Rio History: Metal Detecting Tips

A religious medal Steve Hathcock found while metal detecting on South Padre Island a few years ago.

By Steve Hathcock
Special to the PARADE

To me, Spring Break is the unofficial opening day of a new metal detecting season. Thousands of college kids partying on the beach, losing coins, jewelry and sunglasses. Ahh yes, just beneath the warm sands of South Padre Island, lies a veritable treasure trove awaiting discovery.

When surf hunting, watch how the offshore current and the wind are affecting the tide. If the surf is heavy, it will be all you can do to maintain your footing in the rushing water. Smaller objects are harder to pinpoint in these conditions so you would be better off hunting along the shore. 

Experienced detectorists have learned to hunt the areas around volleyball nets or where sunbathers would normally lay in the sun. I like to hunt around logs that have washed up. Lovers, thinkers and joggers take advantage of good resting spots. Moonlight skinny dippers, oftentimes, will hide their valuables where they can easily retrieve them. Loose change, jewelry and car keys will turn up in these spots on a regular basis so check them often.

If the water is calm, study the patterns of the waves. Time the water’s movement so you become in-sync with the tide. As a result, you will work more efficiently. I stay away from the breakers, concentrating on the first three “rifts”. It’s here, along the troughs that run parallel to the shoreline, that heavier coins and gold jewelry will be found. Lighter silver necklaces and smaller denomination coins will be found closer to the surf line. It is not uncommon to find little “pockets” of treasure where the current washes closest to shore.

You’ll want to use a detector that will not be confused by salt-water and black sand. (Sand with a high mineral content). I use Garrett’s Infinium LS. It can be operated in the surf, on the beach is waterproof up to 200 feet if you get the optional submersible headphones. The Infinium is a very simple detector to operate and it has dual tone discrimination. 

The machine gives off a hi-lo tone when the coil passes over aluminum, nickels, zinc pennies and gold.  Smaller pieces of rusted steel reads hi-lo. When beach hunting for gold jewelry it pays to follow the hi-lo tones.

Silver, copper, and clad coins read lo-hi. Unfortunately, so does steel junk or relics. 

Strangely, objects that have been buried in the ground for any period of time will have a tendency to be easier to find than something that has recently become “lost.” This is due to a chemical reaction that takes place between the acidity of the soil and any metallic object. A kind of “halo of energy” forms around the object. Metal detectors are very sensitive to this energy field and can detect something buried three or four feet underground. I dig up a lot of junk, but I know I am going to find anything that lies buried beneath the ground that my coil passes over.”

Your choice of digging implements is very important as well. In the surf, I use a long-handled mesh scoop made of stainless steel. I fill the scoop with sand and let the action of the tide wash out the sand and little shells. What remains behind is larger shells, rocks and yes, on occasion, a nice piece of gold jewelry or a valuable coin. 

Good luck!


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