by Dan Hughes

Are you looking for a hobby that pays rather than costs? A hobby that is both exciting and invigorating? A hobby perfect for seniors, that will give you as much healthful exercise as you want? A hobby you can participate in whenever you have the time or are in the mood? And a hobby that gives you a better chance of sudden wealth than playing the lottery?

Then take a good look at metal detecting. It is a hobby much like fishing, but without putting squirmy worms on hooks or sticking a lure in your thumb. The next ďbiteĒ (beep) you get could be the biggest fish (most valuable coin) youíve ever caught (found). And unlike fishing, with metal detecting you seldom come home empty-handed.

Metal detecting is a hobby ideally suited for senior citizens. You can move at your own speed, and hunt on your own timetable. You can hunt by yourself or with a partner. And you are getting lots of exercise in the clean, fresh outdoor air while you are finding coins, rings, and other assorted treasures.

Metal detecting is perhaps the only hobby where you have more money in your pocket at the end of the day than you did when you began. And not just current, common coins, but often older and more valuable coins.

When we were young, dimes and quarters were made of silver. Now theyíre made of copper. You wonít find silver coins in your pocket change anymore, but you can still find them in the ground.

I bought my first metal detector 35 years ago. It cost $29.95 at a discount department store. My first find was a penny in my front yard, and my second find was a gold high school class ring in my back yard.

Thatís all it took Ė I was hooked for life.

Over the years Iíve found thousands of coins, including Indian head pennies, buffalo nickels, and Mercury dimes. And some even older Liberty nickels and dimes. Iíve dug up several gold and silver rings, and a truckload of interesting odds and ends.

My favorite find? Not counting gold rings, it would have to be the item that connected two of my favorite hobbies Ė metal detecting and old-time radio.
In 1974, in a churchyard in Selma, Alabama, I unearthed a 1935 Radio Orphan Annie decoder wheel.

My most valuable find? With the price of gold at $1,000 an ounce lately, my handful of gold rings are now worth several hundred dollars each. But probably my favorite valuable find is a Civil War belt buckle worth about $250. And I found it in my own back yard in Urbana! (Experts tell me that many Civil War soldiers kept their uniforms when they came home after the war, and metal buttons and belt buckles are often found in unlikely places).

Of course, you wonít find gold rings and Civil War belt buckles every time you go hunting. But you will find coins. If you pick the right places, youíll find lots of coins. And what are these right places? As you might guess from what Iíve already written, your own yard may well be a treasure repository.

When I lived on an old near-downtown street corner in Urbana, in a house built in 1917, I found over a hundred coins in my small front yard. Most of them were in the grassy area between the sidewalk and the street, and they dated back to the late 1800ís.

Private yards are often treasure troves for coin hunters. Most yards have never been searched with a metal detector, and older homes in downtown areas Ė especially those on corners - are often a treasure hunterís bonanza.

Surprisingly, most old farmsteads donít produce a lot of coins. My theory is that in the old days, farmers didnít carry coins in their pockets every day, and therefore didnít lose money like we city dwellers did.

City folks were always spending small amounts of money Ė a newspaper here, a Coke and candy bar and (for the kids) a comic book and some baseball cards there. But country people had no need of coins when they were milking cows or planting corn. They left their money in the house until that rare day they went into town. Since they didnít carry loose change, they didnít drop loose change.

Okay, youíve decided to give this hobby a try. The way you start metal detecting will likely determine whether or not you enjoy it.

Many people buy a metal detector, discard the instruction manual, and head to the nearest park. Full of enthusiasm, they begin swinging their detector, and when they get a beep they dig up a shiny new pulltab. Then a bottlecap, and a crushed beer can, and a handful of aluminum foil.

Now they suddenly notice how hot it is, and how sweaty they are, and how they have churned up a nest of mosquitoes from digging in the grass. All of a sudden they realize they arenít having the fun they envisioned. So home they go, and the detector is sold at the next yard sale, or stashed in the back of the garage and forgotten.

Some experienced metal detector hobbyists are glad so many newbies have a miserable experience, because the less competition they have, the better they like it. But there are enough coins in the ground to keep all of us busy for the rest of our lives, regardless of the number of competitors we have.

How do you avoid an initial bad experience? Get help from an experienced treasure hunter. One good way is to join a metal detecting club. To find out if there is a club near you, do an internet search for ďtreasure hunting club _____________Ē, with your town or county in the blank.

Todayís metal detectors make treasure hunting a lot easier than it used to be. The old-timer prospectorís tools of a mule and a pick have been replaced by metal detectors that ignore bottle caps and pulltabs, and can tell you what youíve found, and how deep it is, before you ever push your digging tool into the earth.