If you do much treasure hunting at all you are eventually going to end up on private property. There are lots of public places you can treasure hunt, err, I mean hike, but when you get right down to it, there are a lot of treasures located on private property and if you are doing things the right way you will have a contract with the property owner to protect you and the owner.
I was told many years ago by an old friend and treasure hunter that if you can’t trust a man’s handshake then having a piece of paper won’t make much difference either. For the most part, when you are talking about treasure hunting partners this is very true. When you are talking about recovering a treasure on private property, a treasure that could very well change your whole lifestyle, then having that signed piece of paper may make all the difference in the world!
C.Y.A. Cover Your Ass!! The last thing you want to happen is for a land owner to change his or her mind about what you get just as you pull that strongbox full of double eagles out of the ground. A good contract protects both the treasure hunter and the property owner. A contract can be as simple as a one page agreement that covers the split to a multi-page agreement that covers damage to the property, the duration of the contract, what can be discussed with who, movie and book rights, etc. I’m sure you are laughing about the movie and book rights thing but now-a-days that can be a very valuable piece of the contract if you are hunting something left behind by a famous outlaw or maybe something that could change the way people look at history.
Generally speaking, any contract should include when you can be on the property and for how long, such as a year or three. It will also include the split percentages and wording that covers anything of value that is found. You don’t want to miss out on a share of a bucket of gold nuggets when you contract limits your share to a percentage of “coins” or something else specific.
Other things you might consider in a “normal” contract might be a non-disclosure clause limiting who you and the landowner can tell about what you are doing and what you find. A renewal clause allowing you to automatically renew the contract at the date of expiration if you haven’t found what you are looking for is always good. A no-compete clause is a good thing. This prohibits the landowner from legally searching for the treasure or assigning the rights to someone else while your contract is in effect. Please notice I said “legally”. Some people will search no matter what and you have to prepared for that sort of thing.
Depending on what you are searching for and how you plan to recover it a contract can have several things in it such as a paragraph allowing you to use heavy equipment for the recovery or for you to be able to camp on the property. You can include paragraphs about what actions will be taken in the event you recover human bones or how specifically the treasure will be distributed and when.
You can put just about anything you want into a contract. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be binding but it might give you a little leeway if you run into problems. I have found for the most part that the simpler and more straightforward contract will get you onto more property. Don’t get me wrong, you want to cover yourself but the more stuff that is in a contract the more a landowner will think twice about signing it.
I try to keep my contracts simple. I usually included a no-compete and non-disclosure clause and a paragraph stating I will endeavor return the property to its original state should any digging be done. The paragraph about the split lists several things including coins, specie, ingots, raw minerals, artifacts, relics and anything of value.
You can find several different search and salvage contracts on the internet and usually a mix of two or more will get you what you need. If you have the money, having an attorney familiar with the civil laws in your state review the contract would be a good thing.
Thankfully, I have never had any problems with a landowner (yet). They have all been interested in the fact that an outlaw or the Spanish were on their property in the past or they think I’m nuts and there isn’t any treasure on their property. Either way, I usually get permission to hunt.
I will say that the difference between getting permission and getting told to take a hike is generally in the way you approach the landowner and your own demeanor at the time. If you come off as a wing-nut or dirt-bag you can forget about getting permission. Do your research before you approach the landowner about treasure. Know what you are talking about and be prepared to answer a few (or a lot) of questions. Be patient and professional and you shouldn’t have any problems.