You would think that the simple answer to that question would be, yes, of course they are but as with life, things just aren’t that simple.
There are several different ways to answer the question and a lot of how you answer the question depends on your definition of treasure hunting. If you are a coin shooter or relic hunter then yes, a good detector is well worth the price. If you are a cache hunter then you have to look at the type of caches you are looking for and who put them in the ground before you can answer the question.
Metal detectors are a lot like guns, there isn’t any single one that will work well in every scenario. You have to have the right machine for the right job and in some instances there is no machine for the job.
In general, if you are hunting for outlaw caches then you can expect the cache to be buried, usually between a foot and four feet deep. This would mean that a coin hunting machine wouldn’t be the ideal choice of a detector to use. You would want to look at something along the lines of a good two-box or even a pulse induction unit. Now depending on the terrain you are hunting in, neither of these machines may be useful because the terrain may not allow you to use the detector at ground level. There are other choices based on what the treasure may be buried in. If it is in an iron or steel vessel then there are some other choices such as a metal locator or a magnetometer.
If you are hunting Spanish caches then they usually liked to put their goodies in tunnels which can be anywhere from three feet to sixty feet or more in length. I know what you are thinking, a three foot long tunnel is a hole and not a tunnel but I beg to differ. I have come across more than one “hole” that was actually a tunnel because it was dug through solid rock. In my mind this makes it a tunnel and not a hole.
If you have a tunnel that goes back into the hillside 30 feet then the depth of the cache from the surface can be the same or even more depending on the angle of the slope of the hillside and the angle of the tunnel. I have yet to find any detector that can penetrate thirty feet or more of dirt and rock.
It has been my experience in hunting both outlaw and Spanish treasures, the more you know about interpreting the signs the better off you will be. Sometimes, it comes down to interpreting the signs to find the hole and no detector will be able to help you. I know it sucks to hear that but that’s just the way it is. Some treasures just can’t be found with an electronic gizmo to help you out. Sometimes you just have to do it the hard way.
The up side to that is it keeps you from having to buy an expensive detector. The down side is it can take a lot longer to find that treasure!
If you are hunting for the elusive KGC mega-bucks depositories then there isn’t a detector in the world that will help you because those depositories just don’t exist! Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
There are some new fangled gadgets out there that have their own very specific uses such as the magnetometer, the electromagnetic induction units and ground penetrating radar but the majority of these are very expensive to buy. They can be rented reasonably however some things like the magnetometer and GPR require a lot of training and use to be able to know what you are looking at. Ground penetrating radar requires the operator to interpret the signal. If you don’t have the experience necessary to properly interpret the data then you end up digging up wet spots in the ground like some of those “professional“ treasure hunters seen on a recent television show.
I guess the whole point of this article is to say that you should do your research on the detectors before you invest your money. I have, over the years, bought just about one of everything thinking they were going to make my life easier, most did not. The majority of the things that advertise unbelievable results are the kinds of things you want to stay away from. Everyone has their own opinions on things such as long range locators and the “miracle machines”. Just remember the old adage, if it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Most of the relic hunting machines will get you to about two feet maximum in ideal conditions. The majority of the two-box units will get you to four, maybe five feet in ideal conditions and with a large target. I know, people advertise ten and fifteen feet of depth with the two-box units but in real life, it just doesn’t happen!
The pulse induction units can get you that kind of depth on a good size target along with some of the metal locators. If you are looking for a void such as a sealed cave or tunnel then the EMI (electromagnetic induction) units are a good way to go as long as the void isn’t more than eighteen feet deep and that is in ideal conditions. Most of the EMI units work well up to 10-12 feet.
Metal detectors can be and for the most part are a fantastic help to treasure hunters however they can be like the fancy GPS units for your vehicle, they can make you real stupid real quick. You begin to rely on the detector to find the treasure instead of your own brain. Relying on technology is never a good thing. Using technology to your advantage is good but you should never try to cut corners with it. Learn to read the signs, do your research and be logical.
The people who left the signs and symbols behind didn’t have a GPS or a metal detector to get back to what they left. Think like the person who put the treasure in the ground, not like someone who makes popcorn in a microwave.