The weather here in Tucson has been so pleasant, highs in the 70s and 80s, so it’s been perfect for metal detecting. You really can’t beat December in the Southwest for outdoor activities. We have to brave the hot summer months, but we live here for the beautiful, sunshine-filled days of the winter.


On our latest metal detecting trips we have been working on learning about the different settings on the detector – more so than expecting to unearth valuable treasure (although there is still that excitement every time the detector signals a target!). I think that we’ve gotten a good at utilizing the sensitivity setting alone (not in conjunction with the other settings). Since my husband and I are still in the learning stage, we tend to set it higher so we can dig everything, unless we are finding that we are digging a lot of junk or that the mineral content in the ground is causing the detector to constantly sound.

The other day, we visited the wash that is near our house to work on using the discrimination and sensitivity settings together on our detector, which should help us understand the depth of buried targets. The wash is perfect for practicing because there seems to be quite a bit of metal to find, the ground isn’t as hard as other places we’ve hunted, and there aren’t any other people around – not to mention that it really is a beautiful area for desert wildlife.

I know from my research and experience that there is not a specific answer to the question, “How deep will a metal detector go?” There are too many variables to answer that question. In addition to the capabilities that your detector has, you have to consider the following regarding depth:

  • Soil mineralization – The mineral content of soil can vary widely. If the soil is heavily mineralized it will most likely reduce the penetration power of the detector. In areas where there is gold to be found (southern Arizona is one) the soil is made up of rock, soil, sand, and clay that contain tiny grains of iron-bearing minerals. These minerals allow current to flow and cause metal detectors to receive a signal from the ground itself.
  • How long the target has been buried – Different metals corrode at different rates. The longer an item has been buried, the longer the ground chemical have had a chance to “eat away” at the metal.
  • The size of the item – The bigger the target, the deeper it can be detected. We’ve seen that with metal cans that we have dug up. We found some larger cans, buried deeper, that caused the same sounding alerts that a small metal lid near the surface did.
  • The object’s shape and position – An object that is lying flat will be detectable at greater depths than one that it buried vertically. To illustrate this, think of a coin that is lying flat. Looking at it from above you can see it easily. Now consider that same coin standing on its edge. When viewed from above, you can’t see as much of its metallic surface. An object that is lying flat will be detectable at greater depths than one that it buried vertically.

We haven’t had success with finding valuable targets in the wash, but the items we did find helped us practice with our detector’s settings, so that someday, when there is something of value buried deep in the ground, we’ll be able to find it.