The Two Hobbies

Bottle digging and metal detecting do have a lot of similarities. Both require digging and both usually require access to private property. And both require a certain code of ethics.

Another similarity between the two hobbies is their enemies. The archaeologists and the environmentalists are the two groups that are constantly fighting the metal detectors users.

Just a year and a half ago, our metal detector club was called upon to search for a bullet that was used in a murder. Over the years, we have been called upon to find evidence that was left at crime scenes and we have a very high success rate!

On this occasion, we went to the location of the crime in the cold of winter, and deep into the Allegan Forest region. The bullet exited the victim's body and continued to pass through the thin wall of a mobile- home. There was a strong possibility that the bullet was lodged in a large tree just outside the trailer. So, even the tree was searched with metal detectors-- we left no stone unturned, so to speak.

Gene Carruthers was the one who did finally find a steel-jacketed 9-mm bullet about 30 yards from the exit hole in the trailer and it was believed to be the correct bullet.

Recently, police got a break in the case and an arrest was made. Even more recently, an eyewitness has come forward with information that has lead the detectives to now believe that the bullet that we found was not the correct one at all.

The informant told police that a 20-gauge shotgun was used, and even told police where the gun parts were thrown into 2 rivers in 2 different counties. The barrel of the shotgun was found in the Kalamazoo River, right where divers were told it would be. I was told that one of the divers recovered a really ancient cast iron piggy bank in that search that was likely evidence from a much older crime! Rivers sure do hold a lot of secrets!

We were asked to return to the scene of the crime with our detectors, but this time we were looking for the spent shotgun shell that was tossed from the getaway car.

When we arrived at the location to be searched, there was not one piece of litter to be seen along the side of the road. The detectives said that the killer was upset because the eyewitness gently tossed the shell from the window when he was told to really throw it. Two winters have gone by and the old country gravel road had been plowed and graded multiple times. We were told that the county road crews use huge snow plows and they move right along to clear these roads! One detective told us that you could see snow packed onto the roadside tree trunks 15 feet high!

So, that meant that we had our work cut out for us! On our first search, the area that I was hunting with a fellow club member was about 50 yards long and we worked an area about 12 feet off the roadside. On that first hunt, the two of us dug up nearly 50 beer cans! Sadly, we didn't find the shell.

During our hunt, motorists stopped and asked what we were looking for. Actually, it is considered against the law to metal detect in the Allegan Forest, except in designated areas like campgrounds and beaches and even that is iffy! The area that we were searching is a strictly off-limits area.

I have spent much time in battling to protect our rights to detect in these areas, and we have been fighting an uphill battle. I cannot tell you how unfair I think this is. Metal detector users are about the only ones whose recreational use of the land does so much to clean the unnatural elements from the ground and, for the most part, our friends do a very careful job to fill our holes and leave the area better than we found it.

As we were hunting, a DNR truck rolled up and the driver asked what we were looking for. I told her what she wanted to know and then she replied, "OK, I thought that you were just out here metal detecting."

Her tone and her question just rubbed me the wrong way! I told her, "Ma'am, if I was out here just hunting, you wouldn't be able to see me!"

The tons of trash that we dug in this case was left on the side of the road and will be collected by the Allegan County inmate's work crew.

On our second trip, my wife came with me and she was detecting further from the road's edge after hearing that snow plow theory. After an hour or more of hunting, it was threatening to rain and we were pretty tired. My wife surprised me when she showed me a rusty horseshoe and a crushed sewing thimble that she had found.

"I found an old house foundation. Come on, honey. I'll show you! There is an old well and lots of cactus!"

I followed her to the location, which was indeed an early home site, perhaps going back to the 1870's! I felt guilty and at the same time angry for being there with my metal detector in hand, even though it was turned off. Then I saw something that literally sickened me! On the top of a freshly dug hole was a broken 20-gallon crock and all around the nearly unfilled hole, the area was littered with broken antique bottle parts. I picked up several of the pieces and clearly this was an early privy that was dug, with the bottles dating back to around 1870! It was a sickening site! For the first time in my life, I could see why the archaeologists call treasure hunters "Grave Robbers!"

I wanted to walk up on these bottle diggers and slap each one across the back side with a shovel! What a bunch of idiots! Why in the world did they leave such a mess? How stupid can people be? Oh sure, I don't believe that digging these privies is wrong. Clearly these diggers did not find anything that would have contributed to the archeologist missing out on some great information about the origin of mankind. But their stupidity has ruined treasure hunting in these areas for all of the rest of us!

Dear fellow bottle diggers, please be considerate of the environment and please fill your holes and dispose of your trash!

Just a couple days ago I received a letter from Bob MacDougall that humbled this "metal detector expert." You see I am not a gun owner (that explains our long marriage!) Over my 37 years of playing with metal detectors I have dug thousands of brass shell casings and everyone has been brass.

The detectives, and I have the greatest respect for these men who are heros in my book, fell into the common mistake of using a cliche. They are gun people, and they knew exactly what we were looking for. We are detector people and we all know how detectors and their operators can be fooled.

Bob MacDougall was out detecting, up in the north woods near his home in Newaygo when he spotted a 20 gauge shot gun shell with "High brass" like we were looking for!" He eyeballed the shell and passed over it with his White's XLT set in a low discrimination mode and it didn't make a peep! After he sent the letter, I grabbed a detector to check one of the small game load shells that my sweetheart found. Sure enough it read-in like a common nail!

Today's shotgun shells are no longer brass but cheap stamped steel! The word 'brass' is no longer fitting! What does this mean? It means that we spent a lot of wasted time!

So, do we try again? Well, the first hunt had very few weeds in fact it was a mater of sweeping over a flat covering of leaves. One and a half week later, on our return trip the weeds were up to about 5 to 6 inches but the tender shoots were easy to sweep through-- but next time?

Well I can tell you that next time, if there is any chance of finding a sample target, we will get one! Come to think of it, if the killer had used a beer can as his weapon, the police would have sure have their work cut out for them!