How To Neatly Retrieve Your Target When Metal Detecting

Metal Detecting can take you to some amazing places and some of those can be in public spaces like parks or on private property. It is really important that when searching for coins, relics and treasures, we leave the area neat and tidy after recovering our targets. 

As more people are buying metal detectors the need to recover targets in a neat and professional manner is essential for our hobby's reputation. If we as detectorists continue to do the right thing, our hobby will be enjoyed for generations to come.

So outside of learning how your metal detector works, learning how to neatly recover your target is something everyone starting off in metal detecting needs to do.

There are two commonly used and easy to learn techniques when recovering your target. Technique 1 is called the Pry Method and technique 2 is called Cutting a Plug. 


metal detecting Australia how to dig a plug

How do I know which method to use?

This is something that comes down to a bit of practice and understanding your detector. Most detectors have a depth indicator which gives you a very good idea of how deep your target is.

If your target is quite shallow and small then there is a pretty good chance you have found a coin, so using the Pry Method is the best way to go.

If the target is deep and or large then cutting a Plug is going to be the best option.

If your detector doesn't have a depth gauge function then listening to the sound of your target will help you judge the depth and size. If it is a strong, loud signal and the sound indicates it being a small target then it is more than likely not very deep, meaning the Pry Method is the first one to try.

If the sound is not as loud it is more than likely too deep for the Pry Method. If the sound indicates a larger target then cutting a Plug will be best suited to retrieve your target.

How do I know where to probe or cut my plug?

Before you do either technique you first need to locate the centre of your target. Most metal detectors have a pinpoint mode, which enables you to precisely locate your target.

If your metal detector doesn't have pinpoint mode, don't worry, there is a quick and easy way to find the centre of your target.

To do this you need to swing your metal detector low and slow over your target from left to right. Each time you pass over your target, your metal detector will make a sound.

Once you have located the target, make your swings shorter. You will hear where the target starts and ends, indicating the width of your target. Mark that spot with your foot in a straight line, from left to right.

Now turn your body 90 degrees to your target and do the same thing. Swing low and slow over your target, crossing over the line you just marked out, listening to where your target starts and ends. Draw another line over it with your foot, making an X on the ground.

The centre of the X should be right on top of your target. Pretty easy!

What is the Pry Method?

metal detector probe metal detecting Australia

The pry method is a very fast and neat technique and works well to pull out shallow, solid targets such as coins. It works by prying or levering your target out of the ground without the need to dig.

The tool needed for this technique is a long screwdriver or better yet a brass metal detecting probe, as these are less likely to scratch the coin you have just found. But either tool will work well for this method.

How do I do the Pry Method?

As mentioned above, this method is very easy and quick to do. Once you have located your target, gently push your screwdriver or probe into the ground until you hit your target. Rocks and stones will feel rough and scratchy while a coin will feel solid and metallic.

Find the edge of your coin and position your probe under it to lever it out. To get more leverage you can place the handle of your digging tool under the probe at right angles, to help lever it out. Push down firmly on the handle of the probe and your coin will be forced up out of the ground, leaving very little ground disturbance.

Once you have your coin, simply tuck the small amount of dirt and grass back into the ground and it will be like you were never there.

What is the Plug Method? 

metal detecting Australia plug

Photo Credit: Ace Covey - Metal Detecting Life

A plug is what we call the "hole" that we dig when retrieving a deeper target. We call it a plug because unlike a big hole in the ground, a plug is small, neat and can be easily put back without killing grass or leaving a big mess. 

Digging a nice neat plug is quick and very simple to do and will leave the area looking like you haven't been there at all.

To dig a nice neat plug you only need two tools. Firstly you will need a good quality digging tool. These are designed with a serrated edge to make cutting through dirt and thick grass roots easy and neat.

Teknetics Metal Detecting Digging Tool With Sheath

The other item you will need is an everyday tea towel (or similar) - we'll explain why shortly.

How to dig a metal detecting plug?

This is the fun part, digging up your target. This technique can be used on deeper targets or targets that the Pry technique won't work on such as jewellery.

Now that you have located the centre of your target, lay your tea towel next to where you are about to dig your plug.

With your digging tool, cut 3/4 of a circle around your target. We only dig 3/4 around because this will make a flap that we will fold back after retrieving the target.

With your tool, lift the flap over. Run your metal detector over the plug to make sure you are right on top of your target. 

Loosen up the dirt with your digging tool and grab a handful of dirt. Wave your hand over the coil to see if you have your target. If not, place that dirt onto your tea towel to keep it off the grass.

Repeat this process until you have found your target. Once it's been found, grab the corners of your tea towel and pour the dirt back into the hole and press it down.

Purchasing a quality Pinpointer will speed this process up dramatically as they can quickly find your target without needing to sift through all the dirt.


minelab pinpointer


Finally, fold back the flap and press it down firmly with your foot. Make sure you have left no excess dirt on the grass.

You have now dug your first proper neat and tidy metal detecting plug, like a pro! 

If metal detecting in a public space, always check with local councils to see if detecting is permitted. Also note that sites maintained by the National Trust are out of bounds. 

Here is a handy video to see how a proper plug is cut. Video Credit: John's Videos Youtube.

For more information and pro metal detecting tips, check out our Ultimate Metal Detector Guide for Beginners. Or get in contact with our team today on 1300 230 461 or email