Getting permission to metal detect on private land

Not to make a boring set of rules, I added some dark humor to these instructions by including a few "old" photographs. No offense to anyone!

Gaining permission is important not only for you, but for all of us. The more trespassers we have within our hobby, the harder it will be to hold on to our freedom and rights.
To some detectorists, getting permission seems to be a difficult task, almost like "permission impossible," and they find many excuses to avoid doing it. Instead, they should think practically: getting permission to hunt a site gives a detectorist more comfort and peace of mind to be more productive.

Obtaining permission is easy if you follow these simple rules:

1) Always try to find the actual owner of the property you intend to metal detect. Never accept the next door neighbor's, "I don't think they would mind." If the owner is not around, leave and come back another time
Sometimes it is hard to determine or find the property owner when the posted signs do not show the owner's name, address, or contacting phone number. Sometimes there are no any "Posted" signs placed along the property boundaries. It does not mean nobody owns the land.

To determine the land ownership and obtain the owner's contacting info, you might visit the tax collector's office at local City Hall and find the tax records for a particular land parcel. If your search turns out to be unsuccessful, it will be up to your own judgment to decide whether to take your chance in metal detecting at this property without getting into trouble or go somewhere else.

When you see a sign "KEEP OUT," simply do just that - keep out. Unlike the "Posted" signs, the "Keep Out" signs certainly convey the owner's wish not to see anybody on the property. And in 99.9% of cases, it is a reality. These people definitely do not want anyone to know what they are growing and "cooking" inside their "estates," and they might be "armed up to their teeth" to keep it that way.

2) When you find the owner, do not call him/her on the phone, go directly to the front door.

3) Ask for permission the same day you intend to metal detect, but DO NOT knock on doors very early in the morning, especially on the weekends. Give people a chance to wake up, dress, and have their breakfast.

4) Leave your metal detector and digging tools in the car to avoid arousing suspicion and fear of the unknown. There are still many people who have not yet seen a metal detector. Should one of your digging tools happen to be a heavy-duty knife, the owner's answer may be a quick "NO" when he/she sees it hanging from your belt.

Leave your metal detector, shovel, pickax, pouch, probe, gun, and all kinds of strange or scary looking things in your car. Keep your hands empty when approaching the property owner or his house

When approaching the owner's home, you definitely SHOULD:

5) NOT come to the front door in full camouflage or tree-hugger's outfit (à la hippie) because people in rural areas equally dislike both ready-to-shoot (at anything) hunters and the doped heads, or any nuts "marching" through their properties.

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Wear a casual outfit free of ketchup or beer stains (just kidding!) and printed offensive messages and symbols. Like my grandma would say, "try to look like somewhat human." The most effective outfit is the one that bears official logo of the metal detecting club you belong to.

6) NOT approach the house with a cigarette in your mouth or smoke a cigarette or chew tobacco in front of the owner.

7) Smile, be polite, and introduce yourself in a friendly manner. Giving someone your name tells them you are accountable for your actions.

8) Break the ice by complimenting the land owner on whatever positive and personally creative you notice in his/her front yard (the grass looks great, the unusual flowers are remarkable, the huge dog is cool, the 1966 Mustang 2-Door Hardtop is stunningly shiny, the new porch for the mobile home looks solid, the old Colonial stone house is impressive, etc.) if you notice any tension in the person's behavior. Praising someone's property buys you time before they can say no.

9) Explain who you are (a metaldetectorist) and what hobby you are pursuing ("I'm detecting old coins" is the best version).

10) Clearly state your intentions and why this land parcel is of great interest to you (bring both the old maps showing this property and their copies in case the land owner would be thrilled to have them). Also bring a few old coins to show the land owner what you have previously found. This would be tangible proof of your intentions and stimulate the owner's curiosity.

Stating exactly what you are looking for also helps to reassure those who are overly suspicious about individuals who come from nowhere and knock on doors.

11) Be honest, sincere and yourself. Give full answers to all questions, even the most ridiculous ones, without hesitation. Make sure you maintain an eye contact with the person during the entire conversation - this may be more effective than any BS you say.

12) Make your request for a permission to hunt and assure the owner that you would treat the property with full respect and not cause any harm or damage to it: you would NOT 1) make any fires, 2) leave holes uncovered, 3) leave any trash behind (make sure you remove and properly dispose of any junk that you find), and 4) tamper with signs, structures or equipment.

13) Assure the property owner that you would metal detect with caution and not put yourself in any danger. Print out in advance and bring with you a blank form to sign which includes both a Permission to hunt and a Liability Waiver of any legal actions that could be brought against the property owner in case you break your leg, arm or neck (when you fall into the uncovered old well, for example) on his/her property. You can open and download the Permission/Wavier form in PDF format (you need Adobe Reader to open and print out the file) HERE.
14) Offer the property owner a 50-50 split of whatever "big" treasure you might find. Even If the person does not care, be kind to show your finds at the end of your search and give a representative coin of the types you find that day to the land owner as a thank-you gesture for granting you a permission and giving you an opportunity to have some metal detecting fun at his/her land. This is especially important to do if you plan or might need to return to the hunt site for more detecting later.
15) Offer to help finding something of value the owner may have lost. This would definitely reinforce your sincerity. If you do find something valuable, please follow through with your offer to return it.

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In most cases, getting a permission to hunt is easy and does not require too much effort, but sometimes a detectorist might face a tough case. The first "red flag" showing the land owner's reluctance in giving you a permission is a common phrase: "some guys already metal detected here before and dug up everything!" You might say that you have a better metal detector, and "there are always coins left at any site," or come up with better reasons why you should be given a chance.

If the property owner is still "drawing out more red flags" such as "my nephew (grandson, mother in law, grandpa, buddy Joe) is planning to metal detect here soon," "I added a foot of new soil to my back yard last year" or "my uncle Sam (father in law, niece, buddy Joe) is coming to set up a swimming pool this afternoon," you just say "No problem and thank you, Sir!" and leave. There is no reason to annoy the owner any further if he/she has already made up his/her mind and firmly tells you "No" in a polite form.

But before you leave, give the owner your business-sized card if you have one prepared. On this card should be your name, address, and info about your metal detecting pursuits. The best card is the one that represents you as a member of the local historical society, metal detecting club or national metal detecting organization (like FMDAC - The Federation of Metal Detector and Archaeological Clubs in the US).

Offer to return any time should they need assistance in locating lost rings, brooches, watches, keys, pipes, and septic tanks. Even if they did not grant you a permission, they will not throw your card away. If they should need your help in the future, you will certainly get their permission to search the property.

Move on to other places. There are enough landowners out there willing to be friendly, honest and cooperative. They might not only give you their permission to hunt, but also show you the best spots for metal detecting on their property. And they might even introduce you to their neighbors so you could search their properties as well.

If a refusal comes from the caretaker because the property owner is out of town, ask for the owner's name and address. Write a letter employing the same communication that you would use in person. Offer to meet with the owner next time he or she is in town about your request.

One effective way to gain permissions for metal detecting on a number of private properties is to place an ad in your local "Penny Saver" advertisement booklet. Placing ads that offer to find lost items can "open many doors" and provide a long line of metal detecting projects for you. Instead of going to the owners to make your presentations, you will be receiving their phone calls and getting permissions without leaving home.

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As for regulations on metal detecting at the public lands, they may vary not only from state to state, but also from county to county. For example, I have never had any trouble treasure hunting at the sites located in state parks or other public lands in Ulster county, New York. On a few occasions, I met the state park rangers on the trail, and they not only gave me permission to detect, but even pointed me out to other good metal detecting sites within the park. But on some public land in a different county of New York, metal detecting was allowed only on a small lake beach and only during off-season. One should definitely contact the local town offices to find out whether metal detecting is allowed or not on public state, county, and town lands.

In some foreign countries where metal detecting is restricted, one must obtain his/her metal detecting permit (just like the fishing or hunting permit or licence) from the local authorities. If you are not sure about regulations on metal detecting and treasure hunting of any type in a particular country, contact the local police for info or check out the appropriate web sites. Be aware of the fact that in some less-developed countries such regulations can be toughened by the governments without public announcement.

Never be afraid to ask for a permission to metal detect as you have absolutely nothing to lose. If you ignore the "Posted" ("No Trespassing"), warning ("Restricted Area, Keep Out") or off-limiting ("Metal Detecting is Prohibited at This National Historic Site") signs, you might lose a lot.

Here is a valuable tip for getting permission, which was sent to me by Daniel in Santa Cruz, California: "Hello Sergei, I am new to the hobby and I am thoroughly enjoying your information.  I have recently had good success with a technique that I call "Following Up" when requesting permission to hunt.  When I have finished hunting in an area that someone granted me permission to, I like to send a hand-written Thank You card expressing gratitude for the work they allowed me to do.  I like to include a small find from the area that I hunted and mention that I cleaned up a bunch of trash too.  I have found that most of the people I am requesting permission from are usually familiar with each other and as such, creating good will goes a long way in allowing myself access to other areas. Thank you for all the information you have published and I hope the above tip helps you and other detectors you may want to share it with. Dan"

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

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