Armed with a metal detector, islander reunites owners with lost mementos
Scott Pearse has had it up to his neck. Water, that is. Scouring the beaches and salt waters of Galveston, Pearse pursues his hobby of metal detecting in search of buried treasure.
Pearse, assistant maintenance specialist at Galveston College and an island resident since 1977, has been treasure hunting for seven years. He was inspired after seeing a neighbor with a metal detector hunting in a yard, he said. After some online research, he decided he would give it a try and hit the beaches. First starting on land, combing the beach shores, he graduated to searching in the water.
The best conditions for hunting on land are when the tides are way out, he said. He also looks for low spots in the sand, shell lines and erosion.
Pearse will head into the water whenever the surf is calm. He hunts mostly by feel, he said.
“When I get the signal from the detector, I pinpoint the target, then put my foot over the area, and use the scoop to retrieve my target,” he said. “It’s all instinctive and experience, knowing where to locate the target almost exactly.”
Pearse hasn’t found the legendary pirate Jean Laffite’s treasure chest, the “Holy Grail of hunters,” but has found many other items.
“I’ve found tons of sunglasses, pull tabs, bottle caps, sets of car keys, knives and fishing tackle,” he said.
But the strangest thing Pearse has found is a 14-karat gold grill, also known as a front, that fits over a man’s teeth. He has also found more than 200 rings and other jewelry, even some he has been able to return to the often surprised, but grateful owners — including a class ring, a 10th-anniversary diamond ring and, most recently, an engagement ring lost at 8 Mile Road in Galveston.
“I think one of my favorite parts of this hobby is when I can find something, then return it to the owner and see the look on their face,” Pearse said.
He often searches Craigslist and the classified section of The Daily News to see whether anything is reported lost, he said. He also posts ads for items he has found and is a member of lostmystuff.net, an online group of volunteer “detectorists” who search for lost items that owners have posted on the site.
Pearse always makes an effort to find the owners of an item that is of sentimental or monetary value, he said. Not everyone does. But most hunters are good Samaritans, he said. There are no laws requiring people to turn in lost items. And Pearse thinks he has a better chance of finding the owners, rather than leaving an object to sit at the police station, often unclaimed.
Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis asks people who find personal items, such as wedding rings, to turn them into the beach patrol’s lost and found or the police department.
“There is also no legislation restricting the use of metal detectors on the beach, except at the two ends of the island — the Ship Channel and San Luis Pass — and any area marked “No Swimming or Wading” near jetties or piers, where water conditions can be hazardous,” Davis said. “It’s a great hobby, and we see a lot of regulars that come out every day, and over the years we’ve built a relationship with them.”
Pearse also has been hired to find a lost item, but said: “I don’t do this to get rich, I don’t make much money doing this at all.” But he appreciates any donation, because treasure hunting can be an expensive hobby, he said.
For beginners, Pearse recommends a Garrett Ace 300 or 350 metal detector, which runs about $300 and can distinguish between porous and nonporous metal, giving hunters a better idea of what they might find before they dig. He also uses high-quality headphones to hear the beeps from the metal detector and to block out the blowing wind.
For water hunting, more specialized equipment and experience are needed. The metal detectors Pearse uses are expressly for saltwater use, as are the “scoops” used to dig and recover buried items. Pearse uses a long-handled stainless steel scoop that is about 10 to 12 inches wide. He uses a sand scoop to search on land.
Pearse is a member of the Galveston Island Treasure Club and recently won “Hunter of the Year.” Treasure hunters from the Galveston-Houston area meet once a month to showcase items found from different categories, including pre-1900, post-1900, bottles and relics. The hunter with the most from each category wins. The club has 28 members, whose ages range from 14 to 90.
Buster Toland, president of the club, has been treasure hunting for 40 years and has found many items, including a few gold coins and a Spanish coin dated 1554. The allure of treasure hunting is the surprise, Toland said.
“You never know what you’re going to dig up,” he said.