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Metal Detecting Laws And Regs In The USA

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Hey all,

While reading up on and watching YT vids on the current tech, product performance reviews and such, learning the lingo, narrowing down what I would want to do with a unit and narrowing down possible equipment if I were to jump into this hobby, until now, after reading some others posts from here and around the world, it never dawned on me to consider what kind of bureaucratic BS, restrictions, laws and such that metal detecting is susceptible to in the US.

Gaining permission from private property owners is a no brainer, but other than that....................?

Do you have to register them or are we required to purchase a yearly permit to use them?

Can we transport them across state lines without being concerned about each states reciprocity?

What about being in possession and use of a dectector while lawfully carrying a firearm?

May sound like crazy questions, but that's the country we live in and it's only getting worse.

Any resources on laws and regs you can share?


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Lots of good info above. This in particular is worth highlighting.... 


My main protection? Stay invisible.


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45 minutes ago, Steve Herschbach said:

Stay invisible


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I was out detecting in the desert some years ago when a BLM/LEO approached me and struck up a "friendly" conservation. He then went on to ask if I had found any interesting relics.  I just said;  "Nope,  I'm prospecting and this detector is tuned only to find gold."  He seemed more than a little disappointed that I didn't bite and quickly drove off.

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As regards gold prospecting on federal land that is open to mineral entry and not under claim by some other party the key question is what triggers the need for a Notice of Intent. This is the lowest level of paperwork requirement. The CFRs were specifically changed in 1995 to clarify this requirement as regards metal detecting and a few other specific methods. I recommend having a copy of this on hand for reference if questioned. You must be on unrestricted federal land open to mineral entry and not on another persons mining claim.

Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/oged/includes/leasing_regs_36cfr228.pdf

(1) A notice of intent to operate is not required for:

(i) Operations which will be limited to the use of vehicles on existing public roads or roads used and maintained for National Forest System purposes;

(ii) Prospecting and sampling which will not cause significant surface resource disturbance and will not involve removal of more than a reasonable amount of mineral deposit for analysis and study which generally might include searching for and occasionally removing small mineral samples or specimens, gold panning, metal detecting, non-motorized hand sluicing, using battery operated dry washers, and collecting of mineral specimens using hand tools;

BLM Casual Use https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CFR-2011-title43-vol2/pdf/CFR-2011-title43-vol2-sec3809-5.pdf

"§ 3809.5 How does BLM define certain terms used in this subpart?

As used in this subpart, the term: Casual use means activities ordinarily resulting in no or negligible disturbance of the public lands or resources. For example—
(1) Casual use generally includes the collection of geochemical, rock, soil, or mineral specimens using hand tools; hand panning; or non-motorized sluicing. It may include use of small portable suction dredges. It also generally includes use of metal detectors, gold spears and other battery-operated devices for sensing the presence of minerals, and hand and battery-operated drywashers. Operators may use motorized vehicles for casual use activities provided the use is consistent with the regulations governing such use (part 8340 of this title), off-road vehicle use designations contained in BLM land-use plans, and the terms of temporary closures ordered by BLM. Code of Federal Regulations / Title 43 - Public Lands: Interior / Vol. 2 / 2010-10-01780

(2) Casual use does not include use of mechanized earth-moving equipment, truck-mounted drilling equipment, motorized vehicles in areas when designated as closed to “off-road vehicles” as defined in § 8340.0-5 of this title, chemicals, or explosives. It also does not include “occupancy” as defined in § 3715.0-5 of this title or operations in areas where the cumulative effects of the activities result in more than negligible disturbance.



Note that although the BLM mentions "may include use of small portable suction dredges" may is the key word and in fact all states now require a permit to run a suction dredge. While BLM may administer the land and not require notice for running a small dredge the water falls under other state and federal agency jusrisdiction. In general assume anything with a gasoline motor and that discharges water into a stream may be subject to some level of permitting.

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1 hour ago, Hard Prospector said:

"Nope,  I'm prospecting and this detector is tuned only to find gold." 

I like that answer. ?..... I want one...what is it. :laugh::laugh::laugh:.

I too try to stay invisible & fly under the radar. Doesn't always work...but then pleading ignorance, apologizing & packing up & walking away usually pays off. Most times. The below article was not me by the way....but could have been on a few occasions. :rolleyes:


You will have noticed that all he was taking was lead bullets & rusty iron crap. Probably the rusty remain of a charge cap from an old shot gun cartridge from rabbit shooters. He was in my opinion, & probably yours as well, doing the country side a favour in getting rid of this shit. I have been pulled up for doing the same thing & when asked what I had found & shown him the same kind of stuff. Was told, You cant be doing what you are doing here & take that, you have to leave it here. I was dumbfounded & looked him straight in the eyes & said,  Are you for real, it is just crap from rabbit shooters? He said, you can not disturb the ground in any way shape or form or take anything from it. I knew better than to argue with him so I promptly just threw the stuff back on the ground at his feet & made to pack up & move on. To which he turned around & headed off himself. Probably feeling very proud of himself for being a dick head. Power goes to some peoples heads. Common sense is out the window. What they are trying to protect has long ago been taken. There is nothing left to protect. Just there power tripping ego's over us mere mortals. Nothing gets me more angry. I better now bite my tongue.

Good luck out there

JW :smile:

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Detecting at the beach, I drag around a divers mesh bag attached to my belt. I keep all the garbage I detect (within reason) and it goes in  that bag. I'm usually done detecting about the time the life guards come on duty  in the morning.  I purposefully empty that mesh bag in the trash can at the main lifeguard headquarters so they can see all the crap I've pulled out of the sand.

There's an old saying;  " Nothing wrong with keeping the bread buttered."

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Thanks for the resource links and info.

I've also been trying to think of locations to detect around me, one being a local state park. Over the years I've hiked miles thru several washes there that see lots of water flow after a rain. Lots of interesting geology that is just crying out to be searched.

I probably should try to search for any detectorists near me, see if there's a community of liked minded folks to hook up with. 

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Heard back from one of the local clubs I emailed. One did go defunct(a gem society), but their members and charter were absorbed by the other. I'm told the club has about 40-50 active members. They have club meetings once a month. Guess I'll go check them out and see what they're all about and how many are gem folk and how many knowledgeable detectorists there are. Should find out quickly if this area of the country will support a metal detecting hobby.

I'm having to remind myself, this is the Texas Panhandle, not the beaches, forests nor woodlands, not the Outback, not Colorado, Arizona nor any of the awesome parts of the country/world that I see YT videos of folks enjoying their hobby.

Seems to be a recurring theme for me as of late. Wanting to take up hobbies/sports that are not well suited to where I live. lol .........

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