Hunting Difficult Beaches

In this article I am going to focus on one of the most difficult of beaches I have ever hunted. Humewood Beach, Port Elizabeth is one of the first, most popular beaches in the city. This beach has to be one of the nastiest sites in the world to look for anything with a metal detector for one reason, iron. It’s more like detector torture than hunting and having a good time. Hot rocks, small brass, copper and iron shards are everywhere. The beach is littered with all sorts of debris making detecting there a challenge. The deeper one gets into the sand the worse it gets.


Humewood beach was a hive of activities back at the turn of the century. It was the end of the line (railway and road) for anybody driving along the coast in Port Elizabeth. Summerstrand was not even a thought yet. The railway line crossed the Sark River (now called Shark) which flowed through Happy Valley in those days. The PE harbour had not been built yet and the Humewood slipway was the only place to service a vessel needing attention. The ships would sail between the six pylons and line up with the slipway. They then got pulled up the slipway using a steam pulley system. The slipway eventually became a relic after the main harbour was built.

The bathing Pavilion building was built in close proximity to the shipyard. Humewood beach became one of the best and safest places to swim in the bay. Whole families used to come down and play in the water, including the horses and donkeys. Today all that remains of these structures are the pylons and a portion of the slipway.

Today the beach is a popular surfing, bathing and snorkelling destination attracting a wide variety of people. This is a good scenario for a beach hunter. During the summer months it gets extremely busy with sun worshipers and the like. Good finds can be made in the form of fresh drops but that requires daily hunting. Winter storms occasionally move the sand layers and then it gets interesting.


Knowing the history of the beach allows one to dig into a time capsule when the sands move. Sometimes this is a blessing and sometimes it’s a curse. Humewood beach is a level 10 when it comes to difficult beaches to hunt when the sand moves as one gets into black sand with one scoop and that’s great. Unfortunately every bit of brass, copper and iron from the shipyard is also lying in the black sand. It’s enough to drive the most seasoned of hunters insane.

This beach has three layers in its makeup; yellow sand, black sand and bedrock. Black sand and bedrock are normally great indicators that good finds could be close by. Unfortunately the heavy junk gets trapped in these layers as well. Recently the sand moved to wherever it decided to go and I was happy to see a change in the beach. I have hunted this beach on many occasions finding a wide variety of finds, this time was no different.

On my recent visits to the beach I noticed that the area where the slipway used to be had all the sand removed. I was quite fascinated to see the amount of iron that had moulded itself into the bed rock. Tons and tons of iron cover the rocks. One needs to lift your coil over your shoulder when you walk over the area. On my first visit I had a 17” deep seeking coil installed and after a few steps on the sand (far from the slipway) I realised the coil choice was a big mistake. I hunted the centre sandy area of the main beach as far away from the slipway as I could and it was still crazy. The 17” coil was penetrating the black sand layer and things were not going well. Target separation was extremely difficult due to the amount of signals being received.

The next day I returned with a sniper coil and that’s where the fun and games began. I could actually hear up to ten different signals per swing, it was just crazy. The goal was to turn down the sensitivity and beef up the discrimination. Too much discrimination on an old beach is risky as one could be ignoring some good relic finds. It’s a risk you must take, unless you have decided to spend the night and the next day digging every signal in the good range.

The key in this instance was to slow right down and focus. After finding a good section of sand offering a mixed variety of good and average sounding tones it was time to start a tight grid and paint the beach with the small search coil. Forget about trying to hunt the whole beach, you will be wasting your time. You need to cover a good section of ground well rather than cover the whole beach and rushing hoping to stumble over a good find, in most cases it’s just not going to happen. A super slow swinging coupled with good target separation will allow the hunter to ignore the junk and dig the better tones.

This type of hunting is extremely time consuming and if you rush you will miss the good stuff. Take your time and keep your mind on the task at hand. When your swing speed increases your concentration level decreases and the signals become a blur of noise in your headphones. You may as well pack up and go home as the chances of finding a nice item will be greatly reduced.

Hunting these types of beaches can be frustrating but they can also be a lot of fun and rewarding. It gives you the chance to really pit your skills against the environment and if you have patience you will be the victor.

August 22nd, 2016

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