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Best Tools & Methods To Recover Your Finds

(The Key to Successful Target Recovery)

By Bill Paxton
Locates and Pinpoints
Treasure hunter Frank Galuppo locates
and pinpoints a target.

There is a “key” to target recovery? Seriously, just one key?

Yes there is. It is a one word “key” that every metal detectorist should be aware of every time that he or she ventures out into the field and locates their first target beneath their search coil...

That key word is Integrity.

Integrity? Say what? C’mon, this isn’t about vouching for a person’s character. This guide is supposed to be about how to successfully recover a target. What on earth could the word “integrity” have to do with that?

Everything. It applies to two specific areas of metal detecting target recovery: integrity of the target and integrity of the environment. Before any treasure hunter learns the best method of target recovery, these twospecific areas have to be both understood and embraced.

Let’s take a look at them in detail.

Integrity of the Target

You’ve selected the proper metal detector to satisfy your treasure hunting goals. Outfitted yourself with all of the requisite gear: pouch, digging tools, the works. And your research has identified a site to hunt that looks to have some potential for valuable finds. You hit the site and within the first few swings of your coil your machine tells you that you have found a good target. Excitedly you set your detector down, pull out your digging tool and start digging into the turf. A few scoops of dirt and the gleam of a sliver coin appears at the bottom of the hole. You pry it out and it’s a silver Washington quarter!

With a lovely gash across George’s face thanks to the sharp tip of your digging tool.

Oh well, you say, so what, it’s silver so it’s still a cool find. You go on your way, digging clad (common) coin for the rest of the day, gouge many of them with your digging tool but could care less, they are just coins so no big deal.

That evening curiosity gets the best of you and on a lark you drop the date of the silver Washington quarter, which happens to be 1932-D, into Google on your computer and hit “search.” Within seconds the following appears on your computer screen: “1932-D Washington silver quarter, key date, average circulated value $150.00.”

You grab the quarter and think dollar signs, 150 of them to be exact! YES! Then you look at the scar across George’s face, the scar that you put there with your excited, careless target recovery. Exuberance turns into to depression when you look up the scrap value of your damaged find and see that $150.00 has been reduced to $3.46.

Integrity of the target. If you had simply made an effort to maintain that simple concept in your recovery of that 1932-D quarter you would have had a valuable coin to sell or add to your collection. Instead you made $3.46.

Hopefully this example will impress upon you the importance of proper target recovery in terms of the target itself. We will discuss the methods and equipment necessary to minimize the chances of damaging your find shortly, but first let’s turn our attention to the second area of target recovery that I mentioned earlier: integrity of the environment.

Begin a Dig
Beginning a dig.

Integrity of the Environment

In the aforementioned example, remember this sentence?

“Excitedly you set your detector down, pull out your digging tool and start digging into the turf.”

I would imagine that the turf suffered a fate similar to that which befell the Washington quarter. Let’s just say that neither were left in the same condition they had originally been in before your digging tool did its work. Now let’s imagine that a similar target recovery technique was used for your entire day of hunting. How may total targets did you recover? 20? 30? 50? Can’t remember? Well just count the number of poorly dug and filled-in holes that you left behind and you won’t even need to look into your pouch to get the number. Unless there was a huge infestation of moles digging up your hunting site you no doubt left plenty of evidence of your presence behind you. Evidence that will linger for months to come thanks to dead grass and open holes.

3 Sided Plug
Removing a properly cut 3-sided plug.

Several weeks later you mention to a fellow hunter about the site you had discovered and suggest that he pay it a visit and try his luck. Your friend excitedly does that just that and when you get a call from him a couple of days later you expect to hear that he had made some cool finds. To your surprise, he did make a discovery of sorts: an enraged groundskeeper who accused him of digging all of the holes that you did. Apparently your handiwork left the site looking like a minefield and major sodding/reseeding was required to repair the damage.

You apologize to your friend, who was apparently run off by the groundskeeper and never even got to hunt the site. Chalking it up to overreaction, you figure you will just wait and return at a later date after the hoopla has calmed down.

Oh whatever, you think to yourself, public places like this are maintained, grass recovers, it should be fine. Plus you have other places to hunt and don’t intend to return there for many months.

Months pass and you decide to revisit the site again. You survey the area and, just as you had predicted, everything is fine. Green grass, no holes. Like you figured, everybody just overreacted. As you pop open your car trunk and reach for your detector, you take notice of something that seems to be a recent addition to the park since you your last visit. A sign of some sort, too far away to make out. Curious, you close your car trunk and walk toward the sign. It only takes a few steps before the words on the sign come into focus. “METAL DETECTING IS NOT PERMITTED.”

Recover Target
Recovering the target.
Its a Quarter
It’s a quarter!

Words that you get to contemplate as you slowly walk back to your car and drive home.

Integrity of the environment. Even more important than integrity of the target because let’s face it, if you can’t dig the target to begin with, then…?

A side note to beach hunters: if you think integrity of the environment doesn’t apply to you because you are just digging sand and the tide will fill your holes in , you couldn’t be more wrong. You know that water line you love to hunt, the one where all of the goodies get deposited? Well take a look some time at all of the people jogging, walking, playing, tossing a ball, etc. in the area in which you just left a dozen six inch to one foot deep, unfilled in holes. And envision how they will feel when they step into one of those open holes and hurt themselves. Don’t care about them, they should have been more careful? 
Think that way and a sign addressed specifically to you and your fellow beach hunters may be in your future.

And Now the Good Stuff

The concepts of integrity with regard to targets and the environment aren’t hard to understand and
should not be difficult to work into your hunting regimen.
 The next steps involve selecting the proper 
equipment and using proven techniques to recover your targets.

  • A metal detector with an easy to use pinpointing mode.
    • A no brainer? Hardly. Despite the availability of handheld, standalone pinpointers, you simply must have a metal detector with a good pinpointing mode. Back in 1972 when I started metal detecting, there was no such thing as a pinpointer. You had to use your machine and honestly, I have become so dependent on a pinpointer nowadays that I wonder how I lived without one. But I did. Think of your metal detector as the first wave of pinpointing and your pinpointer as being the second. Pinpointing the target with your metal detector allows you to home in on where to dig. This offers numerous advantages: your hole is smaller, you can dig around the target, minimizing the risk of damaging it, and target recovery, if done properly, will be very swift and efficient.
      • Many hunters become so proficient in pinpointing a target without switching to pinpoint mode that they may not use it much, but it is still a feature that even the best in the business have need for on occasion.
    • Coil selection is a very important aspect of pinpointing a target with your metal detector.
      • Concentric coils pinpoint in the center of the coil.
      • DD coils pinpoint in a similar manner but also offer the ability to pinpoint when then target “falls off” the tip or back end of the coil when in detecting mode.
      • You should familiarize yourself with both types of coils and become comfortable with pinpointing with the coil that you choose for your metal detector.
  • A pinpointer
    • There are two types of pinpointers, handheld and shaft/detector mounted. Both work in a similar manner, functioning as non-discriminating, all metal detectors designed to locate a target within a few inches of its tip. I personally prefer a handheld model because I don’t like adding additional weight to my detector, but the choice is yours as to which type you choose.The main point to make here is GET ONE. This small investment will reap benefits in your hunting for years to come. You will damage fewer targets, dig smaller holes, and hopefully leave your surroundings as they were before you hunted them. Consider a pinpointer as indispensible as your metal detector.
      • A note to beach hunters: you don’t need to bring your pinpointer to the beach.
        Leave it at home.
  • Proper digging tools: Leave the gardening and tool box tools where they belong. What you want here are digging tools designed specificly for target recovery by a metal detectorist.
    • Probes
      • Probes are an at times iffy digging tool to carry into the field. The reason that I say this is that they often times can cause more problems than they are worth. It has been my personal experience that target recovery using a probe in lieu of a digger is extremely difficult and can often times result in damage either to the target itself or the ground/turf. I would advise using one only for the shallowest of targets and if you do choose to use one, make sure it is brass, not steel. The softer metal minimizes the chance of damaging a valuable find. Be aware that the brass tip will sharpen with repeated use and needs to be kept rounded (simple filing is all that you need to do).
    • A quality digging tool
      • Get one with a long, serrated blade and a comfortable grip. This is going to be your main recovery tool. The idea here is to use that serrated blade to carve/saw into the ground, not shovel, for your initial dig. I recommend steel, not plastic, and don’t go cheap here. A quality digging tool will save your hands, your arms, your targets and the digging environment.
    • A drop cloth
      • Simple, inexpensive and vital to keeping target recovery tidy. Cloth or plastic, it’s up to you. You simply spread the cloth on the ground and place the dirt from the hole on it. After you recovery your target, all you have to do is dump the dirt back into the hole, replace the plug, tamp it down and the turf looks just as it did before you arrived.
    • Other items
      • Finds pouch and belt
        • Important items to consider because you want to make sure that the targets you recover are safe and secure. Look for a pouch with a zippered compartment in which to put your most valuable finds. A nylon belt is my personal preference; they are inexpensive and very sturdy.
      • Gloves and kneepads
        • Protect your hands & knees.

You’ll notice that the subject heading above reads “Recovery Method,” not “Methods.”

In my view, for inland public or private sites, there is only one proven method of target recovery that maintains both the integrity of the target and the integrity of the environment.

That method is digging a 3-sided plug.

Not a 4-sided plug. I repeat NOT A 4-SIDED PLUG! 4-sided plugs are no longer secured to the ground and are easily swept up by lawn mowers, leaving empty holes in their wake.

Digging a 3-sided plug is simple. Here is all you have to do:

Return Dirt
Returning dirt to the hole.
  1. Locate your target with your metal detector.
  2. Pinpoint the target with your metal detector,
    either in detecting mode or pinpoint mode.
  3. Insert your digging tool into the ground and “carve/saw” a roughly 4” – 6” side of your plug, cutting down the length of your blade.
  4. Turn the blade ninety degrees and carve/saw a 
    second side to your plug.
  5. Turn one last time and repeat, digging the third 
    and final side of your plug.
  6. Stop.
  7. You have now dug your 3-sided plug. Insert your digging tool blade underneath the front side of your plug (opposite the attached side) and pry the plug out of the ground. It should swing over away from you, still attached to the turf, and rest safely on the ground beside your now open hole. You will see that your careful digging has preserved the root structure of the grass, ensuring that it will survive your target recovery. Plus the plug remains attached to the surrounding turf, protecting it from the blade and intake of a lawn mower.
Replace Plug
Replacing the plug.
  1. Grasp your pinpointer and insert it into the hole. If you get a response, proceed to the next step. If you don’t, take the pinpointer and check the plug—your target may be contained within it. If so, carefully use your fingers to remove the target from the plug and then place the plug back into the hole. Tamp it down with your foot and continue hunting.
  2. If the target is not in the plug, probe the hole with the pinpointer. If you do not get a response, place a drop cloth next to the hole and carefully remove a few scoops of dirt, placing them on the drop cloth. Recheck the hole with the pinpointer AND the pile of dirt to see if you have located the target. Continue this process until the target is located and recovered.
  1. Once target recovery is complete, pour the dirt from the drop cloth back into the hole and lightly tamp it down with your hand and/or digging tool.
  2. Swing the 3-sided plug back into position and place it in the hole.
  3. LIGHTLY tamp down on the plug with your foot.
    • a. Do not stomp on the plug. The soil needs to aerate and stomping it back into place can actually harm the turf.
  4. Admire your handiwork (the ground should look untouched), gather your gear and take a moment to inspect your find!
Perfect Turf
Frank Galuppo shows off the perfect, undisturbed turf.


I have used this method for many years and have been complimented by homeowners, park patrons and groundskeepers for my target recovery method. It is fast, easy and efficient. I won’t lie to you, I still on occasion nick a coin (gosh are on edge coins tough at times!) but it doesn’t happen often.

  • For your beach or relic/woods hunters obviously the above method does not apply.
    However, the concept of filling in your holes does, no matter where you are.
  • I would not advise bringing a shovel to a public site like a park. It conveys the wrong idea. There are long handled digging tools available that can work quite well in the right site—they do offer increased leverage and can save your back-- but you need to be cognizant of the environment and only consider using them on a case-by-case basis.
  • A neat shortcut to use on shallow targets is to scrub your pinpointer tip on the ground above the target. If it is shallow the pinpointer will hit it. Then you can use a probe or the tip of your digging tool to pop the target out of the ground, saving you digging a deep plug for nothing.
  • Pinpointing requires practice, be it with your metal detector or pinpointer. An easy, inexpensive practicing technique that doesn’t require planting targets in the ground involves a piece of cardboard, Scotch tape, a coin and a pin. Tape a coin to one side of piece of cardboard. Turn it over and place the cardboard in an area that is metal-free. Then sweep your metal detector coil over the cardboard and attempt to pinpoint the coin. Once you think that you are right on top of it, take the pin and stick it through the cardboard. If you hit the coin, we have a winner. If you don’t, well as the saying goes “practice makes perfect.” You can try this with different size coins and also with your pinpointer. It really does work and I do it several times a year just to make sure my pinpointing skills are sharp.
Perfect Turf
Frank Galuppo shows a silver dime recovered using this method.

Target recovery is one of the most overlooked and yet vital aspects of the hobby of metal detecting. If you stop to think about it, it is the only component that comes into play each and every time that you find something. Hopefully the method and tips I’ve covered will guarantee you both good finds in your pouch and good sites that remain open to hunt. Keep in mind the word “integrity” and I think you will be rewarded with both.


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