Legal Guide

Laws Regarding Metal Detecting on Private Property, State Property, and Federal Property

If you’ve never heard of metal detecting before, it’s the process of using a special detector to find buried objects. Typically, these are coins or other small items that have been lost or hidden underground for years. Metal detectors utilize electromagnetic fields to detect any electrical conductors beneath the ground's surface. The most common types are handheld units with probes on long handles which can be used in areas where there is no vegetation growth and without having to dig up the area first. Metal detectors are also popular among treasure hunters because they help locate valuable items quickly and efficiently.

The use of metal detectors has increased over recent decades as more people take an interest in archeology, history, geocaching (a game played by tracking down hidden containers with GPS coordinates), and the unique challenges of using a metal detector. Metal detecting has also become more accessible to the general public due to cheaper, more advanced technologies. This is particularly true when it comes to technology for hobbyists who are interested in finding old coins, relics, or other small objects that may have a monetary value. Check out this detailed guide by Chad Eicher from Metal Pursuits about the best metal detectors, it will help you find the right machine for your treasure hunt.

Metal detecting can be done on private property with permission from the landowner, state property with permission from the governing agency overseeing that area of land, or federal properties also require prior written permission before you can start your search. There are different laws regulating metal detecting in these three areas so it’s important to know about them before you plan out your next trip!

Metal Detecting on Private Property

Metal detecting on private property is typically allowed as long as the property owner gives consent. This means that you can search for hidden treasures on your own property or on someone else's with their permission. There are a few things to keep in mind when metal detecting on private property: always get permission from the landowner before you start searching, stay on the property owner's designated grounds, and always be respectful of any property owners who may not want you to search their land.

Metal Detecting on State Property

When it comes to metal detecting on state property, there are different laws depending on which state you're in. Typically, it is illegal to metal detect without prior written permission from the governing agency overseeing that area of land. This means that you must get permission through the government before you start searching. Here are some examples of state land where metal detecting is restricted or not allowed at all:

  • Massachusetts - You require written permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation before you will be allowed to search on any park property
  • Arkansas - It's illegal to use a metal detector on all Game and Fish Commission properties
  • Louisiana - You require written permission from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries before you will be allowed to search any lands owned by the state
  • Indiana - It's illegal for anyone to use a metal detector on any property owned by the state unless they have prior approval from that agency first.
  • California - It's illegal to use a metal detector on any property owned by the state without written permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Wisconsin - You require written permission before you can search any land owned or managed by the state. This must be approved by either the Natural Resources Board, which handles state lands, or the Department of Military Affairs, which oversees state lands used by the National Guard.
  • Arizona - Metal detecting on any property owned or controlled by the state is illegal without written permission from the Arizona Historical Society
  • Minnesota - You require written permission to use a metal detector on any land managed or owned by the Department of Natural Resources. This also includes land managed by county commissioners within the state.
  • Maryland - It's illegal to use a metal detector on any property owned by the state without written permission from the Department of Natural Resources first.
  • Rhode Island - You require written consent before you can search any land known as either 'forever wild' or 'conservation land.' The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management oversees these lands.
  • Washington - You require written consent before you can search any lands owned or controlled by the state that aren't listed as “archeological sites.” The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission oversees these lands.

Metal Detecting on Federal Property

Metal detecting on federal property is regulated by the National Park Service and, therefore, you must get permission to search these lands before beginning any metal detecting activities. Some examples of federal land you might want to avoid include:

  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • National Park sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island
  • National Forests such as those in the Cascade mountain range
  • National Wildlife Refuges such as Midway Island in Hawaii

There are also specific laws regarding metal detecting on military bases. The United States Department of Defense forbids unauthorized searching within any base under their control. You will need prior written permission if you want to metal detect on a military installation, regardless of whether it's active or decommissioned.

It is illegal to use a metal detector on federal property without prior written permission from the governing agency overseeing that area of land. This means you will not be allowed to go searching for any hidden treasures on federal properties without first getting the proper permission in writing. Here are some examples of state parks where metal detecting is restricted or not allowed at all:

  • Wyoming - You require written permission from the Bureau of Land Management before you will be allowed to search any lands controlled by that agency.
  • Washington D.C. - It's illegal to use a metal detector on federal property.
  • Colorado - Metal detecting is not permitted on National Park Service lands without written permission beforehand.
  • Alaska - It's illegal to use a metal detector on federal land without written permission from the Bureau of Land Management first.

While it might seem like fun to go out and search on your favorite piece of land without first getting permission, you could get in trouble with the law if you don’t follow the proper protocol first. Always make sure that there is a law that allows you to metal detect on the type of property you plan on searching and make sure to get written permission from the landowner before going out.

Conclusion

As with any hobby, research is important before engaging in it. While many laws don’t outright prohibit metal detecting on private property, state and federal properties definitely do. Always remember to obtain written consent from the landowner before you search on private property! Before you plan your next trip to go metal detecting, be sure to research the local laws in the area so you don’t get in any legal trouble!


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