© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2002
CLEARWATER -- Mike Brown isn't afraid to admit he's a swinger.
"It's what I do," the 42-year-old Largo resident said. "I love it."
Every chance he gets, Brown heads out to the nearest beach with his trusty metal detector and "swings" it back and forth.
Over the years he has found everything from an $8,000 diamond ring to an old mortar shell left over from World War II.
"You never know what you are going to find," Brown said. "Every time you go, it's something different."
Metal detectors vary in design, but they all operate in the same general manner. A detector transmits radio waves that hit a buried object, then bounce back to the detector. Some of the more advanced detectors have a "discriminating circuit," which can distinguish between valuable objects and junk.
Most "swingers" as Brown calls his fellow metal detector enthusiasts, are lured to the sport by tales of buried treasure.
"We have all heard stories about a chest found here or something else buried there," Brown said. "You never know what to believe."
The most valuable finds occur after a big storm. Detectors usually work the water line at low tide or take a submersible metal detector and search through the water, because that is where most beach goers lose their valuables.
"You would be utterly amazed at what comes out of the water," Brown said. "Everybody has found something great at one time or another."
In addition to the diamond ring, Brown has found a men's Rolex watch and a variety of gold jewelry. But he also finds his share of junk -- pull tabs, nails and bottle tops.
If he finds something that has initials or other distinguishing characteristics, Brown tries to track down the owner.
"I found a class ring that a guy lost 22 years ago on a trip to Florida," Brown said. "He was living in Michingan at the time, but he later moved to Largo. I called the school and when I finally tracked him down, he was living down the street from me in Largo."
In other parts of the state, particularly the east coast near Vero Beach, detectors find silver coins, gold crosses and other artifacts that still wash ashore from a Spanish treasure fleet that sank in 1715.
But many areas, including state parks, have strict regulations on where and what you can find and keep.
A club such as the Suncoast Search & Recovery Club, which meets every month at Bill Jackson's in Pinellas Park, is a great way to get started. Club members usually are willing to show newcomers how to "swing" and help them find their first detector, which could cost $500 or more.
Suncoast Search & Recovery Club, P.O.B. 795, Largo 33778, meets the fourth Monday of the month at Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure, 9501 U.S. 19 N, Pinellas Park.
Tesoro Metal Detectors' Forum, DetectionNet, www.metaldetectors.com/forum.