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How to Dig Metal Detecting Holes Responsibly

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Matt is a professional painter who enjoys fishing and metal detecting on the weekend for old coins and rings.

One of my metal detecting shovels.

One of my metal detecting shovels.

Dig Up Your Metal Detecting Finds Responsibly

Metal detecting is one of the few hobbies that can actually cause a lot of property damage when the person digging the holes doesn't care. Leaving open holes in the ground and destroying grass is the primary reason why the hobby is banned in some parks and forest preserves.

When you go metal detecting you should always make a serious effort to be respectful and leave the grass looking the same way it did when you arrived. Even when I metal detect in a forest away from people, I always fill my holes and dispose of any trash I find. I never leave a mess behind.

The right digging tools and techniques make it easy to recover objects from the ground without making a mess, or killing the grass.

Here are some important guidelines to always follow when metal detecting anywhere:

1. Get Permission and Check Local Laws

Don't go metal detecting until you've confirmed it's allowed in the city you're doing it in. On private property, even at an abandoned house, always get permission from the owner before digging holes or you could end up getting arrested for trespassing and property damage. Even at an abandoned house, the neighbor might keep an eye on the property for the owner, or the owner might live nearby and see you there without permission. Not good.

There are some public places you can metal detect, often without permission, but every city is different. Your city might allow metal detecting in the parks, but not in the sidewalk curb strips. In some cases, a permit is needed for both. Land that is owned by the state and federal government is usually off limits. You could face serious fines if you dig holes there. Always confirm local laws in advance.

2. Don't Dig When It's Too Hot Out

Digging dirt plugs to retrieve metal detecting finds when it's too hot outside can kill grass in a matter of days. I know because I killed grass when I first started metal detecting. Luckily, the damage was on my own property and not someone else's.

When it's really hot and the ground is dry, cutting through roots with a shovel kills grass quickly and leaves yellow circles where you dug. The best time to go metal detecting is in the spring and fall, or after lots of heavy rain when the ground is really wet. If the ground is a little dry, you can also pour some water onto the bottom of the dirt plug before filling the hole. The moisture helps freshly cut roots. The only place I go metal detecting in the middle of the summer is in the water or an area with mostly dirt.

My Lesche metal detecting spade.

My Lesche metal detecting spade.

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3. Use Digging Tools Meant for Metal Detecting

Using digging tools designed for metal detecting makes it easier to retrieve your finds and minimize damage to grass. The blades on a metal detecting shovel are sharper and cut through grass easier because these shovels usually have serrated blades.

Metal detecting shovels are usually smaller in size too than a regular digging shovel, making them easier to carry around all day. When treasure hunting on private property around an occupied home, sometimes I'll use my small hand-held digger. It's smaller and less likely to freak out the homeowner. The blades on metal detecting shovels, such as the t-handle shovel I use, are smaller and easier to work with than a regular digging shovel.

4. Cut Dirt Plugs With One Side Attached

Although we use the word "digging" a lot in this hobby, we're actually "cutting" a dirt plug more than we are actually digging. Digging destroys roots and makes a huge mess from loose dirt. Cutting open a dirt plug instead keeps the dirt and roots in-tact in one big chunk and reduces the chances of the grass dying.

The best way to cut a dirt plug is with a serrated metal detecting shovel. Some people really like the hand-held spade, but I love my Lesche t-handle shovel. I can cut cleaner and deeper dirt plugs using that shovel.

When you cut a dirt plug, leave dirt attached on one side to create a flap. That way when you fill the hole the plug goes back into the ground perfectly like a puzzle piece. If you completely cut out the plug it never seems to fit back into the hole right, and you'll end up with gaps that expose the roots.

5. Place a Towel Underneath Your Dirt Plug

Be mindful of crumbled dirt when you dig holes to recover your finds. I cringe when I watch metal detecting videos of people digging holes and piling up loose dirt on someone's lawn. Loose dirt is hard to completely remove from grass. It crumbles from the bottom of the dirt plug and goes all over the place.

Place your dirt plug on top of a handkerchief, or a small towel, to catch the loose dirt and keep the grass looking clean when you walk away. This is a simple trick that makes a huge difference when metal detecting in grass.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Matt G.


Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on February 28, 2020:

Getting permission is a big one.

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