How To Be A Successful Park Hunter
Most everyone is familiar with the game show Family Feud and its well known catch phrase “And the survey says…”
Let’s apply Family Feud to the hobby of metal detecting. If one asked the question “Name the most popular area that a metal detectorist would hunt” what do you think the #1 answer would be?
What would you guess? Schools? Old houses? Urban renewal sites? The beach? Or would you perhaps guess “a park?”
And the survey says…the #1 answer is…A PARK!
Without a doubt, I can’t imagine any person who has owned a metal detector and actually used it who
didn’t venture into a park to hunt at least once, and probably many more times. Parks offer everything that a metal detectorist is looking for in a site:
- Free access
- History (potentially)
- Constant deposits of lost items
Think of it as a math equation of sorts: people + activity +items lost = VALUABLE FINDS.
And even better yet, it’s free, requiring no permission or fees.
So why doesn’t every treasure hunter who owns a metal detector just go hunt parks and rake in the finds? Well, as with anything, there is no such thing as the proverbial “free lunch.” Hunting a park is no different. Before we get to approaches to park hunting that can increase your odds of making good finds and having an enjoyable day of hunting, let’s take a look at parks in general from a treasure hunter’s point of view.
As mentioned above, parks can offer an ideal environment for a treasure hunter to swing a metal detector.Free Access
Drive up, park, pull out your gear and hunt. Couldn’t be simpler, right?
Well, yes and no. At a small, empty local park this might be a workable strategy, given that there is only so much area to hunt. However, I have hunted parks that range in size from a few hundred square feet to hundreds of acres and in most cases, drive up and hunt doesn’t work unless it just happens to be your lucky day.History
Parks have existed for as long as civilized society. Communal places where people can be outside and enjoy recreational activities. If older finds interest you, what better place to look for them than an old park, say pre-1964 (the last year silver coins were minted) or older?
Well once again the answer is a definite “maybe.” Our modern day world can be very efficient at maintaining a historical look while erasing its actual history. Think of old buildings that feature historical facades but have all of the accoutrements of our technology driven lifestyle within them, things like wifi, computers, sensor-activated indoor plumbing, etc. Historical parks are no different. Original dirt may have given way to fill dirt, with all of the valuable items either buried too deep for a metal detector to locate or long gone in the bed of a dump truck. Classic structures like stone walls or picnic tables may have been replaced by replicas. Kids’ play areas may rest atop an old ball field. That pre-1964 park may in fact be a post-2010 park and you wouldn’t even know it until you had spent a frustrating day digging nothing but modern trash and clad coins.People, Activity, Constant Deposits of Lost Items
Let’s consider the last three park characteristics together and assemble them once again into an equation: people + activity +items lost = VALUABLE FINDS.
The equation holds true. It happens in every park in the world. At some point in time, someone is going to do something at a park and lose a valuable item.
However, there is another equation that comes into play at a park, perhaps more than any other hunting location you will ever visit. This equation is as follows: people + activity = TRASH.
Mountains of the stuff. Deposited every day at your local park by the ton. Bottle caps, pull tabs, cans, foil, nails, screws, wire, twist ties, broken sprinkler parts, construction debris, the list is endless. And all of it is metal. Then add the fact that, thanks to our friend the lawn mower, this carpet of metal trash is further distributed by the blade of the mower as what is referred to as “chop.” Tiny bits of metal that can ring true to the best of metal detectors, as well as mask/hide good finds that pass right underneath your search coil.My God, Why Would Anyone Hunt A Park?!
Acres of potentially random ground, eradicated history, and mountains of trash? Sheesh, better just to go to a landfill with a metal detector and hunt there, right?
Well it isn’t quite that bad. With a strategy designed to minimize the impact of factors beyond your control, parks can be consistently rewarding hunting sites for a metal detectorist. It just requires a small amount of prep work combined with good old-fashioned common sense.
Let’s take another look at those park characteristics with the goal of making them work to the advantage of a metal detectorist.Free Access
Large or small, deciding where to hunt at a park should not be a daunting task. There are two key steps to take: evaluating the site and then testing your evaluation.
Evaluating the site
When you pull up, leave your gear in the car and take a panoramic view of the park. Note key areas like ball/soccer fields, picnic areas, and places where folks might set up camp so to speak (tree- shrouded grassy areas, for example). Pick one or two spots to focus on. Then unpack your detector and head for one of those spots.
Testing the site
What you are looking for here is a quick assessment of the potential of a particular area to yield good targets. If you use a detector with a discriminator it is a real advantage here. Swing your detector and listen for tones/watch for target ID’s that are in the range where you find good targets. Evaluate those versus the number of trash targets. Dig a few good tones/ID’s to see how deep finds are and if they are what you had hoped to recover. If the answer is “yes,” hey, keep going. If on the other hand you aren’t getting many good signals or the trash is overwhelming, move over to the other area(s) you have identified and apply the same test.
I have used this method for many years and it works well for me. Sometimes I hit right off the bat and just hunt the first part of the park I arrived at; other times it takes several excursions before I settle in to hunt.
An example might help here. My buddy, Frank and I identified a local park we had never hunted before that was built in the 1930’s. Wanting to find a park that held the potential to find old coins, we haD been looking around for an older park to hunt. This one, on paper, seemed to fill the bill.
Frank decided to scope out the park before we committed to a full day hunt and he applied the evaluate/test method that I outlined above. It worked to perfection. Frank discovered that, although the park was old in terms of its creation, its actual history was recent. There had been obvious landscaping performed which more than likely included the dreaded “fill dirt.” He only found sporadic modern coinage amidst a heavy layer of trash. Not what we were looking for as a potential site to hunt.
Once you have evaluated and tested a site you now need to see if it fits your detecting goals for that day in the field.
The history of a park will always affect your hunting goal(s). Let’s say that you’ve evaluated a particular park and your brief testing has indicated that it potentially contains promising targets. Time to get going, right?
Not necessarily. If your goal for the day is to dig old coins, then several hours of digging modern coinage may not be to your liking. Similarly, if you are just out to hunt coins in general and find that there are a few good targets to dig but they are old and deep, you may not be satisfied with just a few wheaties and a silver dime in your pouch at the end of the day. Keep that in mind when you strategize a park and if it doesn’t appear to meet your goal requirements for that day, consider shifting gears and take a different approach or leave and look for another site to hunt.People, Activity, Constant Deposits of Lost Items
The park is right. Its history is to your liking and meets your target goals. You’ve identified areas to hunt. It’s time to detect.
You turn on your detector, set the discrimination to a low level so you don’t miss the good stuff, and start swinging. Within seconds the detector sounds off. Your first target! Yes! You start to pinpoint the signal when suddenly another signal appears. Wow, you say, two targets in hole! Awesome! You move your search coil to separate the two targets and another signal sounds off in your headphones. Followed by another. And another. You stop and wonder what the heck is going on. There simply can’t be that many good targets in such a small area.
And you are dead right.
Remember that carpet of metal trash that I mentioned earlier in this guide? Well, you have just confirmed its existence. But before you wrap your detector around a tree and look for another hobby, stop and take a look at your metal detector. Because all is not lost. You have a weapon built in to your machine that will save your hunting day: the discriminator.
Simply increase the discrimination until most of those annoying trash sounds disappear while your high sounds (those good targets) remain.
Now the “all metal all the time lobby” may be rising up in opposition to this method, arguing that you could miss a valuable signal such as a thin gold ring, which often times has a signal that is similar to that of a piece of foil. And they would be correct, to a point. I have been hunting parks for over forty years and I have found it impossible to hunt trash filled parks with minimal or no discrimination. My detector becomes very noisy and even if my ears are especially keen, the amount of trash one must dig in the hope of finding a gold ring is overwhelming. I will dig signals in the nickel range, which at times can indicate a gold ring, but if gold is my goal, I pursue it at the beach. The amount of digging I would have to do if I use low/no discrimination is just more than I am willing to do with the limited time that I have available to metal detect. Not to mention that digging trash all day really isn’t much fun. So I focus on coins (high tones) and low tones in the nickel range and generally do pretty well in my park hunts. I have been rewarded with many nice coins and even a few pieces of gold using my “dig nickel signals” strategy.
One of the nice aspects of park hunting is that it does not require a large investment in order to get up and running. Yes, you can get all of the bells and whistles on a detector and all of the high end gear that goes with it, but you can be very successful in your park hunting endeavors by purchasing just a few basic items.
Obviously one needs a metal detector. I prefer a model that is light and easy to swing, with both visual and audio discrimination. Detectors of this nature really make hunting simple and enjoyable, with some models offering special audio/visual enhancements that make good signals stand out. A number of Garrett Metal Detectors models emit a special “bell” tone on certain good targets that quickly becomes music to one’s ears.
There are two types of coils that come standard with a metal detector, concentric and double D. The difference is in how the coil windings are laid into the coil. Concentric coils produce a conical shape field while double D coils have a more linear pattern. I have used both and find that they can perform equally well in a park environment. All metal detectors come with standard, or “stock” coils that are specifically designed to perform with the detector to which they are mated. When you are purchasing a new detector, be sure to inquire as to the type of stock coil that it utilizes.
I would strongly suggest the purchase of a small coil to go along with the stock coil provided with your machine if your goal is to hunt parks. In very trashy parks, the small coil will become a dependable option that will allow you to glean good targets out of the trash due to its smaller profile. I have used small coils for years in what I refer to as my “second wave” of detecting at a site. After working an area of a park with the stock coil on my detector, I switch to the small coil and rework the same area. The reduced footprint of the small coil is like having a second set of eyes and this approach has yielded many good finds that were missed by the stock coil. Additionally, a small coil can take a supposedly hunted out park and make it viable again if it has only been searched with larger coils.
Lastly, let’s not forget about headphones. You need to be able to hear the good targets and also identify the bad ones. Further, in a park a good pair of headphones will provide you with a double advantage: it will shield your ears from outside noise, and it will also keep your audible hunting experience private, away from the ears of other folks in the park. Hunt just one time by your detector’s speaker and you will see what I mean.
Because parks are communal areas, shared and enjoyed by everyone, the choice of proper recovery tools is vitally important, perhaps more so than any other environment in which a metal detectorist will hunt. Responsible target recovery that has its goal the leaving of the landscape as it was found cannot be emphasized enough. While everyone who makes use of a park has a responsibility to keep it clean by not littering, picking up dog waste, etc., it is especially important that “the guy digging holes in our park” be extra aware of the importance of leaving the ground looking undisturbed.
Several years ago I arrived at a new park to hunt and was aghast at what I found when I did my initial evaluation of the grounds. The place looked like a minefield, with holes and divots of grass everywhere. I hoped the devastation was the result of gophers but knew what the cause was after inspecting a few of the holes: metal detecting. It looked like several hunters had hit the area hard, dug a bunch of targets and then left, not giving any thought to how the park looked. I spent the better part of several hours filling in the holes and replacing what plugs I could before opting to hunt in a different area of the park. Several weeks later I came to find out that a detecting club had held a club hunt at this park. It is this behavior and lack of respect for park grounds that, if left unchecked, will result in legitimate hunters being banned from hunting local parks. So with being said, choosing the right recovery tools AND using them properly are very important things for park hunter to keep in mind.
The basic items required:
- A hand digger
- One specifically designed for metal detecting; gardening tools stay at home. You want a hand digger that cuts a nice, clean plug, one that can be easily put back into place once you recover your target. Steel is the best choice here, and find a digger with a serrated edge to make cutting a plug easier.
- A finds pouch and belt
- Get yourself a nice one, preferably with several pockets to put your tools and finds in.
- A drop cloth
- Once you remove the plug of grass, be sure to have a drop cloth laid down on the ground on to which you can dump the dirt that you remove from the hole. This makes for a nice, tidy clean up, with no dirt remaining on the surrounding grass.
- Your hands will take a beating without them. A must as far as I am concerned.
- Knee pads
- Your jeans or bare knees will love you for this.
- A pinpointer
- Absolutely vital. Locating a target in a hole without one is laborious, time consuming and could cost you some $$ if you scratch a valuable coin in the process of digging. Also, a good pinpointer will allow you to dig smaller, more target-directed holes, minimizing your impact on the park grounds.
- Bug spray
- Grass brings insects and they can ruin a hunt. A handy tip is to spray bug spray under the bill of your hat. It will keep the insects away from your face and works like a charm.
- Please remind yourself constantly about the importance of being a good citizen when hunting parks. Honestly, be an extra good citizen. As metal detectorists we want to be considered a part of the park experience, not a threat to it.
- If conditions are very dry in your area, don’t hunt your local parks. Period. You will kill the grass and raise the ire of park goers and groundskeepers alike. Wait until a few periods of rain return moisture to the ground so that those plugs of grass you dig can take root again and remain alive.
- If a park is busy with activity, look for an empty area to hunt, or come back another day. The last thing someone needs is a guy digging holes in an area where people or pets are at play.
- Pay extra attention to removing all recovered (and eyeballed, for that matter) trash as opposed to simply discarding it and moving on. This gains you significant good will with people in the parks and I have benefited from this many times.
- Even though many parks are 24 hour parks, hunt only during the day. Having guys creeping around in the dark at night in a park alarms neighbors. I know, I know, go figure, but I’ve met hunters who prefer to hunt at night and they are always shocked when someone calls the cops on them.
You will not find a better, more suitable, more easily accessible area to metal detect than a park. Parks can be a way to spend a spare hour of your day, or the focus of a road trip or even a vacation; it’s all up to you. Add the tips discussed in this guide to your metal detecting knowledge base and I think you will find park hunting to be a very enjoyable, and profitable, type of treasure hunting.