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Choosing your first metal detector

Choosing your first metal detector

Choosing your first metal detector

If you are sitting here reading this article, then you are very likely also looking for an answer to the most often asked question What metal detector should I buy?  If you are having trouble with this first step, don’t worry, most people get stuck here.  I still remember buying my very first detector {read the story here}.  I spent months staring at pictures of every make and model.  After reading every detector review and article in every treasure hunting magazine I could find,  I still couldn’t decide on a metal detector.  However, you have the entire contents of the world-wide-web at your finger tips to make it easier, although, all of today’s options probably makes it more confusing!

too many to choose from

I ended up buying a very cheap and basic detector.  It was basically junk.  I don’t recommend you follow that route, as it can make this great hobby feel extremely frustrating.  So, I’m going to try to help you make this first step onto the path of the detectorist.

So, what’s the best metal detector for you?  The best metal detector is the one that is right for your personal wants and needs. Depending on where you live, your budget, and what you’re interested in finding – there are a multitude of different metal detectors you can choose from.  Below are the basic questions you need to answer for yourself to narrow down your choices.

What do you want to find?

The first step in choosing your first detector is defining your interest. You need to have some idea as to what you want to hunt for. For instance, if you live in areas that have had quite a bit of Civil War activity or Colonial settlers in the area you may want to hunt for relics or very old early American coins. You’ll need a deeper seeking detector, and possibly one made for “all metal” hunting.

If it’s natural gold ( nuggets and flakes ) that you’re after, you’ll need a detector that operates at a higher frequency and probably with smaller coils. This type of detector is more sensitive to smaller gold which is very hard (to impossible) to register on standard detectors.  Most gold regions have soils that contain a high level of iron and minerals.  These grounds are said to be heavily mineralized, and this creates problems for detecting.  If you will be searching some place that is highly mineralized then you need a detector designed to deal with that.

beach metal detecting

If you plan on hunting in or near the water, especially salt water, you need a specialized detector.  Any general-purpose detector works fine in the dry sand, but if you plan to be in the water (even shallow wading) then you’ll need an underwater / beach / land metal detector that has a waterproof housing.  You need a waterproof model to protect from waves and dunking it from tripping or falling in the water.  If you plan on hunting in saltwater, you must have a waterproof detector capable of working in the conductive salts.  Most detectors simply will not compromise between dry land hunting and salt water beaches because they chatter too much near the water to use effectively.  If the chatter can be eliminated, you also lose the majority of it’s detection abilities

If you plan to be searching in your neighborhood parks, playgrounds, old school yards, and many other “dirt” sites, then an all-purpose metal detector is the one for you, and there are many to choose from.  These types are used mainly for finding coins and common jewelry.  Most metal detectors manufactured today, are “all-purpose” detectors – and they’re available within every price range.  Many are easy to use for beginners and very affordable.

What is your budget?

Whatever your budget level is, my advice is simple – buy the best you can afford. The better your detector, the more sensitive it will be and the deeper it will penetrate. As a rule, the more expensive the detector, the more features and abilities it will have.  Whatever your budget, be it $200, $500, $1000 or more, you can narrow the field down to find THE BEST option for you.  When you’re first starting out, if you’re not sure if you’ll even like the hobby (or if budget is a concern), you’ll probably want to get yourself an entry level detector.

At the time of writing this guide, a quality entry level metal detector will cost you anywhere from $160 to $400.  Anything over $400 I consider to be mid-level or better model.  Just to put this price into context, some detectors can cost up to $10,000.  Yes, $10k.  But machines that cost this much are designed as highly specialized detectors with capabilities far exceeding “regular” models.

Many people get into metal detecting to be a hobby that “pays for itself”.  That concept isn’t actually “wrong,” but it’s the wrong approach.  Don’t try to justify the cost as a “return on investment” business expense.  Don’t think of your new metal detector as an expense; think of it as an investment for fun, adventure and excitement!  Keep in mind this is a hobby, just like fishing or golf.  People don’t get into other hobbies to make money.  Do it for the fun!

Is there a best metal detector?

Quite honestly, for general purpose machines, there is no best detector.  A lot of people think certain machines will find better stuff or get better depth.  Yes, this can happen if we’re comparing a $100 machine with a $800 machine.  But for the most part, the ‘best’ metal detector is (sort of) a trick question.  What works best for one person, for one type of detecting in one location may be terrible for another person with different circumstances.

For simplicity sake, all metal detectors do the exact same thing – detect metal.  What makes certain machines more expensive than the others is the additional features and newer technologies.  It’s really that simple.  If I put a silver coin in front of you and hand you a $100 machine and a $2,500 machine, they’re both going to tell you there’s a coin in front of you.  Now let’s say I also put an old rusty nail next to that coin.  The $100 machine will detect metal, but it won’t be sure what the target is.  The $2,500 machine will go so far as to tell you there are two targets in front of you, one that is a coin and one that is iron.  That is just one example of how the entry level machines differ from the more expensive ones.

Are you experienced?

Don’t worry if you’ve never metal detected before.  There’s plenty of detectors that are powerful, yet simple enough to guarantee an excellent experience for operators of all experience levels.  Most modern machines feature “quick start” settings that make treasure hunting as easy as installing batteries and turning on the detector. With the push of a button, simple features let you zero-in on old coins, rings, and relics while filtering out most iron junk. Automatic tuning helps you calibrate your detector for different ground conditions and cancel out interference from power lines. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to master everything about your detector right away.  Any of the more advanced  features will be waiting for you when you’re ready to begin adjusting them.

Even if you have used a detector before, possibly many years ago, things have likely changed.  That antique detector in the closet may still be capable of finding coins but weight, power and ease of use have all made huge advances over time.

I realize that after reading this article, some people will begin calling dealers asking for recommendations armed with the above information about their specific needs.  Many of you have read this far and are saying, “Please!  Just tell me what entry level, general purpose metal detector I should get!”  OK, to help you out, here all the most popular entry level models currently available from the best brands (in no particular order).

Garrett ACE series (150, 250, 300, 350)

Fisher F11 or F22

Teknetics Eurotek Pro, or Delta 4000

Minelab X-terra series, or Go-Find series

Tesoro Compadre or Mojave

Whites Coinmaster.

These are all entry level machines and you could pick any one of them and be very happy. Take a few minutes to look up some of the models and pic one that looks best for you. You can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above so take your pick and get out there!  If you are now asking “where do I go to buy it?” There are lots of dealers available, either online or possibly local to you.  Just make sure you buy from a factory authorized dealer for the brand you choose.  I’m partial to Big Boys Hobbies.  The owner, Bart, is a great guy and great at helping you with your detecting needs.

Good luck and Happy Hunting! – Silver Fiend

One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Derek Dewitt
    Mar 28, 2019

    I want to get a metal detector this spring. I like your point about how they are simple to use. I’ll start looking into this more so I can try finding valuables.

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