Discrimination – It’s a Crapshoot!

I recently offered my untechnical, unprofessional and uncalled for opinion on the chatter/sensitivity problem and I thought, what the hell, if they bought that, why not share your take on discrimination and see if they bite twice. Well here goes….

Discrimination – to dig or not to dig?

To begin, Minelab’s explanation of metal detector discrimination is a good one –

“Discrimination is a metal detector’s ability to identify buried targets based on their conductive and/or ferrous properties. By accurately identifying a buried target you can decide to dig it up or consider it as junk and continue searching”.

Bottom line, discrimination was designed to save us digging trash and in my case, to stave off unnecessary bending, aches, pains, cursing and medical bills….


Metal detector discrimination has been around for quite some time and over the years its been refined and enhanced. Today we not only have audio disc, we have visual disc, notch technology, tonal ID and of course our ever increasing reliance on numerical readouts. Given all these embellishments you’d think that we’d dig nothing but silver and gold. Well not quite….

Todays detectors offer up a wealth of information to aid in our decision making

Many moons ago…

I remember how excited I was after buying my first discriminating detector, a Compass Judge 2. I mean damn, I was going to be able to decide what I wanted to find and never dig a piece of trash again. Well it wasn’t quite that simple but it was pretty exciting. A few sites that previously made me bonkers became a little more tolerable, but not without tradeoffs as in fewer nickels/rings, etc..

Next was  “DUAL” discrimination. Search one mode with whatever level of disc you wanted and then hit the handled switch and check in disc 2 for another verification or analyzation.  Had a Fisher 1266 and Garrett Freedom II that offered this feature and found a boat load of coins with both. The 1266 still goes for a pretty penny in good condition.

Garrett Freedom II with dual disc modes

Then along came “VISUAL” discrimination? No need to listen, just let the detector tell you what to dig. If it says dime it must be a dime!! Well um, not always. You see that “dime” might be a quarter that’s out of range or on end. And what about when it’s telling you it’s trash? Is it really or is it a keeper that’s just too deep for the detector to ID? Yup, depending on visual disc was and still is a bad habit to fall into.

What next? “NOTCH” discrimination –  another one of those hot damn features. Just block a particular range of numbers and reject the targets that fall in that range. Don’t like tabs? Wave them under the coil, hit reject and bye, bye, no more tabs. Whoa, not so fast. Tabs differ in composition, design and size and they can still show up when alongside another metallic target. While not foolproof I like the notch feature especially when I’m frustrated by one particular trashy item.

And of course today we have “TONAL ID”. High pitch good, low pitch not so good and there’s everything in-between. In fact I believe the Equinox 800 offers the user 50 tones. Here again I like this feature but can’t see the advantage in having more than three or four different tones to choose from. In fact how about a “yes”, “no” and “meh”…..

The reality…

…is that no matter what type of discrimination we use it’s based on an “all things being equal” premise, and we all know that’s hardly ever the case. A coin lying flat in the ground will look and sound differently than the one on edge and there’s a good chance that the pull tab piece lying near that dime is going to mess with the detector’s thinking even more.

And what about gold? Big rings, little rings, 10k, 14k, 24k, etc.. What about depth? Will that dime at 8 inches read out like the dime at 2 inches and what if one or both are on end? Does the size and configuration of the coil make a difference? Will that 9 x 5 see that object the same as the 11 inch?  Next factor in the different types of soil?  Weather? You see we’re playing the odds and very rarely are they in our favor. Every outing is a crap shoot!

A reminder too that how accurate your visual ID is often depends on where you your “sensitivity” control is set.  Set it high and it might be erratic, set it low and you might not get a read at all.  If you do get a weak signal that won’t offer a visual try setting your sensitivity all the way up and turning your audio down to just below threshold and see if you can coax a numerical readout.

So how much discrimination should you use…

Well if you are the industrious TH’er, the “I want it all” type of digger, use zero discrimination, dig everything and go home knowing you probably didn’t miss anything. I used to do that the first hour of hunting a site for the first time. It allowed me to get a good feel for the area, a better idea of how to proceed and how much if any discrimination I might need to use. I also did that on any site that was pre-1900.

If you don’t have a lot of time to get out in the field and need to make the most of your outings consider setting your disc higher. If you are going bonkers with bottlecaps or tabs try using the notch feature. If you’re sure the area has a real potential for gold set it lower.  The scenarios are pretty much common sense.

I was primarily a coin hunter and always set my disc control to accept the nickel and not a spot lower. Yes I dug some junk and most of the nickels were crap but I didn’t want to miss a coin. Of course I was younger and didn’t have a problem with aches and pains. Now it’s a much different story. Today I use a lot of discrimination and truth be told I am not interested in hunting any site that won’t offer the potential for pre-64 coinage.

I used to shake my head when I saw tekkies post photos of their trash along with their good finds. Now I appreciate the fact that they were working hard and leaving nothing to chance. You can’t go wrong with that type of effort and dedication and it’s a sure fire way to get the most out of the pastime. Wish I still had that kind of energy and determination.

Every in-the-field outing is different and you will need to adjust on the fly. See what turns up with zero disc and see if you’re ready, willing and able to deal with the results. If not make small incremental adjustments until you’re comfortable and remember it’s a crap shoot.

Done rambling…

I have no idea what the hell I was trying to say here but let me finish with this. What YOU return home with is dependent on what YOU decide YOU want to find and remember “the best discriminator is your digging tool”.


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Filed under Metal Detecting

14 responses to “Discrimination – It’s a Crapshoot!

  1. Randy Dee

    Another great write up Dick it gave me the chance to reminisce with a line by line reflection of my experience with the settings but unfortunately I fell asleep. Not saying your scribblings were boring it was just me and that damned age thing. Keep at it.

  2. Francis Blazi

    Let us not forget discrimination’s impact on depth. More discrimination comes with a depth penalty. No matter what setting, a rusty chunk of iron sounds great.
    Lately I’ve been running just a little disc and two tones. Our sites are so picked over,I’ll take anything non ferrous.
    Great article Dick!!

  3. Ed B.

    I know what you mean about using disc to eliminate some aches and pains. At age 75+ I notch out zinc pennies to avoid a lot of worthless ups and downs. I don’t want to dig 50 zincs in order to find ONE badly corroded Indian Head Cent.

    • Yup same here and unfortunately I’m now dealing with medical issues related to my heart. Not been a good week.

      • Hey! Good to know you’re on the mend and taking things easy. You’re a great pal of mine of many years standing, but hey, 20 Bucks is 20 Bucks. Know what I mean?
        Oh yeah, good write-up. Discrim’s the best thing for us oldies!

      • I wish I were mending. Too late for that now. Need to work hard at keeping the status quo and it’s not going to be easy. Have no idea what the $20 thing is all about….

  4. Tony

    Dick, sorry to hear of this bad week your having, feel better soon!

    The Hover boys I hear have a moto – “Dig it all”. I don’t use discrimination anymore. I feel it changes the sounds of the targets and after all, aren’t detectors calibrated on coin size objects? They just don’t tell us if discrimination is on or off while they calibrate detectors!

    • Wish I could dig it all but just can’t any longer. Just too hard physically and the prospects of even getting out are getting fewer. Thanks Tony.

  5. john taylor

    hey reverend! dick’s already addressed that little discrepancy
    he gave it to a homeless guy that looks like him, and the homeless
    soul,went and bought hisself a pint of,(you guessed it) mad dog 20/20
    all’s right in the world! ayup!..I’m just sayin’ now get yaself down to Mexico,and
    cross that border to collect $450,000 ehe! he! heh!

    j (2-stabs,clock’s tickin’ on 3) t.

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