A decade or so back our small group of trout fishers gathered for our annual get-together on Lake Eucumbene in the NSW Snowy Mountains. Most afternoons we would assemble for a chat and enjoy a relaxed happy hour over drinks and snacks. It was on such an afternoon that we were seated around an aluminium table at one of the group’s caravans when the owner disappeared into his van, returning shortly with a small motley-looking bag which he proceeded to drop onto the table with a resounding metallic clang.
As you might imagine, this promptly gained everyone’s attention. He then unlaced the bag and disgorged the contents onto the table. To all onlookers’ amazement several plastic bags of beautiful natural gold in all manner of shapes and sizes emerged.
Needless to say, our friend was a keen gold prospector, spending most of the winter months roaming the back country of Western Australia’s goldfields swinging a metal detector in pursuit of the precious yellow metal. For a number of years he would repeat his party trick which ultimately kindled my interest in this fabulous pastime. Now, 10 years on, winter or summer will find me metal detecting somewhere on the goldfields or on local beaches and parks, and other interesting locations looking for coins and relics.
Metal detecting can loosely be classified into two types ‑ gold and coin/relic. However, there is always a chance of finding old coins and other items while gold detecting around former miners’ camps on the goldfields.
Metal detectors for the most part are designed to suit either of the two forms of detecting, each having specific design features to enable efficient exploration of the chosen targets, though there is some overlapping between the two types.
Coin and relic detecting is becoming increasingly popular, particularly with grey nomads travelling around Australia. Even so, you do not have to travel too far from home. Sometimes, just go around the corner, to a park or oval to start detecting and experience the thrill of hunting coins and perhaps jewellery and other interesting finds. Believe me it can become quite contagious and yield varying amounts of pocket money, to say nothing of the exercise gained along the way.
Coin and relic detectors are well represented by most of the metal detector manufacturers. Minelab in South Australia has a great range of models to choose from, each having their place in terms of the features required to suit the varying conditions being explored.
Also, most manufacturers provide an array of interchangeable search coils, the part of the detector that is passed over the ground. The reason is that different detecting situations can sometimes be enhanced by using a larger or smaller coil, one that is waterproof if you’re working the beach or other water prone areas. In spots that are heavily saturated with metallic junk, a smaller more sensitive coil will aid in separating a good object from the closely surrounding junk items.
Metal detectors indicate the presence of a target under the search coil by emitting differing audio tones depending on the metal composition (ferrous or non-ferrous) of the article. Most also have a visual display that indicates the target identification as a numeric value. Becoming familiar with these tones and numbers and the type of target they represent can be challenging at first but over time and with experience these indicators will become familiar to a point where the item can be identified with a fair degree of certainty even before it is removed from the ground.
One simple way to gain some insight to the tones and numbers of various targets is to take a selection of coins, pre-decimal and decimal along with different types of jewellery. Locate an area that is clear of metallic distractions and spread the selected items around. Make a note of the numbers that correspond to each item as the coil passes over them. Also try and make a mental note of the various tones for each target. This aspect will become much easier with experience.
It goes without saying that the more expensive detectors generally have many more features to deal with the ever-changing locations and ground conditions than the lesser models. Discrimination is one feature on coin and relic detectors that is almost a ‘must-have’ feature in that the detector can be programmed to block out unwanted signals.
Working in trashy areas with little or no discrimination can literally drive you nuts with all of the varying tones competing with each other and the numbers bouncing all over the place. However, some experienced operators have become clever at listening to a hotch-potch of tones and deciphering out the good target signals that may have been muted by excessive discrimination. To do this though takes a lot of experience with the one detector.
Most gold detectors have little or no discrimination to speak of, so identifying good from junk targets comes down to gaining experience over time. If practical, digging every find will hasten the learning process with a new detector.