Can you actually make money with a metal detector?

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metal detector man with old coins
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Finders, keepers, losers, weepers…it’s the motto of just about every metal detector and beachcomber out there. You see them with their ears and eyes to the ground looking for what lies just below the surface in the hopes of finding valuables that others have lost.

But how profitable can metal detecting really be?

RELATED: 3 rules for buying gold

Here’s what you need to know about metal detecting

Metal detecting is the kind of fun hobby that gets you outdoors in interesting settings. But is it a potential money maker or more of a money pit?

Where can you and can’t you use a metal detector?

First off, let’s get some preliminaries out of the way. Using a metal detector in national parks, national historical sites, national monuments, national recreational areas, Native American lands or on archaeological sites is strictly prohibited, according to Metal Detecting Hobby Talk.

Most states lands are off limits too, though the law does vary by state. So be sure to check your local laws and proceed with caution.

Some tracts of land overseen by the Federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management actually do permit metal detecting when there are no active archaeology sites being worked. However, you want to be certain you have permission before actually going on these land with your metal detector.

When it comes to private property, you need express permission from the owner before you can enter their land for the purposes of metal detecting.

So that’s a litany of places where you can’t use your metal detector. Meanwhile, where can you use it?

Some good places to use a metal detector include public park areas, parking lots, beaches and really any public spot — particularly after there’s been a festival or outdoor concert where people might potentially have dropped coins or jewelry.

Finally, several best practices emerged in our research that anyone who wants to try this hobby should adhere to.

For example, many veterans hobbyists noted online that proper etiquette includes covering up any holes you dig in the course of your searching, not littering and picking up any small rubbish that other people may have left behind.

Which metal detector should you buy?

OK, now that we’ve established where you can and can’t use a metal detector, let’s turn our attention to the equipment itself.

In addition to a small shovel or other implement to dig when you’ve found something, you’re going to want a good entry level metal detector. And you should expect to pay somewhere in the $100 to $300 range for one, according to ToughNickel.com.

The following models all come recommended by the website:

  • Garrett ACE 250
  • White Prizm II
  • Minelab Muscateer
  • Bounty Hunter Tracker IV

Just to give you a sense of exact price point, the Garrett ACE 250 is $212.45 with free shipping at Walmart.com. This product has 36 reviews with an average 4.5-star rating.

garrett ace 250 metal detector

The Bounty Hunter Tracker IV, meanwhile, is less than half that price. While a $129.95 list price, the Tracker is offered by Amazon for $79.99 with free shipping.

Despite the unusually low price, people seem to love this unit. More than 1,200 customers give it 4.5 stars on average.

bounty hunter metal detector

Of course, as with many things in life, you should consider buying a used metal detector if you really want to save money. Depending on the condition, ToughNickel says you can save about 50% to 75% off the list price of a new detector.

How much money can you make by metal detecting?

Most people who take up metal detecting as a hobby will tell you it’s just a fun pastime and not something you can count on to pay the bills.

This post from Zofchak on the Friendly Metal Detecting Forum sums up the position of a lot of metal detectors we saw weighing in on the profit question across the web:

“I’ve been detecting for just under 3 years and have ‘invested’ about 4-5K in metal detectors, diving equipment and other metal detecting accessories. I don’t keep detailed records of my finds, but I highly doubt my land finds have yielded even $1,000 in that time — and that’s not even including all the money I had into traveling and lost income from not working those hours.”

Zofchak goes on to note that looking for jewelry that swimmers lose in the water has traditionally been one of the more profitable ways to do metal detecting. Yet when you add up the results of whatever haul you can find from a day in the field or at the lake versus the same amount of money you’d earn actually working, the former usually pales in comparison.

“The one thing is I enjoy metal detecting, so the finds are just a bonus. If I was doing this just for the money I would have given up a long time ago,” he writes.

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