Friday, May 25, 2012

The Next Frontier - Relic Hunting in the Water

For many relic hunters, this can be a tricky time of year to search.  Fields are typically in crop, and inaccessible to detecting.  Sites in the woods can become quite overgrown and difficult to get around in, let alone swing a detector.  But for a few die-hard relic hunters, this is the time to detect one of the last great frontiers - water hunting.

Now, water hunting is nothing new, particularly in the ocean for lost jewelry items and the like.  But detecting streams, rivers, and creek beds for Civil War and other relics seems to have been largely overlooked in the past.  Newer metal detectors like the Garrett AT Pro and AT Gold, waterproof and designed specifically for relic hunters, have begun to change that.  Now Minelab is getting into the scene with their waterproof CTX 3030 detector.  The results have been truly impressive - check out water detectorist AquaChigger's youtube channel for some incredible examples of water relic hunting recoveries.

Without a fully waterproof detector (it's only waterproof below the control box), I've yet to try any water detecting.  Today found me following the bank of a creek in the woods, once occupied by Union soldiers.  We have recovered a fair number of bullets from one shore of the creek, but never searched the opposite side, and decided to give it a try today.  Unfortunately, the underbrush had grown incredibly thick, and detecting was challenging at best.

From up ahead, I heard Jim call out for me to see something.  As I came around the bend, I saw him standing out in the middle of the creek on a huge flat rock.  It spanned nearly the entire width of the stream, and provided an excellent crossing point.  Jim commented that it looked like a great spot for some water detecting.

I joined him out on the rock, and submerged my search coil in the water.  To my surprise, it rang out with an loud, solid, high tone.  I knelt down on the rock, fished around with my pinpointer in the water, and came out with my only Civil War relic for the day - a piece of carved lead!  I love finding carved pieces, as it has a very personal connection to the soldier who made and subsequently dropped it 150 years ago.  This is my very first water find, and it will always have a special place in my collection.

Results from water hunters like AquaChigger and HomeGuardDan piqued my interest in water hunting.  But my first water relic has really got me excited at the prospects from this site.  Anyone have an AT Pro I can borrow for a weekend??  ;D

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Hidden Dangers of Metal Detecting

As a relic hunter, I love trekking through the woods in search of forgotten homesteads or Civil War camp sites.  These can often be quite far from any actual trails, so it's important to be aware of the potential dangers that might turn a fun outing into a seriously bad situation.  I recently fell victim to one of these dangers that took me off my feet for nearly a week.

There are lots of things to watch out for when you're out in the woods, and it's particularly important to stay alert to your surroundings.  Here in central North Carolina, there are several types of poisonous snakes, so watch where you step.  I've yet to come across any of the poisonous varieties, but plenty of black snakes have darted out from under my search coil.  Another hazard below your feet are holes - it can be easy to miss step into a groundhog hole or rotted stump hole and wind up with a serious ankle injury.  In addition to dangers below you, watch out for dangers from above.  Dead trees and limbs are often hanging precariously in the deep woods, and can cause severe injury should they fall.

Even recovering a found target can be hazardous.  Broken glass or rusty iron has caused me some pretty nasty cuts in the past, and many detectors hunt exclusively with gloves on for that reason.  Poison ivy roots are not always identified, but can still cause the same skin reaction.  When you stand back up, it's easy to get disoriented in the trees.  A GPS and cell phone are a must.

The danger that got me was tiny in size, but sure packed a wallop - a tick bite.  Despite copious amounts of DEET, I still typically find a few ticks crawling on me by the end of a day out in the woods or tall grass.  And it only takes one bite to transmit any of the tick-bourne illnesses, including lymes disease.  For days I had been battling incredible muscle pain, chills, and a moderate fever.  When I finally went in to see the doc, I was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (or one of several other "tick fevers" with similar symptoms).  I'm feeling much better now that I'm on antibiotics, though.

I've been told that there's a fine line between passionate and crazy, and I'm not quite sure what side of the line I fall on.  But for what it's worth, I found these two bullets out in the woods on the day after leaving the hospital!  And yes, I had a new tick bite when I got home.  I'm starting to lean towards crazy...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Broken Buttons and Melted Lead

Hey everyone!  I'm back, with the results of another hunt at a central North Carolina Civil War camp.  I had a promising lead on a good spot, and spent the first half of the day tromping around in the woods to no avail.  They can't all be winners.  So I headed back to a local Union camp hoping to pick up some things that were missed in the past.  I was surprised to find as many targets left there as I did, as it has been pretty well detected in the past.

Here are the results for the day (excluding quite a few modern shotgun shells and buckshot pellets).  The button backs were exciting to find, although the cuff button was particularly heartbreaking.  It was recovered as a complete button, but while removing it from the dirt I watched the face of the button literally crumble away to nothing.  Late-war production general service buttons were of poor quality, and haven't survived well after nearly a century and half underground.  The backs tend to hold up better, but the button fronts are incredibly fragile.  While it is sad to see a complete button like that fall apart, it also underscores the importance of responsible relic hunting to recover the remaining pieces of our history before they all crumble away like this one.

In contrast to the thin brass button fronts, the harsh ground environment in which these artifacts were found creates a very pleasing white patina on recovered lead bullets.  The first bullet I found was a 44 caliber round pistol ball.  It is a fairly small bullet compared to the 58 caliber three ring minie balls, the cone shaped bullets used as the standard Union rifle round.  I recovered two "dropped" or unfired three ring minies.  My favorite find for the day I initially thought was simply a chunk of melted lead, which relic hunters refer to as "camp lead."  I discussed camp lead in my previous post.  Upon further cleaning, though, you can clearly see a conical base cavity and three side rings, identifying this as another three ring bullet which has obviously been melted in a fire.  I love finding the unique items like this one, that really add a personal feeling to the relics we find!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Always double check!

Hey everyone!  I went out with Jim yesterday to do some scouting, trying to locate another Civil War camp here in central North Carolina.  The day started out slow, driving around to look at a few sites that appeared promising from old maps, satellite photos, and original documents.  There's a lot of research involved in finding these camps before you even put your coil to the soil.

When we finally settled on a place to hunt, Jim turned on his detector and the very first signal he got was a 58 caliber three ring bullet!  While we didn't find a camp in that location, we did confirm our hypothesis that there were troops along that stretch of road.  Now we'll go back into the topographic maps and narrow down the most likely areas to search.

After lunch, we headed to a known camp in the area, which has been heavily searched.  It's a large area set back in the woods, so we were hoping for a few relics that may have been missed.  We both found bullets there as well, a three ring bullet for me and a Williams cleaner for Jim.  We spread out looking for the outskirts of the camp where a section may have been overlooked in the past.  Having no luck further out, I slowly migrated back to the center of the camp, and casually swung my detector over the hole where I had recovered my bullet.  To my surprise, I got a nice sounding signal!  I guess I was too excited when I found the bullet, and forgot to rescan the hole.

I dug it out once again, and found the target in the sidewall, a small piece of melted lead.  Relic hunters refer to these blobs as "camp lead", and they are fairly common in camp sites.  They can be formed in many ways, including lead bullets melting in a fire, a soldier melting lead out of boredom, or melted lead drippings from field casting bullets.  Not one to be fooled again, I rescanned the hole - and the signal remained.  I dug down more, and pulled out another piece of camp lead.  And another.  And another.  Jim came over to watch me dig it out, and surface hunting in the area he recovered an eagle cuff button.  I continued to expand outwards in both depth and diameter, and recovered a total of 9 pieces of various sized camp lead from the same hole.  I also found a second three ring bullet at the very bottom, just over a foot deep.  Let that be a lesson to detectorists, both new and experienced - always check your holes! 

Despite the ticks and the heat, I had a great time with a good friend, walking in the footsteps of soldiers who camped here nearly 150 years ago.  Thanks for reading, and God bless!