Why you shouldn’t spend more than $300 and what dealers don’t want you to know about the state of the metal detecting hobby…
Do you hope to find gold jewelry and some silver coins every time you go metal detecting? You should right? That person on Youtube does and he is the reason you are interested in buying a metal detector.
At this point, you are confronted with a ton of different choices. Which metal detector do you get? Do you dip your feet in the water with the cheapest one you can find or do you fork out thousands of dollars? You might be tempted to justify getting the best, because you will quickly pay it off with the loads of gold and silver you intend to find. Everyone on the forums tells you to buy the best you can afford. They seem to know what they are talking about and post their amazing finds to prove they know what they are doing.
If this is where you are at in your journey, then this is the article for you. If you already bought a metal detector and are frustrated, then this article may reset your expectations. As you read through this, you may start to lose interest in the hobby, hang in there as there is hope. My goal is to tell it how it is, and then provide tips for success within this reality.
The thoughts I am about to share are based on my decades of experience metal detecting, having owned and used tens of thousands of dollars of metal detectors from different manufacturers. I chased the silver bullet for too long before accepting what I am going to share with you. If you don’t want the long version and instead just want to know which beginner metal detector to buy, get a Garrett Ace 250 and a Garrett Pro-pointer or White’s TRX Otherwise, welcome to the real world of metal detecting.
Metal Detector dealers are in the business of selling, not finding. Their outlook for success greatly exaggerates reality and industry trends. They share a lot of success stories to push the sale. They especially like to show the rare successes. Remember, dealers and the shills that promote them on forums and blogs are not your friends. They are trying to sell you. They are trying to squeeze as much as they can out of a dying industry. Kind of like investors selling overpriced stocks before the bubble bursts. I believe that they are pushing overpriced metal detectors hard right now because they want to secure as much profit as possible before most people accept that it is too hard and maybe impossible to find the most prized items, with few exceptions.
The reality is that metal detecting opportunities today are not what they were 30-40 years ago or even 10 years ago. Early users of metal detectors encountered favorable conditions because silver coins were still in people’s pockets just waiting to be lost, they were often the first person to search any given location and there was a lot less trash. Technology advancements during the last 10-20 years added depth and features that allowed for a second wave of success just a little deeper but still not as good as the glory days of easy pickings.
Jump to today. Metal detectors now have a wide variety of features to better tell the difference between junk and treasure. Some can go a little deeper, but we are talking about inches rather than feet for coin and ring sized items. They are more powerful for sure, BUT trash has accumulated for an additional 50 years. Small bits of soda cans prevent you from finding stuff beneath it. Silver coins are much harder to find because no one is losing them and detectorists have been looking for the silver for decades. Wearing valuable jewelry is not as trendy as it once was. TV shows have made metal detecting more popular and increased the competition.
To be fair, there are some people who are still successful at finding old silver coins. They might occasionally luck out and find a spot not detected heavily. Some spend a great deal of time removing trash to uncover the older stuff below. Once you have dug a few holes 12 inches deep to recover a piece of can, knowing that there are hundreds to thousands of pieces of trash for each valuable find, the effort required for the reward becomes less appealing. No metal detector will be a silver bullet and spare you from this pain.
So you should just give up, right? No. Metal detecting is fun. Let’s explore some ways to enjoy the hobby with a corrected perspective.
First, you don’t have to have the most expensive metal detector and you probably don’t want one, unless you enjoy collecting metal detectors, money is not an issue or you are detecting in some specific situations (beaches and gold fields). You are more likely to pay off your $200 detector than a $1000 one and less likely to have buyer’s remorse. It is also logical that if you are searching parks and similar places, you don’t need or necessarily want the extra depth. By focusing on shallow items, you can find more stuff and recover it faster. It is much easier to coin pop a couple of inches than it is to dig 12 inches. The more items you can recover, the better your chances of finding something nice, like a gold ring. It won’t likely be vintage, but it will be exciting. You will also be finding more goodies, which keeps things exciting.
Second, focus on places that replenish themselves. Playgrounds and beaches are great examples, especially where there are a lot of people.
Third, use a quality pin-pointer to speed up locating items.
Forth, don’t believe everything that you read or see in forums or on Youtube. Fishermen are known for telling their fish stories. Treasure hunters are worse. A lot of folks talk confidently, but really don’t know what they are talking about and often share horrible advice. For example, on a popular forum that will not be named, there is a regular contributor that once heaped loads of criticism on my thoughts and suggestions about a particular metal detector. A month goes by and he forgets about this. He contacts me through private message and admits he has never used the metal detector before. I ignored his previous rudeness and answered a lot of questions. A day later, he practically quoted me in answer to another’s question and presented himself as an expert on this machine. Some people like to sound important, even if they don’t have practical experience. It is unfortunate that many of the good advice-giving detectorists have given up on forum participation, because it is not worth dealing with the vocal pretenders and those who show fake finds. Readers beware…
So, what does a good beginner metal detector look like? It should get decent depth in inches, allow you to pick and choose which item types to ignore (discrimination). You don’t always want to use discrimination, but it can be helpful. It should be easy to use and not break the bank. However, the cheapest metal detectors and pin-pointers are in fact junk. They rip off the unknowing and ruin the hobby for many people so avoid them. The sweet spot is around $220-250 for a metal detector, depending on the package. A quality pin-pointer (also known as a probe) runs around $130 to 150. It is basically a mini metal detector. You don’t need one and can start without one, but in my opinion, it makes things so much better and faster.
Here are my recommendations for getting started:
The Garrett Ace 250 is probably the most sold metal detector in the price range and for a good reason. It has been around awhile and is a solid performer with useful features.
If you eventually encounter a situation where a more specific set of features would really help out, then consider an upgrade. But I wouldn’t make a premature upgrade as you may not need it. Instead, save the money and buy a pin-pointer.
When should you buy a more expensive metal detector?
There are a couple of notable exceptions to my previous suggestions. If you are metal detecting sandy beaches, especially around saltwater, then a powerful Minelab Excalibur II is so worth it or a Tesoro Sand Shark if your budget won’t allow for the minelab. People lose more jewelry at beaches and it sinks in the sand. You want something that will go deep and that can handle the salt water. Most detectors can detect the dry sand ok, but on wet sand, they go crazy or lose most of their depth.
If you are looking for gold nuggets in actual gold fields, then you really want a metal detector made specifically for that purpose as the gold can be small and the ground conditions are often harsh with lots of minerals. The Fisher Gold Bug 2 has been the most popular choice for decades because it just works so well. The Fisher Gold Bug Pro is almost as good as the Gold Bug 2, but can also we used in parks for coins and jewelry. It is my favorite metal detector. Don’t take the Gold Bug 2 to the park unless you want pain or have an unusually high level of patience. It fairs better in playgrounds than in the grass, but the Gold Bug Pro provides the best of both worlds. There are other expensive detectors for gold prospecting that are amazing, but there are more smaller bits of gold than large and gold fields have been pounded by them. Mother nature isn’t pumping out gold faster than we can find it, so like with silver coins, prospecting no longer what it used to be.