Metal detecting can be a legit way to make extra cash, but there’s more to it than simply strolling a beach and hoping you’ll discover hundreds of dollars in lost jewels.
Having the right equipment and knowing the best places to look for gold and other metals can turn this hobby into a profitable venture, even if you're a beginner metal detector.
In this guide to metal detecting for beginners, you’ll learn:
- If metal detecting is worth doing and how to cash in what you find
- What items you can expect to find
- The best places to metal detect (and where it’s illegal)
- Which metal detecting equipment you should buy
Is metal detecting worth doing?
Metal detecting can absolutely be worthwhile. You can use a metal detector to find gold and other metals in the form of gold coins, silver coins, jewelry and sell them for cash to a top online gold buyer like CashforGoldUSA — which has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating and is our top recommendation for selling gold scrap online.
You can use CashforGoldUSA’s gold calculator to get the melt value of any gold scrap you have right now:
You might also find historically significant items like old Civil War bullets that can be sold to a pawn shop or antique dealer — as long as you can legally take them from the site where you found them.
Note that most federal military parks and burial grounds prohibit metal detecting. Even having a metal detector in your vehicle within one of these parks could result in fines or arrest. Do your homework before metal detecting — whether it is on federal, state, or private property — and obtain any necessary permits or permissions.
Can I make a living metal detecting?
In most cases, metal detecting is not sustainable as a full-time job, but rather as a fun hobby or side gig to make some extra cash.
If you want to make legitimate money as a beginner metal detector, you’ll need professional-grade equipment and a daily plan to hunt for gold and other precious metals in strategic locations. Note that you can’t dig on most state, federal, and private property without permission — and some places are prohibited altogether.
It will likely take you a while to turn a profit from metal detecting, considering the cost of equipment and any money spent traveling to your detecting destinations. If you’re serious about metal detecting, you’ll need:
- One or two metal detectors (one as a backup in case one detector stops working while you are out searching): $75-$500 each on Amazon, though some higher-end models like this OKM Fusion Light 3D Metal Detector cost several thousand dollars (keep reading to learn more about what you get with more expensive detectors):
- Spot locator to pinpoint where metals are buried: $20-$120 on Amazon
- Digging and collection tools like a hand shovel, a sand sifter, and a pouch for the valuables you find: $15-100 on Amazon
If you're looking for other ways to make money, check out these posts:
- 41 things to sell to make money from the stuff around your house
- 15 ways to get free money instantly in 2023
Examples of metal detecting finds
What can you find with a metal detector? If you’re searching on a public beach, for example, you're likely to find:
- Gold and silver rings
- Diamond rings
- Gold necklaces
- Metal hair clips
- Metal-framed glasses/sunglasses
Check out this video where a metal detector found nine wedding rings underwater:
The history of an area may also dictate what you can find. For example, if you have permission to metal detect at an old home site, you might find:
In areas near an old Civil War battleground, you might find:
- Belt buckles
- Coins worth money
- Military pins
***Important note: The National Park Service prohibits metal detecting on most federal military parks and burial grounds. Even having a metal detector in your car in one of these areas could lead to fines or even arrest.
However, as long as you seek permission from private property owners, obtain permits, and follow any metal detecting guidelines (like the types of tools you can and can’t use), private property that surrounds historic sites can be rich with artifacts.
Also follow specific guidelines for what to do with any discovered artifacts. Some places may want you to leave them untouched, while others may ask that you turn them into local authorities/property owners for historical preservation.
If you have permission to take historic artifacts from your detecting site, you should have an antique dealer evaluate any items you find to ensure they aren’t worth more than their scrap metal value.
Can a metal detector find gold?
Yes, a metal detector can find gold. Even though gold is non-ferrous (not magnetic), most quality metal detectors have a setting to detect gold and other non-ferrous metals including aluminum, copper, tin, brass, or bronze. Before you buy a metal detector, verify that it can detect gold.
Tips for detecting gold
Your best chance of detecting metal is in well-traveled or highly populated areas. Here are our top tips for finding gold scrap:
- Research areas before you start. Know the laws that govern those areas, and get permission to search, including obtaining any necessary permits. Some state and federal lands are off limits to metal detecting.
- Contact your local United States Geological Survey (USGS) office for a list of places where you can legally search for gold deposits in your state with a metal detector. Search “USGS office near me.” Some locations may be off limits, require permits, and prosecute violators.
- Research and buy the right metal detector for your needs and learn how to use it properly. You should get one that specifically detects gold.
- Test your metal detector with a gold ring or necklace. It’ll give you an idea of what it sounds like to detect gold. You can try this with other metals, too.
- Sweep the area, slowly keeping your coil near the ground. The coil is at the bottom of the metal detector. It’s usually circular, but can come in different shapes.
- Buy the right accessories and tools, such as a hand shovel, scoop, pick hammer, and pouch. These tools will help you dig, sort, and store your finds.
- Consider using metal detecting headphones. They can make it easier to hear the sounds of your metal detector, especially if you are in a crowded area.
- Work with a partner when looking for gold so that you can cover more ground.
- Try not to wear metal on detecting days, and keep your cellphone off to avoid interference.
- Join an online or local metal detecting club or gold prospecting club to learn tips for searching and places to check out.
- Be patient. It will take time to learn how to use your equipment and find the right places.
Here are some metal detecting tips for beginners:
Where is gold most commonly found?
People commonly find gold in or near bodies of water, like lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks. Check these areas after significant rainfall because soil erosion can shift gold or metal scrap.
Larger bodies of water like oceans and seas are also excellent places to look. Of course, you’ll need a waterproof detector or a waterproof coil (the part at the bottom of a metal detector).
Wherever large numbers of people spend time, you’re sure to find lost gold, silver, and even diamond items — just make sure you are legally allowed to metal detect wherever you go.
How deep can metal detectors detect gold?
The depth will be determined by the type of metal detector you use, where you are using it, and the size of the gold piece. For example, a 3D ground-scanning metal detector can find objects buried 30 feet or more underground. But such detectors can cost $5,000 or more.
A more affordable detector can detect gold that is anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet under dirt or sand.
Where is the best place to metal detect?
That depends on where you live, but in general, any area where many people gather is best (and where you are legally allowed to go).
Consider areas like:
- School grounds
- Sports fields
- Ski lifts
- Rest areas on highways
- Old churches
- Abandoned neighborhoods
- Old drive-in movie spaces
Start locally. In fact, you can start in your own yard at home. If you live in an apartment complex, always ask permission before metal detecting to avoid issues with property owners and neighbors.
Over time, you can expand your search in your city, town, and state. When you are ready to travel, you might find that some cities or states are more profitable than others.
You can use the USGS Mineral Resources Data System (MRDS) search to find gold claims by state. Research the area to find out if it is open to metal detecting and whether you need to obtain permits to search/dig on the land.
Can you metal detect in the woods?
Assuming you have permission to be there, the woods are a great place to look — especially high-traffic areas like hiking trails and campsites. But the rocky and uneven terrain can be challenging. Proper gear like hiking boots and poles may be necessary.
Detecting around branches, stones, or roots will take more effort to dig up what you find, so make sure you bring along high-quality tools.
Are you allowed to metal detect on beaches?
Most public beaches allow metal detecting. They may simply require you to refill any holes you dig. Some beaches may require a permit. Before you go, contact the recreation and parks office, beach authority, or tourism department of the area to ask about local rules and regulations.
Do I need a license for a metal detector?
You don't need a license to buy or use a metal detector in the United States. If you are traveling overseas, some countries may require a license or may not allow metal detecting at all.
Some specific locations, especially state parks and federal lands, do require a permit or may not allow metal detecting at all. Permit requirements vary by individual location, city, county, or state.
For example, Pennsylvania state parks allow metal detecting without a permit, but you must get permission from the on-site park manager and follow detecting rules (including following their list of approved digging tools). In Ohio state parks, you can only detect metal in certain areas, like sand-covered beaches. But each park has its own requirements — Ohio’s Geneva State Park requires a permit.
The good news is, if you need a permit, you’ll probably just need to fill out a form and pay a fee. For example, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation offers an online form to get a permit.
Here are some helpful resources to find local rules on metal detecting:
Best metal detector for beginners and FAQs about metal detectors
According to New York Magazine, the best metal detector for beginners is the Minelab Vanquish 440. Recommended by long-time detectorist George Streeter, the detector is lightweight, collapsible, waterproof, and offers technology that gives you accurate readings so you will know which metal you found before you dig:
What are the different types of metal detectors?
There are two main types of metal detectors:
- Very low frequency (VLF)
- Pulse induction (PI)
However, there are also specialty detectors that serve a specific purpose — like detecting gold or searching underwater. There are also multi-frequency or 3D detectors, which can cost thousands of dollars but detect metals deeper in the ground.
What is the most reliable metal detector?
Garrett Ace detectors frequently headline “best-of” and “top-rated” metal detector review lists. The Garrett Ace 250 is thought to be one of the most reliable metal detectors you can buy when it comes to finding gold:
How much does a really good metal detector cost?
A really good metal detector will cost you at least $250. Of course, pricing and features will vary by brand, and there are options with decent reviews for less than $150, like the Bounty Hunter TK4:
What is the most powerful metal detector?
The Fisher Gold Bug 2 metal detector is considered one of the most powerful metal detectors on the market. It debuted in 1995 and is still a top contender today. It operates at a frequency of 71 kHZ, which makes it powerful and sensitive enough to find gold of all sizes — even tiny bits and flakes:
What's the best metal detector for the money?
For the money, the Garrett Ace 300 is a solid metal detector. And, since it’s easy to operate, it’s a good beginner metal detector:
How to use a metal detector and 6 tips for beginners
Metal detectors are fairly simple to operate. Here are 6 tips to help you get started with metal detecting for beginners:
- Buy a metal detector with good reviews that you can afford.
- Make sure your detector can detect items you want, including gold.
- Always read the user manual for your metal detector first. It’s important to learn the different parts and features of your metal detector and how they work.
- Look up videos on YouTube for how to use your specific metal detector.
- Join a local metal detecting club. Ask about group or guided outings.
- Move slowly when you are detecting metal, and keep the coil close to the ground.
How do you use a metal detector successfully?
Use a slow, back and forth sweeping motion to cover your search area. Don’t touch the ground with the coil, but hover just above it for best results. Your metal detector will make sounds to alert you when it has located metals.
Over time, you’ll learn what different sounds mean. For example, gold and silver tend to make higher-pitched sounds than lower value metals like iron.
Also, learn how to read the display on your metal detector. Many models will show you a number that corresponds to a type of metal, as well as how far down you’ll need to dig.
Is it better to metal detect when the ground is wet?
A metal detector often performs best when the ground is wet, like after a soaking rain. The dampness of the soil seems to improve the communication between the buried metal and the metal detector.
What will throw off a metal detector?
Several things can throw off a metal detector reading, including:
- Interference from cell phones or radios
- Bumping the coil into the ground
- Wearing steel-toed boots or shoes with metal accents
- A sensitivity setting that is too high
- Searching in highly mineralized soil
If you are searching for gold or other metals in areas with mineralized soil, it can be difficult for the metal detector to pinpoint what you’re looking for. Mineralized soils are hard to identify, but you can use a ground balance setting (if available) on your metal detector.
When you ground balance your detector, it will more accurately pick up buried metals and ignore the surrounding mineralized particles that can throw off your reading.
How do you use a metal detector to find gold?
First, make sure your detector is designed to find gold. As you slowly move across an area, pay attention to your metal detector’s readings and sounds. High-pitched sounds often indicate the presence of gold in the ground. Your detector’s digital display may also show you that the device detects gold.
If you find gold or any other fine metals while you’re metal detecting, we recommend selling them to CashforGoldUSA. Why?
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