How detectorists dig hard ground (dry, frozen, rocky…)

(This post may contain affiliate links. I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you.)
You got an interesting signal from your metal detector. You grab your digging tool. You stab it on the ground. Then…

Bam…the ground is hard as concrete. The the trowel barely scratched the surface.

In this article, I’ll give some tips that may help you deal with four types of hard to dig ground (dry, frozen, rocky and root infested). Use the table of contents to navigate easily.

Digging dry ground

One of the most difficult types of soil that you have to dig is dry ground. Sometimes, it is very hard as concrete.

And this is not the only problem, the ground is cracked by dryness. And, It is difficult to fill the holes and make them look as if nobody metal detected there.dry ground

Remember that you have to fill the holes you dug and make the ground looks as if it is untouched as possible.

If you don’t do this you will lose your permission to metal detect. And the owner may decide to never allow detectorist come again to his property. Further, he may tell his friends to do the same.

Also, make sure you check the holes you dug after a few days later to see how they look. Sometimes animals would dig them again. So you have to refill them.

How to dig this type of soil?

use a shovel instead of a hand digging tool, digging will become easier.

With the foot ledge, you should be able to apply more pressure and to dig deeper.

When you dig plug, do that only from three sides with the sharp edge of your digging tool. Then pop up the plug and flip it.

Leave some of the dirt from the bottom out. You will use it later when you fill the hole. It is usually finer and contains some moist.

Recover the metal object that you were looking for. Put the plug back in place. Top it up with the finer soil you left previously. Spread it thin. It will help fill the gaps around the plug.

Finally, tread the hole as hard as possible. Make sure the plug is not higher than the surrounding area.

Once it rains everything will go back to normal and it will be hard to identify that someone used to metal detect in the area.

Use a pinpointer to make the hole as small as possible.

Sharpen your shovel and trowel before you go metal detecting to make digging easier.

Wear eye protection to protect your eyes from tiny flying chips of dirt. An impact resistant glasses with side shields is great.

But, any normal sunglass would be enough since it is summer anyway. Drink lots of water and take breaks once in a while in shades. And wear a hat.

What if you can’t carry a shovel with you?

If you are metal detecting in a playground or in a schoolyard, the plugs that you dig may not look good.

Moreover, some people may not like seeing someone digging a playground with a shovel. For them, this seems like a bit intrusive.

One idea is to come late at night or early morning hours so that you are by yourself and you could dig holes without annoying anybody.

Another problem is the weight of shovels and their shape too. It is difficult to carry a metal detector on one hand and a shovel on the other.

You can use of these military entrenching folding shovels. They can be folded and put in your backpack or in a sheath attached to your belt.

Some models could be locked in 90° angle and could be used as a hoe or a pick-axe.

Other solutions

One of the best solutions is to simply wait for some rain and then go back to metal detecting. Digging and filling the holes will become much easier.

Depending on the area where you live and the type of crops, you may find some plowed and rolled fields in the late summer.

The dirt will be flipped and buried objects will be exposed or will get closer to the surface. Recovering them will be easy.

Some metal detectors have a depth indicator that gives roughly the depth of coins buried underground. The indicator can tell you the depth of other objects but it won’t be very accurate depending on their size.

Anyway, if you detect a coin and you think it is not very deep. Use your pinpointer to find its exact location then. Then with a screwdriver pop up the coin free.

You can use a hammer to make the screwdriver go a little deeper. But be careful, don’t hit the coin. This way you don’t have to dig a plug and you won’t leave a trace.

I found some suggestions from other detectorists on forums. I don’t know whether they are good or not.

Some suggested carrying a lot of water to soak the spots where your metal detector got a signal to make it a little bit softer to dig.

This is not practical unless you use a track to carry a few gallons of water. And water may not penetrate the ground easily, especially if it is compacted by footsteps or car tires.

Frozen ground

In the winter, digging becomes harder too. Many detectorists just wait for spring.

However, some people want to go metal detecting and they just don’t care about how bad the weather is.

Maybe because they love this hobby too much, they feel bored, and they can’t wait until the ground thaws.

Or they got a permission in a site that is accessible only in winter.

Perhaps they heard that a construction will start in the spring. So they want to scan it with the metal detector before it is covered.

Or maybe, they found a very good site, they can’t wait, and want to be the first one to get there.

(Some people think that they are the first ones to find a nice spot for metal detecting. But, usually, others got there before. So don’t bother yourself!)

In this paragraph, I talk about solutions to dig frozen ground that may be covered with a shallow layer of frost. In this article, I cover metal detecting in thick layers of snow.

So, let’s go back to how we deal with frozen ground.

One of the solutions is to heat it with a gas torch and thermos of hot water like in this video.

Or you can go to dense forests. The ground should stay insulated by leaves and pine needles. Digging may be easier in those areas.

You can go to the beaches too. In the winter, you will be alone. So it is all yours.

If you have a metal detector with a depth indicator, You can know how deep the target is. It’s better to only dig when you think the buried metal object is shallow.

If you find that recovering the metal object is very hard, simply put the frozen chunk of dirt that contains the item in a plastic bag (make sure it is actually there by using your metal your pinpointer to confirm that.)

Bring it with you home, and let it for some time until it heats up a little bit. You can then, recover the object easier.

Digging rocky ground

The ground may contain rocks of different sizes. They can bend your digging tool if they are compacted and you hit them hard.

Use instead a screwdriver and a crowbar to pop up the rocks and then dig the dirt you find. If you hit rocks use your screwdriver again and so on until you recover the object.

Or you can try the Hori Hori soil knife. It’s a high-quality knife inspired from a Japanese tool . It should be great for rocky ground.

It has a serrated edge, a straight edge, and a 6 inches ruler. The blade is stainless steel (7 inches long).

The handle is wooden. And it has a hole on its upper part so you can hang it. The sheath is included.

Digging stony ground is painful but it pays out. You will collect stuff that most of the other detectorists won’t.

Some coins may wedge between rocks. They will be harder to get. But they may be interesting.

Soil infested by roots

In many cases, you will find small roots in the ground. These are easy to take care of if you have a digging tool with a serrated edge.

But, sometimes the roots are too thick and chopping them is difficult. Very good targets could be buried close to these roots.

Don’t forget that people always sit in the shade of trees. They could lose valuable coins there.

Try to dig around the big roots and avoid cutting them. So that you preserve the tree.

Dig small holes between the roots and use your pinpointer to locate the metal object. The probe is small enough to fit between them.

I am not sure whether cutting small roots would have an impact on the tree. But sometimes, you have to give up. And save a tree instead of damaging it for a coin.


I hope you liked this article. And found that the solutions given here to dig different types of hard grounds were helpful.

If you have more ideas, tricks or tools to suggest that can make digging easier, feel free to add them in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.