How to Dig Metal Detecting Holes Responsibly

Updated on March 21, 2020
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter who enjoys fishing and metal detecting for old coins and relics.

One of my metal detecting shovels.
One of my metal detecting shovels.

Properly Digging Holes for Your Metal Detecting Finds

Digging holes responsibly when metal detecting on public and private land is a must. Metal detectorists who ruin grass and leave holes half-filled are the reason why some cities have banned the hobby in forest preserves and parks.

When you go metal detecting, you should always make a serious effort to leave the grass looking the way it did when you arrived. With the right digging tools and know-how, you can recover your finds without destroying grass and making people angry, or worse, having the police get involved.

1. Get Permission and Check Local Laws

Don't dig holes anywhere until you've confirmed metal detecting is allowed where you're digging. 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.

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.

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

Digging dirt plugs in the summer heat kills grass. I know because I made this mistake when I first started 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 kills them very easily, leaving yellow circles in the grass where you dug. The best time to go metal detecting is in the spring, fall, or after heavy rain, when the ground is moist. If the ground is a little dry, you can also pour some water onto the bottom of the dirt plug before closing it. The moisture helps freshly cut roots.

My Lesche metal detecting spade.
My Lesche metal detecting spade.

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. These shovels usually have serrated blades.

Metal detecting shovels are usually smaller in size too than a regular digging shovel, making them less alarming to the public. When treasure hunting on private property, I'll often use a hand-held digger instead of my t-handle shovel. You definitely don't want to be walking around with a huge shovel.

4. Cut Dirt Plugs With One Side Attached

Although the metal detecting hobby is associated with digging, detectorists actually cut and open dirt plugs to retrieve their finds. By cutting open a dirt plug instead of digging, the grass roots remain embedded in the dirt. Digging a hole breaks the dirt into pieces, killing the grass and leaving a huge mess.

The best way to cut a dirt plug is with a serrated spade for metal detecting, or a t-handle shovel. When you cut a plug, leave one side of the plug attached to the ground to create a flap or a door. Leaving one side attached allows the dirt plug to be closed in its original position to prevent gaps around the edges or exposed roots.

5. Place a Towel Underneath Your Dirt Plug

I cringe when I watch metal detecting videos of people digging holes and piling up the dirt in the grass. When you flip open your dirt plug to recover the object, dirt crumbles from the bottom of the plug and falls into the grass.

When you close the plug, the crumbled dirt leaves a huge mess behind unless you have something underneath the plug to catch it. Place your dirt plug on top of a handkerchief, or a small towel, to catch dirt and keep the grass looking clean when you walk away.

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.


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    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      4 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Getting permission is a big one.


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