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Determining Targets Before You Dig. With the Vanquish 540

So I’ve begged the question since I started metal detecting and finding targets. How do I know what lies beneath before I dig? And what do all these setting mean on my machine?

Well, first things first. If your just starting this hobby like I was, then it can be very difficult to know what numbers and sounds to dig once your machine lets you know that there is treasure just below the surface. I’m learning every time I go out.

In my last blog I told you what is needed at a bare minimum to start this hobby. In this blog I’ll do my best to explain how to use what you now have.

So the process after you hear a beep on your machine is to go over the area going up and down and side to side until the beep is directly in the middle of your cross swing. Or, do big circles around an area until you hear the beep again then you have narrowed down the targets position.

Now you have a general location of your intended target, you still have no idea what it is of course, however you can narrow down the possibilities by utilizing several factors.

1- VDI numbers.

By looking at the VDI # on your machine you can determine weather the target is something you wish to peruse or not. Some people say to dig everything. Now this would be an acceptable idea in certain areas but for me personally, if I dig 10 items at #15 and they all come up as a pull-tab from an old pop can then chances are I am going to discriminate the #15 from my program so that my machine won’t let me know of any items that ring up with that number anymore. If you do not have a discrimination setting on your machine, then you’ll simply have to remember the numbers you want to avoid. “HOWEVER “ a number like 15, can certainly be an item consistent with GOLD so the choice is up to you.

Ok so now lets imagine you get a number you like to dig all the time, for me it’s 27-31, I love these numbers because the majority of the time it’s something of interest for me. Yes I still have had nuts & bolts, screws, & nails at these numbers but I’ve also had silver coins, silver chains, little metal toy cars, and spoons of various decades. Generally they are targets of interest for me.

Understanding VDI

What Do the Numbers Mean?

VDI number ranges vary from detector to detector. Day to Day, and even if you use 1 machine but switch out the coil sometimes

However, the concept remains the same. Typically, the minerals in the ground beneath you read at the very lowest point of the VDI scale. A properly ground balanced unit will cancel these out. My Vanquish units, both the 340 & the 540 do this automatically when I turn the machines on while the coil in on the ground. Just above the lowest point, you will begin to see readings from iron targets like nails. (-9 – 0 on your screen).

What are the Ranges of Target Identifications?

Further up on the scale (0-10) we find salt, either salt water or alkali sand. Moving up a bit more (13 – 15) and the VDI scale indicates pull-tabs, screws, and coins.

Gold is often the trickiest metal to find as it can have a variety of VDI readings. ( anywhere from 3 to 18) it can be higher. Not generally it’s not. When searching for gold, jewelry or natural gold nuggets, it is smart to dig after most signals above the range for iron.

If your up in the high 20’s all the way to 40 that and the machine makes a high pitch noise then you could be into silver targets, brass, or toy cars lol

What Factors Influence The Readings?

It is essential to know the VDI numbers can easily be thrown off by several factors. I have had several different readings for the same year and coin type in different soils. The size of the object, its depth and shape, and even soil conditions can impact VDI readings. It is best to use it as a general reference and, when you think you have found something, go ahead and dig.

This is why most people who have been doing this a long time often say they don’t even look at the VDI numbers on a machine. I tend to like looking at the numbers but as a new to the hobby detectorist I am still learning what the numbers indicate as well as the sounds.

Vanquish 540 with backlight on

To detect using both the VDI’s and the sounds your machine gives out is the best way to detect in my personal opinion. Machines have come along way since I was a kid, but the idea has always remained the same. Technology has taken this hobby to new heights with all the gizmos and do-dads that for some have only complicated things. However I will say this. Get to know your machine inside and out and dig everything at the start. Learn what both the VDI numbers with the sounds indicate in your finds, and soon you will start to determine what is worth digging and what’s best left alone.

The three main differences between coin and jewelry mode is basically this… 1) Coin mode has the fastest recovery speed, which allows for the best target seperation. However, Coin mode also discriminates from -9 through 10, because no coin in the United States rings lower than 10. However here in Canada it’s is a very different story. I get coins ringing in at -1, 0, 1, 3-5-7-11,23,24,25 all the time. So personally, I do not often run on Coin mode myself as I am missing too many good signals (IMO). Also many of the Canadian coins often sound scratchy have jumping VDI numbers and often have a double beep sound as soon as you swing over the target. Keep this in mind as I myself would never dig anything like that when I first started. Now I look for those jumpy numbers and scratchy sounds. It is often cash and the fastest way to justify the costs of this hobby is because it literally can pay you on almost every outing if you find actual money. One video I recently viewed on YouTube, a father and daughter videoed themselves digging up a toonie which equated to their first $1000 worth of coins found with their machines and was the breaking point meaning the hobby had actually paid them back everything they had spent on all their equipment to date. Now they were detecting and doing an activity they lover together for free.

Jewelry mode only notches out -9 through 0, since gold jewelry can ring up anywhere from 1 to mid 20’s, jewelry mode has a point where the low tone changes to a higher tone / pitch, or (tone break). This gives less chance of missing the really small, 24k items, or the raw gold pieces however if you run this mode which I sometimes run on the beach because you won’t detect as deep as you will in other modes such as Relic mode.

If I want to look for older items or items that have been at the beach for a while, this goes for any site I dig to be honest, not just beach combing, Then the Relic mode is the one I choose to get the depth, paired with high sensitivity and slow moving swings, I have dug items out successfully at around 24 inches below surface. Also I have only been able to get signals at these depths with the Vanquish 540 on Sandy beaches, Now digging that deep for too many targets can be exhausting, especially when sometimes the target ends up being junk, so I have started using either custom mode, or All metal mode but I turn the FE (ferrous) sensitivity down low and turn my sensitivity down half way as well. I find this tends to find targets on a beach less than 4” below surface and I get a lot less trashy items as well as I can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Yes this will mean I will loose some decent items at easily accessible depths, however when I go to the beaches these days Really I’m looking for the easy items lost recently by beach growers. This means the items I’m looking for are the Clad, and the recently lost jewelry close to the surface. Not the old gold that takes time to dig and will most likely be a pull tab anyways lol.

This card I found on the net is similar to the number readings I get with both my Minelab Vanquish 340 & 540 machines. I do get a few different readings on my machines but for the most part this chart will give a pretty decent indication of the VDI numbers and what they could mean before one starts digging.

Ok, last night I switched out the coil on my V540. I put on the ground several items and they started reading differently to when I first dug them out of the ground or sand. When I originally dug these items they came out as solid numbers. Infact I have been hesitant to dig jumping numbers until now.

Each item I tested read as the following.

-22, 18- siding from house (solid number)

-0, -1 = old drill bit (solid number)

-0, 21,22,0 old nail (numbers kept jumping) irony sounds

-0,-1 pin for cork board (solid number)

⁃ penny high tone (solid 24)

⁃ 10cent -1,15,14,12 (double beep jumpy numbers scratchy sounding)

– 5 cent 3,5,6,7,11 (Jumpy numbers & cratchy sound)

– 25 cent -1,16 (double beep scratches sound)

⁃ 1$ = double beep (solid sounding 14,15)

⁃ 2$ = double beep 6,7,8,11,-1 (Jumpy but solid sounds)

⁃ Pull tab = solid beep 15,16

⁃ Jewellery cross solid 12,13

⁃ Solid brass nut high pitch solid 29,30

Ok, so what my findings were from testing several of these items that I had previously dug was, 1st they had fairly different readings from when I first dug them out of the ground originally. This could be due to the fact that these items were surrounded but completely different soil, or that they were now above ground instead of in it, or that the weather conditions had changed as well. Last night the weather was overcast and drizzled, and the ground was wet. That is completely different to hard dry packed soil 4 to 10 inches below the ground.

I am guessing that all of the above conditions made an impact on last nights results. However, I did learn that I have been missing out on many targets due to the fact I usually do not dig numbers that jump around or sound scratchy on the machine, so from now on I’ll make sure to dig all of those as they seem to be actual cash.

Now we touched on what mode to use based on depth,

Use coin mode for fastest separation between 10 & 40 on your VDI display. but you loose depth because of this. For example, in the sand you might find a penny at 6 to 8” but on Relic mode you could easily find a penny at 12to14”’s

Use Relic mode for deepest targets but swing slowly, or slower than normal, you will get the deepest targets in this mode but not much separation between targets. And to try and get any separation, swinging slowly would help.

And jewelry mode for items ranging from 0- to – 40 and is good for mid depth and medium separation.

What is separation?

Separation is when you have 2 or more targets close by to one another underneath the surface and the machine starts peeping and showing 2 or more numbers. Fast separation is great because it will determine all the different metals it’s picking up and in turn display back to you as A VDI. If you have slow separation, then the machine will pick up the dominant metal and only show that number to you.

Example would be a Rusty mail is laying over a silver pendant 4 inches below surface, as you go over it, in jewelry mode your machine only shows -3 and gives you an irony grunt, most detectorists would not dig this. However if you were in coin mode and on full metal mode then the machine would most likely read -3/27/28 and bounce from a irony grunt to a high tone or pitch as well.

And then If you took the machine off “All metal mode” by pressing the horseshoe button then the machine would probably give you a VDI of 26/27 with a high pitch or tone which every detectorist would dig and would end up with a silver pendant.

(So That was separation)

Then there is a custom mode on your vanquish 540 where you pick the discrepancy of the Range of VDI #’s this is a great feature as I personally usually use this mode on beaches I knotch out all the -negative numbers but it seems to get a bit more depth than the Jewellery mode and I can opt out of the 14’s and 15’s so I don’t dig every pull tab on the beach. People will tell you that by knotching out numbers then you increase the potential to miss gold items.

Although this might be true, the likelihood of hitting a gold item at all is slim to none anyway and secondly gold much more frequently come in the range between 5 / to 11 anyway. So yes you may miss a very rare find or you are guaranteed not to be wasting your time and energy on 100 pull tabs.

VDI numbers has to do with the conductivity of a metal. That is why gold will ring up in so many different ways. Not all gold rings are the same, you have 10/14/18/&24 Karat in all different sizes the higher the Karat the lower the conductivity therefore the lower the pitch however you could have a 24k men’s gold ring thick and quite a large ring which may ring up an 18 simply because of the size of the ring. The. We could get into white gold, rose golds and yellow golds. Each of these would give a different rate of conductivity and read differently on the VDI display.

Other functions of the Vanquish 540


The V540 has the ability to be paired with Bluetooth headphones. Although you might be able to pair your machine with a regular pair of Bluetooth headphones, it is advised to get Low Latency Headphones. If you do not have the Low Latency Headphones, you are going to miss signals and your signals will have a delay from when you pass over the item to when you hear the beeps in your ears. This will result in frustration because you will be digging targets that are several inches away from where you first head a target.

A red back light

The Vanquish 540 has a red aluminating backlight to the screen which is the only vanquish of the series to come equipped with this feature. This makes detecting after dark incredibly easy and is the main reason I bought this unit over the V440 to begin with.

Pin pointing

Located perfectly on this machine the pin pointer function is attainable by moving your thumb in an upwards motion and pushing the middle button on the bottom row on the face of the display. Very easy to locate, even in complete darkness.

FE mode

FE stands for Ferrous materials

Your ferrous metals are your iron metals usually between 0 /to -9 you have the option on this machine to essentially eliminate almost all Ferrous metals sound. This is quickly achieved by pressing the iron button (horseshoe) and the volume button at the same time. If you wish to hear ferrous metals, then set to desired volume & release the iron button to set of course if you are a relic hunter this is not an option you want to eliminate at all.


When you turn on any on the Minelab Muti frequency Vanquish series metal detectors you should do so by holding the coil an inch above the surface you are about to detect. This performs an automatic ground balance to the ground you are standing on.

If you start getting a lot of chatter on the machine you have 2 options. 1st turn off and back on your machine which would perform another ground balance, or you can lower your sensitivity, when you lower your sensitivity you will start to loose depth in any of the modes you use. I never run my vanquish machines at full sensitivity because the Vanquish machines are super powerful and you will be digging 2 foot holes for every pull tab lol, instead I will lower the sensitivity about 2 knotches from full and go lower from there. If I only want items that are very close to the surface then I will lower the sinsitivity to 1/4 to 1/2 way and I know I will only get items within a couple inches of the surface, at 3/4 full I get almost 8 to 10” down and at full sensitivity I will reach a foot or more in depth.

At full sensitivity you will see depth arrows on the machine from 1 arrow to 5 arrows. Each arrow indicates approx 2 inches in depth but only when the machine is at full sensitivity. If you are running 1/2 sensitivity and see 5 arrows on the display, you may only be 3 inches below the surface until you reach the target.


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