Metal Detecting Outside of the Box, Part 1

How to locate and obtain permission for metal detecting sites located in agricultural areas.

Metal Detecting Outside of the Box, Part One

Whether you are new to Metal Detecting, and need some places to get started, or have been at it for a while want new places to explore, sometimes thinking “Outside Of The Box” is the best way to find new places to detect.

Sure, you can try the usual places: Parks, schools, etc... But maybe you have hunted them frequently with no or minimal results, or just want to 'mix it up'.

Most detectorists have hunted for years and have overlooked spots mere miles or sometimes in walking distance of their home.

Let's look at some resources and techniques that can give good results, and help you acquire new or fresh places to detect.

Today we will discuss Farm Fields and Abandoned Homesteads.

Farm Fields and Abandoned Homesteads.

If you live near an area with agricultural areas or farming, you will have a lot of opportunities at hand to detect. Often farmers will buy up homesteads on access roads and plow the yard areas, leaving the foundation or sometimes the entire house, abandoned.

A lot of these homes will date from the mid to late 1800s, and can yield fantastic results.

I'm not referring to the yard you can SEE, but the farm as it once existed, and may now be plowed over.

This, in itself can reveal treasures (plowed land).

The interesting thing about a plowed field where there was previous habitation is the fact that every year, the soil will reveal something different.

If you locate a former habitated area that is now plowed, you will be presented a new “crop” with each successive tilling.

However, it is ALWAYS important to be respectful of the crop planted, and only detect when there is no seed in the ground.

Why risk harming the crop? It would cause the land owner or farmer to not only deny permission to YOU, but also puts the hobby in a very negative light.

A good way to locate these former homesteads is to simply do some legwork. Take a drive, and you will see where the houses once stood. Sometimes they will be visible from the road, other times the signs will be less subtle.

Look for pieces of glass. Pottery, bottles, etc. will be scattered by a plow for hundreds of yards and will reveal much about the former uses of the land.

Inspecting this debris will reveal much about the time period the area was in use.

Simply asking the people in the area will also be very helpful to you. As much as people like to “mind their own business”, they will remember things about their neighbors, such as the location of “The Old Wilson Place”

The "Old Wilson Place” may have been standing from 1800 to 1966, and was torn down, leaving no traces, and would otherwise not be visible.

But people remember these things, especially those who may be in the 60s or more.

Communities were “smaller” when they were children, and they can also tell you little things like, the location of the “Old Fishing Hole”, the “Old Baseball Field”, and Picnic Areas.

These are things you won't find on a map, and a little friendly conversation can go a long way.

Using Google Earth

Another way to locate an abandoned homestead is the usage of Aerial or Satellite Imagery.

Sites such as, bing maps, and similar websites will prove invaluable to you as a research tool.

Start with the area you have chosen to search, and simply “look” at the land contours. You will be looking for symmetrical lines, discolorations and things that “stick out” in the middle of the plowed field.

Try different “time periods” in the map engine... This will reveal different things about the land as they will be taken at different times and soil conditions.

These aerials can also be cross-referenced with historical maps of the same area. (We will discuss this in another article)

Asking Permission

So, now we have a “juicy target” to explore..

How do you get permission to search there?

It's as simple as asking.. You will generally find that farmers and landowners are pretty friendly toward detectorists, unless they have had a lot of pressure or negative experiences. (Sadly in Civil War areas or The United Kingdom, this is less common due to pressure and negative experiences)

A good way to locate the owner of a farm property is to go to the nearest house and ask. Generally people know who owns a farm property adjoining theirs, and can direct you there.

Simply tell them your name and inform them of your hobby. They will ask you what you are looking for. I would be honest and straight forward. Inform them of what you normally find, and what you do with it.

Don't ask if you can “dig holes”, this gives a negative view of detecting. Offer to show them how you recover targets and that you will respect their crops.

I know there has been a lot of mention of written permission. I personally think that this is a bad idea.

How would you feel if someone started presenting papers for you to sign?

This makes people nervous, and rural folks will sometimes get insulted that “word” is not good enough.

Offer to show them what you recover, and if they appear interested, keep them “in the loop”

Heck, offer to show them HOW if they seem interested enough.

Once you have permission, do your best to keep that rapport. Offer to help them with something. Farmers are always looking for help, farming is a tough job.

If “Farmer Bob” likes strawberries, bring a quart when you stop by.

KEEP that rapport.

It's just good practice and may also lead to future connections and places to detect. Word of mouth works wonders.

Happy Hunting,

BD Atherton


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Brian Atherton
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Irene Nevins
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Posted on Jun 4, 2010