Gold fever

Fenwick-area resident John Feuerstein seems to be in great shape, for 72, and it may be in large part thanks to his favorite hobby — metal detectoring. The Baltimore native has walked many a sandy beach, getting his exercise and earning a little pocket money in the bargain.
Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY: John Feuerstein takes a look at some of the items he found with his metal detector.Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY:
John Feuerstein takes a look at some of the items he found with his metal detector.

He’s found a bit of silver and gold over the past 25 years, although Feuerstein said the average daily take typically covers little more than the cost of the batteries for the metal detector. But it’s not about the cash.

“The good comes with a lot of bad,” he admitted. “The world’s full of pull tabs.”

Feuerstein’s had a few notable finds, though — for instance, a nice, five-diamond ring (appraised at $2,500) for his wife, Janet. But he noted a whole list of side-line benefits.

For one thing, he’s had a few thank-yous for returning keepsakes if they bore an inscription — and for finding people’s car keys.

And metal detectoring provided entertainment both in the field and back at the house, Feuerstein added. “Sometimes, we’ll have company over, we’ll just sit down and look over some of the stuff I’ve found,” he said.

Perhaps the only drawback: Feuerstein joked that he finds himself looking down all the time. But on a serious note, he characterized metal detectoring as a great excuse to get outside and burn off a few calories.

He said he isn’t a diver, but sometimes takes his (waterproof) metal detector chest-deep. That involves some decent aerobic activity — ducking under the water to scoop, coming back up again. He said he’d once lost 7 pounds in a single weekend.

“Some people walk. Some people ride bikes. I run a metal detector,” he pointed out.

Feuerstein admitted that he is typically worn out after a two or three hours, these days, but that’s doing pretty well for a septuagenarian.

Working in maintenance and light carpentry for most of his life (36 years at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore), Feurstein said his doctor had spurred him into action, 25 years ago. He said he’d lost interest in fishing and sold his boat by that point, but he still needed his exercise.

“So, the doctor had asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Well, I always wanted a metal detector, and some tropical fish,’” Feuerstein recalled. “We chatted awhile, and he said, ‘Well, come back and see me in a month, tell me what kind of fish you have, and what you found with your metal detector.’”

He went out to buy his equipment a couple days later. Feuerstein does most of his metal detectoring along Ocean City (Md.) beaches these days. But before he moved to the Fenwick area, he was walking at Baltimore-area beaches like Beverly, Mayo, Tolchester, St. Mary’s and the Sandy Point State Park.

And he remembers driving the back roads with fellow enthusiasts Mike Andrews (who’s also since moved to the Fenwick area) and Don Guidula. “We’d purposefully get lost,” he said, hoping to stumble upon some tucked-away park or gathering place.

Feuerstein characterized himself as a “coin shooter,” rather than a relic hunter, and said he and his friends typically incorporated a little friendly competition. “The deal was, whoever finds the least amount buys the beer,” he grinned.

When you’re playing for high stakes like that, you have to keep your cards pretty close to the chest, he pointed out. Every metal detectorist develops his or her skills over a lifetime, and techniques are kind of like trade secrets. “It’s a very secretive hobby,” Feuerstein pointed out.

But he did offer a few pointers, for initiates.

• First, for anyone who intends to do any serious wading, he recommends a wetsuit. Sea nettles are a concern — Feuerstein said he started out by wrapping rubber bands around the cuffs of his jeans, but a wetsuit worked better. Even on 90-degree days, the water temperature might only be 70 or so, he added. That feels warm, but a person could get chilled after a few hours, slowly wading back and forth.

• Headphones are a must, he said. And don’t skimp on equipment, Feuerstein recommended — some of the cheaper metal detectors won’t pick up anything unless it is lying right on the surface. For people who have’t quite decided to take the plunge, he suggested renting a good detector for the day, rather than buying a cheap one.

• Don’t let the head of the metal detector rise off the ground — the way most people swing them from side to side, they only get a reading right in front of their feet, he said. Feuerstein said he’s learned to reverse that pattern.

• Metal detectorists weed out a lot of aluminum by “discriminating” (setting the equipment so that it only registers certain types of metal), but Feuerstein said he prefers to dig it all. “If you discriminate, you miss your watches,” he pointed out — some fine wristwatches are made from aluminum.

• Hot spots people might not think of — around park benches and the end of the street, where the ice cream truck pulls up to the beach. Also, look for the marks where people have set up chairs — and cigarette butts. Someone who’s been sitting on the beach smoking is probably wearing pants, not a swimsuit, and so is more likely to lose change.