FAQ: Where Do I Start When Metal Detecting an Old Farmstead or Homestead?

As you may have seen on our YouTube Channel, we really like to metal detect around farmsteads and homesteads that date in the 1800’s to early 1900’s.  This is most likely due to the fact that, besides old ghost towns, this is about the most exciting metal detecting that can be had around here. Regardless of where you are limited to metal detecting, if you are hunting the site correctly, you can increase your odds of recovering a worthwhile item.

Is there a right and wrong way to metal detect?

No, not necessarily.  I have often been out on a hunt with someone who has never even held a metal detector.  They flutter around this way and that digging every signal they hear.  Meantime I methodically hunt what I think should be hot spots, dodging the newbie as they zoom by, analyzing my targets before I dig.  Not 10 minutes into the hunt, the fledgling squeals out, “A silver coin!”  They make the best find of the day on their first day while I go home with a pouch of shredded beer can. There is a great deal of chance involved for sure.  But, by metal detecting a certain way, you can increase your efficiency in the field and raise your trash-to-treasure ratio immensely.

I am not the type of person to grid out a property and sift through every inch like an archaeologist might.  But, there are certain things you can do to help you score more goodies and less junk.  Here is one method I have been taught that will help you in an old farmstead and homestead situation.

The Triangle of Treasure

Bear in mind that old farmsteads will be LOADED with iron junk.  It will be loaded with all types of junk.  Tin roof pieces, iron implement pieces, nuts, bolts and even the modern day aluminum cans dropped by area high schoolers who discover the 3-foot rock foundation of the smoke house makes for a great little bonfire pit.  The same reason old properties are the best to hunt is the same reason why they will have so much junk to tend with.  They have been in use for a LONG time.  Remember the equation:

TIME + CONGREGATION= >TREASURE

Anywhere people have gathered over time is typically a good place to metal detect.  So, dealing with a little junk is not an issue.  It is only part of the equation.  You have to get rid of some of the junk to find the hidden treasure below.  This is a well known fact.  Since we know this, it makes sense to focus our efforts in potential “hot spots” and then, once fully metal detected move out from there.

So, where are the hotspots on an old farmstead? And what the hell is this Triangle of Treasure? 

Back in the day people were outside a lot more than we are today.  They had to go outside to get water.  They had to go outside to go potty.  They had to go outside to do nearly everything.  You just have to ask yourself, where was the traffic highest?  Where were people most likely to drop valuables?

The Treasure Triangle Represents a Potential Treasure Hot Spot

The Treasure Triangle Represents a Potential Treasure Hot Spot

The obvious places to metal detect are in and around old stone foundations.  These can be hard to find in tall grass and often all that remains above the surface are a couple rocks.  Wells are another area commonly visited throughout the day.  Metal detect around it thoroughly.  Finally the barn or shed, make sure to detect inside and out of this structure.  The less obvious place is the land in between all of these structures.  An old timer told me to draw an imaginary line from each of these three structures forming a triangle and to focus my metal detecting efforts there.  Since people were traveling between these structures frequently, there was more likely to be coins and other items dropped in this locale.  Also, if you can find the privy, you can draw a square and focus your efforts within it.  I would have mentioned this earlier but Square of Treasure just didn’t sound as good.

Other Treasure Hot Spots on an Old Farmstead.

The “privy” or outhouse is usually located downwind of the main house.  Any given locale has a prevailing wind find the house, know the prevailing wind, and you can find the privy.

If there was a cellar on the property, this is a potential hot spot too.  This is where most of the perishable goods were stored and it was frequented throughout the day.  Also hit the old driveway, an obvious place where things may have been dropped when the occupants and visitors traveled to and from town.  You may have to look at an old plat map to find the drive as they are frequently lost to mother nature and may only be recognized by the sudden appearance of gravel in your hole.

More than likely if there is a stream, this served as a water source during the wet months.  There would have been a well worn path beaten to it then that is now long gone.  Hunting along the creek near an old homestead is always a good idea too.

This is just some information I figured I would pass along after being asked this question the other day.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions below!

5 Items That Make Metal Detecting Easier and More Enjoyable (But Are Not Absolutely Necessary )

In my last post I listed the Top Three Pieces of Gear Vital to Metal Detecting.  Here I listed, in order the equipment that every metal detectorist should have and why they were so vital.

Those items were:

  1. Hand Held Metal Detector
  2. Pinpointer
  3. Digging Tool

Although there is some flexibility with these items in terms of brands, features, etc., most metal detectorists will agree these three items are necessary tools to find buried metal effectively.  From there, you can add countless tools to your repertoire.  For some of these items, each one adds another element of efficiency.   The more quality the gear, the more effective you will be at recovering more treasure and less trash.

In the spirit of not spending too much on unnecessary gear, I decided to make this a three part series.  In this second part I would like to list and validate what I feel are the next 5 pieces of metal detecting equipment a treasure hunter should consider purchasing.  These items will help make your metal detecting experience not only more productive, but also more enjoyable.

5 Very Useful Metal Detecting Tools (that aren’t totally necessary)

Treasure Pouches – It sounds like an obvious thing and any pouch will work.  But, some manufacturers have come out with products that interact.  My favorite is the Garrett Treasure Pouch.  It is a very simple design but provides the two things necessary in a pouch.  First, it has a large compartment which can be used to hold the trash you dig up in the field.  It also has a small separate compartment with a zipper for valuables.  Learn from my mistakes, this is crucial!

I always warn people of storing trash and treasure together.  Do it long enough and you WILL lose one of our valueables out in the field….and nothing dampens a detecting trip like backtracking to try to find something you already found once!

The Garrett Treasure Pouch allows for attaching a variety of tools.

The Garrett Treasure Pouch allows for attaching a variety of tools.

 

One additional feature of the Garrett Treasure Pouch is that it has loops similar to that of webbing on a ruck sack.  It is perfectly situated and fitted for the holster that comes stock with the Garrett Pro Pointer.

 

Protective Covers & Cases –  Although modern metal detectors have come a long way in their design and durability, one can never be too careful with expensive electronic tools.  Your metal detector is a tool.  If you take care of your tools they will be in good working condition when you call upon them for assistance in completing a job.

ace environmental cover

An environmental housing cover will help extend the life of your metal detector.

Coil Covers protect one of the most valuable parts of the metal detector…the coil.  This is one of the things I always recommend a person buy…especially if they intend on possibly upgrading down the road.  The first thing we will look at is the condition of the coil.  They tend to get banged around a lot and can chip and wear out over time.  For around $12 bucks this is a no brainer.

Control Housing Covers protect the “brains” of the detector.  They protect from dust, scratches, and normal wear and tear.  And, unless you are using a waterproof metal detector like the Garrett AT Pro, you will need one if you are detecting in the rain.

Finally a carrying bag is a good way to protect your overall investment.  There are quite a few inexpensive bags that can be used for your metal detector.  Honestly it is hard to beat a soft side bag similar to what you would carry an assault rifle in.  Fortunately, Garrett has come up with a good quality, soft sided, metal detector bag that is slightly less likely to be mistaken for a gun…although the digital camo still may cause confusion at the airport.

More Digging & Recovery Tools – The list of treasure recovery tools is almost endless.  I mentioned a few types in the previous post but there are so many options, it could have been a blog post on its own.  Picks, shovels, probes, and crevicing tools are common tools.  Then there are the not so common.  When you are hunting on a beach or in water for instance, the best way to recover a target may be to use a sand scoop.  There are a variety of sand scoops and they come in a variety of types.  There are long handled sand scoops, short galvanized sand scoops, and there are plastic scoops which makes determining if you removed the target a bit easier.  Terrain is an important part of choosing your recovery tool.  Hard rocky soil may warrant a good heavy pick to chip through the tough soil.

The giant 20" x 40" Coiltek Coil for finding deep targets.

The giant 20″ x 40″ Coiltek Coil for finding deep targets.

 

Coil Varieties –Different detectorists have different coil preferences due to the difference of potential depth, change in kHz, size of detection field, etc. Many metal detectors have interchangeable coils.  This allows you to use, for instance, a coil like the sniper coil in areas where space is tight (for example gold prospecting).  Additionally you can purchase larger coils which will allow for increased detection depth.  Really, it is all personal preference and based largely on your hunt site.  I recommend experimenting with different coils in each place you have an opportunity to hunt over time.  You may very well find targets you had passed over in the past.  Coiltek is an aftermarket brand of metal detectors that makes coils for a variety of different brands.  They even make a 40″ x 20″ elliptical (shown left)coil made for finding deep patches of gold that were previously out of reach of the average coil.

 

Standard Gold Test Kit

Standard Gold Test Kit

Precious Metal Testing Kits – After you have dug up nearly every type of metal in existence you will get really good at determining what metal they are.  Lead for instance oxidizes as it ages and becomes almost white.  It is very heavy and easy for the trained eye to identify.  Other metals like silver can be a little tricky.  Especially if it is tarnished.  Certain stainless items can sometimes be mistaken for silver.  Additionally, if you find a piece of gold and want to see how much it is worth, you will need to first know how its karat content (assuming it’s not stamped).  You can identify potentially precious metals by using a relatively simple acid test (and yes, this is where the term “acid test” comes from). There are tests available to test for varying levels of gold content, silver, platinum, and even nickel (for testing possible meteorites).

 

FAQ: What Gear do I Need to Get Started Metal Detecting?

Probably the most common question I get from new metal detectorists or those interested in getting started is, “Okay, what do I need?”  Note the emphasis on the word “need”.  This is because the sky is the limit.  You can spend as much as you want on all of the fancy gear.  You can rack up a quite costly bill for a metal detector with all of the bells and whistles your ears can withstand.  In my opinion, to be a successful metal detectorist, it is simply not necessary.

“The best piece of advice I can give a new metal detectorist is:  The guy (or gal) who digs the most holes wins.”

Then, I continue on with other advice that will help them succeed.  There are three crucial steps to being successful at metal detecting (hang in there, I am going somewhere with this).  They are:

1.  Finding a Good Site to Metal Detect

Many new metal detectorists don’t realize that you will likely have to spend substantial time and effort to locate a site that will provide more opportunity for discovery of valuable or interesting targets. Unless you already own or have access to good metal detecting property, you may spend 1/3rd of your time tracking down good metal detecting hunting ground! This is important when deciding on gear because certain metal detectors are made specifically for certain terrains.  This will

2.  Finding A Target to Dig

This is a whole blog post by itself.  But, this step involves using a hand held metal detector and slowly and methodically meandering around a property in search of an underground piece of metal that may be worth digging up.  Once you find a metal target you have to decide if it is worth the effort digging.  This is where metal detector settings come into play.  The more money you spend on a metal detector the more information it will provide you as to what the buried target may be.  This gives the user some data to process and make the decision whether to dig.  The problem is that so many targets sound the same (i.e. pull tab – gold ring), that by discriminating too much, users inadvertently skip valuable targets!  There is much room for discussion on this topic.  The point is you will spend a fair amount of your time detecting wondering (either aimlessly or methodically) around properties in search for targets to dig (let’s say for the sake of this discussion 1/3rd of your time).

3. Recovering The Targets You Find

Anyone who has metal detected for 8 hours straight will attest to the fact it can be an arduous task.  Walking up, down, and around all types of terrains and obstacles.  Constantly kneeling and bending over while digging holes.  It is all very physically demanding by itself.  Throw in 90 degree weather and 100% humidity and it can be downright exhausting at times.  Recovery can consume a tremendous amount of your treasure hunting time.  This is why it is as important as possible for you to reduce this part of the hunt as much as possible.  It is best to make recovery quick and efficient.  This way you can save that energy for more lucrative activities.

Why are these things so important when deciding what gear you need to get started metal detecting? You will soon see.

Three Pieces of Gear Absolutely Necessary for Metal Detecting 

The Minelab GoFind 20 retails for around $180 and is a good "kids" metal detector.

The Minelab GoFind 20 retails for around $180 and is a good “kids” metal detector.

Hand Held Metal Detector – This is a must to successful metal detecting.  Prices range all across the board.  A good starter metal detector for a kid like the Minelab Gofind 20 may be in the $180 range.  A decent hand held metal detector for an adult will start around $250.  This will be sufficient for finding coins, relics, and jewelry on very basic types of terrain.  If you are an advanced user or are planning on hunting on beaches, go in the water, or prospect for gold, you will most likely be spending upwards of $600-800 to get a machine for your needs.  If you are new to metal detecting, start small and just make sure you dealer will give you a good price on a trade in if you decide to upgrade.

A metal detector like the Garrett AT Pro is suitable for experienced detectors and newbies alike.

A metal detector like the Garrett AT Pro is suitable for experienced detectors and newbies alike.

Pinpointer/Wand – This is an absolute must.  Make sure to budget this into your gear package.  I won’t venture into the field without one anymore.  If someone comes into the shop with a $500 budget I ALWAYS tell them to budget in a Garrett Pro Pointer for $125ish…this leaves them enough money to purchase a sufficient hand held detector and the additional items they need to get started metal detecting.

“A good quality pin pointer will not only make you more faster and more efficient at recovery, it will make metal detecting much more enjoyable.”

The Garrett Pro Pointer AT Is Our Favorite Pin Pointer.

The Garrett Pro Pointer AT Is Our Favorite Pin Pointer.

Digging Tool – A good quality digging tool is essential to quick recovery.  Although you can find a wide variety of digging tools at your local hardware store, beware:  Metal detecting is very hard on tools.  I amassed literally a pile of broken shovels my first couple years metal detecting before I discovered the Sampson Ball Handled Spade by Wilcox.  Experienced metal detectorists know how important a good tool is to recovery and they know how hard the sport can be on these tools.  Built by treasure hunters, there are numerous designs of small trowels and longer spade-type shovel on the market.  A trowel is absolutely necessary in about any condition.  A larger spade is vital if you are digging in hard ground or rocky soil.  If you are permitted to dig deeper, you will likewise need a spade or perhaps a good quality pick.

The Sampson Ball Handled Spade is Tough Enoug

The Sampson Ball Handled Spade is Tough Enough for Any Abuse.

First, Start With Your Budget

Start with a budget in mind but make sure you fit these three things into your arsenal.  If your budget is not enough to fit all three.  Start with the handheld, then save up enough money to buy the pinpointer (you can thank me later) then the shovel, etc.  As you begin collecting enough coins, silver, and scrap metal to cash in, you can continue to stockpile your equipment.  Regardless of how much gear you eventually assemble, don’t forget the equation:

More Digging = More Treasure!

For more tips, check out:

Part II – 5 Items That Make Metal Detecting Easier But Are Not Absolutely Necessary 

Protective Covers, Treasure Pouches, Metal Detecting Carrying Cases, and More!

 

 

Missouri River Morel Mushroom Hunt – Kansas Gold

Fn this video we are doing a different kind of treasure hunt. We are hunting morel mushrooms! We have access to an awesome property that we first metal detected. Once I saw it I knew we just had to come back to find some morels in the spring!

Metal Detecting Old Kansas Ghost Town

Mn this video the fellas and I are out exploring another vanished ghost town. All that is left standing is one house and a few outbuildings. Right alongside a railroad, this little town once had a hotel, store, post office, a mill and several residences. It also hosted an old train depot.