Metal Detecting on Public Property

Metal Detecting On Public Property

Metal Detecting (also known as Treasure Hunting) has been around for centuries, but its popularity grows yearly.

Metal Detectors

Hobbyists use metal detectors to find old coins, jewelry, or other items buried in the ground. They are often called “treasure hunters.” These devices emit electromagnetic waves at a particular frequency which causes any metallic objects near them to reflect those waves toward the detector’s antennae.

If an object is detected, the user will be alerted through an indicator device such as a speaker, LCD screen, or LED light.

Some modern metal detectors can emit X-rays into the soil instead of radio waves. This allows them to see much deeper into the earth than ever before. This technology is beneficial when hunting for old coins because they may have been covered by dirt and debris years ago.

However, this detection method is not allowed on most public land due to health concerns.

What Is The Law?

The Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), passed in 1979, makes it illegal to possess or use metal detectors on federally owned land unless you have a written permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. It allows people to own metal detectors if they already own the land they want to hunt so long as they don’t disturb archaeological sites.

The ARPA was amended several times since its passage and now includes provisions prohibiting the use of metal detectors in National Parks and on certain BLM and NPS-managed lands. There are exceptions, though.

For example, metal detectors are permitted within designated areas of Yellowstone National Park during special events like the annual World’s Oldest Living Things Celebration. But these events must follow specific guidelines the National Park Service sets forth.

The ARPA regulates only activities occurring on federal land. State and local governments regulate activities taking place on their properties. Therefore, if you’re visiting a state or local park, you must check with the appropriate agency regarding metal detector rules.

The Pros And Cons Of Metal Detecting On Public Property

Metal detecting is generally considered harmless fun. Locating something exciting doesn’t take long; you never know what you might find! Here are some pros and cons of metal detecting on public property.


  • You can learn about history. Many historic sites contain hidden treasures waiting to be found.
  • It helps protect cultural heritage. Metal detectors help prevent looting and vandalism by keeping people away from important archaeological sites.
  • It’s free. Metal detectors aren’t expensive, so you won’t break your budget trying to collect all of the treasures you find.
  • It’s legal. You should be fine as long as you obey the laws governing the area where you’re searching.
  • It’s safe. Unlike other treasure-hunting methods, metal detectors pose no threat to life or limb.


  • If caught violating the law, you could face fines or jail time, depending on how severe the violation is.
  • You may damage archaeological sites by digging too deeply or disturbing ancient artifacts.
  • People who live nearby may complain about noise pollution.
  • You may accidentally uncover a crime scene or human remains.

What To Do If You Get Caught

If you get caught by law enforcement officers patrolling the area where you were metal detecting, you may pay a hefty fine or spend some time behind bars. So what happens next?

The first thing you should do is contact the nearest ranger station. Explain the situation to them and ask whether they’d prefer you surrender immediately or wait until they arrive. Most rangers understand this is simply a case of ignorance rather than malice and usually try to work things out amicably.

How To Avoid Getting Caught By The Law

As we’ve seen above, metal detectors are banned throughout most of the United States. That means that almost everyone who uses one risks getting arrested sooner or later. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid getting caught by the authorities. Here are a few tips.

Know Your Rights

Before you go off metal detecting, familiarize yourself with the laws regulating the area where you plan to search. In addition to knowing exactly what you can and cannot do, knowing your rights will give you peace of mind knowing that you won’t get arrested for making innocent mistakes.

Use A Metal Detector That Works With Your Phone

Most metal detectors come with built-in speakers, LEDs, or LCD screens. These indicators let you know if you’ve located anything worthwhile without digging everything up. That way, you can quickly determine whether to keep digging or move to another location.

Using a phone app to control your detector lets you carry it anywhere, so you’re always prepared to look for lost treasures wherever you happen.

Don’t Go Where You’re Not Allowed

Many places prohibit metal detecting. Check with the local government offices before you start looking for buried treasure. If you discover that the area you plan to explore is restricted, you shouldn’t waste your time there.

Instead, choose a different spot to visit. If necessary, consider hiring a professional archaeologist to help you identify potential targets and locations more suitable for metal detecting.


Metal detecting on federal and public land is strictly regulated and typically requires a written permit. Owning and using a metal detector on private land is perfectly legal, provided you don’t bother anyone else.

But remember, you still need to abide by local laws and ordinances whenever you venture outdoors. Also, read the instructions carefully before you begin so you don’t run afoul of the law.

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