It is research season here and snow is still falling. So the mind tends to wonder into areas that you may not have the luxury of contemplating during the busy hunt season. One of the areas that I am always fascinated with is how do you retrieve a sites story and what are your odds of accomplishing this task with the grizzly arsenal you throw at a site.
Coin shooting was interesting until I found my first silver coin. It took me about 6 months to find that first silver coin, but the focus on coins really did not turn me on in relic and treasure hunting. It felt pretty shallow to focus only on the cherry picked items of value when it was everything else I was finding that captured my imagination. I soon found out that it was not the relic and treasure recovered but the story each relic and treasure wanted us to share that was truly the driving force behind why I had to get back out there each and every other day.
That being said, I had to innovate and come up with different approaches to dig deeper and improve my chances of recovering each sites story. While many good things can be found in first two feet of the soil, there is so much more to be found at the 4-6 foot depth that could really make these sites share all their hidden secrets. At this depth is where you are going to find something that may pay for that metal detector upgrade or that ranch you have always dreamed of owning.
I quickly discovered that my metal detector could only reach at best 18 inches. So I purchased a deeper metal detector that could reach 6-12 feet deep. However, it is not the easiest machine to have faith in because you can only dig so many 6 foot deep holes to learn the machine and have faith in what it is trying to tell you. So back to the drawing board, and I had to learn treasure signs, symbols and codes found on stone, trees, and damn near everything to put me in areas that if I dug deep, there would be something of interest to recover. I also learned to chase nails and what the coin shooter calls “junk” targets, as they always lead one to the best stories.
So if we do it by the numbers, looking for percentages of potential finds, where are we most apt to find that story?
Let’s take a plot of land, a full acre, 208.7 feet by 208.7 feet leaving us 43,560 square feet to hunt for relic and treasure.
Now when faced with an acre of land to hunt what methods you choose will give you a percentage of surface area you can cover.
An Intuition Hunt- Some like to meander through a site swinging their coil because they feel that they will be drawn like a dowsing rod to the good stuff. Why bother covering all the property when you can hone in on that special find by instinct?
Depending on your ability, the metal detector you are swinging, the angle of the target in the ground, the soil dampness, the depth the target is sitting, and your divine prowess to hone in on the target, your percentage of finding the story and the targets you desire are relatively hard to calculate.
A statistician would rank your percentage very low while the relic and treasure hunter who holds onto this strategy would rank themselves very high due to their own success they have found using this strategy.
Ged Dodd, or Peacehavens as he is known on Youtube often uses this strategy and I would rank his ability on finding the goods fairly high, maybe as high as 70% chance as coins and goodies are drawn to him. While myself, looking at this strategy mathematically I would guess my chances would be around the 5-7% success rate. Simply put, one just does not cover enough of a percentage of the property and if only using a metal detector that reaches down 12-18 inches at the most, the chance of recovering the sites story diminishes very quickly.
The Grid Hunt- Another strategy that attempts to cover all the property is employed by gridding off the property and and sweeping your metal detecting coil over the entire property overlapping as much as possible. The reason you overlap is because sweeping the coil is so inefficient and our human tendency to miss property while sweeping a grid is relatively high.
Even with the grid hunt strategy there are many factors that limit our ability to cover the total property. Human error is the biggest concern. The others are soil dampness, target depth, metal detector ability, junk targets hiding good targets by proximity, and the target orientation in the ground.
Janhyooz on YouTube, Ian Hughes, developed an ingenious grid strategy where he lays out two stakes holding line in between to give him guides to go by. He sweeps the straight line, then moves his stakes and line over and comes back in the same fashion taking care to overlap his coil sweeps.
Those that dig every target will perform better, although slower than someone who is cherry picking only good sounding targets. I have had a lot of success chasing nails and “junk” signals because they always seem to hide the really good finds. Depending on your metal detector, a square nail will often hide a silver coin in close proximity. My best advice is to dig everything and invest in better metal detectors. Spend the time and you will be rewarded.
Statistically the Grid method ranks higher in the percentages of finding that sites story but remember that old saying, “No site is ever hunted out.” It is truly a fact as there are so many variables that come into place when hunting relic and treasure with just a metal detector. Often sites will be grid in one direction and hunted, then a paralleled grid will be laid down and hunted, then a third diagonal grid will be laid out and hunted. Then a 4th grid will be laid down diagonally in the opposite direction. Now statistically if they are digging every target, this is the highest percentage chance that you will find the story of this site with a metal detector. Yet, after Winter and Spring thaw comes, you could start the process all over again and still find many targets on each grid layout. Why is that?
Well, the Winter freeze and the Spring thaw move the targets in the ground, and when their orientation moves your metal detector gets a better chance at finding them. Also, with removing many junk targets that may be shallower on the next pass your metal detector can reach a little deeper. There is also something that can be said for soil moisture and conductivity. There are certain days when everything is just right and your machine can find all the good stuff and other days when finding anything is just a victory. There are also battery life issues, with lower batteries the machine just does not have the umph to process what is happening under its coil. There are a multitude of reasons why we can not go square foot by square foot sucking up all the targets and leaving none behind. There will always be something missed with metal detecting alone.
Depth of one acre- Our metal detectors can only go 12-18 inches deep if we are extremely lucky. If we go by the numbers and conservatively say our metal detecting hunt goes a foot deep, then we are able to cover 43,560 cubic feet of earth in one acre with our metal detector if we cover 100% of the property using all the different strategies. Actually, the percentage can never truly be 100% just because we are human, but even if we could, we are still missing out on the huge potential of any site because we just can’t get the depth we deserve with only a metal detector as our only strategy.
Spanish Treasure can be found buried 4-6 feet deep and the Spanish were everywhere in North America. Everyone else, Outlaws, Jesuits, KGC, Bootleggers, hoarders, and family life savings followed Spain’s lead and most of today’s treasure can be recovered in that 4-6 foot range. Some go to 10 feet but relatively few. Others go tremendously deeper. Blue, Purple and Green layers found on the diagram above.
Privies and Outhouses can be great sources of relic and treasure. These time capsules can be found from the top heap of the mound being at 6 inches deep to the inner metropolitan city centers going 20 plus feet deep. Here in the Midwest most privies or outhouses can be found rather shallow because they were often filled in with odds and ends that were laying around and buried they were out of sight and out of mind. Often the privy chamber was only 3-6 feet deep. I have dug some privies on farmsteads that were on 3 feet deep. It was easier to dig a new hole and move the privy building over it than it was to dig down deeper and with all the property it was easy to relocate. This changes in small town lots where they dug their privy holes deeper because they did not have the option to move it when it filled up.
These time capsules are jam packed with relic and treasure that often tell a story that is more personal and harder to hide from the relic and treasure hunter. Addictions, illnesses and curiosities will be revealed through digging privies. If your relic and treasure hunting approach does not include privy digging, you are truly missing out on that sites stories it has to share.
Dump Sites- If you are fortunate enough to have a ravine, river or creek on your 1 acre you probably have a dump site to explore. On the prairies holes where dug and junk was buried. Out of sight, out of mind was the mantra. Also with so many deathly illnesses going around, perfectly good china and housewares were discarded because disinfectants were not readily available after a tragic illness or death. Know your sites historical context. Old newspapers, old timers sharing stories of the area and just good research can really allow you to prepare to dig into the whole site and recover all its stories.
What I am trying to illustrate here is that even if we are given an acre plot of land to hunt, that acre of land actually goes down in depth to the 6-7 feet where relic and treasure could be recovered. So depending on your strategy, your percentages go up the more of that earth you can dig up and cover. By the numbers, the chance we find anything is pretty staggering.