The Face of several metal detectors displaying their Target IDs and lack of a target id system

The Evolution of the Target ID System

One of the most pivotal developments in metal detecting technology has been the introduction and evolution of the target ID system. This system has revolutionized the way both hobbyists and professionals can approach metal detecting, offering a more precise and informed method of identifying potential finds beneath the surface prior to digging. In a world with few feedback signals to operate from, target IDs set the stage for entry-level users and future data advancements.

The Era of Audio Tones  

In the early days of metal detecting, users relied solely on audio tones to differentiate between potential targets. These tones, produced by the detector in response to the conductivity of the object, required keen ears and experience to interpret. While effective for seasoned users, it proved more of a challenge for beginners, often leading to misidentifications and missed opportunities.

Introduction of the Radial ID Meter

Recognizing the limitations of audio-only feedback, manufacturers sought to provide a more visual representation of potential targets. This led to the development of the radial or physical ID meter. These meters were analog and used a needle to point to a specific area on a scale, indicating the probable identity of the detected item. While this was a significant improvement, offering both audio and visual cues, it still required interpretation and was not always accurate. 

The Modern Digital ID System Revolution

The recent digital innovations in metal detectors brought with them the next evolution in target identification: the digital ID system. This system, now present in most modern metal detectors, provides users with a clearer numerical value, often displayed on an LCD screen, representing the detected object’s conductivity. This numerical system allows for a more granular understanding of your target, enabling all level of users to make a significantly more informed decision about whether to dig or move on.

The Fundamentals of Metal Detector Target ID Systems

As we now understand, the target ID system serves as a bridge between the targets and the detectorist, offering insights into the potential identity of the object. In this section, we will explore the foundational aspects of target ID numbers, shedding light on how they are created, their significance, and their role in the broader context of metal detecting.

What are Target ID Numbers?  

Simply put, a target ID number is a numerical representation of an object’s conductivity when exposed to the electromagnetic field generated by a metal detector. This number, provides a quick reference point for users, hinting at the potential type and metal composition of the detected item.

How Does a Metal Detector Generate a Target ID Number?

The process begins when a metal detector’s search coil emits an electromagnetic field into the ground. When this field interacts with a metallic object, it induces an electric current within the object. This induced current, in turn, produces its own electromagnetic field, which the detector’s coil picks up. The strength and phase shift of this returned signal is then processed by the detector’s software, resulting in the assignment of a specific target ID number based on the object’s conductivity and inductance.

Importance in Metal Detecting 

Target ID numbers have transformed the metal detecting experience in several ways:

  1. Precision: They offer a more precise indication of potential finds compared to the earlier audio-only systems.
  2. Efficiency: Detectorists can make informed decisions on whether to excavate an area, reducing unnecessary digs.
  3. Learning Curve: For novices, the numerical system provides a more straightforward way to understand and interpret potential finds, accelerating their learning process.

The Limitations and Considerations of Target IDs

While target ID numbers have undeniably enhanced the metal detecting experience, they are not without limitations. Factors such as ground mineralization, object orientation, depth, and size can influence the accuracy of the ID number. As such, while these numbers serve as a valuable guide, seasoned detectorists understand the importance of considering them in conjunction with other cues, such as audio signals and personal experience with their specific device. We’ll cover these considerations in more detail below.

Navigating the Variables that Impact Target ID Accuracy

While the target ID system has revolutionized metal detecting, providing a more nuanced understanding of potential finds, it’s essential to recognize that these numbers are influenced by a myriad of factors. From the technical aspects of the detector itself to your environmental conditions, understanding these variables improves your personal capabilities with a metal detector and allows for a more accurate interpretation of target ID numbers.

How Discrimination Segments Impact Target IDs

Understanding Discrimination Segments in Metal Detecting

Discrimination segments allow users to set their metal detectors to ignore or “notch out” specific conductivity ranges. This feature is designed to filter out undesired targets, such as common trash or iron nails, enhancing the efficiency of treasure hunts. The more discrimination segments a metal detector has, the more precise the device can be with filtering out undesired target signals.

The Direct Impact of Discrimination Segments on Target ID Numbers

When a segment is notched out, the detector will not produce an audio signal for targets within that range. Additionally, the target ID number might not display at all, or it may appear differently than if the segment was active. This alteration can sometimes lead to confusion, especially for novice users unfamiliar with the nuances of their device’s discrimination settings.

Balancing Discrimination for Optimal Finds

Discrimination is a double-edged sword in metal detecting. While it can significantly help in avoiding constant digs for unwanted targets, excessive reliance on discrimination can lead to missing out on valuable finds that inadvertently fall within the notched-out range. For instance, certain relics or jewelry pieces might register in the same range as common trash, making a balanced approach to discrimination crucial. The more discrimination segments your metal detector has, the more accurately it can categorize signals, reducing the overall chance you filter out high-value signals.

Frequency’s Impact on Target ID Accuracy

Your metal detector’s frequency can influence how a detected object’s conductivity is translated into a target ID number. For example, a gold nugget might register a different ID number on a high-frequency detector compared to a low-frequency one. This is because the electromagnetic response of metals can vary based on the frequency of the electromagnetic wave.

Multi-Frequency Detectors: The Best of All Worlds

More and more modern metal detectors offer multi-frequency operation, allowing users to either select a specific frequency or use multiple frequencies simultaneously. This broad coverage and versatility can reduce user errors when hunting in varied terrains or when searching for a wide range of targets. By analyzing responses across different frequencies, these detectors can provide more accurate target ID numbers and better overall detection capabilities.

Ground Mineralization’s Impact on Target IDs

Ground mineralization is a term that refers to the concentration of minerals present in the soil. These minerals can produce signals that interfere with the electromagnetic field of a metal detector, potentially masking or altering the signals from metal targets.

Ground Mineralization’s Impact on Target ID Numbers

High mineralization can cause target ID numbers to drift or become inconsistent. For instance, a coin that might typically register as a solid 85 in neutral ground might fluctuate between 80 and 90 in highly mineralized soil. This inconsistency can lead to misidentification and potentially missed targets if the ID falls within a notch segment you’ve filtered out.

Ground Balancing: The Key to Combat Mineralization

Ground balancing is a feature found in many modern metal detectors that allows users to “tune out” the effects of ground mineralization. By adjusting the detector to the mineral content of the soil, users can reduce false signals and improve the accuracy of target ID numbers.

Some detectors allow users to manually adjust the ground balance setting, giving experienced detectorists more control over the process. Many detectors offer automatic ground balancing, where the device adjusts itself to the ground conditions, ensuring optimal performance without user intervention.

Understanding ground mineralization and its effects is crucial for any detectorist. By recognizing the challenges posed by mineralized soils and leveraging ground balancing features, detectorists can enhance their chances of success, ensuring that valuable finds aren’t lost amidst the noise.

The Impact Metal Type has on Target IDs

How The Conductivity Spectrum of Metals Impacts Target IDs

Different metals have distinct conductivity profiles, which means they respond differently to the electromagnetic fields generated by metal detectors. This inherent property of metals is what allows metal detectors to differentiate between them, leading to the assignment of different target ID numbers.

Common Metals and Their Typical Responses


Being a highly conductive metal, pure gold can register in the middle range of the target ID range. But pure gold is rare, resulting in most gold-heavy targets registering as lower ID numbers, especially in its natural form.


Similar to gold, silver is a highly conductive metal and pure silver targets can register higher on the target ID scale.


Another high-conductive metal, copper often registers similarly to silver. However, factors like oxidation can sometimes affect its conductivity and, consequently, its target ID number.


Iron targets, like nails or relics, often fall on the lower end of the target ID scale. However, they can vary widely based on size, shape, depth, and oxidation levels. Luckily most modern metal detectors come equipped with iron audio making it clear which targets and target IDs likely represent an iron object.

Influence of Alloy Composition on Target ID Numbers

As I alluded to in several sections above, pure metals should generally have consistent conductivity profiles, but most items detected are not going to be made of pure metal. Instead, they are alloys, which are mixtures of multiple metals.

For instance, a 14k gold ring is not pure gold; it’s an alloy containing gold mixed with other metals like copper or silver. This mixture can cause the ring to register a different ID number than a pure gold item of the same size and shape.

Similarly, coins, especially older ones, might be made of various metal mixtures, leading to unique conductivity profiles and target ID numbers.

Reiterating the Complexity of Metal Identification Through Target IDs

While understanding the general conductivity profiles of metals can provide a foundation, real-world scenarios often present complexities. Items can be corroded, oxidized, or buried at varying depths and orientations, all of which can influence the target ID number.

Seasoned detectorists often combine their knowledge of metal conductivity with other cues, like audio tones and past experience, to make the most accurate identifications. There really is nothing better than getting first-hand experience with your device and paying close attention to its target IDs.

While the type of metal plays a significant role in determining target ID numbers, keep in mind it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

The Variability of Target ID Systems

It’s not uncommon for beginners to assume that a specific metal object would register the same target ID number across all detectors. However, this isn’t always the case. The consistency of target ID numbers across different metal detector brands and their own devices is influenced by various factors, from the technology and calibration of individual metal detectors to their specific design goals.

Metal Detector System Variations and Calibrations

Diverse Metal Detector Designs

Different manufacturers employ distinct electronic designs and algorithms in their devices. These proprietary systems can interpret the electromagnetic responses from detected metals differently, leading to variations in target ID numbers.

Calibration and Software

Over time, a metal detector’s calibration can drift, especially if it’s exposed to extreme conditions or rough handling. Additionally, metal detectors with updatable software might see shifts in target ID behavior after updates, as manufacturers refine and improve their algorithms.

Design Goals and Target Audiences

Specialized vs. General Metal Detectors

Some detectors are designed with specific purposes in mind, such as gold prospecting or beach hunting. These specialized detectors might prioritize certain target ID ranges or interpret them differently than general-purpose detectors.

Professional vs. Hobbyist Metal Detectors

High-end, professional-grade detectors might offer more precise or consistent target ID numbers compared to entry-level models designed for casual hobbyists. The latter might prioritize simplicity and ease of use over granular accuracy.

Environmental Adjustment Systems

Ground Balancing Algorithms

Different metal detectors have unique ways of handling ground mineralization through their ground balancing features. These variations can influence how a detector compensates for mineralization, potentially affecting target ID numbers in mineralized soils.

Frequency and Depth Considerations

As discussed earlier, the operating frequency of a metal detector can influence target ID numbers. Two metal detectors operating at different frequencies might register the same object with slightly different ID numbers, especially if the object is at varying depths.

Implications of Inconsistencies

A Steeper Learning Curve

Each metal detector has its own “language” of target ID numbers. When switching between devices or upgrading, detectorists often face a new learning curve, re-familiarizing themselves with how their new device “speaks.”

The Importance of Field Testing

Given these inconsistencies, many seasoned detectorists emphasize the value of field testing a new device. By digging up a variety of targets and noting their ID numbers, users can create their own reference charts, tailored to their specific detector.

Final Thoughts on the Variability of Target ID Systems

While the concept of target ID numbers might seem straightforward, the variability across devices adds a layer of complexity. Recognizing and understanding these inconsistencies is crucial for anyone looking to master the art and science of metal detecting, ensuring they can interpret their device’s signals with confidence and accuracy.

Generalizing the Numerical Language of Metal Detectors

At the heart of modern metal detecting lies the target ID system, a numerical scale that offers insights into the potential identity of objects beneath the surface. While these numbers can vary across devices, as discussed in the previous section, there are general ID ranges associated with common metals and objects. This section provides an overview of these typical ranges, offering a foundational reference for both novice and seasoned detectorists.

Understanding the Target ID Scale

The Basics of the Target ID Scale

Most metal detectors display target ID numbers on a scale, often ranging from 0 to 99 (though this can vary). Lower numbers typically indicate low-conductive metals or ferrous (iron-containing) objects, while higher numbers suggest high-conductive targets.

Common Metals and Their Typical Ranges

It’s important before we move on to clarify That I dislike the use of ranges for target IDs associated with specific metal types. In reality, there are too many factors that impact a target to get a 100% accurate reading with the currently available technologies.

The ranges below are a general assignment of these materials, but they should only be used to build a general understanding and not a “written-in-stone” certainty.

As we’ve noted above, and continue to cover in more detail below, each device processes information with a company’s unique algorithm and engineering. This causes each metal detector to produce different target IDs for different materials. 

As the technology race has progressed, these systems have become more similar but they are still unquestionably distinct. While you can use the ranges below to build a general understanding, keep in mind you will have to learn your specific metal detector’s ranges first-hand. Keeping a journal of your findings with basic details including target IDs, depth, material, size, and type can help with this process significantly!

Iron and Ferrous Objects

These usually fall on the lower end of the scale, often between 0 and 30. This includes items like nails, screws, and certain relics. However, larger iron objects or those with unique shapes might register higher due to their size or orientation.


Given its high conductivity and common alloy compositions, gold targets often register in the mid-range. Small gold nuggets or fine jewelry might appear between 10 and 40, while larger gold items or those with higher purity can range from 40 to 60.


Common finds like pull tabs or foil often fall in the 30 to 50 range, sometimes overlapping with gold, leading to the frequent dilemma of whether to dig or pass.

Copper and Bronze

These metals, found in many coins and relics, typically register between 60 and 80, though this can vary based on size, depth, and condition.


Being highly conductive, silver items like coins, jewelry, or relics often appear between 75 and 95, making them distinct from most other common targets.

Making the Most of a Metal Detector’s Target ID System

Understanding the intricacies of target ID numbers and the factors influencing them is only half the battle. The real challenge lies in applying this knowledge in the field, ensuring that each beep and number translates into a successful and rewarding dig. This section delves into the practical implications of target ID systems and offers recommendations to maximize the potential of every metal detecting adventure.

The Double-Edged Sword of Discrimination 

Avoiding Trash 

Discrimination settings, as previously discussed, can be a necessity for those looking to avoid digging up common trash items. By notching out certain ranges, detectorists can bypass unwanted targets and focus on potential treasures.

Increased Discrimination Can Increase Your Risk of Missing Valuables

However, over-reliance on discrimination can lead to missed opportunities. Valuable relics, jewelry, or coins might sometimes fall within commonly discriminated ranges. It’s essential to strike a balance, especially in areas with historical significance or a history of previous finds. This has caused many detectorists to adopt a “Dig All Targets” mantra that even I follow for the most part.

Use Ground Balancing for More Accurate Target IDs

Tackling Ground Mineralization

Regularly adjusting the ground balance, especially when moving between different terrains, ensures that the detector remains tuned to the soil’s mineral content, reducing false signals/ground noise, and improving target ID accuracy.

Trust but Verify

Even with automatic ground balancing features, it’s wise for detectorists to occasionally manually check and adjust the ground balance, ensuring optimal performance.

The Necessity of Experience and Intuition

Going Beyond Target ID Numbers

While target ID systems provide valuable data, I can’t overemphasize the importance of intuition, developed over countless hours in the field. Sometimes, subtle audio cues or patterns in target ID behavior can hint at a potential find’s identity more than the target ID number itself. The more you use a specific metal detector, the more familiar you will get with its unique feedback signals.

Keep a Record of Your Finds

Maintaining a log of targets, noting the target ID numbers, locations, depths, and type of target, is one of the best ways to quickly familiarize yourself with a new metal detector. Over time, this record can reveal trends in your metal detectors’ target IDs, helping you refine your expectations based on the target ID.

Recommendations for Effective Metal Detecting  

Regularly Maintain Your Metal Detector

After each trip, you should be cleaning and securing your metal detector. This is the best way to protect your financial investment and ensure that the detector stays in good working condition. Regularly check for software updates (if applicable), clean the coil, and ensure that connections are secure. You should also remove the battery to avoid corrosion and potential degradation caused by the present electrical charge.

Setup a Personal Test Garden

Consider setting up a test garden at home. By burying various objects at different depths and then detecting them, you can familiarize yourself with your metal detector’s specific responses, improving their accuracy in the field. If you are changing metal detectors, this gives you the ability to compare signals in a more controlled environment to better understand what differences in feedback you should expect.

While the science behind target ID systems is fascinating, its real value lies in its practical application. By combining technical knowledge with experience, intuition, and community insights, detectorists can unlock the full potential of their devices, ensuring that your outings are more enjoyable and fruitful.

Reflecting on the Evolution and Impact of Target ID Systems

From its inception as a tool to provide more detailed insights into potential finds, the Target ID system has transformed the way metal detectorists interact with their environment and interpret their targets prior to digging.

The introduction of the Target ID system represents more than just an advancement in metal detecting technology; it symbolizes a paradigm shift in how we can approach exploration and our connection to history. By providing a consistent and quantifiable metric, the Target ID system has not only enhanced the detectorist’s immediate experience but has also opened doors to broader advancements.

What Could Target ID Contribute To Next?

Data Sharing and Cloud Integration

As detectorists share their findings and corresponding Target ID numbers, a global database can be created. This shared knowledge can be accessed by detectorists worldwide, refining their understanding of specific terrains or regions.

IoT (Internet of Things) Enabled Detectors

Future metal detectors might be constantly connected, receiving real-time updates based on global findings, adjusting their algorithms, and even suggesting potential hotspots for users.

3D Ground Imaging

Building on the foundation of Target ID, future detectors might employ advanced sensors to create 3D images of the ground beneath, offering a detailed view of potential targets, their orientation, and the surrounding environment.

A Few Final Words on Target ID

In wrapping up my coverage of Target IDs, it’s evident that the Target ID system has not only reshaped the landscape of metal detecting but also set the stage for a more quantifiable and advanced landscape of devices. While there is no definitive way to assign Target IDs currently, continued data collection could potentially make that a reality.

As long as you take the time to understand the basics of what a target ID is, and how imperfect it can be, you should be a good shape. Ultimately, it will take getting out in the field and experience with your specific device, in your specific terrain to properly set your expectations based on target ID numbers.