No question about it, a hint of summer is in the air. The raw, chilly days of March and April have given way to pleasant warmth, and at this point who isn’t thinking about having fun in the sun? Of course, there always are the tried and true summer activities to turn to like baseball and swimming. Then again, you may want to try something off the beaten path. If so, how about treasure hunting?

The phrase treasure hunting may convey a mistaken impression. You won’t need an eye patch, pirate’s hat, or have to wear a sword at your side. Nor will it be necessary to set sail on any of the seven seas.

In all likelihood you probably won’t find any great treasures, and if you do find anything it will probably be just a small coin, discarded junk metal, or the metal button of an old coat. Hobbyists say that on average their finds total between just $1/hour to $1.50/hour.

Still, they do get lucky on occasion, chancing upon old silver coins, or on very rare occasion a gold coin or jewelry, although that certainly is the exception to the rule.

But making a great find is just one of the reasons people go treasure hunting. Others are the opportunity to spend time in the fresh air, which these days has become a luxury for too many of us, a chance to enjoy a few hours of quiet, solitude, or a fun way to do some moderate exercise.

Basic Equipment

As with any hobby and activity, you’ll need some equipment. The most important item in this case is a treasure (also called metal) detector. These are lightweight objects with a long handle and a disc-shaped device at the end. The user swings the disc from side to side while walking, and if the unit buzzes that means it has detected a metal – hopefully something very rare and valuable.

The prices of detectors vary sharply. An entry-level one may cost as little as $50 or $60, while one that is top of the line will set you back thousands of dollars. Of course, their capabilities also vary sharply.

The least expensive will have only a few features, and their ability to “sense” metal is limited. On the other hand, the best models have a much greater sensitivity as well as many more features. For example, they will indicate on a monitor not only if a metal object is present, but also whether it is a coin, the likely denomination of that coin, whether it’s copper, silver, or gold, jewelry, and how deep in the ground it is.

You will also need some other equipment, primarily a pointer and a trowel; some also take a lightweight shovel. A pointer is kind of a miniature detector and serves a similar purpose. When the buzzer on the detector goes off, the treasure hunter can scoop out that clump of earth with the shovel or trowel.

The pointer will let him or her know whether the object that has been detected is still in the earth or has been scooped out, and if so exactly where in the clump of earth it is. If the thought of shlepping around a shovel for a few hours doesn’t appeal to you, a trowel will do.

If you’re going to be a once-in-a-while treasure hunter, a unit costing $100 is good enough. Figure on spending another $25 or $30 for a pointer and a few dollars more for a trowel. In other words, it won’t cost a fortune to get started on this hobby, and once you do it won’t be necessary to buy additional equipment.

There are a few other items you really should take along on these trips. Topping those is a good pair of work gloves. You’ll need those to protect your hands from the sharp, rusty, and yucky things you’ll scoop out of the ground.

A small spray bottle of water is also a good idea. As often as not, the old coins you pull out of the ground will have earth pressed onto them. Spraying water will enable you to easily remove the dirt without scratching the coin.

You also might want to carry two small plastic bags: one for all the treasures you (hopefully) will find and another for the “clad”: ordinary change not worth anything above their face value now and that never will be. Obviously, most of the coins you’ll find will be clad, but if you go detecting often enough they will add up and eventually pay for the equipment you buy.

Where And When

There are a few locations that treasure hunters prefer to explore, and while each of them has certain advantages, each also has certain drawbacks.

One of those is the woods. People go there because it is beautiful, quiet, and usually hasn’t been searched carefully. But before heading for the hills, keep a few things in mind.

There’s something curious about the woods. The landmarks you note while walking into one will look very different when you decide to leave so it’s easy to get lost there. If someone needs help for whatever reason it will be difficult to describe exactly where he or she is. Moreover, cell phones may not work there.

There are plenty of options closer to civilization, such as near shopping malls, playgrounds, or parking lots – places where many people go and where over time there’s a good chance that at least some of them may have lost coins or other valuables.

Some treasure hunters go to residential neighborhoods and either ask for permission from homeowners to go detecting on their properties or offer them some money for that right; figure on the latter. Either way, if you scoop out mounds of earth, they should be pressed back into the ground.

Those who live within driving range of a beach sometimes go detecting there late afternoons for religious reasons, but also because bathers don’t take kindly to being disturbed while they’re working on a tan. Surprisingly, this is where you may make your most frequent finds. Beach goers lose lots of clad coins, and either don’t find them because they get lost in the sand or don’t bother searching for them.

Treasure hunters sometimes get lucky. Beach goers sweat, get wet from swimming, or rub sunscreen or other creams on themselves, and as a result jewelry they wear slip off. People who treasure hunt at beaches occasionally find silver bracelets, necklaces, children’s rings, college rings, and sometimes more valuable items.

Incidentally, if your idea of a hard day’s work is sitting at your desk from 9 to 5, you may be surprised how easy it is to get tired swinging a metal detector back and forth for a few minutes. In other words, pace yourself accordingly.

Some people have built quite an impressive collection of old coins, jewelry, or other valuables they’ve scooped out of the ground and the sand. Still, if you’re considering treasure hunting as a money-making hobby, you’ll be better off trying other avocations instead. On the other hand, it’s a change of pace, offers rest and relaxation, will keep the kids interested and can be a source of very pleasant memories. That itself is also a kind of treasure.

Sources: YouTube: beginner’s guide to metal detecting; 10 great metal detecting tips for beginners; the beginner’s guide to metal detecting.

Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.