Know Your Ground

Dirt plug revealing layers of soilA good bit of what it takes to succeed as a metal detectorist is simply getting your coil over ground that contains targets. No-brainer? Sure, but you’d be surprised at how many people get frustrated because they’re not finding anything, but don’t realize they’re not “fishing where the fish are.”

Basically, you must go where people have been so they could drop things. And then you have to hope that nothing happened to that patch of ground that would cover those things unduly deep.

I’m sharing here a lesson in that vein from my hunt last weekend, south of the Mason-Dixon Line; a great visual lesson for understanding the ground you’re digging in.

The owners of the plantation property have owned it for a decade or so, but not long enough to really have a grasp of everything that has gone on there. They believed that their land had never seen any manipulation, and so did we when we rolled up and got out our gear. But our digging told a different story.

When we dug the front yard, our plugs revealed that on top of the darker native soil (which is sandy, soft loam), was a layer of red fill dirt, topped with a layer of darker topsoil. This area was far more dense, hard and difficult to dig than the rest of the property.

It turns out that, at some point, that particular part of their front yard had been filled and graded, most likely to provide better drainage away from the house foundation. There was a noticeable difference between that part of their property and the parts on the other side of the house and driveway. So we knew that it had indeed had excavation and grading work done. Not surprisingly, we found very few items of any age in that area.

These types of visual cues are key to look for when trying to suss out a hunt site. They can tell you what has gone on at that place, how that activity may affect what you expect to find, and where you ultimately decide to spend your time on that plot.

About Mary Shafer 12 Articles
Award-winning author Mary A. Shafer is a full-time freelance writer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She has four published books and contributed to two anthologies. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Nonfiction Authors Association, Pennwriters, Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and is the founder of the Twin Rivers Writers Group in upper Bucks County, PA.


  1. Any advice on research methods, materials etc..
    Beyond the usual types.
    I am from the Deep South and would like advice on how to narrow my research when looking at old homesites
    Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated

    • Kevin, thanks for visiting and commenting. Your question is a good one, and I’d like to take more time and care in answering you than in just a simple comment reply. Since you’re not the only person who’s had this inquiry with me — I get it a lot when I teach metal detecting classes — I’ve decided it’s time for a decent-length blog post on the topic. So stay tuned and watch here for an upcoming post on researching hunting permissions.

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