A few months back I received a request to write an article about treasure hunting for a magazine that is published outside of the U.S. Since the magazine is not published here I am posting the article on the blog for our readers also, even though several of them are from outside of the U.S. It's longer than our normal articles but since it was written for a magazine they requested a certain number of words and content. Hopefully you won't be too bored reading it!
As kids a lot of us grew up dreaming of adventure, maybe even pretending to be pirates or outlaws. We would bury the spoils of our playtime in the back yard or maybe the local park with plans to dig it up the next time we entered our fantasy world.
For some of us, we never outgrew part of that fantasy and today we are called treasure hunters. Every true treasure hunter is hoping to make that one find that will allow him or her to continue chasing the dream as a full time job but only a few will succeed at making a living as a treasure hunter. That’s why it’s called treasure hunting and not “treasure finding”.
There are several kinds of treasure hunters. You can search for sunken treasure, you can be a cache hunter, someone who looks for buried money like that left behind by outlaws or pirates or the Spanish, you can be a coin shooter, a relic hunter, a gem hunter, a bottle hunter and on and on and on. You can even use a detector to hunt for meteorites that have fallen from the skies. I find that I am particularly suited to cache hunting.
Even though you see stories about treasure being found in different parts of the world the odds of finding “the big one”, something that you can retire on, aren‘t very high. I think the odds are better than winning the lottery but they are still pretty slim.
If you think you would like to search for sunken treasure then you will need to learn how to scuba dive and unless you are independently wealthy, you will have to do your hunting when time and money allows or you will need to learn to grovel for money from investors.
In my opinion, hunting for sunken treasure as it relates to an entire sunken ship is probably the most expensive and dangerous treasure hunting there is. You have to literally have a boat load of equipment and a lot of time. You also have to be willing to deal with the government for your permits and their share. Hunting for sunken treasure is something you should always do with at least one partner just because of the dangers involved.
If you live in the right areas or go to certain areas on vacation then you can work the shallow waters with an underwater detector and find things from the sunken ships that have been pushed closer to shore by storms.
This brings us to metal detecting. If you just want to swing a detector to find lost items then you can do this in several ways. The first is called coin shooting and usually means going to old home sites, parks and other grassy/dirt areas where people have spent time and hopefully congregated in groups for many years. These types of places will bring you finds such as old coins, toys, buttons, jewelry and tokens.
With a metal detector you call also do what is referred to as beach combing.
This is just what it implies, you are combing the beaches looking for things that have been lost by the locals and the tourists. This is also a big thing in the areas where there are known sunken treasures in shallow waters. Big storms stir up the bottom of the ocean and bring up what used to be sunken. Beach combing is especially big and can be very profitable right after a hurricane has come ashore in the areas such as Florida where there are several sunken ships known to be just off shore. The hard core beach combers will be on the beach sometimes just hours after the main body of a hurricane has passed through and while it’s still raining, just to have the first chance at finding anything really good that may have washed up. These hardcore beachcombers are finding silver and gold coins and even gold jewelry from the old Spanish wrecks that sank in shallow waters just off the coast.
You would think that over there years all of the treasure on the bottom of the ocean would have already washed up but it hasn’t. There is so much of it out there that it just keeps coming and when you add to that the technological advances that are constantly being made with metal detectors that give you more and more depth, the chances of finding a little piece of a sunken treasure get better and better.
Just to give you some perspective, a famous treasure hunter named Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha, a sunken Spanish galleon, just off the Florida Coast several years ago. His family is still recovering the treasure from this ship wreck and it is estimated that when they are finished with the recovery just from this one ship, they will have brought up over FOUR HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS worth of treasure. The ship wreck is in water that is only 60-70 feet deep. Are you ready to learn to scuba dive yet?
With a metal detector you can also be a relic hunter. Relic hunters mainly search for relics from the past and a lot of that searching revolves around the Civil War.
Civil War relics is a big business these days with everything from uniform buttons to musket balls to entire cannons being found and sold. The relic hunter will spend just as much time researching to find just the right area as they will detecting that area.
A lot of this research is done by looking through old newspapers from the time, history books and old magazines to see where old encampments were located, where small skirmishes or battles took place and even where field hospitals were located.
Relic hunting has it’s own challenges because if you find a spot that was there during the Civil War that doesn’t have a shopping mall on it now, it is probably overgrown with brush or tall grass or trees or a mix of all of these. The longer something has been laying on the ground the deeper it usually is in the ground. This means that when you buy your detector(s) you need to get something that is designed to hunt relics. Most relics are found between two inches and 18 inches deep although you occasionally run across some of the bigger stuff like a cannon that can be several feet deep.
I can tell you that once you have your first detector and make you first finds, one detector will never be enough. There are a myriad of detectors on the market, a lot good and a few bad but they are all designed to do different things. A coin hunter will use a different machine than a relic hunter. A cache hunter will most likely have two or more machines that are designed to find different things or work in different ways. Detectors are like computers or cell phones, they are always coming out with something just a little better. With that said, there are a few old detectors out there that just haven’t been improved on by technology.
What is it like to be a treasure hunter?
If you ask a treasure hunter that on a good day you will be told that it is exciting, extremely fascinating, fun, adventurous and without a doubt, the best thing you could ever be doing.
If you catch us on a bad day the answer can be a lot different. Don’t let anybody fool you, unless you are one of the luckiest people in the word treasure hunting is a lot of work and as a hobby, it can get to be expensive. It can be dangerous at times, tiring and very frustrating.
If you are wanting to be a cache hunter, looking for treasure left behind by the different groups such as outlaws, pirates, the Spanish and the French then you have to realize this type of treasure hunting is about learning and more learning and researching and then spending a lot of time on a site.
To start with you have to find a treasure site to work. This is generally the easiest part of the hunt. A professional treasure hunter said many years ago that just about everyone lives within 20 minutes of a good treasure site. These days that might not be so true but I would be willing to bet that you could find one within an hours drive of almost anywhere.
Once you have your site you have to know how to work it and to do that you have to have a good idea about who made the site. Was it an outlaw, the Spanish, the French, a pirate, etc.? Each type of group had their own way of marking a treasure site and each individual, no matter who they were, had their own eccentricities they added to a layout.
To go into all of the different types of treasure sites and clues you might find along the way would take a book, a really big book at that so I will leave it at this; it’s not easy.
Each site has it’s own style and no matter who laid out the site there will almost always be some type of hidden trick or obstacle that you have to find or overcome and that’s on top of interpreting the symbols themselves.
The general consensus among non-treasure hunters is that buried treasure doesn’t exist and if it did, then there is no way some one is going to leave a map behind for you to find it.
This is completely false! Treasure is out there and so are the maps. A lot of people, especially groups like outlaws, pirates and the Spanish left the clues to their treasures carved in rocks and on rock bluffs. Finding these types of clues and even an entire map is almost as exciting as working the map to a hole. It’s also something that happens quite often but if your not looking at it in the proper way then you don’t even realize what you are looking at is related to a buried treasure. When most people see a map or a clue carved into a rock or bluff they assume it is some type of graffiti because they aren’t looking at it the way it was intended to be seen.
The day in the life of a cache hunter can vary greatly depending where you are hunting.
The worse case scenario is that you are packing in your gear on foot for several miles for a stay in the backcountry of two or more days. This means you are lugging in several pounds of gear and you are already tired before you even start to treasure hunt.
If you are going on a day hike you can still be packing 20-40 pounds of gear around for miles at a time, getting eaten alive by ticks and mosquitoes and hoping you don’t run into a poisonous snake or wild animal that will ruin your day. It can mean crawling into tight spaces like a tunnel or dark cave not knowing what else may be in there, all the while you are getting wet and muddy and sometimes cold. You can be hanging from a rope off the side of a cliff to see a carving that makes you wonder how it even got there or climbing up the side of a mountain because you see something that may be a clue only to find out it’s a “J.A.F.R.”, just another f---ing rock. Add to that the fact you may suffer through all of this and not find a single clue or even worse, be more confused than you were when you started because of what you did find.
Depending on where you live, treasure hunting for the most part has two seasons, hot and miserable and cold and miserable. Personally, I prefer cold and miserable but I do my share of hunting in the heat. You do have a few weeks a year spread out over one to two days at a time that are nice weather wise but you can never plan on those days lasting very long.
As I said before, a lot of treasure hunting has to do with research, learning about who put down the treasure you are looking for, trying to figure out what the clues they left behind mean and making them all work together to lead you to that elusive pot of gold or silver or jewels. . .
This generally involves banging your head against the wall quite often and a lot of cuss words. It has on occasion even lead to a few nights of heavy drinking while staring blankly at a treasure map wondering just why the hell I do this.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it? All being said and done, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but along the way you get to meet a few good friends, learn things about history that aren‘t taught in schools, and walk in the footsteps of those from the past, including famous or infamous outlaws, pirates and conquistadors. This is something most people don’t pay attention to. You are seeing and touching something that was put there by explorers and renegades. How often does someone get to walk in the foot steps of a famous outlaw or pirate or see the marking left behind by a Spanish conquistador that told him how to get to where he needed to be? People pay big money to go to museums to see the kinds of things a treasure hunter finds.
If that’s not enough for you then consider the puzzle or brain aspect of the hunt. You get to match wits with those individuals who left behind clues to what they hid a century or more ago and you are getting an insight into how they thought and acted back then, without the filter of some book written by somebody who doesn’t really know what they are talking about.
It’s even a healthy hobby as long as you aren’t talking about mental health because there are times when treasure hunting can drive you crazy! Treasure hunting takes you outside searching no matter what type of treasure hunting you do so you do get your exercise. It keeps your mind young because it involves a lot of thinking and logic. Oh yea, did I mention the pots of coins or the stacks of gold and silver bars?
To be a treasure hunter means being a dreamer and following that dream.
There’s an old saying about fishing; “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work”. This is even more true about treasure hunting. There’s nothing else I would rather be doing!