Can You Choose The Right Detector?

by Jack Gifford

Many articles have been written on “How to choose the right detector.” Some of them seem designed to steer you into a particular detector that may not be right for you. Most are genuine attempts to explain how to pick your “right” detector. It’s very easy for a potential metal detector buyer to become confused by all the contrasting claims made in advertisements and catalogs. If this buyer also happens to be new to the hobby of treasure hunting, his task of choosing the right detector to suit his needs can be very difficult indeed. Many would-be TH’ers end up buying an instrument that is poorly suited to their needs because a friend has the same kind or because a dealer prefers selling that model or for a variety of other reasons. For the most part, this can be avoided if the buyer takes a little time to “sort things out” before he makes his purchase.

It is doubtful to me that there really is just one “right” detector for you. There are many good brands on the market, and there could be any number of detectors that would satisfy your needs and budget. It seems more important to avoid buying the “wrong” detector—one which is unsuitable for your needs. The process of avoiding the “wrong” detector is much the same as many articles have outlined for choosing the “right” detector but with a little different emphasis on some points.

The experienced TH’er who has been active in the hobby is much less likely to purchase a detector that doesn’t fill his needs than the first time buyer. The reason is simple; he has more knowledge of the industry, the terminology, the manufacturers, and the state of the art. The first time buyer can lessen his chances of buying “wrong” by being patient and by learning some of the things the experienced hunter already knows.

Don’t be in a hurry to buy, even if you have a chance to pick up “a real bargain.” I was introduced to an older gentleman several years ago, who, as soon as he found out I was in the metal detector business, began to tell me about the bargain he just picked up. “It’s real big, has three coils, and a suitcase to carry it all in. I got it all for only $250,” he said. Then he asked “That’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it?” When I questioned him, he didn’t know whether it was a BFO or TR, didn’t know if it discriminated or not, and didn’t even know if it worked. Turns out, he could have bought a then modern TR Discriminator for the same price he paid for a “dinosaur” (an extinct species). I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth because he was so proud, so I just said, “Sounds like a heck of a deal to me.”

Any prospective TH’er wants to get a “beeper” and “get out there.” Avoid the urge to buy until you are ready. Take the time to find the answers to at least these three questions before you even consider buying a detector: 1) What kind of hunting will you be doing and where? 2) What type of machine fits these needs? and 3) What is the price range of such machines? Honest answers to these questions will take some research and learning on your part, but it will put you on almost equal footing with the experienced TH’er, and more important, it will be fun.

To learn the answers to these important questions, you will need to pursue many sources of information. The most honest source of information will be the magazines dedicated to the treasure hunting hobby. These magazines cannot afford to cater to one manufacturer’s interest because they would lose the advertising revenues of the other manufacturers. There are many good books on the market which I would consider “generic” but there are also many others which, while containing some basically good information, may also heavily push a particular brand. In fact, some metal detector companies own or have a vested interest in publishing companies which print treasure-oriented books. If it appears that a book is favoring a particular brand, be aware that you are reading a sales brochure. Most cities have a treasure hunting club, and this can be a super source of information since most treasure hunters love to talk about their hobby. Most independent dealers can also provide answers to your questions and can be another valuable aid to you.

While we don’t intend to give you a “check the box” guide to answering these important questions, a brief word about each is in order. Firstly, you must determine whether you would prefer coinshooting, relic or cache hunting, nugget hunting, or prospecting. You must also determine the feasibility of this type hunting in your locale. Hunting Civil War relics in Mississippi makes a great deal of sense, but what if you live in Montana? Your locale will also have much to do with your next question because of its mineralization level. Perhaps you live in a high mineral location but will use your detector only on your vacations in Florida where the mineralization is low.

Once you have determined your most likely treasure hunting style and location, you are ready to determine the proper detector type to use. Your choices are basically these: 1) General Purpose VLF/TR/Motion Discriminator, 2) Nugget Hunting VLF/TR, 3) Nugget Hunting VLF/TR/Motion Discriminator, 4) Pulse, 5) Two Box TR, and 6) Waterproof Detector. You will have to determine the type best suited for your needs, but that is pretty easy to do. The General Purpose detector pretty much does it all, but it doesn’t have the gain and stability to do an effective job of serious nugget hunting. A good VLF/TR Nugget Hunter does a good job at nugget hunting but is worthless as a coin shooter without a discriminate mode. A Pulse detector cannot discriminate but is hard to beat on a salt water beach. The 2 Box TR can only find very large caches or mineral veins but can do so at extreme depths. And while waterproof detectors make underwater hunting easy, they are typically much heavier than land based detectors. You will need to determine which type is most suitable for your needs.

Finally, once you choose a detector type that will fill your needs, you are ready to determine how much you should spend. Many “How to Buy the Right Detector” stories have stressed very early to set your spending limit and not to exceed it. I believe this approach is a very good way to increase your chances of buying the “wrong” detector. If your treasure hunting preference is coin-shooting for the old ones in the parks of Lake Tahoe or Colorado Springs, you are going to need a motion discriminator. Motion discriminators are complex and expensive, but many companies build their top of the line models with bells and whistles which are not truly necessary. Why pay $800 and up for a detector that can’t do anymore for you than one which may cost only $400. By the same token, if you only plan to use your detector at the beach on your yearly vacations and mostly to “give the kids something to do,” why spend $500 for a detector when a $189 Compadre is more than you need? Spend the extra $321 on Mama. She’ll love you for it. Or if prospecting is your game, the extra cost of a nugget hunting detector is going to be necessary.

Check the price ranges of the various manufacturers’ models for detectors that will fulfill your requirements. Determine what features are available and what they cost. Then see if you can narrow your choice to a particular price range that will give you the performance you NEED and the features you WANT.

Remember that no matter what type or brand detector you eventually choose, you will need to spend a lot of time with it to really get the best performance from it. The amount of time you plan to spend using your detector should play a large part in your budgetary considerations. If it’s a vacation toy, don’t spend any more than necessary. If it’s an every weekend obsession, get the best unit you can afford.

Now you are ready to get serious about selecting some particular models from the many manufacturers for some serious consideration. By now, you can probably judge whether a “bargain” in a used detector is really a bargain or not since you should know how to judge whether it meets your needs. Again the time and money you have spent reading the treasure hunting magazines has been a good investment, because now you have a pretty good idea of who the significant manufacturers are, and you may already have a “gut feel” for who “means business” and who “blows smoke.” If not, that’s the next order of business.

All manufacturers like to think they build the finest metal detectors, and they aren’t bashful about saying so, myself included. Most of the detectors from the major companies are good, but how can they all be “the finest”? Deciding which brand to purchase is not easy because all you usually see is the marketing razzle-dazzle. Slogans are easy to think up, claims are easy to make, and promises are easy to break.

You need to get beyond the claims and mottoes in the advertisements and try to determine if the detectors are capable of meeting your needs. Send for catalogs or data sheets from all the manufacturers that you feel you may be interested in. These catalogs are also sales tools, just like the ads, but they should have more technical information than the ads. Try to compare the manufacturers’ models that meet your needs and price range. List their similarities and differences. This will help you determine if you really have confidence that these particular models are for you.

Now you need to compare the units you feel confident about. If you have a local dealer, perhaps you can try them all in person. If not, do not automatically eliminate those that you can’t try yourself. Remember, also, that your local dealer may just push the unit he likes best or makes the most money from, so don’t hurry and don’t be hurried. If there is no local dealer where you can see a unit, ask the manufacturers for additional information about the particular models you are interested in. Ask them questions about their detectors and how they will meet your requirements.

Compare the product reports in the magazines for the detector you are interested in. These reports can be very helpful if you judge them properly. Do they make original, meaningful statements about the product or does the report borrow heavily from the manufacturers’ buzz words and phrases? Do they say how well the detector works, or do they tell you how to work it? You can tell from the way the report is written whether the detector was really impressive or just adequate.

Compare the manufacturers’ willingness to answer your questions, compare dealer recommendations, compare what others are using in your area, and compare the technical content of the manufacturers’ furnished materials. By now, you will probably find yourself tending to favor one particular brand or model over the others. Be patient just a little longer, though and learn all you can about the particular model you favor. If you are counting heavily on the recommendations of a friend or dealer, do they use this model for the same hunting conditions that you intend to use it for? Is this model designed for the task? Is it an up-to-date design? Is it versatile enough to adapt to other uses if your hunting preferences change?

Now that you are reasonably settled on a particular detector, you need to decide where you will purchase it. This seems like a small point, but you should be just as confident of your dealer as you are of your detector. A good local dealer will answer all your questions before and after the sale, he will show you how to use your detector, and he can provide you with a lot of helpful information about treasure hunting in your area. They will check out your machine when you take delivery, and some even do a little service work for minor problems or furnish loaners if you need to return your detector to the factory. However, just because he is local doesn’t mean he will provide these services or even that he is knowledgeable about detectors. Check him out.

If you don’t have a local dealer, some of the larger mail order houses offer a trade-up plan in case you are dissatisfied. Since they can’t offer the personal service of a local dealer, they generally discount their prices somewhat. Some manufacturers will retail from the factory if they don’t have a dealer close to you, but don’t expect them to discount. To do so would alienate their dealers and would be corporate suicide.

Decide how your interests would best be served and choose a dealer that you feel comfortable with. Satisfy yourself that you can rely on your dealer after the sale as well as before.

Now, after you have purchased your “beeper,” don’t expect instant success. Read and study the instruction manual and work with your unit as much as possible. Regardless of the brand or model you have chosen, it will require patience and work on your part to fully understand what your detector is telling you and to achieve the results that it is capable of. When it does “all come together,” it will prove to have been more than worth the effort.

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