work and nothing more. Personally, I torture a digger beyond belief. I dig through gravel and rock hard soil on a regular basis with no respect for the digger at all. Invest in a good quality digger and it will last you for years. Keep it sharp and your life will be a lot easier. Trying to cut through sod with a dull digger damages the sod and makes the job much worse than it has to be. Many of the diggers you buy from commercial dealers need to be sharpened before you ever use them.
Trash is another subject we need to discuss. Digging a hole and finding a pull-tab is frustrating to say the very least. There is, however, a good thing that happens when you find a pull-tab Ö you are given the opportunity to take it home with you and throw it out. If you are new to detecting, you will quickly learn that youíll be back to this same place again someday and you will probably dig that same pull tab up again if youíre lazy and leave it in the hole. Trash belongs in a trashcan, not left in a hole somewhere. I throw mine in the back of my pickup and clean it out periodically when I get tired of it rolling around back there.
Underground wires are hazards that we all need to beware of. Iíve personally hit phone and cable TV lines and was fortunate to not cut them while digging. Iíve heard of others who were not so lucky and had to pay the Phone Company to come out and splice the line back together. That can make for a fairly expensive day of metal detecting.
Broken glass and other sharp objects can be very treacherous while digging. I canít count the number of broken jars and glass Iíve found. And yes, it was still razor sharp after years underground. Iím always cautious when I stick my grubby paws down in a dark hole and start feeling around. Some people wear gloves when they dig which is a good idea and makes the job a bit safer.
We are all part of this wonderful hobby and we all need to be responsible when it comes to target recovery. Take your trash home with you and refill the holes you dig. And rememberÖ. "green side up"!!