Expertise or Luck of the Draw…by John Howland

After reading my spiel about  “Who Are the Best Hunters & Why?”  John Howland added his two cents and I decided to share it here, as well as in the Malamute Saloon (link above).  Thanks John…



So what’s your ‘High Five’ when it comes to metal detecting success?  Do you set yourself high targets, or, are you a suck-it-and-see-I’ll-take-what-comes type?  Or, are you a beach hunter for whom the beach is nothing less than a vast vault to which, through your skill and local knowledge, your metal detector is akin to the key on the side of a sardine can?  Me? Oh, I’m with the sardines.  I hunt coins.

The most well-known and successful detectorist in hobby circles is arguably, Chicago Ron.  Why so?  Not only does he make excellent Tekkie videos about How, Where, and When to hunt;  but he puts his money where his mouth is, does the biz, and videos us the results. He is consistently successful aware of the foibles of his target areas and hunts accordingly.  It’s  probably fair to say that even with the kind of Mickey Mouse metal detectors that fall out of Christmas Crackers, ‘CR’ would still fill his boots with gold and put clean air between himself and a novice armed with the latest ‘Sooper-Dooper, Sat-Nav-Guided,’ jobby.  He earns ‘Brownie’ points with me because he’s a firefighter and having worked with these guys in a previous life; well yeah…he’s an OK type of guy.  Wouldn’t mind sharing a couple of pints with him in a decent pub.

So what’s it all about; this elusive butterfly of success?  Patently, the measure of success comes in all shapes and sizes: Some of us measure it by the overall enjoyment distilled in a pleasant day out in the fresh air – in a back-to-Nature kinda way. Others see it in much the same but with the addition of a few coins, clad nickels and dimes – chucked in for good measure.  More often though, success is calculated by the steepness of the vertical line on the treasure graph in relation to the size and value of the ‘find,’ or the cash value of the cache, relics, or coins.  Each to their own as the saying goes.  The detecting hobby is all things to all men (and women).

Fly-fisherman, Charles Ritz, described success thus: No matter how good the rod, it’s all down to the hand that’s using it.  Arnold Palmer attributed to his golfing triumphs to the fact  that the more he practiced, the luckier he seemed to become in competition.  Marshall Zhukov the crusher of Hitler’s armies on the Eastern Front in WWII was more succinct: Train hard, fight easy.

Absolutely metal detecting has therapeutic qualities; I’ve never met anyone who could worry and hunt at the same time; and it’s a great way of recharging one’s health ‘batteries’ — coins or no! Health-wise, time spent metal detecting is rarely wasted.

For Terry Herbert who found the £1,600,000 ($2,400,000 approx.)  Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, ‘success’ came after eighteen years in the hobby and fortuitously, while he was unemployed.  Was it skill or luck that caused him to locate the treasure?  Certainly he was in the right place at the right time, but had he not been au fait with the operational usage of his metal detector, he might have walked on by, and over, that fantastic hoard. The esoteric characteristic we call ‘luck’ plays a hand too, but why, or how, remains a mystery.  Emperor Napoleon always asked before promoting any of his generals, “Is he lucky?”

But there’s another facet besides luck, in all this.  What appears to be ‘luck’ is actually nothing of the kind. There are people in this hobby of ours who can ‘read’ a landscape with an uncanny ability, and will always come up trumps.  It’s also a reality that many hobbyists are anglers, or former anglers; these people are experienced enough to look at a river or stillwater and know precisely not only where the fish are lying, but the species too.  They bring this uncanny ability into treasure hunting. They’ll point to a hilltop for instance and mutter…”There!” They rely on a gut instinct to tell them where they’ll find coins, or relics.  Hundreds of years ago they’d have been burnt at the stake for possessing this ability.

I’m sure this ‘gut instinct’ is present in all of us; only in some it’s just sub-surface.  In others it’s less well-defined and goes unrecognized.  For example, have you ever detected an area you thought would be productive and where your ‘plan’ came together?  You have?  Welcome to Salem!  Prepare the stake, Master Witchfinder General!

If you take this ability, this experience, call it what you will, and blend it with the capabilities of a modern metal detector, you’ll find you’ve got some really powerful ju-ju on tap.  Indeed, the machine itself is not the catalyst, but, when combined with the extension of your ‘unseen’ ability you will find relics in the places you suspected them to be.

You can almost always find John Howland on the beach (if not there check the closest pub)

You can almost always find John on the beach (if not there check the closest pub)…

It’s the same with beach hunting.  I live by the coast.  I know its moods. If you can recognize when a beach is ‘right’ after a strong blow; the ‘right’ blow, from the ‘right’ direction;  and at the ‘right’ state of the tide when nature does the digging for you, then, and only then, might you be in with a chance. Then again, you have to know when to break the ‘rules’.

Allied to all this comes the ‘techie’ stuff.  What machine should I use?  Should I go with Pulse Induction, or VLF? What frequency?  What coil….concentric or DD?  What coil size?  Where will I be searching and for what targets?

Expertise or Lottery?  I think this is where we came in, but bear in mind; fortune favours the brave! Mostly.



“Luck is always the last refuge of laziness and incompetence”….James Cash Penney

I’ll see y’all in the bar!




Filed under Metal Detecting

3 responses to “Expertise or Luck of the Draw…by John Howland

  1. Dee Sperling

    John and Dick,

    This is the best quote I’ve read in a while – ” Absolutely metal detecting has therapeutic qualities; I’ve never met anyone who could worry and hunt at the same time; and it’s a great way of recharging one’s health ‘batteries’ — coins or no! Health-wise, time spent metal detecting is rarely wasted.” It’s certinly how Rick & I feel about it. Thanks for sharing

  2. Thanks Dee…John has hit the nail on the head. Unusual for the bloke too….

  3. Hi Dee:

    The fact that people such as Paul Barford object to what we/you do is neither here nor there. He matters not a jot. Get out there, and dig every treasure you can. Best of all, enjoy the hobby!

    Good luck
    John H

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