How To Be A Successful Coin Hunter
The year was 1972. Summertime had arrived... and a coin hunter was about to be born.
I was 15 years old and with a combination of money saved from my newspaper route and a $50.00 contribution from my mother I had just purchased my first metal detector, a White’s Coinmaster 3 TR. My owner’s manual was devoured, I had fresh batteries in my detector and, after “extensive” research I had selected my first virgin site to hunt: my grandparents’ house in Mt. Lebanon, PA.
My grandfather had built the house in 1935 for my grandmother and it was surrounded by plenty of fresh green grass that I just knew was holding treasures waiting for me to recover them.
My mother loaded me, my two sisters and our dachshund, Fritz, into our car and we left Cleveland for the several hour drive to Mount Lebanon. After arriving, unpacking, greeting my grandparents and being forced by my mother to keep my new metal detector in the car until after dinner, I was finally allowed to show my new treasure finder to my grandparents. My grandfather, an engineer by trade, seemed amused by the device and wished me luck in finding any treasure in the yard. My grandmother, on the other hand, seemed very curious and suggested that she, my mother and I take a walk along their tree lawn (some call them parkways), that small strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. She even wanted to join us, which I thought was the coolest thing—now my grandma could see me in action with my new metal detector!
So off I went to the tree lawn. I turned on my detector, set the threshold tone and started swinging. My mother and grandmother were walking just ahead of me, chatting a bit while at the same time watching me detect. Within only a few seconds I got my first hit. Looking down in the grass I saw a shiny quarter just laying there! I didn’t even need to use my little garden trowel to dig it! I yelled out to my mother and grandmother that I had just found my first coin and showed them the quarter. All I can remember about their reaction was that they were very happy for me.
I put the coin in my pocket, swung the detector again and got another signal. Another coin! A couple of more swings and another! I couldn’t believe it, there were so many coins in the grass that I couldn’t find them fast enough with my metal detector. While my mother and grandmother looked on, I spent the remainder of the evening pulling several dollars worth of change from that one small strip of grass. What an introduction to metal detecting, and specifically coin hunting! I went to sleep that night dreaming of the riches that were just waiting for me and my new metal detector.
Well that was quite a few years ago and there is a bit of a back story to my amazing day of coin hunting at my grandparents’ house. My mother revealed to me recently that my grandmother was more than a little skeptical about the treasure finding “gadget” that I had brought to their home. Not wanting me to be disappointed, she decided to make sure that I was successful in my treasure hunting excursion. Remember when I mentioned earlier that she and my mother were walking slightly ahead of me while I was detecting? Well it turns out that my grandma had a few dollars in coins hidden in her apron (she always wore an apron around dinner time) and was seeding the lawn ahead of me.
I hope a smile just crossed your face. One crosses mine every time I think of that day. I think of the joy my grandmother and mother must have experienced, seeing me “find” all of those coins with my brand new metal detector. And I will always remember that first thrill of finding a lost coin. A thrill which, although I am a few years older, still is with me every time I remove a coin from the ground.
Nice story, but how does that relate to being a successful coin hunter?
The operative word here is “successful.” It’s really in how you define this one single world. For me, at the age of 15 in 1972, on that one day at my grandparents’ house, I was the most successful coin hunter in the world simply because I had found coins. And now, many years later, if I have a similar day out in the field, maybe just finding a few bucks worth of clad (every day change), I still consider my day of hunting coins a success. Perhaps the easiest way to look at this in detail is by examining the goal of being a successful coin hunter and what exactly that means. From there we can address how to succeed in attaining that goal.Goals
So how does one define success in terms of coin hunting? Is it finding an older coin, maybe a rare and valuable coin? Or is it finding a lot of coins? For some hunters it is an either/or situation. I know hunters who are only satisfied if they find old coins. Clad, or every day change, doesn’t interest them. Then I know other hunters who are perfectly content to be digging coins regardless of their age. Maybe an old coin crops up amidst their pile of change, maybe not; it really doesn’t matter to them. The digging and recovery of a coin, any coin (well, except maybe zinc pennies!) is the fun of it.
For me personally my goals are somewhat fluid. On some days my goal is to find some old coins, or at least just one old coin. On other days I just want to detect and dig coins no matter what year they were minted. It all depends on what pops into my head before I head out. However, let’s be clear here: the goal you select for your day of coin hunting will be directly impacted by one factor more than any other. This factor will determine how successful, or unsuccessful, you are in attaining that goal. The factor in question? Location.Location
As they say in the real estate business, it’s all about “location, location, location.”
Coin hunting is no different. Pick the right location and your chances of success are excellent. Pick the wrong location and you better have packed a whole lot of aspirin.
Take a hunter named Gary for example. Gary wakes up one sunny morning, grabs his detector and heads out in his car, driving around, looking for a good spot to hunt. His goal: he wants to dig some old coins. So he drives around until he spots a park that sure looks old to him. He surveys the area. Some big older trees, worn wooden picnic tables, a stone restroom facility. A perfect spot he thinks. Got to be old coins here. Just got to be.
Gary unpacks his detector and equipment, puts on his headphones and sets about hunting. Within just a few swings a coin pops out. A penny from the 1970’s. A forty year old coin, not valuable, but hey, it’s forty years old, right? The older stuff, Gary assumes, is buried somewhere nearby. He continues hunting. More 1970’s era coinage, some 1960’s, a random 1950’s coin or two. But no silver (1964 & earlier), no coins from the 1940’s or 1930’s.
Gary takes a lunch break, frustrated and a bit puzzled. Where are the older coins he wonders? It’s obviously an old park. He surmises that he must be in the wrong spot and shifts his location to another side of the park. Several hours of hunting later, with a pouch full of 1970’s and newer coins and one solitary 1949 wheat penny, a worn out Gary calls it a day and goes home. In his view his day of coin hunting was a complete failure.
Now contrast Gary’s hunting experience to one that his buddy, Randy, had on that same day. Randy woke up that morning with the exact same goal in mind that Gary had: to dig some old coins.
But Randy had an advantage over Gary, a crucial advantage that would help him to potentially avoid Gary’s long and unsuccessful day of coin hunting. You see, the night before, Randy had remembered to do his homework. His research.
Now don’t go running away screaming thinking that research means a day at the library, or many hours on the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, if you are searching for an old Civil War encampment, for example, a lot of research time may be required. But often times just a few minutes will save you hours of wasted hunting time.
What did Randy do the night before? Once he decided that his goal for the next day was to find old coins, Randy knew that he had to find a location to hunt that offered the possibility of finding older coins. He knew about the park that Gary had hunted but chose to avoid it. The reason? It was built in 1976. Randy knew the odds of find older coins, say from before 1960, were slim, due to the age of the park. Probably information that would have been useful to his friend, Gary, correct?
Randy also knew of another park in the same neighborhood that he thought might be promising. It was an older park, but he wasn’t sure how old. A quick trip to the Internet and Randy discovered that the park had been built in 1932. He even found a couple of old photographs of the park from the 1940’s during his electronic search which he printed for reference.
Let’s fast forward to the next morning. While Gary is pursuing his pipe dream at his 1970’s-era park, Randy has arrived at the park he selected. Before he even unpacks his detector, Randy takes his photographs of the park from the 1940’s and compares them to the current configuration of the park. Noting that the picnic areas had apparently been relocated over the years, Randy elects to hunt a now vacant corner of the park that used to be the picnic area.
Several hours later while Gary is fumbling through his equipment bag looking for his aspirin, Randy is calling it a day as well. However, his is ending in a much different way. Rather than looking for a bottle of pain reliever, Randy is examining the six SILVER coins he has in his pouch. Two Mercury dimes from the 1930’s, a 1959 Washington quarter, a 1964 Roosevelt dime and a 1942 War Nickel (35% silver). Those along with several wheat pennies and some modern coinage. Randy’s day is a perfect example of successful coin hunting, wouldn’t you say?
In the same vein, location can greatly affect the success potential of the coin hunter whose goal is just to dig a lot of coins regardless of their age. Pick a huge expanse of open grass area that never has had much human traffic and a long day coupled with an empty finds pouch are in your future. However, find one where you can verify that it has been occupied by people at some point in time, hopefully significant numbers of people, and the odds of your digging coins all day are going to be pretty high.
The main point here is that, in order to be a successful coin hunter, selecting the location to hunt is going to be the single most important decision you make any time you go out in the field.
So let’s assume you have selected your coin hunting goal for your day in the field and an appropriate location to hunt. The next step is to equip yourself.
Of course coins can be found anywhere, from the coast to inland areas. For the purposes of this guide let’s focus on inland; beach hunting requires equipment specially suited for the beach and is covered in a separate guide on the Kellyco website.
The first, and of course, most important piece of equipment required in order to become a successful coin hunter is a metal detector. There are models of every make, model, type and budget available that in the hands of an even modestly experienced detectorist will find coins. My advice is to determine how much you have to spend before you go shopping for a machine. There are many fine machines available in a variety of price ranges that will yield good results in the field.
My personal preference is to have a detector that is lightweight and easy to swing, and also has visual target ID. Some hunters prefer to just go by sound, but I like having the visual target reference and also a depth gauge to tell me approximately how deep I have to dig. Most if not all coin hunting detectors feature discrimination circuitry which I consider vital if you are going to be a successful coin hunter. Discrimination is a variable setting on a metal detector that allows you to accept, or reject, various targets. It increases your chances of digging more coins and less trash when used properly. If you are hunting an area that is filled with trash targets (aluminum foil, bottle caps, pull tabs, etc.) you will find discrimination to be an indispensible feature of your detector.
Once you have selected a metal detector to use to hunt for coins, you need to take a moment to consider the type of coil (or coils) with which you want to equip your unit. Most metal detectors come with a general use coil, or stock coil, that is suitable for most hunting situations. They come in two different configurations: concentric or double-D. These terms refer to the method whereby the coil windings are laid into the coils. Concentric coils create a conical shaped field that is emitted from the coil while double-D coils produce a knife-edge sort of pattern. Both coils work well in coin hunting situations and you can’t go wrong with either. If you are considering a new detector purchase, be sure to inquire as to the type of coil that is included. Generally you will find it is the type that the manufacturer has determined is best for optimizing the performance of the metal detector.
I would strongly urge you to look into purchasing a small coil once you get proficient as a coin hunter. The added flexibility of a small coil is a great asset in very trashy parks due to its smaller profile. A small coil will often times enable the hunter to separate signals that would have been masked by a larger coil. Further, a small coil will permit you to get closer to fence posts, navigate tight spaces and the like that would not be searchable with a larger coil.
A good pair of headphones is also vital. Target ID is great AFTER you get a signal; your ears are your first, and often best, part of treasure hunting equipment. Don’t short change yourself with cheapies. Get a good, solid pair that seals out the outside, ambient noise and lets you focus on hearing target signals clearly.
I believe in traveling light but carrying everything I need. My list is a short list but I never go into the field without these items on my person:
- A Top Quality Digging Tool
- Target recovery of coins begins and ends with a hand digging tool. You open the hole cleanly with it and also fill the hole so as to make the ground look undisturbed. Choose a good quality one, preferably steel; even the toughest plastic won’t get the job done if the turf is hard. Personally I prefer one with a serrated edge on one side which is especially helpful if the area you are hunting in has roots that require cutting through. You should also consider one with a blade guard that will protect your hand from slipping.
- A Tough Finds Pouch and Belt
- There are many makes and models to choose from, my preference being a nylon pouch with several zippered pockets that I slip over a nylon diving type belt. While there are leather belts and pouches available, I like the fact that nylon doesn’t absorb water and is very easy to keep clean.
- A Drop Cloth
- Too many hunters don’t take this simple, inexpensive item into the field and we all suffer for their negligence. A drop cloth to put the plug you cut and the dirt that you remove from the hole allows for neat, clean target recovery.
- Gloves and Knee Pads
- Optional but if you want to save your hands and your knees get some.
- A Pinpointer
- Outside of your metal detector, a pinpointer is the most indispensible item that a coin hunter can own. Not only will one make target recovery easier, but if you are lucky enough to find an old coin, having a pinpointer will lessen the chances of your damaging a valuable find.
- Don’t let a lack of time limit your coin hunting enjoyment
- Just because you can’t hunt for several hours or more, don’t just leave your detector in the closet. When time is short I’ve often hunted at a favorite park for just an hour or so and have made some good finds within that 60 minute window.
- Cherry picking isn’t a bad thing, especially when you have limited time. Use your discriminator to your advantage. If you are in an area that has old coins, say silver or wheat pennies, crank up your discrimination setting to knock out the lower signals. Yes, you will lose nickels and maybe a gold ring, but you won’t spend the hour digging tons of trash and you may just hit some cool old coins.
- Old coins are what we all hope to find, but don’t be a clad snob. Those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters add up. I have a coin jar that I put all of my clad coins into and once a year I tumble them (a decent rock tumbler works just fine). The extra dollars I receive when I cash the coins in sure comes in handy for a little extra spending money (usually a trip to Vegas in my case!).
- Modern metal detectors are excellent at providing accurate target ID on coins. Spend the time air testing a variety of coins with your metal detector and really work on committing their signatures to memory. Armed with this knowledge, you will amaze yourself at how adept you will become at identifying good targets, and ignoring junk/less desirable targets, when you are hunting in the field.
That day at my grandparents’ house in 1972 was a long time ago for me but it truly seems like just yesterday. Maybe the thrill of digging a coin in 2013 isn’t quite the same as it was for me 41 years ago, but I’m not lying to you when I say that it’s still a kick to dig a coin that I find with my metal detector. I hope that this guide will lead you to enjoy coin hunting as much as I do, and that the tips and strategies I have shared with you will result in many successful coin hunting ventures for you in the future.
- Electronic Pinpointer
- Garrett Pro Pinpointer
- Minelab Pro-Find 25 Pinpointer
- Nokta RS Pinpointer
- All Pinpointers