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Shadow Research Center

Competition Hunting with the X5 & X3

Competition hunting with the SHADOW Series detectors.
By Streak!

Most of you that use the Shadow series detectors, by TCD, already know what great performers they are. . What you may not know, is how that performance translates into success on the competition hunt field. Competition hunting has become a fun and entertaining spinoff of our hobby, and not only allows one to add some nice coins and prizes to his/her collection, it also gives us the opportunity to expand our circle of detecting friends, and enjoy the fellowship the hunts offer.

Competition hunting comes in three basic forms. The beach hunt, the dirt hunt, and the Relic hunt. Targets are planted (coins and tokens) in the first two varieties, while the third one usually relies on targets already in the ground. We will concentrate on the first two types in this article.

You also have four basic categories when dealing with competition hunting, and they are: Detectors, Digging/ Retrieval equipment, technique, and strategy. All hunts differ to some degree, but if you frequent enough of them, you’ll notice a pattern, and be able to use this to your advantage. We will start with the first category, as its one of the most important.

Competition hunting detectors have two basic needs. They must be light, and fast. You can use virtually any make or type of detector for competition hunting (and some do), but you’ll notice you’ll see the same people and machines in the winners circle, time and time again. The average winning machine is light, has a medium sized coil, and has a quick response time. It also typically has no TID, as there isn’t much use for one in the frantic world of competition hunting. I have used the Shadow X2 with great success in the competition hunting arena for quite some time now, and had previously thought it had no equal. That is, till I tried the new X5 and X3. Both the X5 and X3 have a strong place in the Competition world, and I’m comfortable using either, but the nod goes to the X3 in this respect. Both have the necessary tools. Fast response time. Light weight. Absence of a TID. Frequency shifter. Crisp audio. One of the things I’ve found in using both these machines in competition, is their superior audio response to coins “on edge”. Coins planted on their edge have been a problem for a lot of hunters since the inception of competition hunting. Coins planted in this manner simply don’t give one the same response as a coin planted flat in the ground, especially if you are swinging at speed. The Shadows fare MUCH better in this department than any machine I have ever used. The primary reason I give the nod to the X3, is that being a simpler, and slightly less powerful machine than the X5, it’s a natural for competition hunting. It comes stock with the 7” coil, which is, in my opinion, is the better of the two available coils for competition hunting. It’s MUCH harder to “overswing” with the 7” coil. Most coils have a limit as to how fast you can swing them, and still get a good target response. It’s almost impossible to overswing the X3, with the 7” coil. Also, the 3 has fewer controls to bump or misadjust when you are out there searching. Add the fact it’s a tad lighter than the 5, and you end up with THE competition machine on the planet. Still, the X5 is a good hunter in its own right, and in lieu of an X3, I’ll use an X5 every time. Setting both machines up is a snap. With the X3, you simply turn it on, and dial in the disc you require. Most hunts will have nickels, or tokens that mimic nickels, so you’ll want to have your disc set at no more than 4. A medium sens setting is usually sufficient as well. Setting up the 5 is a bit different, but still only takes seconds. First, you really wont need raw power in the typical comp hunt, as “most’ coins and targets will be relatively shallow. I typically hunt in the “beach” mode, and in fixed ground balance with me X5. I also run my sensitivity very low, at least during the first part of the hunt. Later in the hunt, as targets and detectorists thin, you can boost the sens, for maximum scan area and depth. If you have access to one, or can buy one, a 7” coil is also, in my opinion, as essential part of setting up the X5 for comp hunting. You can use the 9” coil, but the 7” is far any away the better tool for the job. Despite its diminutive size, the 7 has a great footprint, and will give you all the depth you will ever need on the hunt field. It’s also lighter, and in my opinion, hits harder on targets “at speed”. You also will experience less interference with a smaller coil, as opposed to a larger one.

Retrieval equipment:
Depending on the type of hunt, certain pieces of equipment are essential. For beach hunting, a stout scoop, and roomy side basket are needed. Try to balance the size of the scoop to your pinpointing skills. Smaller is better here, and if you need to practice your pinpointing skills to be able to use a smaller one effectively, then all the better. The reason smaller is better, is that if your scoop is large, you will fill your side basket much faster, resulting in having to shake it more often.(loss of time) This is especially important when the sand is damp and tacky. It simply doesn’t sift as well, and you’ll soon have a basket that weights a ton! The less sand you put in it, the better off you will be. A sturdy and roomy side basket is essential too. Depth is important here, more so than girth. You’ll be less apt to shake a good target out of the top of a deeper one.

When dirt hunting, a stout and sturdy digging tool is needed. Simpler is better here, as opposed to expensive and fancy. It needs to be strong, but a good straight blade outperforms an offset blade, or a screwdriver. I’ll explain why in techniques. A good, deep, and open pouch is absolutely essential. Nail aprons will suffice, but are hard to get your hands in, as they remain closed. Get yourself a good side pouch, that stays open naturally, and you’ll find it’s a great deal easier to put your targets in one.

Technique is ALL IMPORTANT!!!!! It will make or break you. Everything you do in the hunt field takes time. Everything. The key to success is to minimize the amount of time it takes to do a specific task. Professional competition hunters spend hours practicing and refining their techniques, so as to pare precious seconds off their recovery times. EVERY movement is important. You have to analyze your motions to see exactly what you can to improve YOUR retrieval times. If you take the time to watch any given hunt, you will see the faster ones all basically use the same technique. Something I call the “squat and grab”. I learned this a few years back by observing a few guys I had been competing against for a while. I was impressed with their coin counts, and always had to stay on my toes to compete with them. I had in the past, always knelt to retrieve a target, unless it was right in top of the ground. These guys squatted, and never let their knees touch the ground. It’s a simple matter of putting your feet a little farther apart (this gets you closer to the ground), and bending at both the knees and the back. Release your machine, and let it rest on your knee, pinning it there with your arm if necessary. This frees up BOTH hands for coin retrieval. This is important. If it’s an easy recovery, one hand will suffice, but quite often, it’s not, and you will waste valuable time fumbling with one hand, in your attempts to recover the target. Utilizing the “squat and Grab” saved me almost two seconds per recovery. That doesn’t seem like much time, till you do the math. Most hunts last half an hour. Most targets are GONE in the first half of the hunt. Let’s say my average coin count is 150, in a typical dirt hunt, 75% of which were recovered in the first 15 minutes. That’s 112 coins in the first half of the hunt. Now, if I saved 2 seconds per target by improving my recovery times due to technique, that’s 224 seconds, or three and a half minutes. That’s three and a half MORE minutes I have to hunt during the most productive time of the hunt! Combining a solid technique, with a good detector like the X5 or X3, makes for a winning combination. The stout straight digging tool I mentioned earlier plays its part as well. Every once in a while you’ll encounter a target that’s stuck in a clump of grass or root ball, and you just can’t get it out quickly. Rather than use the standard trowel to try to coax it from the soil, you can use the straight bladed knife to cut a plug in seconds. Just jam the knife into the soil, about two inches from the center of your target, and on a steep angle, with the point of the tool ending up UNDER the center of the target. With just quick spin of the knife under the heel of your hand, the targets out of the ground. You knife will need to be sharp, but NOT razor sharp. A VERY sharp knife will not only dull quickly, it will also BITE you!! This is where good pinpointing skills come in handy. Your only as good as you want to be in this respect. With the right machine, and lot of practice, you can make vast improvements in your pinpointing skills. Nothing annoys me more, than to see guys on the hunt field, digging plugs a foot across, because they can’t pinpoint well, or won’t learn. It’s usually these same guys that toss the plug over their shoulders, instead of putting it back in the hole. If it were in my power to do so, these guys would be banned from the field on the spot!!

Take a few minutes and take a hard look at everything you do in the hunt field. Then, spend some time in your back yard practicing what you’ve learned. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and try different things. I’m sure you’ll find that in time, you’ll be much more effective on the hunt field, and start spending a LOT more time in the winners circle. A hefty dose of luck is handy too, but I’ve found that the more targets you are able to put in your pouch, the more apt you’ll be to stumble over that good token!!!

Having the right machine and utilizing the right moves are essential, but often times they aren’t quite enough. You brain is every bit as important as your hands and detector. A good strategy and attention to detail, are also components of success on the hunt field.

Most hunt masters follow a set of rules when planting tokens. Hunt fields are usually divided up into “grids”, so the tokens and coins can be planted evenly. You should plan your path to cross as many of these “token zones” as possible. For instance, if you got a grand prize token in the grid you started in, you not very likely to get another one there, although it could happen. A large field will have many such zones in it, and a good strategy is to start on the narrowest end, about 15 feet in from the side, and go straight across it, zigzagging slightly, but always staying in the “token zone”. I have a good rule for determining how fast to go, and its really simple. Go as fast as you possibly can, but slowly enough to ensure you maintain good form(its VERY important you keep your coil flat and level, and two to three inches OFF the ground), and that you don’t leave any targets in your wake. Most participants will bolt out of the gate, leaving 80% of the targets behind them!!! They go so fast they swing right over the vast majority of targets. If you keep a cool head, these missed targets can be yours! Choose your starting point carefully as well. The terrain will vary a lot, as will the ground cover. DON’T start where the grass is thick and tough. Look for an area where the grass is thinner, and you’ll have an easier time recovering the targets. You’ll also be able to see where a lot of the targets are buried easier too. The ground is also harder and drier where there is less grass, and targets will be shallower, and easier to recover. I save the thick grassy spots for later in the hunt, when the targets start to thin. This is also a good time to jack up that sensitivity control, to increase your scan area, and give you a bit more depth. The person next to you on the starting gate is important as well. If you plop yourself up next to the guy you know always does well, you have just made your job harder. I look for 4 things when choosing a starting position. Location on the hunt field (on end, 15 feet or so in), condition of the soil, the location of all the other guys and gals I know do well, and I try to find the lowest spot in the field (so I’m working up, as opposed to down).

Now, I’m not always in the winners circle, but I’ve been there often enough to know that success in the hunt field is more than simple luck, as many would have you believe. You see too many of the same folks there, time and time again, for it to be sheer luck or coincidence. I hope you can use a few of these pointers to better your odds the next time you hit the hunt filed with your X5 or X3. Good luck and godspeed!! Streak!

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