Sunday, September 25, 2016

Helping To Find Lost Things: The Art of the Search

If you have been in the hobby of metal detecting for long, you will probably have been asked at sometime, somewhere (usually on the beach or a park) to help find a frantic owner's keys, rings, jewelry, hearing aids or dog tags. This is one of the more gratifying aspects of metal detecting operations, one that actually helps someone in trouble. Sometimes you, your skills, and your instrument are the only Calvary, or Search and Rescue team the general public can access. There is no listing in the yellow pages, or online, although there are a few I call "You Pay Us, We Find It" sites online.

Most people are panicked with a severe sense of loss by the time they contact you

Most folks are panicked by the time they bring themselves to ask for your help. Grandpa's WWII medal is gone in the sand somewhere, a treasured heirloom suddenly went south, or someone's hotel key has taken a leave of absence, and it cost's $75 for a duplicate! People high on Adrenalin, code name "Fear," don't think very well in that state, so the number one priority, before you ever get your gear, is to calm the person down. Talking quietly and assuring them that you have done this before (even if you haven't) and the odds are very good you can make the recovery. 

Ask them details about the lost item just to get them talking and thinking a bit. Ask them to recall anything they have done previously that might suggest a location to start. Have they been playing volleyball? Frisbee? Been swimming? Cutting the hedges? Those kind of questions can be endless, but you need to calm them down and get a narrative. Have them tell you again to see if the story varies from the first telling.

Then start your search, using either a grid-pattern or ever-widening concentric circles, both work equally well. And take your time...the lost item isn't going anywhere. If it was lost in deep grass rather than sand, set your machine's sensitivity to a less-sensitive setting, as it will most probably be at ground level and you don't want to be digging deep junk, just the lost item.

Many of our searches have resulted in a recovery, some have not. One search, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida (one of the most shark-infested beaches in the world) was to find a $32,000 diamond wedding ring lost in the surf. The back-story was, while the new wife was sitting in a chair, letting the incoming surf wash over her, she later noticed the ring had left her finger and was gone! Due to the fact that the husband knew exactly where they had been sitting, a week earlier,  made the recovery possible in about 40-minutes time. The ring had migrated no more than 10-feet away from their location before "digging in" to the sand and anchoring itself about 6" deep. I use a large (11" to 16" diameter) coil for these type of beach recoveries. They cover a lot of ground faster and detect deep!

Another successful recovery was made by Patti and I in Winter Park, Florida. This was a rather sad affair where a college girl had lost her "Mothers Ring." Her mom had two matching rings made and given one to her and kept one on her finger. She told us she had gone to a friend's place for a Halloween party, and had pulled off her "Mothers Ring" and put it on top of some clothing in her car so she would not lose it. She then went behind a hedge in the yard to change into her costume. Unfortunately, these were the clothes she had place her ring on! Her mother and herself had searched the yard for over two weeks and found no trace of the ring. The yard, in front of a doctor's mansion, had about 3" of expensive ground cover plants, and to make matters worse, near the site of her loss, was a giant underground transformer, providing power for the entire neighborhood! Dropping the sensitivity and gain on my Minelab E-Trac down to the minimum killed most of the interference from the transformer, and allowed us, within 45-minutes, to recover the ring. The poor girl was almost in tears when we started, and to her disbelief when Patti handed her the ring!
Patti hands the ring to it's rightful owner after it was lost 2-weeks earlier

One of our abject failures came when someone who called from the town of Geneva, close by, claimed they had lost their 15-year wedding ring in the "side yard" of their home. Several things contributed to this failure; Number one, Patti was not dressed for metal detecting, wearing some designer jeans and leather fashion boots, she had been getting her hair done when I coerced her to join the hunt. Number two, some of our gear was in the car when we got the call, but, we were not really fully spare batteries, no spare coils, and no bug spray. But it was a side yard, so what, right? The actual site did not look too bad, although quite a ways off the beaten path, nice house, green lawn. But number three was, after meeting with the owner, he indicated that he was cutting a trail through 5-acres of virgin Florida jungle when he lost the ring...hardly a side yard! After a 4-hour hunt though terrain that reminded me a lot of Vietnam, narrowly missed being bitten by a rattlesnake (the owner afterward said, "Yea, I took 6 of them outa' there last week. !?!?!?!?!) and picking up layers of tics and chiggers, I finally called it quits. We were disappointed by the failure, but we were even more disappointed we had not been fully prepared. It took almost 2-months for both of us to heal up all the tic and chigger bites, but it taught us to be prepared for anything and everything! 
Watch where you step while detecting in the wild!
The fact is, there are very few things in this world you can really do that can make a real difference in a persons life, and recovering and returning sentimental items and important possessions to them is a prime one!

The smile from the happy owner is payment enough for finding their lost property


  1. A Great Read Mate:
    Shark infested beaches? Rattlesnakes? It sends shivers down my spine. Well, I love my beach hunting but this is a whole new ball game. You have the makings of a great survival book here!


    John Howland

    1. Yes, John, it actually is a whole new ballgame that makes me appreciate my non-shark-filled beach near Cape Canaveral even more! A buddy tells me of a shark bumping into his legs, while detecting New Smyrna beach, while he headed for shore so fast he dropped his machine. Not good. Thanks for your comment John!

  2. Great post James....thanks. Mind if I share a link to it in my next update?

  3. Sure Dick! Sorry for the late reply...I was hospitalized for a bit...pneumonia over my lung cancer.