Water hunting has rapidly become one of the fastest growing areas in metal detecting today,
primarily due to the many reports of exceptional finds made in the shallow water off the beaches throughout the country. Unfortunately, as more and more people become involved in water hunting, increased attention and visibility is being placed on this activity. As with other types of treasure hunting, the careless actions of a small number of irresponsible individuals can and has resulted in regulations being enacted which severely limit our ability to participate in water hunting.
The purpose of this article is to briefly discuss the various recovery tools available to water hunters and how they should be used as well as to provide an overview of the problems that face us.
The most common recovery tool used by beach and shallow water hunters is the hand scoop. There are a number of different types available ranging from a small hand-held version to those long handle scoops used for searching in deeper water; however, they all are designed to allow the sand to sift through while keeping the target inside. All too often beach hunters will recover a target and leave the hole unfilled as they continue on down the beach. Even though children spend hours digging holes in the sand, treasure hunters should spend a moment and refill the hole by simply brushing some of the sand back in with their foot. In the event the owner or caretaker is watching you, he will form the impression that you are taking care of the beach and will be more willing to let you and others come back in the future. I have spoken to a number of individuals that have taken the time to cover holes left by other so-called treasure hunters in order to ensure the area would remain open to everyone. While it is unfortunate that this is actually required, if you see holes or other damage left by someone who searched the area before you, spend a few minutes refilling them to promote a more positive image of our sport.
Shallow water hunters frequently use a long-handled scoop in order to recover targets in the deeper areas of the swimming area. Many of these scoops are capable of digging a hole 8 to 10 inches deep in a matter of seconds and, if left unfilled, can pose a tripping hazard for swimmers that may inadvertently step in them. Once the target has been recovered and area re-checked for other signals, the hole should be filled in before moving on. I have personally hunted several beaches where I found holes that were close to two feet deep which had been left by previous hunters. Again, if someone is injured or reports the holes to the person in charge, the area will most likely by closed to future treasure hunting activities.
Recently there has been a considerable amount of publicity regarding the use of a dredge for the recovery of coins, jewelry, and other valuable items from shallow water sites; however, a piece of information that has been omitted from virtually every article and book on the subject is that of the how damaging a dredge can be when used improperly.
A common gold dredge is designed to “vacuum” up dirt, sand, and rocks from the bottom of a stream and, through the use of a sluice box, remove the gold and other heavy items while returning the remaining material to the stream. Over the years, miners frequently reported recovering old coins, bullets, and other artifacts from the rime trays in addition to the gold and, as a result, several treasure hunters started using these dredges for recovering coins back in the late 1970′s. While they met with limited success, they quickly realized that while vacuuming an entire section of a small stream was the common method used to recover gold, vacuuming an entire beach area down to a depth of 1 or 2 feet was not at all practical. To put it in perspective, a small beach 200 feet long and 50 feet wide would require over 740 cubic yards (or the contents of 82 full-size cement mixers) of material to be moved and processed. Not only would the time required for this task be enormous, but the resulting damage to the beach would more than likely result in it’s closure to future treasure hunters.
The proper method of using a dredge to recover coins and other valuables is simply in place of a long-handled scoop. The dredge can be towed behind you while searching a site with a metal detector. When a target is located, the nozzle is pressed into the bottom and the object is deposited into the rime tray or basket on the dredge. As with a scoop, the resulting hole should be filled in before moving on to the next target. While the major advantage of using a dredge over a scoop is the speed at which a target can be recovered, the time required for set-up does not make it ideally suited for hunting a beach when only a limited amount of time is available. Many sites such as ocean beaches, state parks, and private pay-to-swim beaches do not allow the use of dredges at anytime and other areas only allow them after the season is over which greatly limits the number of sites you will be able to work with a dredge. Because of the potential damage a dredge can cause, it’s overall “bulk”, and the limited number of areas in which it can be used, it’s purchase is one that should be carefully considered before investing a considerable amount of time and money based on the reports of a few people’s success with them.
If you decide to become involved in water hunting, you will have to schedule your hunting activities around the peak swimming periods. Unless the beach is abandoned, you should not plan on searching it on the weekends or on busy weekdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If the owner will allow you in before the beach opens or after it closes each day this will be ideal as there won’t be any people to distract you from your search. Most of my water hunting takes place after Labor Day which is when the majority of the beaches close for the season. Not only will you have the beach to your self but you will not be interfering with swimmers who have paid to use the facility.
Recently I spoke with the owner of a private, pay-to-swim beach complex on a beautiful lake in North Carolina in an attempt to get permission to search the beach. After denying my request, he told me that he had allowed a water hunter with a coin dredge into the beach area just before the start of the summer season. The individual had assured him that he would not leave any sign of his being there and would return any pieces of jewelry that were identifiable after he was finished. The owner said that when he returned later that afternoon he was surprised to see that the water hunter had left. Walking along the water’s edge he was appalled at the damage that he saw. There were a number of holes over 3 feet deep and the gravel base which had been placed beneath the white sand was now covering the beach along with piles of thick, black mud. In addition, the individual had dumped all of the trash he had recovered such as cans, foil, nails, and pull tabs on the beach, apparently sorting out the valuable items and leaving the debris less than 10 feet from a trash can. The owner said he knew of at least 40 rings and other pieces of jewelry that patrons had reported losing over the years that he felt certain had been recovered and kept by the hunter. He estimated that it cost over $500 to repair the damage done to the beach before the park opened and even today, the gravel is just beneath a thin layer of sand causing swimmers discomfort when walking on it with bare feet. Needless to say the owner’s refusal was understandable and he said that he was planning on telling other resort owners about his experience during an annual regional convention which he attends.
The careless actions of this one individual resulted in not only closing a prime location for future treasure hunters but, more-than-likely, the closing of other private beaches due to the negative report the owner will provide to other resort owners.
Over the last few years I have received reports of beaches around the country that have been closed due to damage from treasure hunters or inconsiderate actions by individuals such as hunting in the midst of a crowded beach or sneaking into areas under the cover of darkness. Many of these sites had been open to metal detectors; however, regulations have been enacted which expressly prohibit their use at any time and provide for stiff penalties including fines and/or jail time to anyone that violates them.
As with all types of treasure hunting, it is much harder to get a law overturned than to police ourselves and prevent them from being passed in the first place. Practicing responsible target recovery, either on land or in the water, will help ensure that productive sites remain open for years to come.