How to Recover (Dig Out) Metal Detecting Finds
The moment has arrived. You have located and pinpointed your target. It is time to uncover a piece of history that has not seen light for hundreds of years. Your treasure is almost in your hands. This is the exciting part. This is what every person who metal detects lives for, the recovery.
How are you going to get your treasure out of the earth? It is time to learn the art of recovery. Yep, just like pinpointing, recovery is an art form. It is time to get your hands dirty unless of course you are wearing gloves.
First things first. Always be very careful when you are recovering your targets. You never know what you may be digging up. Your treasure could be some live ammo or even an old bomb. I am being serious here. There have been people who have recovered loaded weapons and live grenades using their metal detector.
Taking extra care will also ensure that you don’t damage your buried treasure. Who knows, it could be a one of a kind gold coin. The last thing you want to do is put a big dent or a scratch in it because you were too excited to take things nice and easy.
Different Recovery Methods
There is more than one way to get that treasure out of the ground, and choosing the right recovery method really depends on the location you are hunting. There are some places where you can dig huge holes making the place look like a war zone, and there are other places where you can’t disturb a single blade of grass.
If you are hunting out in the middle of the woods, then you can dig big holes as deep as you want. Just make sure you fill them in when you are done.
The same goes for the beach. Dig as much and as deep as you want. Kids will gather around
you wondering what you are doing, and when you tell them you are hunting treasure, they will
want to help you dig.
There are specially designed relic shovels for digging through tough root infested ground you will find in the woods, and there are beach scoops that make it really simple to get your treasure out of the beach sand. My dad always said, “Use the right tool for the job.” This is especially true when it comes to recovering your treasure while metal detecting.
There are some places where you have to be very careful how you recover your targets. Any place that has a well manicured lawn is the perfect example, and well manicured lawns are always loaded with treasure. In order to recover your targets here, you will need to learn how to cut a plug or use a probe.
Cutting a Perfect Plug
This is the most commonly used method to recover a target. It lets you recover the target without doing any damage to the ground. With a little bit of practice, no one will even be able to tell you were there.
This is where a good handheld recovery tool comes in handy. It will help you cut through the ground like a hot knife through butter. Yes I did just use that age old cliché. Sorry, but it is the perfect example.
There are a few things that will make your job of cutting a perfect plug nothing but a nightmare. Roots will make it almost impossible to cut a good plug, and you can forget about cutting a good plug in extremely dry soil conditions.
Other than these two scenarios, learning how to cut a good plug is simple.
There are two basic ways to cut a plug. You can decide which one works best for you. There
are also slight variations to each plug cutting style. Again, it is up to you to figure out which way works best for you and the current soil conditions.
Circular Plug With Hinge
This is one of the more common methods for cutting a plug. Insert your hand held digging tool into the ground a few inches behind your target. You can then use a sawing like action and move your digging tool to the right or the left in a half circle pattern. Using your digging tool like a saw only works with a digging tool that has a serrated edge and if the soil is very soft.
If the soil is packed harder, you can use a different method that works well. You will have to remove your digging tool from the ground and reinsert it every few inches until you have cut a half circle like the image below.
Once you have cut your half circle, use your digging tool to gently lift the plug from the ground by sticking your digging tool back into the ground along the area you already cut. Gently push the handle of your digging down while gently lifting at the same time like the image below.
The plug should lift along the area you cut and fold up on the hinged side you did not cut.
This method works great for shallow targets. Once you have the plug up and out of the way, you can use your metal detector or better yet your pinpointer to locate the target in the plug or the earth below it.
The hinged plug method works good because it allows you to fold the plug right back into the ground where it came from. Just gently push the plug back into the ground. It will look like you were never even there!
Circle Plug with No Hinge
Cutting a circle plug with a hinge is great for shallow targets, but what works best when you have to retrieve something a little deeper? That is when you cut a plug without a hinge. This way you can move the entire plug out of the way and remove even more soil from below the plug. The same concept applies.
Use your digging tool to cut a complete circle this time.
Just like before, use your digging tool to gently pry the plug up by pushing down on the handle. Your plug should pop right out the ground.
Now you should have easy access to the ground below the plug. Time to pluck that piece of treasure from the ground.
Lay a towel or a shirt down on the ground next to your hole.
Why do this? When you start digging, you are going to need a place to store all of the dirt. Putting it on a towel or in this case a shirt, allows you to easily put the dirt right back in the hole. If you don’t do this, you will never be able to get all the dirt back in the hole. It will leave a mess. Just place all the dirt you remove from the hole on the shirt.
Once you have used your pinpointer or your metal detector to help you locate your target, use the shirt or towel to put all of the dirt back in the hole. Gently pat it down with your hands, and place the plug back on top. When you are done, there should be no sign that you were ever there.
The Square or Rectangular Plug
Some people prefer to cut a square or rectangular shaped plug. A square plug will be even easier to put back in the ground and leave no sign that you were ever there. With the circular plug, you can see where the plug was cut if you look hard, but you can’t see anything where the square plug was cut.
You can’t see any plug cut marks where the square plug was!
Adjusting the Angle of Your Digging Tool
You can use your digging tool to adjust the size and diameter of the plug. If you insert your digging tool into the ground at an angle, you can cut a cone shaped plug. Inserting your digging tool straight into the ground makes a wider plug.
Practice makes perfect. Use these tips and methods to help you master the art of cutting a perfect plug. Pretty soon you will be a plug cutting expert.
Using a Probe
Remember how I said cutting a plug in dry soil conditions is next to impossible? That is where using a probe will make it easier to recover your target. This method works well when your target is less than 5 inches deep, and it takes some serious practice to get it down.
First, you need a probe. This is a small hand held tool that looks much like a flat head screwdriver but with a much duller tip. In fact, it is a good idea to use a probe that is not made from metal. Just imagine what a sharp metal tip would do to the surface of a 100 year old coin.
A small wooden dowel works nice, or an old fishing rod works well too. There are even some people who have made their own custom probes from old ice picks or screwdrivers. Using a probe will cause the least amount of damage to the ground.
In order to use this tool, you will have to pinpoint your target’s location exactly. Once you have pinpointed your target, use the probe to locate the target and the depth. Slowly slide the probe into the soil until you feel it come into contact with the target.
Using your finger, note the depth of the target on the shaft of the probe.
Lift the probe just slightly away from the target and rotate the probe in a small circle like the image below. Rotating the probe should loosen up the soil and open a small hole in the ground above the target.
Now it’s time for the fun part. It’s time to get that target out of the ground. Insert your probe at an angle underneath the target and gently lift it out of the ground.
Once you have removed the target from the ground, push any dirt that came out with it back into the small hole in the ground and gently push the grass back in place. Once you are done, it should look like you were never even there.
This method can be very difficult if the target is a coin on its side. It can be even more difficult if the target is a ring, but using a probe is the best method for recovering a target when you don’t want to do any damage to the ground.
Finally, the time has come. It is time to get that piece of treasure. (I know, I know. I keep saying that, but this time I mean it.)
You have pinpointed your target and you have cut a plug or dug a hole. Where is the treasure?
There are some pretty simple ways to locate your treasure. Let’s take a look at using your metal detector to locate the treasure.
The first thing you should do is scan the plug with your metal detector to see if your piece of treasure is in there. Look at the image below. There is no need to get up if you are on the ground. Just wave the plug near your metal detector coil.
If your metal detector gives you a response on the plug, then you will need to slowly break the plug apart to locate your target. I like to cut the plug in half and then scan each half. This makes it easier to put the plug back in the ground.
If your metal detector does not give you a response on the plug, then it is time to scan the hole.
If your metal detector gives you a response on the hole, then you need to continue using your digging tool to remove small amounts of dirt from the hole. Be careful not to damage your target.
I like to loosen the dirt with my digging tool and take handfuls of the dirt and wave them in front of my metal detector coil until I have located my piece of treasure. Be mindful of any jewelry you may be wearing on the hand you are using to wave in front of the coil. If you are wearing a ring, it will most likely be seen by the metal detector.
What happens if you scan the plug and the hole and don’t get a signal? Don’t panic. This happens quite often. The target is still most likely in the hole and you have simply removed the halo effect that helped to amplify your target.
Because of this, your metal detector can no longer see the target. Keep digging. There is a really good chance your target is still in that hole.
There are a few times when you may not be able to retrieve your target when this happens. If you are detecting in very soft soil conditions like mud or wet beach sand, then your target could be sinking every time you remove some earth. You may have also knocked the target on its side, or you just did not pinpoint the target accurately.
There is one trick that seems to work very well in this type of situation. If your metal detector has a pinpoint mode, it will generally still pick up the target. Try pinpoint mode before you give up.
If you can manage to get your metal detector coil in the hole, then this can help too. In cases like this, it really pays to have a good hand held pinpointer. I strongly advise you purchase a pinpointer if you have not already done so. Let’s take a closer look at a pinpointer and how it can help in a situation just like this one.
The audio indicator is a simple series of beeps that get faster as you move the pinpointer closer to your target. The vibration does the same thing. The handle will vibrate faster when the pinpointer is closer to the target. This is a great tool.
Use the pinpointer to scan the plug. If the target is not in the plug, then use the pinpointer to scan the hole. If the target is really deep in the hole, then your pinpointer may not be able to detect it.
Remove some earth and set it on a towel. Make sure you scan all of the dirt you removed, and then scan the hole. Your pinpointer should be able to locate your target even if you have broken the halo effect.
That’s it! Congratulations! You now have your piece of treasure in your hand. You can fill the hole and move on to the next spot, but what if there was more than one target in the hole? Did you just bury it and leave it for someone else to find?
Always double and triple check your hole when you retrieve a target. Use your metal detector and your pinpointer. You may be surprised by the amount of targets you can recover in one hole. I recovered $12.00 in quarters in one hole. That is a total of 48 coins for those of you that don’t know American currency denominations. I still don’t know how 48 coins got in one small area, but they did. Maybe it was a small cache! Always double and even triple check your hole before you fill it in.
Now that you have your target in your hand, the two most common questions that arise will be:
- How do I clean it?
- What the heck is it?
Most of the treasure you find will be very dirty, tarnished or encrusted. You will also find plenty of targets that you can’t identify.