A Q&A with Detectorist/Prospector Steve Herschbach


DetectorProspector.com has been a favorite of mine for some time and once you start clicking on all the various links you’ll understand why. It’s loaded with lots of detailed and useful information. Give a look-see – you won’t disappointed.

Detector Prospector is the handiwork of Steve Herschbach and he has graciously agreed to tackle the all too familiar SS list of questions.

Steve Herschbach Q&A

Q. Steve, before we get started tell us a little about yourself, i.e., where do you live, are you married, what do you do for a living, where you keep your gold & silver, etc…

A. I was born in the Territory of Alaska in 1957 and lived in Anchorage for 55 years. I was a founder/owner in one of the largest metal detector and mining dealerships in the country, Alaska Mining & Diving Supply. I have lived detecting my entire adult life, and as a past multi-line dealer for decades I am a walking detector encyclopedia. My partner and I sold the company to the employees after 35 years and I moved to Reno, NV about seven years ago. I run my website at DetectorProspector.com, I write, and I am currently lined up to take classes in behavioral health at the University of Nevada, Reno. I am married with two wonderful daughters.

I am guessing where I keep the gold and silver was kind of a joke, but it’s really a serious issue since I find a lot of gold. It is all in a safe deposit box at Wells Fargo. Do not keep this stuff at home folks… it attracts the wrong sort of person. 

 

Q. When did you get started and what was it that got you interested in metal detecting?

A. When I was a kid I saw an ad in a magazine that said “Find Lost Treasure” and that sounded good to me! I bought my first metal detector in 1972. I was already into gold panning and prospecting at that time.

 

Q. Does anyone else in the family prospect or detect?

A. One of my brothers does a little prospecting and metal detecting.

 

Q. Steve what was your very first metal detector?

A. A White’s Coinmaster 4, the basic Transmitter/Receiver (T/R) version just before discrimination became available. In other words dig everything that goes beep. It was $199.50. Beat Frequency Oscillator (BFO) was still the technology of the day, and my White’s was one of the early “new” T/R models just beginning to take over from BFO. Ground balancing was still to come so these old models only got a few inches a depth and you dug everything. But there was a lot to dig back then.

First nugget hunt with Coinmaster 4

 

Q. And what was it that made you purchase or use that particular brand/model?

A. The first detector ad I saw was a White’s ad and it just so happened the only detector dealership in Anchorage at that time was a White’s dealership. I could go down and look at the model I wanted and dream of treasure!

 

Q. By chance do you remember what your very first find was?

A. I have no idea. Probably a pull tab. That was a long time ago!

 

Q. And what was your very first “good” find, as in keeper.

A. I started out coin detecting so it would have been that first coin.  To me there was something really magical about a metal detector. I could see beneath the ground and find things. Magnets were magic to me also, invisible forces at work. So simply finding a coin was amazing to me. I was, and still am, a kid at heart in that regard.

 

Q. Steve in the beginning where did you concentrate your time? What areas?

A. I was young, living at home and didn’t have a driver’s license. It was basically coin detecting the city parks I could walk to or get a ride to. My favorite place was an old fresh water swimming hole with a beach and park called Goose Lake. It was real close to where I lived at the time.

 

Q. Another brain test ….how long did it take you to find your first silver coin and do you remember what it was?

A. Amazingly I have a copy of a letter I wrote on November 25, 1972. I was 14 years old. I talked about my Coinmaster 4 and give this report:

I went hunting at Goose Lake and Elderberry Park for coins. I’ve only went hunting five times and I’ve found one 1964 silver quarter, seven silver dimes, including one 1936 Mercury dime, four ordinary dimes, six nickels including one 1943 and one 1944 silver nickels from during the war, thirty pennies, the oldest a 1946, two bullet casings and one bullet, some parts of necklaces, and ten billion pop can lids, gum wrappers, etc. 

The “pop can lids” would have been pull tabs, which were a relatively new thing in 1972 but obviously already an issue. Anchorage is a new town, only founded in 1915 with most of the growth after WW2. That Mercury dime would have been my first real find of note as Mercs are “old coins” in Anchorage. I still love Mercury dimes to this day.

 

Q. How long did it take you to find your first ring and what type of ring was it?

A. I’m not positive but I’d say it was within a year of getting my first detector. I remember finding a gold plated ring with a glass ruby early on in a park and that was probably it since it stuck in my head. My first good jewelry finds were at Goose Lake, but it was not until I got a Fisher 1280-X. Once I started hitting the lakes seriously I started to find a lot of gold jewelry. Alaska water is cold though so mostly gold bands, never any serious gems. I also found a lot of silver coins including quite a few half dollars.

I eventually got into beach detecting on my many trips to Hawaii, specifically the mask and snorkel type stuff. I have found piles of gold and silver rings plus a couple ounces of platinum. Hard to beat fun and sun in Hawaii.

A few of my ring finds

 

Q. Did you spend a lot of time researching in the beginning and if so how did you go about it?

A. I did research Anchorage to determine the dates the parks and schools were created and where the older homes were. It was important to find the right books in those days. As I got into gold nugget detecting research was everything. My main source? USGS geologic reports plus lots of state reports. The internet has been a big help now as it used to be hours of work at the library finding and reading those old reports. Now I just Google and download them. Old maps are very helpful also.

 

Q. What would you consider to be your best find after all this time?

A. Oh my gosh, too many to mention with my coming up on almost 50 years of metal detecting. I did switch to gold nugget detecting in the 1990’s when the first good nugget detectors like the Fisher Gold Bug and White’s Goldmaster II hit the market. I have lost track of how many one to three ounce gold nuggets I have found. Many pounds of gold over the years. My two best nuggets are about 6.5 ounces each. One had a lot of dark quartz in it and I called it “The Ugly Nugget”. The other is almost completely solid, pure gold, just a beautiful half Troy pound of gold in your hand. That’s probably my “best find”.

6 1/2 oz gold nugget found with a GPX 5000

To be honest the finds, even with the fact they are often gold, do not mean much to me. I have sold nearly all the finds I’ve made over the years, including all that early silver when silver prices went crazy years ago. I’m not very sentimental about “stuff” and I’m kind of Zen about owning things.

I detect gold as a ‘for profit’ thing and have run a profit for decades with the IRS as a side business, so I sell the finds to pay the expense bills, buy gear, etc.. I don’t like having stuff around the house anyway because of theft so I may as well sell it. That big nugget is still in the safe deposit box but it too will go up for sale one of these days.

For me it’s not about the finds, it’s all about the hunt. The fact that some stuff is hard to find makes it great when I find it.  Understand I get a thrill over a tiny nugget or a silver dime to this day but once the find is made it’s on to the next one.

 

Q. Okay Steve, your weirdest find to date?

A. That’s a tough question. Interesting let’s say. I was prospecting with an earlier model detector and walking down a row of hand stacked rocks from one place to another. For some reason I left the detector on and was carrying it but not actually detecting – just going from here to there. It went off for some reason and I had no clue why. I tossed a few rocks and found a few cans and a bottle under them.  The bottle was a deep green quart beer bottle, -from the Bay View Brewing Company of Seattle, Washington – hand blown with applied lip, in perfect condition. Recently a smaller one sold for almost $1500A nice find and completely accidental.

I love old glass and have a small collection of hand blown bottles that I found while prospecting. They are like works of art compared to the bottles we have today.

The Bay View bottle

 

Q. What is your “oldest” find to date?

A. I assume you mean the man made type. That is an easy one since I just found it just this last September. I have mentioned coin, jewelry, and nugget detecting. The closest I come to relic detecting is three trips I have made now to the U.K. in search of ancient coins and relics. I have quite a pile of finds now dating back a couple thousand years. This last trip however I topped that by millennia. I found a good condition Bronze Age ax head, from roughly 1500 – 1400 B.C. or about 3500 years old! I’m not likely to ever top that one for age with a metal detector as before the Bronze Age people were using rocks for tools. You have to eyeball those.

My Bronze Age ax head

 

Q. What is your “rarest” find?

A. The Bronze Age ax head is rare but I would say the half Troy pound gold nugget puts me in a very exclusive club even by comparison. The number of people who get into the “one ounce club” is very small. I do have friends who are in the “one pound club” though. 

 

Q. Steve what detector are you using at the moment and why?

A. Right now the Minelab Equinox 800 is my go to unit for most detecting. That is what I used every day of my U.K. trip. I really love that machine because it does it all and I always used to have to have a detector to hunt gold nuggets, and a different detector to hunt salt water beaches. The two things were mutually exclusive.

I’m not saying Equinox is perfect but it does more things better than any other detector out there at the moment. There are machines that may beat it at one particular task by a little but those machines fail dismally at some other thing the Equinox does well (and they usually cost a lot more). It’s that incredible versatility at an affordable price that I love. It literally replaced six other detectors I used to have.

I was also fortunate enough to be on the development team. I floated the concept for a machine like this for years and it was Minelab that finally made it happen. It was exciting to be able help make my own dream come true.

A few coins found with the Equinox

 

Q. Can you offer up a few tips or settings?

A. For the Equinox my number one tip is ignore the Mode names. They are loose guides only. Field Mode for instance can be a very good gold nugget mode. I used Park Mode in the U.K. fields instead of Field Mode. Beach Mode can be very effective gold nugget detecting in salt flats. You have to learn the operating characteristics of each mode and use them when and where needed. Forget the names, learn what the modes actually do as opposed to what they are called.

 

Q. Where do you spend most of your detecting time now?

A. I’m in a detecting lull at the moment as I work on a book. Not detecting related folks, sorry – that may be next. This last year was unusual for me with park detecting near home and the England trip. Next year I plan on shifting back into gold prospecting again. Mostly Nevada and California but major expeditions to Alaska are possible too. I have a long list of places with great potential that I have never explored.

 

Q. Do you prefer hunting with others or are you a loner?

A. I’m a loner. I’m a bookworm introvert by nature, though I fake extrovert very well due to all my years in retail. I am in my element in the middle of nowhere (Alaska) alone and cut off from civilization. There’s something magical about being on the edge that way, no help at hand, fully dependent on one’s own wits. I also enjoy wandering the deserts of Nevada for similar reasons. Being close to nature is a religious feeling for me; it brings me closer to God.

I also just like the freedom to do things on a whim, to come and go as I please, to make plans and then change them without having to inform anyone. I’m kind of a people pleaser and so when other people are around I find myself automatically deferring more to what they may want to be doing, trying to get along and be accommodating. On my own I just do what I want when I want, and at my age that has become quite appealing. And to be frank when people contact me they usually just want me to show them places where there is gold or teach them how to metal detect. They are not interested in helping me, they want me to help them. Add it all up and I prefer to just do my own thing.

 

Q. When you do go detecting/prospecting what accessories do you take with you?

A. I have separate kits for coin detecting, beach detecting, and prospecting. If you are talking prospecting specifically I have a small duffle bag ready to go at all times, that way I never forget anything. The digging pick, belt with trash pouch and loop for pick, plastic digging scoop, plastic vials, small pocket poncho and T.P. in pouch at all times is the core gear. A small rucksack with a built in water supply, small first aid kit, roll of parachute cord, reflective foil blanket, multi-tool/knife, GPS based emergency radio device, energy bars, misc. It is small and compact but you can drop me pretty much anywhere on the planet and I am going to survive until help comes. I’m usually near enough to my truck but if there is any distance involved that little rucksack goes with me.

 

Q. How often do you get out detecting today?

A. Normally living in Reno I’d be pushing the desert this time of the year but as I explained before I am in a self imposed lull at the moment. Otherwise I might bang around town at parks and such when the mood strikes me. Normally I like to detect for a week at a time or even a month at a time. Prospecting often means a lot of driving to get someplace so I prefer to stay put for at least a week. Another reason I prefer to hunt alone – most people have to go someplace new every day or every hour. I prefer to get on location and hunt very slowly, very methodically covering every square inch for a week straight. There are times when I love to wander the hills also but when on the gold I just want to stay on task in one location. There’s a miner’s saying “never leave gold to find gold”.  More often than not I abide by that rule.

I have done a month in Australia, quite a few month long trips in Alaska and I am perfectly fine being gone for long periods of time but eventually home sickness sets in and I know when its time to go home. My next major outing will probably be another month long trip to Alaska. My wife is great about it, in fact she tells me not to come home unless there is enough gold in the poke! 

Overall however I find a lot because I detect a lot. I’m not not some super detectorist. It’s just the hours. I put myself in good locations and put in a lot of time. I can hunt dawn to dusk for weeks on end and not get bored in the slightest.

 

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

A. Actually I have to be one of the more content, more at peace with myself people you will ever meet. I didn’t used to be that way but I’ve paid my dues and put in my time. I’ve had an incredible life full of adventures most people can only imagine or dream of, hopefully with more to come. If I was told I only had a year to live I would die a happy man. I’m grateful beyond words for my life and the opportunities I have been afforded.

A lot of my life was very ‘me’ oriented, all about making a life for me and my family, but a lot of selfish behavior also. I have not been without my own struggles along the way. I’m taking classes in behavioral health with the goal of trying to help people who are struggling in life. I was inspired by such people when I struggled and the best way I can think of to pay them back is to pay it forward. If I have anything on my bucket list it would be to truly help somebody in a meaningful way, to have a true impact, to maybe even help save a life. That’s really the focus of what time I have left. As much as I love detecting and prospecting it pales next to having the opportunity to help somebody in real need. I can’t fix the world but I can help make at least one life better. That’s my wish.

 

Q. What would your ideal detector look like?

A. Ergonomics is a big deal to me because for so much of my detecting life it has been so poor. The Teknetics T2/Fisher F75 incorporate perhaps the best ergonomic design I have used. People focus on weight but balance is incredibly important. You can’t get that without some offsetting weight under the elbow. It seems 3.5 lbs is about the minimum for a detector with proper balance. The new machines under 3 lbs lack the balance and are nose heavy as a result, but at least they are very light. The Deus succeeds here due to the S rod design and a molded pistol grip. From a functionality standpoint the Equinox is my choice but the ergonomics are a bit off. Not bad but not as good as some others. Being waterproof there are some compromises that were made. At the end of the day I can’t complain about any detector weighing under three pounds compared to the real dinosaurs I have swung. But stuff an Equinox into the F75 housing and for dry land detecting at least it would be heaven for me.

 

Q. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

A. Even inexpensive detectors are very, very good now. The main thing for somebody that has never done any detecting is to realize you may not like it. It seems cool but it takes a special breed to like digging trash for hours for a penny. You average instant gratification types in particular are going to find detecting more boring than they thought.

Unless you are very sure about this, stay under $1000. For a long time $700-$800 was a sweet spot but prices are coming down fast. The new Minelab Vanquish series and Nokta/Makro Simplex+ are amazing values with real power for only a few hundred bucks and buying used with a transferable warranty is another option.

Find out if you like this crazy hobby first before getting in too deep. Other than that it’s really not rocket science. The key to really doing well is finding and hunting good areas. Oh and learn how your detector works. I’m amazed at how little effort people put into doing that. Detectors are like musical instruments. Anyone can pick one up and make noise but making music takes practice. Expect to put in 50 – 100 hours before getting the hang of it. Going out and quitting after a couple times is not really giving it a chance.

 

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

A. Location, location, location! Quit all the obsessing over the latest new toy. If you want to do better seek out the better places!

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Have a questions for Steve?  Fire away in the comments area below….

 _______________________


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10 Comments

Filed under Metal Detecting

10 responses to “A Q&A with Detectorist/Prospector Steve Herschbach

  1. john taylor

    I like steve’s detector evaluations. They are very thorough, and informative. This is a “terrific” website with many features to keep one’s interest level high. Steve’s many years in the field is indicative of someone who knows what he is talking about. News’s and others should pay close attention to this guy, because of his obvious experience level.

    (h.h.!)
    j.t.

  2. phrunt

    I would say Steve is the primary reason I use a detector, his words inspired me into the hobby after finding his site on a bored search of the internet of what to do with my time and now the hobby is my life. I absolutely love it. You sure changed my life for the better Steve, I was lost before detecting. No hobby, no interests, no friends nearby (moved to a new country, extreme introvert)… detecting has changed my life for the better. Now I live and breathe it and am having a great time doing so. Something else resonated with me, the harder something is to find the more enjoyment in finding it, it’s not the value to me, the value is just a side effect of the rarity, it’s the rarity I thrive on and the challenge involved finding the rare items.

  3. Randy Dee

    What a great presentation from one of the worlds most knowledgeable guys on our precious hobby of metal detecting.
    When the Minelab Equinox was being tested by Steve I joined his DetectorProspector.com forum where he had set up a section called “The Equinox Fan Club” and it was crammed full of Steves testing exploitation’s with the new Equinox detector even to the point of persuading me to putting my name forward to buy one of the first Equinox 800 here in the UK.
    I have found Steve to be most helpful in giving guidance to the many guys seeking help to master their detectors.

  4. I’ve known and worked with Steve for a long time now and count him among a very short list of very close friends. He has a standing invitation to come to Australia and prospect for gold with me anytime, his knowledge of metal detectors is incredible only surpassed by his enthusiasm, generosity of spirit and excellent good company.

  5. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Steve in person but like all the comments above I have heard nothing but great great things about him.

  6. Thank you everyone for the kind comments, and thanks to Dick for doing this “interview”. Metal detecting has been a near constant in my life for almost 50 years now. It’s helped provide me with a livelihood, taken me around the world, and allowed me to meet some really great people. It really does not get much better than that!

  7. njfella007

    Great post, Dick, and yes, Steve’s forum is one of the best out there. No small feat considering most fell by the wayside due to Facebook.

    Back from the Poconos and I miss it already. A different world up there even though it’s only 100 or so miles away.

    P.S. – Are you on the waiting list for the Vanquish? Ha!

    • Beautiful part of the world – the Poconos. Used to trout fish there years ago and played a little music near Stroudsburg. As for the Vanquish….nope. I have all I need.

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