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How to Find Treasure in Your Own Backyard

Richard is a professional writer. When he's not creating, he's actively pursuing his goal of becoming a handsome billionaire.

There could be material of both financial and intellectual value lurking right around the corner.

There could be material of both financial and intellectual value lurking right around the corner.

Finding Treasure

In the United States, you can go treasure hunting on your own property. If you get permission from the owner, you can also hunt on any privately owned land. You cannot do any treasure hunting on federally owned or indigenous land. Nor can you treasure hunt on any state-owned land unless you get permission from the land manager. Usually, permits are only granted for scientific research and not for hobby treasure hunters.

In the United States, we are bound by several Federal acts of legislation that pertain to treasure hunting:

  • American Antiquities Act of 1906
  • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
  • Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979

Additionally, each state has rules of legislation to protect and preserve archaeological, cultural, and historical sites on state-owned lands.

"Rusty gold" refers to old objects that appear to be in dire condition but are actually worth something due to their historical or cultural significance.

"Rusty gold" refers to old objects that appear to be in dire condition but are actually worth something due to their historical or cultural significance.

Metal Detecting for Lost Loot

The simple fact is people misplace things. Sometimes those things are very important to them, such as wedding bands, engagement rings, or some other type of heirloom jewelry. My own grandmother lost her wedding ring when she moved into her new home in the suburbs of Chicago. It went missing for almost 20 years until I found it while digging up her front yard to plant a new tree.

The point is, almost nothing stays lost forever—especially if you are equipped to do some treasure hunting. In my case, all I had was a spade shovel and a keen eye. I wasn’t looking for my grandmother’s ring, but I sure knew to investigate that sparkling object I was digging up.

If you are actively going to do some treasure hunting, then it will probably be a good idea to use a metal detector and at least have a small garden shovel. Plus, you might want to have a bag of some kind to store your loot.

Some common items you may find include coins of varying dates and metal content; jewelry, buttons, and other heirlooms. If you’re lucky, you might find lost artifacts and weapons of war, such as guns, rifles, swords, knives, and spent rounds; if you’re unlucky, you’ll probably find a trove of old bottle caps and nails.

Picking: One Man’s Junk Is Another Man’s Treasure

All across America, people are hunting for what is known as “rusty gold.” American Pickers is a TV show produced and aired on the History Channel that showcases a pair of guys that travel the American countryside in search of anything of historical and cultural value.

They call this type of treasure hunting “picking.” They call it that because you are picking through other people’s collections, automotive graveyards, and sometimes junk piles. Pickers have a great understanding of historical value. Well, at least the good ones do.

Picking isn’t necessarily a “finders keepers” activity. Normally you will have to negotiate a fair price with the current owner. But if you do your homework, you will more than likely come out on top and double your investment.

Storage unit auctions are a great way to acquire potentially valuable forgotten objects for cheap.

Storage unit auctions are a great way to acquire potentially valuable forgotten objects for cheap.

Storage Auctions and Abandoned Treasures

Another great way to go treasure hunting is to attend storage unit auctions. These auctions are conducted in most states. When someone rents a storage unit and fails to pay the rent per their contractual agreement, the storage facility can lawfully auction off the contents of the storage unit to recoup the lost fees.

When you are attempting to hunt for treasures in this manner, you have to know what has monetary value and what doesn’t. Often times a bidder will win a unit that may or may not yield a profit. So, it is a good idea to have a strategy when investing in these types of units. It’s also a good idea to have connections with antique dealers, consignment shop dealers, and other resale shop owners.

I’ve won storage units that have yielded me great profits, but I also lost money when I first started out. I was excited by the TV show Storage Hunters, but nothing is like what you see on TV. I usually keep to storage facilities that are within a 20-mile radius of my home, but I’m sure if I expanded that radius, I’d have an even better success rate.

Hunt for Americana

Hunt for Americana

Americana and the Hunt for Knowledge

There is only one type of treasure hunting that I enjoy more than any of the above-mentioned hunts, and that is the hunt for knowledge. Having majored in history with an emphasis on American history, I particularly enjoy hunting down topics of Americana.

While also being a photographer, I have developed a fascination for hunting down and photographing relics and landmarks that represent the American struggle. If you live in the United States, you know exactly the types of relics I’m talking about because you probably drive by many of them every single day without a second thought as to why they are there and who placed them there.

For instance, you probably drive by a VFW post and see an old army tank—which was probably purchased and then donated by a WWII veteran—parked in front of it. You might live out in the country and see a rusted old tractor in the farm field, which is now a landmark that “old-timers” use when giving directions. It could be that drive-in theater screen where many teenage hearts were broken.

Americana remains because it has significance to the American way of life, and there is no better treasure than the kind you keep in your heart.

The Treasure in Your Heart

Treasure hunting isn’t reserved for the archeologist or the deep-sea diver searching for sunken ships full of gold bullion. The majority of treasure hunters are hobbyists like me. We do it because it brings us pleasure. For some of us, it brings a bit of financial satisfaction as well.

The easiest kind of treasure hunting is the kind done with the metal detector, but by easy, I don’t mean financially rewarding. I mean easy because you have a great tool that helps you locate lost treasures. Plus, many metal detectors have a setting that can determine the type of metal that is buried.

Nearly as easy is the hunting for Americana and the historical knowledge you gain from it. For me, it is also a bit financially rewarding because I blog about it, and I often sell photographs of the relics I find.

Just remember—treasure isn’t just in the eye of the beholder; it’s also in the heart, and I have a heart of gold.


Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 25, 2015:

What an intriguing hub, Richard. I wish I had a backyard, since I live in an new apartment. But clever ideas for home owners to do that and maybe strike it rich. I've heard of those History Channel shows and never watched them though. Voted up!

Richard Bivins (author) from Charleston, SC on March 15, 2015:

Thank you aesta1... There really is some truth to the old saying, "one man's junk is another man's treasure." Recently, I have been relic hunting around some abandoned homes and cabins and finding tons of old marbles and vintage toys.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 15, 2015:

This is really interesting and I am learning from your other hubs as well. Some friends dive for treasures and they often come out with old logs, bottles and more fun.

Melody Lassalle from California on November 12, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD! This is an interesting hobby, though I've never done it myself. It seems like an interesting way to pick up interesting object and to learn a bit of local history.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on September 18, 2014:

It is a big deal around here for people to go on treasure hunts. We use our metal detector while walking in the woods. Many new little shops have opened selling lost treasures found in storage units. Congrats on HOTD, great photos too, by the way.

Sandy from Florida on September 11, 2014:

Interesting Hub, makes me want to invest in a metal detector. Not sure I'd be that good at it though. And congrats on the HOTD!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 10, 2014:

Congratulations on HOTD!

I love watching American Pickers! The Storage Wars show, not so much. Those guys are just too dramatic, and several of them are outright jerks. I don't know if it's being done just for TV ratings, but it really irritates me to see one of them admitting up front that he's not interested in a given unit, but that he's going to bid it up, just to cost one of the other bidders extra money. That's dirty pool, IMO.

We have a metal detector, but never had much luck with it. Took it to the beach one day, and it 'hit' on the gold setting...what we dug up was a hunk of gold foil from a champagne bottle. Who knew that was real gold?

Used it in our own yard to find the remains of the keys that fell off my husband's belt while he was using the riding mower....

Haven't had a chance to go anywhere else with it... and shoot--the beach is a state beach... doggone it anyway!

Voted up, interesting and useful.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on September 10, 2014:

Your suggestions are fascinating. Whenever I go to the beach I see people with metal detectors. One guy I spoke to in Hawaii said he amasses a significant style of living just going to the beach each day. He said Saturday afternoon is the best time because it is the transition period when vacationers are at the airport leaving to go home. He said, no one wants to miss their plane to go back for lost jewelry. It makes sense.

Laura Brown from Ontario, Canada on September 10, 2014:

I'm an urban explorer. I like to explore but I don't bring home salvage or souvenirs.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on September 10, 2014:

Very interesting and informative hub. I think I should hunt tresure in my cellar. I might find something valuable. Congrats on the HOTD! Well done!

June Campbell from North Vancouver on September 10, 2014:

Fascinating stuff. I have not heard of this hobby before. I can well imagine how people could get "hooked" on it. I geocache and there are similarities.

cynamans on September 10, 2014:

I really enjoyed reading this hub. Great job informing us about the joy in treasure hunting. Glad to be following you. keep up the great work.

Jim from Kansas on September 10, 2014:

Enjoyed reading this. You should do a hub on how to sell your photographs. I would like to read that one too.

Dreamer at heart from Northern California on September 10, 2014:

You just never know what kind of treasure can suddenly appear. I am glad you found your grandmother's wedding ring while planting a tree. That is proof of the goodness of life's rewards for keeping an open mind and heart. Finding lost art is a gift.

Robin from USA on September 10, 2014:

As a kid we had fun with my Dad's metal detector. I enjoyed reading this. Congrats on HotD.

mactavers on September 10, 2014:

Great Hub. I love hunting for antiques and collectibles at thrift stores, yard sales and antique shops. This fall, I've had fun hunting for former classmates to tell them about our high school reunion, but most of all I also love hunting for bits of information and history. Congrats on Hub of the Day.

Rebecca Be from Lincoln, Nebraska on September 10, 2014:

I would love to treasure hunt with a metal detector. Nice article and of course congratulations on the Hub of the day.

Inda Blackwell from Hampton Roads on September 10, 2014:

I have just discovered GeoCaching and am hooked so your hub truly sparked my interest. The thrill of the hunt is exhilarating!!!

Nick Deal from Earth on September 10, 2014:

I loved the end of the bu when you declare that you have a heart of gold! Congrats on HOTD.

mySuccess8 on September 10, 2014:

Congrats on your HotD! I have never done Treasure Hunt, and did not realize its many different and interesting aspects, until I read your Hub. Thanks!

Richard Bivins (author) from Charleston, SC on September 02, 2014:

I enjoy those TV shows as well and it is more fun actually doing it myself. I'm not the greatest at it, or even all that good, but I do have fun. And as I mentioned to Bill Holland in one of his posts, part of the fun of being a writer is when I get to experience the things I write about.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on September 02, 2014:

I love the "concept" of both picking and storage auctions... but, I also KNOW I would "suck" at both. So, I just enjoy the TV shows, and my wife and I comment to each other, on them!! Great way to lose my shirt, I know, if I were to try it!! Thanks for this hub. Great fun! ;-)

Richard Bivins (author) from Charleston, SC on August 27, 2014:

Susanne, I forgot to mention on this hub how cool it would be to actually bury some of your own treasure and then leave a treasure map in your last Will. I think that would be awesome. Plus your are right about the forgotten treasures we have in our own sheds and attics...

Jodah, Thank you and I hope you can get your own metal detector some day. Who knows what you may dig up but even if it were just old nails and screws in your yard, at least you clear it out for the next generation.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on August 27, 2014:

Hello Richard, this was quite an interesting hub with handy information and tips about treasure hunting. I like to go to clearance sales and garage sales here in Australia....often you come out empty handed but once in awhile you find a real treasure. I would like to get a metal detected one day and go treasure hunting that way. I think I'd find plenty of stuff in my own back yard, but probably just nails, screws and junk like that...possibly the odd coin. Voted up.

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on August 27, 2014:

If you don't have hidden items in your yard, you could always hunt in your shed! I plan to do exactly that in the next few weeks, who knows what treasures I may unearth to sell? Voted interesting and +d.

Richard Bivins (author) from Charleston, SC on August 27, 2014:

Thank you Rhonda... I don't want anyone to get into trouble because I encouraged them to go treasure hunting... I would much rather we had the treasure hunting laws that they have in the UK but its unlikely we will find the same types of treasures that they have been finding there.

Rhonda Lytle from Deep in the heart of Dixie on August 27, 2014:

Finding lost treasure, bits of history and even really cool rocks is always such fun. I love how you included relevant law. Most informative and intriguing.