A fresh, new beginning. That is what we are all hoping 2021 brings after the wild and crazy ride experienced in 2020. When I learned of a large metal detecting event called Florida Hunt 7 being planned for February 2021 in Florida, I thought “what a perfect way to start the new year!”
A little additional research revealed that Florida Hunt 7 wasn’t your standard gathering of metal detectorists. The event was hosted and organized by the folks at Camp Freedom, just outside of sunny Melrose, Florida. Camp Freedom is the base camp for Soldiers Freedom Outdoors, a non-profit organization founded in 2012 dedicated to serving our active-duty and retired service veterans by providing an eco and equine therapy retreat, encompassing several hundred acres, designed to help heal the hidden wounds of war.
As a veteran myself with more than three decades of service, the knowledge that all entry donations and proceeds would be invested back into Camp Freedom made my deliberations on whether to attend a “no-brainer”…I had to be a part of this experience and give back to our nation’s veterans!
A quick call to the awesome folks at Kellyco, for whom I am a VIP Test Team member and an affiliate, confirmed that the Kellyco staff team planned to have a major presence at Florida Hunt 7. Not surprising given the core values of Kellyco. Founded more than 60 years ago by Stuart Auerbach, a U.S. Army soldier and a veteran himself, Kellyco’s focus remains solidly on course with Stu’s vision of helping the community, bringing families together, preserving history, and sharing the metal detecting hobby with the world.
Before The Hunt
Planning began in earnest. This was to be a road trip in my Reawakening History customized 4×4 Relic Rogue detecting vehicle, outfitted to the hilt with equipment and gear for any condition or weather eventuality. The 11-plus hour trip from my home in the Williamsburg, Virginia, region would take me through five states, and from mid-30 degree weather to mid-80-degree weather…a mid-Winter challenge I was more than willing to accept! Little did I know the level of the challenge awaiting me, however, as a severe ice storm rolled into Virginia at the very hour of my departure, making the first few hours of my trip a slippery, treacherous maze of avoiding salt trucks and vehicle accidents! Sadly, the storm ultimately resulted in tens of thousands without power for days, but it did not stop my mission to reach Florida Hunt 7!
My arrival in the Sunshine State was met with balmy mid-80-degree temperatures and sun…what a difference from just a few hours prior! The parking lot of my Gainesville-area hotel was already filling up with other detectorist’s vehicles, many emblazoned (like mine) with decals declaring their love of the hobby and brand affiliations. Clearly, I had chosen the right hotel! Next came unloading of my gear, organizing, ops-checking all electronic components, and making notes along the way that would help document my Florida Hunt 7 adventure. A quick check of the Florida Hunt 7 Facebook page indicated that more than 200 detectorists planned to attend this hunt, traveling from as far away as California and Washington State! Vendors and sponsors were also coming from far and wide, to include (but not limited to): the Kellyco team rendezvousing from both the central Florida and Tennessee offices/showrooms, Minelab, Garrett, First Texas Products, Adventures in History, Detect America, Gold Digger Metal Detectors, Shooters and Prospectors, and Nokta Makro flying all the way around the world from Turkey!
The evening prior to the first hunt day a meet and greet social event was held at a restaurant in the Gainesville area called Hurricane BTW. In addition to nearly the entire Kellyco staff and test team, many detecting personalities were in attendance, including Tim “Ringy” Saylor, “King” George Wyant and Steve Moore from Garrett, Butch Holcombe from American Digger Magazine, Shawn Sgts Discoveries Sherrill, and many, many others. The turn-out was phenomenal and a great time had by all.
Florida Hunt 7 – Day 1
Florida Hunt 7, Day One. The first day of the event started with a whirlwind of activity. Vendors and sponsors were on-site first, setting up their booths and displays literally just as soon as the sun began to rise, backdropped by the beautiful Camp Freedom grounds and resident therapy horses. A wide range of metal detecting wares were available from across the spectrum of vendors and industry, making it an incredibly fun and appealing venue.
As the sun continued to rise, the seemingly endless procession of vehicles made their way into Camp Freedom, a cornucopia of license plates from all over the country, representing the widespread scope and appeal of the metal detecting hobby in the United States. Detectorists immediately began gearing up and heading for the vendor area, sampling the wares, and engaging in friendly conversation with fellow detectorists, meeting old friends, and making new friends. Today also saw the arrival of two additional detecting personalities, Michael “Nugget Noggin” Bennett, and Britain Lockhart of Depths of History.
Before the hunt commenced, Florida Hunt 7 organizer Gregg Papallo and a few others provided opening remarks.
They also shared humbling perspectives of personal and related life challenges and tragedies experienced by this country’s brave veterans and their loved ones, and how Camp Freedom through Soldiers Freedom Outdoors has served as a resource to help those in need. For this detectorist, I have not experienced a more sobering and yet heart-warming feeling at the beginning of a group metal detecting event, knowing I was helping the Camp Freedom effort in some small part.
And then it began…the hunt was on! The mass of dozens upon dozens of detectorists headed off in different directions, guided by either the research they had performed ahead of the hunt or by simple gut-feeling of where the treasure lay awaiting!
I was in the former group, having done my IPB “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” research and identified locations of potential 19th-century activity on the property. My first destination was nearly a mile hike into the thick Florida brush, so I geared up accordingly with plenty of tools and resources to not only get the job done but to stay healthy and hydrated. The morning could not have been more perfect. Having been cooler and rainy the day prior, today the clouds had cleared to welcome a solid blue sky and bright sun. And even better, the forecast for the remainder of the day and Day 2 of the hunt was even more pleasant!
Armed with my primary detecting soil assault device, the Garrett AT Max affixed with the Garrett 5×8 DD PROformance coil, I started my hike to my first target destination. I chose the 5×8 coil not only because it is my success-based default coil for the AT Max but owing to the dense Florida under-brush and vines.
I expected that the smaller more streamlined footprint of the 5×8 coil would allow me to snake in and around all the dense undergrowth more agilely and allow access areas where larger coils could not tread. That strategy and coil worked very well over the course of this hunt.
Other daily-carry gear that I used on this hunt included the Garrett Pro-Pointer AT (aka, Garrett carrot), a Predator Piranha root-slayer shovel, a (NEW) Kellyco Sifter Finds Pouch (bottom of the main compartment is mesh, allowing soil/sand to sift out away from your finds…works awesome!), an MLTools Hori Hori Japanese Digging Knife (this hand tool is super sharp–easily cuts through roots on its own!), and of course my Kellyco camo ball cap to keep my fuzzy crewcut-topped head from sizzling to a crisp in the Florida sun!
On approach to a possible 19th-century homesite I had researched, my AT Max sniffed out a bit of historical evidence indicating I was heading in the right direction. The ornate thin, hollow multi-piece brass item was certainly a decorative adornment of some type, perhaps to the top of a set of fireplace andirons, or maybe part of an old oil lamp shaft.
The very next target was another keeper, although defied identification at every turn. Some said thimble, some said a cap of some nature, another thought was the clipped end from a metal cigar tube. In any case, it was a further artifact from history and indicated a pattern of life in the area.
As the day progressed more finds were made, and more detectorists encountered who shared their recoveries and what they were experiencing. There was no hesitation whatsoever in their willingness to provide descriptions of where they found each item, and what others were finding in the area. Florida Hunt 7 was a team sport, a small, close family getting together for a common purpose and cause.
Toward the end of the first day, the hunt organizers held an immense raffle. So many wonderful items were given away that it was literally impossible to keep track. Numerous metal detectors were given away, endless bags of vendor/sponsor-donated goodies, tickets to events, and many amazing hand-crafted items created by folks with amazing skills. This was one of the most robust raffles/giveaways that I have ever witnessed at a metal detecting event. Having said that, I found that a reciprocal give-away was equally incredible. Several vendors/sponsors to include Minelab rallied together on the spur of the moment and donated a dozen metal detectors to Soldiers Freedom Outdoors for veterans to use while at Camp Freedom–something the camp never had before. With the donation of these machines, in addition to hiking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, and horseback riding, the veterans will now also be able to enjoy metal detecting over the several hundred acres of Camp Freedom.
Florida Hunt 7 – Day 2
Day 2 of Florida Hunt 7 brought even more beautiful weather, more finds, and more comradery amongst the detectorists and visits with the vendors. There were no planned events for Day 2, so the day was purely allocated to detecting the massive acreage.
Along a sandy roadway, my AT Max hit upon a solid yet bouncy signal. I run my AT Max consistently wide open…in Zero mode, no discrimination, no iron audio so that I can let the detector’s tones tell me every facet possible about a target’s composition and shape. The tones from this target told me it was probably irregularly shaped, but almost certainly composed of a more non-ferrous metal.
That assessment turned out to be right on the money! About six inches down I was able to recover all three parts of a very old lady’s hand purse/clutch clasp frame. Of course, the first thought that went through my head (aside from “how cool!”) was, ok, I wonder if the contents of the purse are also in the hole! Unfortunately, that was not to be the case in this instance. It definitely conjures up images and thoughts, however, of how and why this lady’s purse came to lie in the brush overlooking a Florida lake, without its contents. Was it children playing with one of the mother’s old purses and left forgotten at their play site? Or was it a robbery, and after the valuables taken and non-valuable contents tossed asunder, the purse discarded while on the run? This is part of the mystery and lure of metal detecting…and Reawakening History!
In the end, nearly all Florida Hunt 7 detectorists saved a wide array of relics. It was great to be able to share what I found and see some of the other incredible finds made over the course of the two-day hunt. These finds will of course be cased and displayed as a small window into Florida life from generations past.
As Day 2 drew to a close, we all said our farewells to our Florida Hunt 7 hosts and friends from far and wide. Some detectorists were heading back home that evening, some planned to depart the next morning, and some had other plans in the Florida area in the coming days. The latter was my situation…as I planned to begin Part 2 of my Florida adventure, a trip to Kellyco’s Florida showroom!
The next morning, I pointed my Relic Rogue south and set off for Casselberry, Florida, the site of Kellyco’s Florida offices and showroom. As a personal aside, during this two-hour trek I was able to catch my first glimpse of Florida alligators in the wild! A 10-plus foot monster and another 5 to 6-foot alligator was chilling on the side of the highway in a water-filled median, not 20 ft from my vehicle! How cool! Wish I could have taken a photo, but safety first…the mission was to get to Kellyco!
I was able to spend several awesome hours with the Kellyco team talking about metal detecting in general, upcoming events, and products, to include all the products in their well-appointed showroom! All major metal detecting brands were represented, displaying detectors, pinpointers, shovels and digging tools, sand scoops, finds pouches and travel bags of various styles, foldable seats, attire, and even gold panning systems with practice bags of dirt that actually contain gold!
A Visit To The Kellyco Florida Showroom
For those that are local to the Florida Kellyco showroom or the East Tennessee Kellyco showroom in Knoxville, TN, they even have an array of metal detectors that are available for rent by the day! The available detectors for rent may vary by location, but generally include the Garrett AT Max Metal Detector with Z-Lynk, Nokta Makro Simplex+ Metal Detector, or Minelab Equinox 800 Metal Detector. All rentals also include a pinpointer and a trowel, allowing a first-time detectorist, or perhaps someone on vacation in the area without a detector to dive right in!
In addition to numerous other Kellyco-branded products, they also have their own metal detector carry bags. These newly redesigned travel bags are a huge upgrade, engineered with robust materials and zippers to ensure reliable, long-term use.
The latest addition to the Florida showroom is a metal detecting test garden designed by Carolyn Yohannes, Vice President of Community Outreach and Sales. When you mention testbeds or test gardens, to most detectorists they probably envision an outdoor test area that is cleared of all extraneous metal and then sample targets buried to test the performance of various pieces of equipment. However, with Kellyco’s testbed, you can test equipment indoors without concern for the weather, and it is especially helpful if you want to test a particular piece of equipment before purchasing! Pretty cool!
A visit to the Florida Kellyco showroom would not be complete without checking out the display of various finds in the showcase.
The finds, some donated but most recovered by Kellyco’s own staff detectorists, are pretty cool to peruse!
About the New Minelab GPX 6000
In addition to all the other amazing aspects of this trip, I lucked out and was able to get my hands on the brand new Minelab GPX 6000! Debbie Simkoski from Minelab was visiting Kellyco on this day, having also driven down post-Florida Hunt 7, and was kind enough to share her time demoing and explaining what the GPX 6000 brings to the table. I cannot disclose all the details I gleaned, yet, since the detector has not started shipping from Minelab…however, suffice to say the package is impressive!
The GPX 6000, designed as a gold detecting machine, is a significant reengineer from previous GPX machines. The system is fully collapsible, and with its carbon fiber shaft…very light, exponentially lighter than most GPX units I have ever experienced. The 11″, 14″ and 17″ coils are waterproof and the control box itself is splash/rainproof, so no more control box raincoats or covers. The GPX 6000 is wireless, coming with ML100 pat™ Low Latency Bluetooth™ headphones, and has a new Geo-Sense-PITM technology that rapidly suppresses interference and unwanted signals via three overlapping feedback systems for superfast detection.
I am definitely looking forward to seeing and hearing much more about the GPX 6000 and other advances from Minelab in the near future! Huge thanks to Debbie and Minelab for sharing the time and insight!
As they say, all good things must come to an end, and thus did my visit to Kellyco. I cannot say enough good things about the team members I was able to meet, from the President of Kellyco, Jeremy Floyd, to Mark Tymensky, Vice President of Affiliate and Vendor Relations, Carolyn Yohannes, Leilani, Dave, Shelby, Nathan…and the handful of staff I wasn’t able to catch up with…y’all rock! This small, incredibly knowledgeable, dedicated, and enthusiastic 10-person team is the heartbeat of the world’s largest award-winning supplier of metal detectors direct to customers…that is Kellyco. Stu formulated the recipe for success from the beginning…personalized care and superior support to the customer, unparalleled expertise, highest quality products…and those values resonate throughout Kellyco to this day.
Until the next time…keep your coils low & level…happy hunting!