By Meg Carter
Metal detecting on the beach
Swing right, swing left. Swing right, left again. Beep. Swing, beep. Pause. Beeeeeep. “It’s a 3,” I say to Jim. “Ohhh, I like 3s,” replies Jim. The scoop pierces the sand and digs in. A large scoop of sand is placed next to the newly formed hole. I swing the metal detector over the hole, the sound has vanished. I move the head of the detector over to the pile of sand, beep. Using my foot, I spread the sand out and move the detector over the spread out sand, beep. I hone in on the area of the sound. Leaning down, Jim picks up a clump of sand and hands it to me. “It’s a penny,” Jim declares. To me it just looks like a clump of sand. I rub it in my fingers and chip away the sand with my nail to reveal the worn penny. “Wow! It really gets caked up, huh?” I say. Jim smiles and says, “We call those biscuits!”
Jim Brouwer was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, about 20 years ago when his daughter declared she was bored just sitting on the beach. Jim’s solution was to rent a metal detector. After some time of not finding much, his daughter lost interest as kids do, but for Jim it was just the beginning of what he calls, “an obsession.” Soon, Jim found himself driving hundreds of miles from the North Carolina mountains on the weekends to get his feet in the sand to swing the beach. He had gold fever. He chuckles at the memory of being so excited to hit the beach that he would sometimes forget some of his equipment in the car! It wasn’t long before he was packing up and relocating to Myrtle Beach.
Once Jim moved to Myrtle Beach, he was fully committed. He dedicated all of his efforts to metal detecting, or “treasure hunting” as he likes to call it. He committed to detect at every low tide. Not just the ones during the day—the ones in the middle of the night, too! This went on for a while until he realized that the human sleep schedule doesn’t sync well with the tide schedule. He couldn’t quite keep up, but he had another plan.
As with any hobby, the more experience you gain, the better you get. Metal detecting is not all about luck like one might think. To improve on his time invested, Jim started keeping track of all of his finds. After some time of recording his finds, he started to see patterns. The time of year, beach conditions, location, tide, waves, wind, moon phase, and angle of the beach are just some of the factors that can play a part in one’s success. With this information, Jim taught himself exactly which conditions were needed for the greatest return of his time and effort. Just looking at the beach and waves for a few seconds, he is able to determine the likelihood of a successful day. He invented a strategy he calls “Run and Gun.” He heads to the beach, parks his car and runs out to the beach to look at the conditions to see if it is worth a swing. He then decides if it is worth getting his equipment out or better to get back in the car and “gun it” down the shore a few miles. Using this method, Jim is more likely to find the gold.
The first year that Jim started keeping track of his finds was 2008. In that year, Jim found 134 gold items. 117 of them were gold rings and the rest were bracelets, chains, earrings, or pendants. His statistics revealed that gold rings come in bunches and if he found one ring in a day, he was likely to find another. Among the rings found that year, three of them would be considered trophy rings (valued over $1,000) that bring a bigger “ring dance” on the beach.
Jim is often asked by people on the beach what his best find is. The answer is a marquise diamond gold ring valued at $6,000. As impressive as this find is, it seems Jim is more excited to share the stories he has collected along the way—like the time he found a huge, gold class ring. He found a name engraved on the inside. Whenever Jim finds a ring with a name, he does his best to find the rightful owner and return it. So, Jim reached out to the college and was able to eventually make contact with the owner of the ring and mail it to him. A few weeks later, he received a handwritten letter in the mail. The man explained that he loved the ring so much he actually had ordered an identical one to replace the one that was lost. He was thrilled the way things worked out because he was not sure which of his two daughters would be willed the ring and now he had one for each of them.
With his vast experience, it is impressive to hear Jim predict what a “target” is before it is dug up. Metal detectors have advanced significantly over the years and Jim continues to upgrade his equipment. Currently he is using a Minelab Equinox 800. This is a waterproof detector, which is essential since Jim does a majority of his hunting in the surf. The different tones and numbers shown on the device’s screen help to indicate the type of metal the target might be or how deep it may be in the sand. Although it helps as a guide, metal detectors will often provide the same message for a bottle cap or penny as they do for a ring. Other times, Jim will swing over an area, get a signal and know that it is just a piece of iron and not waste his time and energy digging it up. All of
this comes from years of experience.
Over time, Jim has seen the beach change drastically and then back again. Fighting against the sand brought in by beach renourishment projects has been a thorn in his side when it comes to detecting. Many of the hurricanes that have come through the area have yielded a similar sanded-in beach. Most rings are found as a result of erosion, and finding low points in a beach that has been renourished is not as fruitful. What he finds has also changed. Finding more cell phones and contemporary metal jewelry is surely a sign of the times.
Jim’s hunting goes beyond the beach, too. He has made friends with other detectorists and enthusiasts. A local group, Grand Strand Treasure Hunters, has formed in the area and Jim is the president. The group meets every two weeks at Friendly’s to trade stories, brag about the latest finds, and combine their found pennies for donating every year to charity.
Jim has also written a book about metal detecting. In Gold Beneath the Waves, Jim shares his wealth of knowledge about metal detecting. He covers everything from the proper equipment to reading the beach and waves for the best return. He also shares stories of his most memorable times hunting, including a very frightful story that would pair nicely with the Jaws theme music. Tips about how to use found coins as clues to where you should be hunting, and information about the elusive extra low tide are both interesting parts of the book. Much of the information can be applied to any type of beachcombing, not only metal detecting.
Although I did not find a diamond ring on my first try metal detecting with Jim, among our coins, bottle caps, bobby pin and toy car, I did find a silver hoop earring. According to Jim that was an “impressive find” for the conditions we were hunting in. To get into the precious metals on my first try is probably a stroke of beginner’s luck, but it may have been just enough to get me hooked.
Jim Brouwer’s book on metal detecting, Gold Beneath the Waves, and his novel, Wham, are available on Amazon.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2019 issue.