It is here.
The time of year where those of us that populate the northern half of these great United States can look forward to months of frozen ground, bone-splitting wind chill and blankets of snow we didn’t ask for; we’ll spend hours and hours shoveling, scraping and yanking on the starter cords of our snowblowers instead of scanning the earth for metallic treasure…
…and we’ll be watching social media videos of our brothers and sisters in warmer climes engaging in the addiction we call metal detecting. But what else is there to do?
Well, the answer is: plenty.
Here’s a few suggestions that will both pass the winter’s time and better prepare you for the eventual arrival of metal-detecting weather.
CLEAN YOUR GEAR
This is a no-brainer. Most detectorists do this on a regular basis anyway, but during winter take the time to really clean your equipment. Take your machine’s shaft apart, take the coil and cover off and clean them. Pinpointers too. Once you’ve wiped everything down with a damp ( not soaked! ) cloth, take a wooden tooth pick to those hard-to-reach nooks and get impacted dirt free. If your PP housing is durable, high-impact plastic, consider going over it very lightly with fine-grade steel wool; it can restore some of the ‘right out of the box’ look to that most valuable of tools. When finished, re-wipe everything with a clean, dry cloth.
Speaking of pinpointers, here’s a tip: consider coating the business end with a thin coat of a liquid, rubberized material. There are several products on the shelf of your favorite home improvement store that will work fine and won’t affect the operation of the instrument, and the added benefit of extra protection may save you money in the future. No one wants to discover a hole or crack in the casing’s tip. If you already dip your pinpointer, peel off the coating this winter and re-dip it.
Don’t neglect the battery compartments, either. If you’re very conscientious you have already removed the batteries from your equipment, because the last thing you need when the weather breaks is to discover the batteries have leaked during storage and ruined wiring and contact points inside your gear. Inspect the gaskets that seal the compartments, making sure they havent dried out or cracked and will function as expected. Don’t forget to inspect gaskets at the coil and headphone connections to the control box, either, because gasket failure at these points could be catastrophic for your detector.
Take a look at all cords: coil and headphones. Look for splits, cracks or points of wear. Also check the headphones themselves, ensuring the speaker sound vents are clear of debris and the ‘phone pads aren’t cracking, split or loose. I discovered the hard way that some types of mosquito/bug repellent can cause the plastic foam earpad covering to deteriorate and crack, so be careful where you apply repellent during warm-weather months.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
For the experienced detectorist, researching promising sites is old hat; depending on local government websites, vast amounts of property information on potential target areas can be gleaned without ever leaving the warm comfort of your recliner. Ownership, property boundaries and history of land plots are available via the internet, but don’t limit yourself to just this resource. Check the area history of your locale, discover areas where people may have congregated such as fairgrounds, old parks, neighborhoods or a long-forgotten swimming hole, places that may no longer be used for purposes such as they were in the past. Search the archives of local newspapers, talk to area historians and visit historical societies, not just in your town but within a radius you’re willing to travel in order to metal detect.
Don’t restrict yourself to just conducting research using the world wide web; grab a metal detecting buddy and take a ride. Make a day of it. Drive aged neighborhoods and look for old buildings, houses and evidence of foundations where a structure once stood, write down their locations and then find out who owns the properties. If you drive the countryside in rural areas, look for lone stands of trees in open fields or evidence of driveway entrances where houses may have once stood. In winter trees have shed their leaves, revealing much more of the interior of a wooded plot; you may be able to see old structures that normally wouldn’t be visible in spring or summer, places that could produce some great finds.
Another resource that not all communities have is a regional governmental board that acquires neglected, abandoned houses and buildings through the court system, generally due to non-payment of taxes. Many of these types of properties have houses or buildings dating back as far as 125 years, though that number isn’t etched in stone. The agency will either rehabilitate the house or schedule it for demolition and you may find a gem or two to hunt if they will allow you to metal detect those properties prior to the start of any work.
Once you start to accumulate target locations, consider cataloging them on your computer. It will prove to be an invaluable tool once you’ve discovered an upcoming break in the weather forecast and will enable easy selection of good spots. Included in the files should be contact information for property owners; NEVER metal detect a property without first securing permission from the owner. It may be necessary to do some door-knocking in order to ascertain ownership and/or to contact an owner, but it will prove to be worth the effort if you are granted permission.
Here’s another hint: once permission is gained from a property owner, politely ask if they may have other properties they might allow you to detect. Some land owners have holdings of more than one property and it never hurts to ask. Knocking on one door could lead to several target sites for future hunts, which is always a good thing.
Also, keep an eye on the local news. Pay attention to upcoming construction projects at locations that have history. If, say, a company announces plans for a new manufacturing facility or addition on a property they’ve acquired in an area where circuses were once held, contact a decision-maker at that business; the worst that could happen is being turned down. If your town plans on refurbishing a street or sidewalk that will include removal of old concrete or asphalt, ask them if you can scan the area prior to a new surface being applied. These types of events are usually announced to local media outlets, and you may get an opportunity to metal detect where you normally wouldn’t.
This should be an ongoing effort, not only for research purposes but a variety of reasons. Take the time to re-read the owner’s manual for your metal detector; you might discover something about its function that you originally missed, forgot about or just plain didn’t understand. Go online or to the local library and learn how metal detectors function and what can affect or interfere with target metals in the ground. Why do some metals corrode badly while others remain pristine for decades? What causes ‘hot rocks’? Think about the questions you’ve had while out in the field excavating a target…and find the answers. It won’t hurt you and will certainly be beneficial in the future.
Talk to experienced detectorists; learn their techniques and patterns they utilize when hunting a spot. Pick their brains about the hobby because there’s always something to be learned every time you activate your detector and put the headphones on. Join a local club for detectorists, sign up for metal detecting message boards online. The information is out there but you have to go find it…just like metal detecting.
Oh, and watch those social media videos, too.
CLEAN YOUR FINDS AND DISCOVER WHAT THEY ARE
I imagine we all have that one container or box where we keep all the interesting items we’re just not sure about, things we put aside with the intention of getting to them…eventually. Now is the time. If you’re in possession of an iron object or two that you think might be something interesting or historical, learn about electrolysis and how to treat that item, and go to it. That weird-shaped, unknown doohickey? Post a picture of it on one of those aforementioned message boards; they usually have a category that involves unknown objects and members are generally eager to help out. You may even gain information about an item from a historical society if you visit them with a recovered piece you’re not sure of.
These are just a few suggestions for snow-bound metal detectorists, certainly not an all-encompassing list. Use your imagination, come up with an idea or two and spring will be here before you know it.
Just make sure you keep that driveway cleared.