Laws & Regulations About Metal Detecting You Should Know

Laws determining metal detection enthusiasts are not different from those regarding relic, rock or treasure hunters. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act and The American Antiquities Act are federal laws developed to safeguard heritage and makes all types of metal detection illegal on lands used for federal purposes. State laws tend to differ across states. Even in states that allow metal detection, you need to produce a permit.

Federal Laws

The American Antiquities Act of 1906 was created even before the development of metal detectors. However, this law is still existent and mentions that it is illegal to excavate, destroy, injure or appropriate any prehistoric or historic monument or ruin, or any antique object located on lands that are controlled or owned by the U.S Government.

According to The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, tools, weapons and projectiles are stated as “archaeological resource”. The law proclaims that to dig up, pick up or disturb any artifacts on federal property that are over a century old is illegal.

The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows most BLM land areas open to use for metal detection purposes. However, historical sites are excluded. You need to get in touch with the local BLM district office to get complete information about all those areas that are out of reach for metal detector enthusiasts.

State Laws

In 34 state properties, the detection, digging or collecting of metal does not need a permit. In as many as 16 states, you are not allowed to enter or use state properties for recreational metal detecting purposes. Even in the 34 states that let you detect metals on state properties, there are extra limits inside state park perimeters. You should get a permit after checking with the park ranger.

Other state properties that are accessible and need a permit include navigable rivers, state highways, and wildlife management areas. For states adjacent to the ocean, areas that are up to 3 miles offshore need you to get a permit.

The laws in every state are patterned after the national acts that regulate state lands just like national lands. Every archaeological site, Native American burial ground and historical site are usually inaccessible for metal detecting.

State Parks

In most states, there are regulations that decide the lawfulness of metal detection in state parks. Generally, the regulations permit or deny metal detection enthusiasts or offer particular details about where metal detection can occur.

In a few states, you are expected to obtain permits. In 8 states or more, it is simply illegal to detect state parks. In some states, only particular regions such as disturbed lands or beaches are allowed.

In case a state does not have any specific regulations about metal detection, by default laws on archaeology that prohibit diggings to take out treasures are applicable. The state can also use rules and regulations about removing rocks, disturbing vegetation etc. If your state disallows rock removal, you can detect targets but not remove or recover them.

State Beaches

Salt water beaches in states are usually open to metal detection. However, you might have to do with a few restrictions like only being able to detect from low tide to high tide mark. You should not detect metals on sand dunes with vegetation or roped off dunes, or any grassy region on a beach park.

Sometimes, freshwater beaches in states are controlled locally by Rangers. Even in that case, there are strict regulations against the activity in the state, you can still be permitted to look for ‘finds’ in some state freshwater beaches in a few instances.


Counties, out of every public space, can have minimal regulations on metal detecting on county parks. Generally, freshwater beaches do not come with any restrictions on metal detection. However, detecting metal objects in the water can be prohibited in a few county park systems. There can be same types of restrictions on Native American burial sites, archaeology sites, and historical sites. In some counties, county parks need you to obtain a permit for metal detection. In others, you can look for treasures without a permit.

Private Property

No one wants a hole in their lawn!

You will only need the permission of the landowner for metal detection on a private property. With the owner’s permission, you cannot be charged with going against any federal laws when you try to gather artifacts from the surface. If your metal detection efforts are guiding you to artifacts and digging, most American states need you to submit a written notification about any excavation. It is illegal to have any human body in your possession – dug up wittingly from any grave, which includes the sites of Civil War.

Private lands may include many public sites from earlier times, such as

  • Private Lakes and Beaches
  • Homesteads
  • Civil & Revolutionary Battlefields
  • Ghost Towns
  • Railroad Lands
  • Resort Areas
  • Defunct Outdoor Theaters
  • Defunct Amusement Parks

You have to seek permission from the caretaker or owner of such properties. For metal detection, private lands happen to be a perfect choice. Generally, there are no direct legal regulations against metal detection enthusiasts, other than laws on trespassing. Thus, it is obligatory to get permission for entering any private property. You can get the permit in a written or verbal form.

Some states have laws forbidding anyone other than archaeologists when it comes to recovering artifacts from any land or site that is privately held.

Passport in Time

The “Passport in Time” program was created by The U.S. Forest Service. In this program, civilian volunteers may collaborate with professional historians and archaeologists on federal lands across the U.S. They can work together on numerous projects, which include archaeological excavation and survey, curation and analysis of artifacts, restoration of historic structures and more.

Often, metal detectors are extensively used in these projects for spotting and recording artifacts, documenting structures and finding out the routes on the projects. This provides metal detector enthusiasts with excellent opportunities to look for ‘good finds’ on federal lands.


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