Butch Holcombe, American Digger…

More Q & A and this time it’s Butch Holcombe.  Butch really needs no introduction. His name and his American Digger magazine is synonymous with treasure hunting and more precisely, relic hunting.  Thank you Butch…

Q. Butch, before we get into the tekkie stuff I know you are the owner or co-owner of American Digger magazine. Please share, if you don’t mind, how and why you decided to be a publisher, when the first issue came out and a little bit about the ups and down in starting the magazine….

A. By trade, I was a machinist, but loved to write. I had written quite a few freelance articles in both metal detecting and machinist publications and after visiting one of the magazine’s offices and seeing the publisher’s set up, a lightbulb went off in my head: “If they can do that, so can I!”

Since no one told Anita and I any differently, and we already had a fan base through our acquaintances in the detecting hobby, we began to research the ins and outs of publishing. We actually used a book called “How to Start A Magazine” and “Photoshop for Dummies” to get our first issue out. But the fact that we had 500 prepaid subscribers before the first issue was printed told us that there were people who wanted to read more about detecting and collecting, and had faith in our ability. Within the first year, we had grown so much that we had to quit our day jobs and do the magazine full-time. That was 13 years ago. It has only gotten better, and we now have American Digger readers across the globe.

We also publish books, and have put out four as Greybird Publishers: “Never Mace A Skunk”; “Never Mace a Skunk II”; “Plates, Belts and Swords of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War”; “Relics of the Coastal Empire”; and we are in the middle of putting together a major book on Colonial Virginia Artifacts, written by Bill Dancey.

 

Q. I also know you have a weekly podcast called Relic Roundup”…tell us about it. When the shows are, who your co-hosts are, and what new and exciting topics are coming up.

l to r; Heath Jones, Jeff Lubbert, Butch and Anita Holcombe….

A. We are the longest continuously running detecting podcast out there (6 years), and show no signs of stopping. The hour is co-hosted by Jeff Lubbert, Heath Jones, and myself, and sponsored by American Digger Magazine, Treasure Mountain Detectors, Minelab, and Garrett. I think White’s is coming on board soon, but that is not confirmed.

 

DS: I was going to ask your age here but then found this and decided I better not…and are those tux pants or jogging pants?

Two very old dudes…Butch, are they tux pants or jogging pants you have on?

 

Q. Well after all that a big advertising invoice is on the way…..now what exactly was it that got you interested in metal detecting?

A. I’ve always had an interest in old things. As I child, I’d gather rocks, sticks, etc, and make “museums” that I’d take my friends through. They thought me a rather odd child and I spent a lot of time alone. When I was about 10, a friend of my father’s metal detected, and I was allowed to tag along with him in the mid 1960s as he looked for Civil War relics. It was a military mine detector, and he wore the battery on his back.

DS: “They thought me a rather odd child and I spent a lot of time alone….” Hmm, no comment.

Dent “Wildman” Myers, my father’s friend and the gentleman who introduced me to this wonderful pastime…

 

Q. When did you start and what was your very first metal detector?

A. I didn’t get my own until 1968, when my dad and I bought a Heathkit and put it together. It was very high-end, you could tell that from the shiny all-steel chrome shaft that screwed directly into the search coil. But I did find a few things with it and was hooked.

A Young Butch playing in the dirt…..

 

Q. And why did you decide on the Heathkit?

A. There weren’t a lot of choices back then, at least locally. Plus who can resist shiny all steel chrome? I later, in 1973, upgraded to a White’s Coinmaster. That was awesome!

 

Q. Do you remember what your very first signal/find was?

A. My first find was a block of stone with a signal in it. I couldn’t stand the suspense, so I busted it open. It turned out to be old concrete that a worker had lost a flashlight inside.

DS: You do realize don’t you that a find like that today would require a video on every Facebook metal detecting page?

 

Q. What was your very first good or decent find?

A. With the Heathkit, it was a 1923 Ga license tag. But with the Whites, only a month or soft after buying it I found a Georgia State cartridge box plate (a Civil War buckle) in pristine condition. My understanding is there were only a thousand of these made. No matter, they are rare and last time I checked, worth about 6-7 grand. I still have it; I’m not one to sell my historic finds.

Georgia State cartridge box plate

 

Q. I know you are a relic hunter but in the beginning did you just concentrate on relics or did you hunt for coins, relics, jewelry….?

A. If it beeped I dug it. There was an old saltpeter mine near where I lived, early 1900s, and I detected there because it was within walking distance of my house. I was too young to drive. Found lots of cool stuff, but not many coins because they were too deep there for my Heathkit. Had I only known, there was a Civil War artillery impact area the next hill over that I found years later…. Those I could have heard with the Heathkit!

 

A good “button” day…

 

Q. How long did it take you to find your first silver coin and do you remember what it was?

A. I think it was a Mercury dime at the mine. I do distinctly remember my first big silver, though. It was a heavy sterling coaster or ashtray about 3 inches across, found shortly after I got the Heathkit.

 

Q. Okay, how long did it take you to find your first, hard to find, valuable relic and what was it?

A. Five years after starting in the hobby, and a few months after getting the White’s, I found the Georgia buckle mentioned above. But within that first year (1973) I also found several Yankee buckles and artillery shells.

Typical finds one day in Virginia…2016

 

Q. How long did it take you to find your first “ring” and again, do you remember what kinds of ring it was?

A. It was the first few months, I found a brass wedding band at a Civil War camp. Soldiers often wore these so they could keep their gold safely back at home. That’s because I searched Civil War sites and older locations almost exclusively. In fact, my first gold ring was a band from the mid 1800s.

 A favorite of mine is a 14k ring with twenty diamonds I found at a renovated crack house in Georgia. The crack house was actually in a neighborhood the great soul man James Brown grew up in. In the 1990s it became crack haven, but was bulldozed in the last three or four years and made green space. BTW, I am claiming that this ring belonged to James Brown, and I swear I play better when I wear it while jamming….”

The crack house ring….

 

Butch jamming and playing a little James Brown….heard he has the moves down too.

 

 

Q. As a relic hunter I’m sure you spend a lot of time researching. Are you able to share just how you go about it? i.e., what software, books, maps, methods you use etc..

A. I don’t do as much research as I used to. If I’d had the sources back then that are available now, I can assure you there would not be as many relics left in the ground at my old sites, yet a lot more would be in my collection. My old methods were to get overlays of modern maps and trace them onto old maps. I also had lots of books written during and shortly after the war, in particular the Official Records of the Civil War. They were hard to find and pricy, but now you can get them for free online.  But I can tell you this, I do still have two secrets as far as research. The first is “never tell all you know.”

At a War of 1812 camp in Florida…2006

 

Q. Do you generally hunt alone or do you go with a partner/group?

A. Now I try to have a partner. Once you pass a certain age, things break and its best to have someone around who can dial 911. But there was a time I went so often that I had to go alone. No one else wanted to be in the woods that much!

DS: Thinking it may have something to do with the “They thought me a rather odd child and I spent a lot of time alone….”  Just a guess though.

 

Q. If you hunt with others who decides on where to go or is it a joint effort?

A. It depends. I’ll often take a good door knocker to my older haunts, let them try to get access where I failed years ago. It has been paying off pretty good for at least one of my young friends, who has found several buckles at such sites. I’ll not mention Britain Lockhart’s name, though.

DS: Try taking a cute little kid….works great!

 

Q. I know this is a hard question but what would you consider to be your best find so far?

A. In terms of cash value, the Georgia buckle. But in terms of sentimentality, a matching Georgia button. Only about $150 value, but it took me over 40 years to find. I am also very partial to a Union soldier’s ID tag. I researched him and found out he was from a very wealthy Connecticut family with lots of political ties. The guy was charged with desertion from battle, but instead of a court martial the commander wrote a letter of apology to the soldier and his family. Now that’s power!

Another favorite of Butch’s…is this non-metallic “Minnie me” pipe found while digging in New Jersey…

 

Q. Okay what is your weirdest find to date, and be careful here. This is a top-notch, classy, family, oriented blog, that attracts a lot of degenerates and I don’t want to lose them.

A. Well, in a honey suckle patch once I found a gal and guy that were…oh, you mean actual detecting finds? I have several, including a few even your audience would find offensive. Lets just say not all toys are suitable for kids. But my oddest was a two foot section of the wing stabilizer from a military jet. It had fallen off and landed in the woods at a subdivision. I wrote the Air Force about it, but never got an answer. I do hope one day the black vans will stop following me.

Another very unique find is this artistically carved bullet (trench art)…

 

Q. What is your “oldest” find to date, or is that difficult to answer as a relic hunter?

A. That would be a hammered cobb, 1670 I think, dug in a slave quarters in Savannah, Ga.

 

Q. What detector are you currently using and why?

A. While there is a lot to be said about sticking with one machine and learning it in and out, I personally believe that it is good to have a variety for certain situations. For instance, I use a Fisher F75 or XP Deus for most land hunting, or a Minelab GPX in bad ground or when seeking absolute maximum depth. My choice for fresh water (which is quite refreshing in the hot Georgia summers) is a Garrett AT Pro. For saltwater I am old school, using a Garrett Infinium.

With the Minelab

 

Q. I know different sites and ground conditions dictate but can you share a few settings?

A. On my Deus, I use a program Heath Jones of Treasure Mountain custom made, or the stock “fast” setting. On the F75, I hunt in all metal if possible, and watch the numbers. If junky, I’ll switch to discriminate, but not a high one. I use about a “3” but nothing more. I’d rather dig some iron junk than miss a good target. On the Garrett AT Pro, since I am usually after rings when in fresh water I set the discrimination higher than I would for land relic hunting. And the GPX? There are many different settings, and I suggest looking online to see who is running what where.

 

Q. On the whole do you use the manufacturers stock coil or are you into the imported lines?

A. The aftermarket coils are good, but for the most part I do fine with stock coils. The biggest exception is the Coiltek coils for the Minelabs. Their anti-interference coil is a well-kept secret. Enough said!

 

Q. What accessories are in your arsenal?

A. Predator hand digger, Garrett ATX Propointer, a Garrett Z-Link, and unless in a yard or park, either a Predator shovel or garden spade from Lowes. A little-known secret: I can dig a much neater hole with a large shovel than a small one. Just pop out a large plug, retrieve, and put the plug back in. That’s much less intrusive than chopping up the ground chasing a signal. But large diggers look bad, so save them for the woods or back country.

 

Q. How often do you get out hunting?

A. Now, only about 2-3 times a month. It used to be almost daily. The sites I like to hunt, Civil War era, are getting far and few between here in North Georgia, with a lot of competition. There is only so hard that I’ll work for a mine ball!

 

Q. Again, not being a relic guy this is may sound stupid but do you have preferences as to where you hunt? i.e., camps, battleground perimeters, etc.? Set me straight.

A. Overall, camps are much more productive than battlefields. During a battle, a few things get lost, but most of the equipment is left behind the lines. Plus no one lingers when under fire. But in a camp, the soldiers had all of their equipment, took off their belts and buckles, set down their weapons, etc. Think about when you’ve been camping, how much stuff gets lost? That’s why camps are better!

Here’ a strange one though….Pete Schitel, one of our columnists, called me up, saying he and friend Joe Jorgenson had found snake buckles in a dump in Jersey. Knowing how rare these are, I figured they’d found maybe one or two. Turns out they had almost a dozen the first day. I made the trip the next week. This was connected to a place that made “roofing felt” in early 1900. We think they were using military surplus uniforms and leather to make the felt.

These two-piece buckles were imported into the US during the Civil War for Confederate and Yankee troops, but mainly for the South. Most hard core relic hunters go a lifetime without ever finding even one.

A few days of digging at the infamous New Jersey snake pit….

 

Q. You surely have a bucket list. Care to share it?

A. Oh yeah. 50 years of detecting, and I still do not have a gold coin. But one day…

 

Q. Have you ever hunted overseas?

A. No, but that is something I hope to do soon. I’m friends with John Winter of Searcher Magazine, although I’ve never met him, and one day hope to have a beer with him while looking over the OLD stuff I just dug.

DS: Ah, John Winter….that guy keeps trying to look like me but it’s lost cause. In fact we’re both lost causes.

 

Q. What would your ideal detector look like….?

A. Ideally? It would visually show what you were about to dig, and would have a robotic digger accessory to remove the artifact from the ground. It would then telephone you at the bar to tell you what you’d just found. But realistically? A detector that would accurately eliminate aluminum signals, while leaving the other non ferrous stuff, that would be incredible! Also, a pulse detector that would better discriminate iron would be cool. Oh, and ALL metal detectors should be waterproof. That is a given.

 

Q. Butch you attend a lot of hunts and shows for the magazine. Care to share a few of your favorites and why you like them?

A,. All are fun and have their special places in our hearts, but out of loyalty, I have to say the favorite is the American Digger LowCountry Civil War and Artifact Show held each January in Mt Pleasant, SC (right outside of Charleston). As to organized hunts, be sure to read the May-June issue of American Digger; we have a great article on how to select a hunt.

DS: Damn another promotion…

Butch rubbing elbows with the stars….in this case, Turtle Man…certainly one of my favorites(?)

 

Q. Where do you see the pastime ten years from now? Will we even have one?

A. Oh yes, we’ll always have metal detectorists or relic hunters. The question is, will it be legal? But like most unpopular laws, people will still do it. What archeologists don’t realize is that by outlawing our hobby, it only limits the knowledge shared with them. No one is going to share information if it legally incriminates them. You wont stop the amateurs from seeking history with a pick and shovel, you’ll only lose any information that could have been gained.

I do think the groups that could help us work against each other. Every group wants their own identity and agenda put first, but the fight should be for our hobby, period. If multiple groups are needed, then all information should be shared equally. Realistic dues should be collected, donations sought, and a defense fund established. But I don’t see that happening soon. I even sat on a panel with Minelab, Fisher, Garrett, and two of three detecting right groups, trying to get a united front established. It didn’t work. Until we can all band together, our best defense is as clubs and individuals, educating the public and elected officials about the good we do.

DS: I’d like to think that sometime in the future the people in this pastime will come together and speak as one but from what I see today I doubt it will happen. Hope I’m wrong…

 

Q. If you could pass along one or two words of advice to other detectorists, what would they be?

A. Always cover your holes, and remember you are the caretakers of the past for the future. Preserve your finds, and cherish them, for they’ll be around long after you are gone. And through it all, always try to have fun.

_____________________

Be sure to check out Butch’s Greybird Relics and Butch thank you for taking the time to answer my questions…..I appreciate it.

Forthcoming Q&A sessions….Bob Sickler and D.J. Yost

 


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15 Comments

Filed under Metal Detecting

15 responses to “Butch Holcombe, American Digger…

  1. Dennis Morrison

    Very good interview Dick. Butch Holcombe has been a friend and fellow hunter for years. Although Butch says I recovered something of his at a DIV, we are still good friends, LOL! I am amazed the knowledge Butch has about the Civil War and in general Relics.

    Through thick and thin, Butch always has the Love of his life behind him all the way, his Loving wife Anita. Oh I should throw in all the dogs and cats that allow them both to share their home!

    Great interview Butch, see you on the radio,

    Your long time friend,
    Dennis Morrison
    (Ringfinder)

  2. Great interview Dick. I like finding out more about people in the hobby. You hunt and talk with these folks, but sometimes you’re too caught up in digging to take a break and learn more about them.
    And thank you Butch for sharing.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Allyson. I really thought there would be more comments, follow-up questions when I started these but apparently not…..

      • My mom is not on the computer, but here is her comment: “What a wonderful and awesome person this gentleman is! So handsome and clever too! I can’t wait to read more about him. And the comments from my son were ok, too.”

      • Well Butch you did say “They thought me a rather odd child and I spent a lot of time alone…”

        I’ve always wished my mom and dad could have enjoyed the computer and especially social media. My dad would have certainly gotten himself in trouble…..

      • I don’t think it was the interview, I think it was the timing. A lot of people were up in NH at the BONE the past week, and I don’t know about them, but my internet/phone had either spotty service or no service the whole time. Wait a few days and repost it.

      • No I understand….what I meant was I thought “all” the Q&A’s would engender more questions, especially about equipment, technique, etc..

        Whites was kind enough to share it on their FB page so it got plenty of views. Thanks Diva…hope you did well at the BONE.

  3. Bigtony

    I enjoyed the interview, it was good and I had a few laughs. I met Butch one evening during one of his New Jersey stays; he is certainly an interesting person for this crazy hobby. I agree with him about a machine that would distinguish between aluminum crap and good stuff but we will have to wait for that to come around.

    Butch, do you always Relic hunt? Or are there times you just plain old coin shoot?

  4. wendell

    I really enjoyed this interview and first time I’ve had the time lately to use the library pc. I was considered a strange child myself and think a lot of us fall into this category.

    • “I was considered a strange child myself and think a lot of us fall into this category…..” Hmm, speak for yourself Wendell, LOL.

      Glad you enjoyed it…..

      • What’s with the all the, ‘was considered’ BS, eh? Tightwad yeah – or has that famed drinking ‘sesh’ (‘session’ for our colonial rebels) in AC faded into detecting folklore? And I bought the booze and pork pies at ‘The Mayfly’. ‘Ooh, I don’t think I can drink pints of warm beer,” a certain bloke says… five pints later!

        Up yours

        Your good friend

        Hoiker

      • Have no idea what you are talking about….then again it’s that time over there isn’t it?

  5. Packrat

    Love hearing about the people who have been in the hobby for many years Too bad there is not a book about all the people from the 60’s 70’s and even 80’s who were big hunters back then and no one remembers or even know about

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