Which detector for a beginner?

This is a question I get asked many times by my blog visitors… “Which detector should I buy and where should I buy it from”?

I too am a novice when it comes to metal detecting but I decided on the Minelab Etrac and I think its a wonderful machine. I did lots of research before buying and for me personally, I wanted a machine I could “grow” into rather than replace when I got more involved in the hobby. However, this came at a price – both in terms of complexity and in actual purchase price.  If you fortunate enough to have lots of cash, enjoy a bit of a learning curve and have big arms (it does get heavy after detecting for more than an hour) then I would happily recommend the Etrac. It has wonderful reviews, I have nothing to complain about mine (except that it could be lighter) and am sure you would be very happy with your new purchase.

Alas, to the newbie that wants to get involved in the metal detecting hobby, I would much rather recommend a completely different machine. Please note here that I have never used this machine personally but from all my hours of research on the internet it is quite easily seen as the preferred machine of choice for the beginner because of the much lighter price tag as well as it being, well a very good machine.

It is in fact the Garrett Ace 250. This machine sits nicely in the price market for beginners yet the machine includes some key important features:

Electronic Pinpointing – This will allow you to precisely locate a target and will save you time when digging (Note that the Garrett Ace 150 does not support this feature)

Some other features found in the ACE 250:

  • Accept/Reject Discrimination: to modify discrimination patterns
  • Five Search Modes: select pre-set discrimination pattern or create your own (All metal, Jewelry, Custom, Relics, Coins)
  • Continuous Coin Depth Indicator: to determine target depth
  • Battery Condition Indicator: shows battery life continually
  • Interchangeable ACE series searchcoils: are available
  • Expanded Target ID Legend: easy-to-read above large LCD screen
  • Pushbutton Controls: with One-Touch operation
  • Other features: 3-piece travel/storage, disassembles to 24″; adjustable
    arm cuff; quarter-inch (1/4″) size headphone jack.

As Gene Scullion puts it “The Garrett Ace 250 is very light on weight yet heavy on features and performance”. Read his full review on this machine here:


Please note, once you have your machine there is one more little gadget you might want to consider purchasing. Its called the Garrett Pro-pointer. This pin pointer has set the standard in metal detecting and in my opinion is the best pin pointer available. Once your machine has found a target, its up to you to start digging. This pin pointer gives audible alerts to let you know if you digging in the right direction and how close you are to your target. You would not use something like this at the beach (as you would be using a scoop instead) but it certainly will come in handy everywhere else!

In terms of beach hunting, I believe that the machine works wonders on dry sand but does give some difficulty and false alerts in the wet sand. The machine is not perfect but for the price, it certainly is hard to beat.

Doculam are the official Garrett Agents in South Africa, you can buy this machine (as well as any other Garrett machine) and the Garrett Pro-pointer online here:


You can use coupon code “TH05” and you will receive 5% discount on your order of any of the Garrett products!

I found this youtube clip which gives great insight into this machine. Enjoy!

mike silverman - February 3, 2014 - 3:38 am

For beginners, it is advisable to use simple metal detector first. The purpose of this is to learn the basic of metal detecting. And, once you get to used the basic metal detector, you can then go and try another metal detector.

mike silverman - February 27, 2014 - 12:30 pm

Yes, I agree with you. Garrett Ace 250 is one of the best metal detector. It is simple and easy to handle. It is good for first timers.

n - March 18, 2014 - 6:56 am

I have had a couple of basic models over the years that were purchased in the USA. Purchased my ACE 250 last year and although I do find it does not like wet soil on beaches, otherwise is great fun – and not too heavy for a lady!

chris - April 23, 2014 - 5:00 am

I just got started and decided on a Fisher C2 , and not the 250.I must say that the C2 did its job.I picked up coins and plenty of bottle caps on my first hunt.Easy to operate and you learn quickly to know when it is bottle caps or when you have found coins.

morne - October 23, 2014 - 2:07 pm

I got my self a garret 250 and are very pleased with it and pick u a lot of coins and gold on the beaches and also looking to to the next part also looking for some more places to go.

My Garden Just Became Interesting

My folks have gone overseas and asked me to look after their house – a perfect time to dig up the garden without getting any moans from the old man 🙂

For the few times that I have used my detector, I always have had some sort of discrimination on. (Coin or beach mode etc) so I decided this time to turn the discrimination off and work with a completely open screen to pick up everything that the detector can find. I now know why those modes were created! beep beep beep beep beep everywhere…

I had watched an episode of “Diggers” on DTSV last night – so that sparked my interest to get out and dig again but this time just wanted to get used to listening for the different tones it was picking up. To be honest, I was not even planning to dig anything, just wanted to wonder around listening! Yeah right – what are the chances of that, you all of a sudden pick up a different tone, the numbers look good on the screen – forget everything I said, time to DIG!

I was very impressed with the accuracy of the Etrac, dug and found my finds quickly and easily. The lesche digger tool certainly helps and I highly recommend this baby for digging anything although I still need to work on plugging more neatly.

First find – looks like a war relic! In my garden! Its a rifle shell of some sort, what the heck? This got me excited to dig around some more. Next signal and I pick up what looks to be a gold ring. Seriously, a bullet shell and gold ring in my first two finds (and I had been over this garden before except remember last time I had discrimination on).

My third find was a lot less interesting – a rusty old nail. I must me honest, I was not out for very long and decided to pack it away as I was too excited to rather get a good look at my first two amazing finds.

I need to find out how to clean these things – its extremely difficult to tell what anything is if it has been underground for so long. I now have my doubts about the gold ring (which looks more like a band rather than a ring) – perhaps its just a copper ring that is used for pipes or something? Gold is not meant to tarnish but it can discolor a little if it reacts with certain elements, so who knows. How the heck do I find out what metal content it has…

I need to google to find some more answers…. but one big question remains, what else lies beneath the garden?




Andrew - July 12, 2013 - 2:02 pm


The bullet shell looks like a 303 rifle shell.
The ring looks like a brass ferrule that plumbers use.

Happy Hunting

admin - July 12, 2013 - 2:28 pm

Yes, sadly it appears the “gold ring” is in fact brass.

Gold has eluded me this time, but I shall continue hunting!

Thanks for the info Andrew.

nick - August 18, 2013 - 1:27 pm

Where can I get the dedector….??

mike silverman - February 16, 2014 - 1:00 pm

Seems that you are very lucky as you have find a great place to metal detect. Considering a place to where to metal detect is very important. As matter of fact, it is advisable that you have to do a research. In your case, you are so fortunate.

Top 5 Places To Go Metal Detecting

I havent written a new blog post in a while, so in the mean time, Michael Bernzweig asked if he could contribute to a guest blog post… well here it is.

Daniel Bernzweig manages MetalDetector.com in Southborough, MA. He has written on the subject of treasure hunting and metal detecting since the mid 1980’s. He enjoys traveling with his metal detector and helping to educate others in the correct use of metal detectors in their explorations.

So, you’ve just gotten your new metal detector, but, where can you go to use it?  Well, the easy answer is literally, almost anywhere.  The type of metal detector does limit you in some regards.  For example, if your metal detector isn’t waterproof, you’re not taking it diving with you.  However, the reality is, you can pretty much just walk outside and begin searching for treasures.

Outside of that though, where are the best places to go metal detecting?  Here are 5 of our favorites!

Old Sites

Old sites can be exciting places to take your metal detector.  While many are marked, and may even be local or national historic sites which are off limits to metal detecting, others are privately owned and may be good locations to explore. Many are only found through research, research, and then, some more research!  These types of places will almost always require you to determine the rightful owner in order to ask permission to look for treasures on their property, as well as make plans for dealing with any items that are found on the site.  That said, old sites are exciting to search and can of course, lead to some of the most unique treasure caches.

The Beach  and Other Public Outdoor Recreation Areas

Taking your metal detector out to the beach (as long as it’s properly rated for heavily mineralized ground conditions), lakes, carnivals/fair sites, campgrounds, picnic grounds or parks, sports fields, and other types of locations like these will almost always lead you to at least a few coins, if not a piece of jewelry or three!  Of course, many metal detectorists will get even luckier in public recreation areas.  Why?  People usually change their clothing in some way, and they stash valuables and money while out swimming, playing soccer, etc.  Unfortunately, items are often lost at parks and beaches as a result.  This is a disappointment for all of us out enjoying our public recreation areas, but, it can lead to great fun for a metal detectorist!


Nowadays, most farms are fairly old places.  Not everywhere of course, but for much of the world farms are places that have been around for generations.  As a result, old farms can be excellent places to go metal detecting.  Finds can be wide and varied and don’t just occur near the current homesite.  You may even run into former home sites on some farms and/or old outbuildings that can also be full of treasures waiting to be found.

Construction Sites

Anytime the earth is being dug you may find treasures if you have a metal detector.  Construction sites, both commercial and residential, are an excellent example of this.  The main reason construction sites make such great metal detecting locations is that now you can get much deeper into the ground, even if you already have a really deep seeking metal detector.  Construction sites can be dangerous though, so be careful and, as always, be sure to have the property owner’s full permission before heading out.  As long as you keep these facts in mind though, you can have an excellent time metal detecting around a construction site.

Right Under Your Nose

As we said, you really can use your metal detector anywhere.  As a result, many people overlook those areas that are literally right under their own noses.  Places like your own backyard, or the trail you walk down each day with your dog, or your daily route; ordinary locations like these are excellent places to go metal detecting and, often yield the greatest finds simply because they’ve never been searched before.
Wherever you take your metal detector, always remember to be respectful of the land, be sure to fill in your holes, and pack out any trash you find or make.   Also, always try to find the rightful owner of the treasures you find whenever possible; which can be as rewarding, and exciting as finding the treasure itself. Always be sure to check the local laws and get permission whenever it is required.  And, last but surely not least be sure to have a lot of fun whenever you’re out metal detecting!

mike silverman - March 4, 2014 - 3:46 am

Great post! Thanks for ideas you shared for us. Camping site is also a best place to metal detect. And, any abandoned areas are also good for metal detecting.

Luckless Beach Attempts

I know this is a long overdue post as I have been meaning to update this blog… and I dont really even have an excuse since I find myself now in the smallest town in the world with absolutely nothing to do!

So I tried my E-trac at the beach near our family holiday home in Scarborough near Cape Town. Lets just say, I found nothing but did receive many stares from beach go-ers who had probably never seen anyone with a metal detector before, or thats what it felt like anyways! This was my first time out in public and I admit it did feel a little awkward at first knowing there were gawkers staring at my every move. It was almost embarrassing to dig up sand and come up empty handed as I think everyone at the beach was expecting me to come up with a find of some sort. Needless to say the embarrassment vanished quickly and I got very used to working my way around the beach…

I did struggle though, I kept getting signals over a sweep yet when I tried to find the signal again to isolate the target, it was gone. When I found the signal, tried to pinpoint and nothing OR I get a pinpoint, dig and come up empty. Clearly my settings or the even more likely answer must have been my inexperience at detecting on the beach. I did however find a much better signal later on during the search, dug and found some tin foil. As unexciting as this sounds, I was more than happy to have actually found a proper signal, dug and eventually come up with something!

Scarborough is not the busiest beach in the world (think retirement village) so perhaps that had something to do with my lack of finds. They do say if there is nothing there, you not going to find anything… so perhaps it was just a case of there really was not much there.

One thing I learnt quickly is the E-trac is HEAVY. It might not seem so initially but after an hour or two you really start to feel the weight of the machine. Now if I kept on digging gold I wont mind the weight at all but alas when you digging up nothing, it is a bit of a drain.

After I returned home from my luckless attempt I read that my settings I was using may not have been the best for the beach. I was supposedly meant to use manual sensitivity as automatic is not preferred at the beach… noted for the next time.

In the meantime I received a 3 month work contract to lecture and instruct at an air school in Port Alfred. Coming from Cape Town and even more recently Dubai, this place is what I call ‘microscopic’. It really is a tiny town but the best definition would be courtesy of my cousin and in his exact words “A one horse town… but the horse has died”. A beautiful retirement spot I suppose, with a great stretch of coastline that goes on for miles on end including a blue flag beach called Kelly’s Beach. The beach is about the only thing to do here except for a few bars and one small shopping mall. Thats it! Apparently the beach is packed during holiday season as this is definitely a holiday town but certainly not many people live here outside of holiday season as everywhere I visit is empty – including the beach.

Luckily I brought my detector along to keep me occupied. I tried the beach (my now second attempt at a beach) and changed the sensitivity setting to manual so i was determined I would find something. They had major flooding recently where the tides washed up almost completely covering where the sand usually is, so I figured something must have washed up and waiting to be found under the sand. Alas again, I was having the same issues as before and yet again struggled to find anything. This time I didnt even find tin foil making it even a worse attempt than my first. Given it was a real quiet spot on the beach where not many ever go but I thought I would attempt it anyways. I am still not convinced about my detector settings and instead of using beach mode I am going to completely open up the discrimination and just dig whatever I can on my next beach attempt – hopefully I have better success stories on my next blog update.

Eti - March 4, 2013 - 11:41 am

Well done, I have a x-call2 and a garret, also feel strange on the beach, I need to get out again been too long, also cape town,

admin - March 7, 2013 - 6:46 pm

We should go together for a beach hunt when I am back in Cape Town!

Michael Bernzweig - May 3, 2013 - 12:17 am

Hi! Nice blog! My name is Michael. I was wondering if you’d be interested in publishing a guest post about the top five places to go metal detecting. If you’re interested, just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send the article to you as an attachment. Hope to hear from you soon!


Ana - April 2, 2014 - 5:21 pm

I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog.

I was such a great treasure hunter at the coast when I was a child.I’d dig for hours on end and always came home with a ring or some sort of jewellery ( I guess back in the 80’s ladies went to the beach with their jewelery)

I’m a mom now and when we do go to the beach – I’m at it again and my boys in tow,I’ve always wanted a metal detector and thanks to your blog and adventures (even the back yard ones) you’ve inspired me to add a detector to my birthday list.

By the way:My husband has been watching Alaska Gold Diggers and this little man on the show takes his detector and just walks around the grounds and detected Gold.How come this hasn’t become a trend in the City of Gold…Jhb?

I’ll be digging up my backyard in no time lol!

Keep Well

The first finds

I finally arrived back in South Africa on 26 December and what a pleasure it is to be back home but before I had left Dubai I sent off unaccompanied air freight which should have been delivered 5 days ago to South Africa but due to a lot of unexplained excuses it only arrived today. The one thing I realise is that having a big “FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE” statement on the box clearly means “THROW ME AROUND AS MUCH AS YOU WANT” as the box certainly looked a lot worse off than when I had sent it off on its epic journey. I was pedantic in packing the items, bubble wrapped everything securely then bubble wrapped it some more so everything actually did arrive in one piece I am happy to report.

So I put my bags containing all my clothes and photography equipment to one side and hauled out the the one thing that I had been waiting for so patiently – the Etrac… Although Christmas is over, this felt like Christmas, opening a present I so badly wanted.

Surprisingly the battery pack still contained a charge so impatiently I headed straight off to the garden. I am staying with the folks at the moment who have a big enough garden for me to search or should I rather say, destroy? You see before I left Dubai, I had gone on to e-bay and ordered one of those Lesche Diggers which looked so incredibly handy but when the item arrived at my New York shop and ship address who usually forward on to me in Dubai, they had decided that the item was a knife and that it could not be forwarded to Dubai. In the end I was forced to either pay to return the item to the seller (which I had problems with too but that is another story for another time) or for them to discard the item. So discard it was, $40 down the drain and still a Lesche digger short.

I had done a bit of research on the ferrous and conductive values of the etrac so I had some very basic knowledge of what I thought would be good numbers to dig and recover. I was surprised with the amount of metal that was being detected under the garden – remember this is after all my first time I have ever used a metal detector. I found a spot where the numbers looked good to be a coin of some sort, pin pointed the position and was just about to start digging. Just then I had remembered I had left the Garret pin pointer in the house but my dad was quite amused at this whole setup so was outside with me watching at the time, so he kept the spot while I ran back to fetch the pin pointer.

The etrac tells you how deep the item is but still being being new at this, I thought it was a lot deeper than it actually was. After one spade scoop (was in a sandy part of the garden), the Garrett quickly located the object and it was indeed a coin. My first find ever and it was a coin… super excited even though it was only 2 cents. This spurred me on for the rest of the hunts in the garden.

Since I had the setting on all metal at this stage, I decided I will actually dig up a target that is usually considered not worthwhile to dig just to see what it is. Turns out it was a rusty nail so at least I know the FE and CU values does actually correspond to what I have read up previously about the good and bad numbers and what not to dig for.

Next I found a target that was pretty deep down, so dig I did and eventually could see something shiny and silver. This wasnt small either – excitement levels went through the roof at this point. Was it a silver? Well no, turned out to be one of those old tuna or sardine cans. Had a good chuckle and tried to cover up all my mess I had made digging up. I have watched numerous youtube clips on plugging neatly and this is certainly something I am not doing – certainly trying but not getting it right which I put down to not having the right equipment aka The Lesche Digger. I am using a cheap handheld spade with a rugged edge on one side sort of like the Lesche but no where near the same quality. I also put it down to lack of experience in digging but luckily its the parents house and they dont mind me making a bit of a mess – or so they claim. Give it another day or two and I am sure I will be banned from detecting in the garden. This is something I need to get right before heading out to public places.

Further more I found tin foil, a fishing weight, a door hindge and lastly another 2 cent coin. This hobby certainly gives you a bit of a workout, the etrac is actually quite heavy and all the digging is a workout in itself but so far I am loving it and hey, its already paying for itself – 4 cents worth.