Treasure Hunting For Lake Superior Agates

Lake Superior Agates Photo courtesy of:

Lake Superior Agates
Photo courtesy of:

Did you know that the official gemstones of the state of Minnesota are called agates? Of all the beautiful rocks and gemstones that could have been considered, these beautiful stones that are readily available along so many beachfronts of that state are so treasured that they now have that official title. If you’re interested in treasure hunting of any type, why not consider treasure hunting for some Lake Superior agates of your own?

These colorful rocks are more than just your garden variety types of stones. They were actually formed literally billions of years ago, when the North American continent began to split because of molten rocks shifting deep beneath the surface of the ground. Water vapor and carbon dioxide became trapped in areas of these lava flows, forming the colorful rocks we now call agates. Their beautiful and unique striped design is what makes them so treasured.

There are two ways to hunt for agates in the Lake Superior area. The first is to scuba dive in Lake Superior for these gemstones. A two hour non-certification class is offered in Copper Harbor and the class covers the location and identification of Lake Superior Agates. Air is furnished for this one tank dive class. Many of the better quality of agates are found on the sand bars in Lake Superior. The water is quite cold and can be very cloudy at times so always use the buddy system when diving.

The second way to hunt for agates is to search the lake shore of Lake Superior and nearby lakes. Hunting for Lake Superior agates isn’t as easy as you might think. Their unique banding usually becomes more visible when the rocks are polished and cut a little bit, and not always visible to the naked eye. Prospectors often need to look for other clues when searching for agates. Most have a glossy or waxy appearance and a pitted texture. They also seem to have a glow or translucence on sunny days, usually because of the quartz deposit on the rocks. A brighter day is usually better for hunting than a cloudy one.

The best way to treat agates is by tumbling. This is when the rocks are put into a large vat with polishing grit and tumbled for several days until they are shiny and smooth. Usually areas where you can find Lake Superior agates have places that will do this for you, for a small fee. They may also have many specimens available that have been found by others and that you can purchase for your own. The larger ones are cut with diamond slabs until they’re shiny and then are set in pieces of jewelry, belt buckles, and so on.

You don’t need to be in Minnesota to find Lake Superior agates. Any waters that empty into Lake Superior will have deposits along the banks of their rivers and streams; up and down the Mississippi River is a great hunting ground for Lake Superior agates. Hikers, campers, and just casual beach goers have found a wealth of beautiful gemstones in many of these areas.

Treasure hunting takes on all forms these days; you can look for coins, shipwrecks, and even valuable rocks and gemstones. For a great vacation activity, why not try hunting for Lake Superior agates? They make great souvenirs for anyone.

Happy Treasure Hunting.

David Cowley has created numerous articles on Treasure Hunting. He has also created a Web Site dedicated to Treasure Hunting. Visit Treasure Hunting.

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High Plains Prospectors to Move to Olathe, KS

Please share this with everyone you know!

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We wanted to let everyone know we are in the process of moving our shop to a better retail location.

We will offer extended hours, more products, and, best of all, more space!

We will announce the grand opening date soon and invite everyone in to check it out and enjoy some good food and beverages!

For now, if you plan on stopping in, give us a call first so we can let you know exactly where we are.

Thanks for all of your support and business!


How To Metal Detect – Part 4, Seeing What Lies Beneath – Digging Deeper

If we had x-ray vision metal detectors wouldn’t exist.  Air travel would be much safer and people watching much more exciting.  But we don’t.  So we have to rely on whatever technology we can to “see” what lies beneath the ground.  That technology is getting more and more sophisticated by the day.  However, the scientific processes involved in detecting metal underground, are difficult and not yet perfected.  I have spoken to people that say things like, “I was hoping there was something that actually showed a picture under ground,” motioning to her I-Phone as if it should be an app already.  Sorry folks.  That just simply doesn’t exist.

What we do have is good technology that can virtually peel away even the most difficult dirt and collect sufficient information on a buried metal item.  That information is then relayed in several different ways to the treasure hunter whose job it is to decipher and determine if the target is worth excavation.  In Part 2 of This Series, I discussed basically how a metal detector coil works.  What I did not discuss is how modern coil technology is making it possible to separate targets better and see much deeper beneath the surface of the ground.  This opens up new ground and allows us to more easily hunt new sites and re-hunt sites that have been “hunted out”.  The diagram below is an example of how modern coil technology is helping improve treasure recovery.

How a Metal Detector Search Coil Works

First it is important to understand the basics of how a metal detector search coil works.  Just the basics.

A metal detector search coil is typically actually two search coils.  One which acts as a transmitter and one as a receiver (on a VLF detector. A  PI detector has one coil that acts as both).  The detector emits a magnetic field around the coil and downward through the transmitter and the second coil picks up the returning signal.  Any distortion in the magnetic field and the detector notices.  Any disturbance is then sent to the control module where it is deciphered and transmitted to the detectorist.  Different objects, depending on their conductivity, size, shape, will create unique disturbance signatures.  With much practice you can learn these different signatures and have a better idea of what you are digging before you dig.

Different coil technologies allow a range of detection fields.

Different coil technologies allow a range of detection fields.

On the left you see the Double-D search coil.  In the center you see a traditional concentric search coil.  To the far right you see a small “sniper” coil.  Each of these metal detector search coils serve a specific purpose.

Concentric Search Coil

The most widely used and economical search coil, the concentric coil is preferred by most detectorists.  Especially those who have never tried a DD ;)  The concentric coil gives superior depth and a larger detection area in soils with low to moderate mineralization.  More heavily mineralized soil can sort of “jam” a concentric coil and a DD may be preferred.  A larger coil generally means you get more depth.  Note in the diagram the detection field of the Sniper Coil on the right.  Going too deep or too big with your search coil can be a bad thing in an area with too much trash.  A large coil may detect so much junk at one time that more valuable targets are missed.  Sniper coils are very good in this scenario.  Their small detection field can help detectorists more easily pick through numerous targets.

Double-D Coil

The “DD” coil is so named because of the shape of the two coils which overlap at the center unlike the traditional concentric coil where one coil lies inside the other.  This overlapping, and subsequent signal cancellation on certain areas of the coil, creates a unique shape to the field of detection.  Instead of a bowl shaped field of detection below the surface, the result is more of a knife-shape.  As illustrated in the diagram, the “slice” allows you to differentiate between two nearby targets better than a traditional concentric coil.  As you waive the coil over the recovery site, you will get two distinct signals back to back as opposed to an erratic/jumpy signal.  This is especially useful in very trashy areas.  The only draw back is you have less of a detection field and some argue that you lose depth with the DD.

The Big Daddy of Detectors

For those of us who like to “go big or go home” there is the Treasure Hound Eagle Eye Search Coil .  This coil is created for one job:  Finding big treasure buried deep.  Combined with the Garrett GTI 2500, this behemoth can detect several feet beneath the surface and ignores objects less than about 3″ in diameter.  When operating this coil you don’t swing it.  You simply walk with it like a suitcase.  There are a few different box style detectors available.  The Garret brand is the only I know of that actually offers a deep seeking pinpointer on their two box detector.  The diagram below shows the difference between a traditional metal detector’s field of detection and a 2 box deep seeking metal detector.


A two-box deep seeking metal detector will reach much deeper than a traditional hand held metal detector.

I will summarize this section succinctly and much like I have the other sections of this series: Technology is great for hunting treasure.  We should fully explore new technology as it comes out.  It will help us find more treasure faster.  But the only way to truly be successful is to get out and do it!  Until next time…

How To Metal Detect – Part 3, Get Outside & Cover Some Ground!

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At this point in the game, many detectorists would tell you to spend countless hours of “air tests” so you get a good idea of how different metals will make your metal detector react. Some even go to the extent of building a personal “test garden” to learn target signals. Although it is not a bad idea to grab some of the more common items you will find out in the field when metal detecting to help you learn how the item rings up, I contend your time is better spent out in the field learning first hand.  Let me make it simple for you all.  Most metal detectors will be very similar in how they sound and display information.  For example, a small iron object will most likely give a low audio tone.  The nickel, pull tab, and gold ring will likely give you a mid-tone.  Coins, especially silver, will give you a high tone.  The Target I.D. # or Cursor will follow along the same lines.  Since conditions in the field are far different than above ground, this knowledge is helpful at best.

“Although it is not a bad idea to grab some of the more common items you will find out in the field when metal detecting to help you learn how the item rings up, I contend your time is better spent out in the field learning first hand.”

When you are in the field metal detecting you will encounter different situations.  For example you may be hunting an old homesite that is littered with a century’s worth of scrap metal and discard.  Much of it is from a time when there was no trash service and many items were simply tossed aside when no longer of value.  Scrap piles were common and random personal dump were the only means to eliminate refuse.  That coin may be in the same hole as a square nail or old piece of roof tin giving it a far different reading on your metal detector than when you did your air test above ground.  That small gold ring will sound a lot like a small piece of aluminum or small ball of tinfoil.  Aluminum comes in every imaginable shape and size.  It is one of the most common pieces of trash and can mimic almost any valuable target.  Aluminum is a metal detectorists nemesis.  The point I am trying to make is that you will never know what is in the hole if you don’t dig it up.  If you are passing up pull tabs you are passing up rings.  If you are passing up aluminum cans you could be passing up a cache.  You simply have to dig more to get ahead in metal detecting.  So, grab yourself a good digging tool and get dirty!

Metal detecting is about finding targets to dig and digging the targets you find.  Ideally you want to spend more time covering ground than actually recovering targets.

Finding Targets to Dig

Where to Metal Detect - The first step is to find a place to metal detect.  I wrote a blog about this in June of 2012, titled Where to Metal Detect.  I contend the best place to start is your backyard.  Go ahead, clean it up!  You will be amazed at how much junk is in your back yard.  Then, like a new insurance agent, hit up your whole list of family and friends close by.  Focus on those in older houses.  The best sites are the ones that have been occupied the longest.  Any house built in the pre WWII is a good place to start.  You will have more luck finding silver coins here (technically anything in the pre-60′s but I prefer a little older).  Don’t get too picky at first.  You are in a learning phase.  The local park will work just fine.  Once  you have dug up a few hundred pennies and pull tabs you will start to understand your detector’s language.  A few hundred more and you will start understanding what its saying better.  Over time you will get comfortable and feel more confident using your machine.

Scanning the Site - Once you have located a site that allows you to dig, you can start searching for treasure.  Most metal detectors are known as VLF (Very Low Frequency) metal detectors.  They require the coil to be moving or “scanning” the ground to elicit a signal.  Pulse induction (PI) metal detectors constantly emit a signal and doesn’t require movement (like the pinpoint function on a VLF detector).  Regardless of the type of detector you use, you need to be covering ground effectively to ensure you are finding all of the potential targets.  The diagram below shows how to scan to make sure you are effectively covering the site.  Take it from me, after several hours of detecting, it is easy to get sloppy with your swing.  This will undoubtedly lead to missed treasure.

Effective scanning technique will help you fully cover ground and recover more treasure!

Effective scanning technique will help you fully cover ground and recover more treasure!

Proper Metal Detector Swing

Rate of Speed - There is no doubt that a nice slow and steady metal detecting swing speed will help you more thoroughly cover ground.  Especially when contending with trashy ground and deep targets.  When using a lower grade metal detector this is very important.  The “recovery speed” of a metal detector is how fast the metal detector can recover from one signal and give you the next signal.  Detectors with a slow recovery rate cannot respond effectively to a desired target which may be masked by a undesirable target in the same hole.  Lesser metal detectors require the users to slow down a little.  Higher end metal detectors allow users to move quicker and speed up their swing.  Research and experience are the only things that can help you learn a metal detector’s recovery rate as there is no standard measurement that I know of.  It is a matter of how fast the processors are and I don’t know of any manufacturers that provide that information to consumers.  On our YouTube Videos I have been accused of swinging my metal detector too fast.  The truth is I just use a good metal detector!

Coil Positioning - Sloppy swinging results in missed targets.  Keep your coil to the soil!  That is, keep it as close to the soil as you can and, at a minimum, a couple inches off the ground.  Also, keep it parallel to the ground.  If you sweep up at the end of your swing you will be missing targets and thus covering less ground.   This will help you attain more depth and find smaller valuable targets at shallower depths.  The diagram below shows how to (and how not to) swing your coil.

Keep your coil to the soil!

Keep your coil to the soil!

In trying to demystify the art of metal detecting, I am trying to keep it simple and not get too much into minute details.  I am giving you some basic advice which I think will serve you well out in the field.  But, the key is to GET OUT INTO THE FIELD!  That is what this sport is all about.  Getting off your but and getting outside to do the thing you always wanted to do as a kid…play in the dirt.  This act is truly the one thing necessary to succeed at metal detecting.

How To Metal Detect – Part 2, The Very Basics of The Sport

After you find a suitable metal detector for your specific needs, it is time to learn the basic components of your metal detector.  Most metal detectors are comprised of the same basic components.  Assembly will vary depending on the model.  Read the instruction booklet to figure it out. Which reminds me, the single most important piece of advice I can give anyone, whether experienced or not, is:


(and watch any videos you can find on its operation)

Many people (no offense fellas, but it’s mostly you) skip over this important step.  If you have never metal detected, you have some studying to do in order to master it.  Don’t slack on this.  Learn as much as you can and realize that getting good will not come overnight.  Read your manual and watch the manufacturer’s video if available.  Whether the manufacturer provides a video or not, you can usually find something on YouTube about your particular model.

Metal Detector Components

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to the nitty gritty of your metal detector.  Some manufacturers use different lingo and seem to, at times, purposefully try to confuse people.  I am going to keep this simple and to the point…you’re welcome!

Basic Parts of a Metal Detector

The Basic Components of a Metal Detector

The Basic Components of a Metal Detector

 Metal detecting is not rocket science!  Do not let people confuse you with tech-talk.  Just get out and play in the dirt! 

If you look at the diagram of a metal detector within the manual, you will likely see all sorts of part names that are specific to the metal detector you are using.  To keep this simple I am going to discuss only the 3 most basic components and those that are most essential to the use of your metal detector.  We’ll use a K.I.S.S. format here (keep it stupid simple).

Metal Detector Framework - This consists of the stem (which may consist of multiple pieces), the grip (which varies by design by most brands), and the arm rest/stand.  These will vary in size and design but serve essentially the same purpose with any brand you choose…to hold the other important pieces and allow you to comfortably swing your metal detector.  You don’t need this for your metal detector to work, but take it from someone who has had each of these break at one time or another, you don’t want to metal detect without a solid framework to support your detector components.

The Metal Detector Coil – If your metal detector were a hunting dog, the coil would be its nose.  This part of the detector will be discussed in depth in the next section.  All you need to know now is that the coil is the part of the metal detector that sends a frequency (which will also vary by metal detector) out and also receives the signal back.  This data is then sent to the control housing where it is interpreted and relayed to the user…that’s enough for now, more to come.  Stay tuned!

The Control Housing - The control housing of a metal detector can be described as the “brains” of the metal detector.  It takes the information obtained from the signal which was sent and received by the coil.  Here it will turn that information into a variety of cues which the user can utilize to try to determine what the target is before digging.  It will relay this information into an audio tone, and in many cases, a visual cue (although not all detectors give a visual signal).  The cues will vary by brand but most detectors give a range of audio tones (i.e. low ton for ferrous object and a high tone for highly conductive, non ferrous objects).  The visual display may display a simple cursor which jumps between possible target results.  Other, more advanced detectors may give a target I.D. readout which allows the user to further dial in on what the target may be.  Regardless of how advanced or basic the metal detector may be, no matter how much information it throws at you, you will never really know what the target is until you dig it up.  This is because there are so many different types of objects out there that range in size, shape, density, conductivity, and so forth that, as of this post, there is yet to be a metal detector that can tell you exactly what the target is before you dig it.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is the sad fact.

A typical face plate of a metal detector control housing.

A typical face plate of a metal detector control housing.

Although most detectors will have the basic elements, some have more bells and whistles than the others.  Typically, the more bells and whistles, the pricier the metal detector.  Some really handy features that are not present in every metal detector are multiple audio tones, depth indicator, some level of target elimination/discrimination, digital target I.D., and a pinpoint button.  These are the basic items I recommend you try to obtain.  Other features such as a Ground Balance (which we will discuss in the future), iron discrimination, and sensitivity settings are good features too.  Just remember, no matter how many indicators you have, real-in-the-field experience is the only thing that can help you hone in on what a potential target may be and a little elbow grease is the only thing that will help you determine if you are correct.