TALE OF THE DAY

Techniques In Coin Shooting
By Gary Sumner
From Page 62
April, 1973 issue of True Treasure
Copyright © 1973 Lost Treasure, Inc. All rights reserved.
For every successful coin hunter there are probably many who get discouraged because of meager finds, which causes them to lose interest. The difference may be that the less fortunate ones have not worked out a sound technique for consistently locating and extracting coins from the ground.

Jerry Nunn of Charlotte, North Carolina, is one accomplished weekend coin shooter who has found that real satisfaction at the hobby requires more than just owning a good metal detector. You have to develop a technique, he says. You cant go out expecting the instrument to pull treasure out of the ground for youit just wont.

When he began practicing the hobby three years ago, Nunn spent countless hours and dug hundreds of holes just to learn the capacity of his detector, how he could best utilize it, and what other tools he should employ. Gradually he worked out a system for consistently finding and digging up the kind of coins he wantedand doing it without defacing property.

Nunn is interested only in old coins, and he specializes in churchyards (not graveyards) established in the last century or earlier. In the past three years he has taken more than 2,000 coins out of old churchyards in Maryland and North Carolina. The majority of these pieces have been of recent mintage, and Nunn has put them back into circulation.

However, he has retained nearly 500 coins rare enough to be worth more than face valuetruly a small treasure. The oldest is an 1822 large cent piece, and the most valuable is a 1901-0 Barber quarter worth about $70.

Nunn got his biggest haul on July 7, 1969. In the yard of a one-room church outside Washington, D.C., he dug up an even 100 coins. He admits ruefully that he also unearthed a couple of thousand bottle caps and tinfoil gum wrappers that day. (He warns beginners to expect to find from 10 to 40 bottle caps, gum wrappers and pop tops for each coin, since a detector reads them all alike.)

Nunn was living in Damascus, Maryland, when he started coin shooting, and he moved to North Carolina in December, 1969. He has visited about 30 churches and 20 other sites in the two states.

The careful method he has worked out may be a help to beginners, at least as a guide that can be adapted. And veteran treasure hunters might pick up an idea or two, as well.

Detector: The first step is to know thoroughly the personality of ones detector.

My own detector was a very tricky instrument to learn, Nunn says. Things like how to hold it, how much ground it will cover, how rapidly you can cover ground with it, what kind of setting for what kind of ground.

And there are limitations to every instrument. You should learn these before you overwork it and expect too much from it.

Churches: Churchyards are the best places because you dont have to worry about weeds. And usually you can get permission, especially after they see that you arent going to spade the yard up and leave holes. Also, churches are accessible.

It should probably be added that the entire southeastern U.S. is rich in ancient churches, many dating back to colonial times.

Defining the Area: Coins and jewelry are usually not found all over a churchyard, but in a relatively restricted area where bazaars, church suppers and white elephant sales have been held. Nunn locates the area either by talking with an aged member of the church or by rapid scanning with his detector.

When he has defined the area, he mentally grids it off into strips two feet wide, lining up on trees, bushes and the like. Then he pains-taking scans each imaginary lane with his detector, being sure to overlap as he goes back and forth, after this he criss-crosses.

You can miss a coin thats standing on edge by passing over it parallel, says Nunn. But in covering the ground from two angles, you dont miss anything, not as much as a hairpin.

Clean Digging: Picks, shovels and gardening tools give treasure hunters a bad name and can lead to restrictions. And trying to gouge things out of the ground with a screwdriver can result in nicked coins. As any numismatist will tell you, a bad nick can easily halve the value of a rare coin.

Nunns method of extraction insures against damaging coins, and also leaves property owners happy. When his detector gives a beep, he cuts out a circular clump of sod and lifts it free. To do this he uses a linoleum knife, which has a curved steel blade and a long wooden grip.

He places the sod on a cloth and checks with his detector to determine if the coin is in the clump or in the hole. When he has found and removed the coin (or bottle cap, or whatever) he puts the clump back in the hole, so the grass will show no sign of being disturbed.

Nunn has found that coins settle at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch a year for several years and then level off. Most of his finds, even pre-Civil War coins, have been no deeper than four or five inches.

Magnet Stick: Every veteran treasure hunter has had the experience of getting a detector reading, of then digging a hole, of knowing that something is there, but of being unable to see it. This generally happens with old crushed bottle caps, rusted pieces of cans and the like, which blend in with the color of the dirt.

To avoid wasting time, Nunn uses a powerful magnet bolted to a three-foot pipe. When he knows something is there but cant see it, he runs the magnet through the dirt and it quickly pulls out bottle tops, bits of iron ore and so on. (The magnet stick has other usesin a churchyard near Baltimore, Maryland, Nunn brought up a rattlesnake with it!)

So thats it. Coin shooting in old churchyards is one type of treasure hunting, and the method outlined here is one way of going about it. There may be other ways.

But Nunns system has three strong points to recommend it: it doesnt alienate property owners, its efficient and it brings up lots of coins. Try it, why dont?
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