A wide range of federal, state and municipal laws cover metal detecting in the Lone Star state. An individual who wants to do metal detecting should read the rules for the specific site where they want to use a metal detector. Typically, a person can engage in metal detecting in city parks if they follow the rules of the parks.
An individual is usually not allowed to engage in metal detecting on state lands, except beaches, unless they get permission from the Texas Historical Commission. Treasure hunters are generally not allowed to engage in metal detecting on federal or Native American lands.
Metal Detecting on Private Property
An individual who wants to use a metal detector on private property in Texas should get the permission of the landowner. It is a good idea to get the permission in writing. The treasure hunter and landowner should address how they want to cover digging on the property, such as how the treasure hunter plans to dig and fill holes.
The parties should determine what will happen if the treasure hunter finds valuable artifacts. The landowner may want to receive payment or a percentage of the sale of the items.
Federal and Native American Lands
Federal laws prohibit the unpermitted excavation and disturbance of lands owned or controlled by the federal government. Only qualified professional archaeologists are eligible to receive permits. An individual should not use a metal detector or excavate on Native American lands without getting the permission of the leadership of the people who control the property. Native American lands include reservations like that of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in western Maverick County.
Metal Detecting in National Forests
The exception to the rule regarding metal detecting on federal lands is that metal detecting is allowed in national forests. The national forests seek to allow persons to engage in low impact, casual activities for recreational mineral and rock collecting. Typically, an individual does not need to get a letter of intent or written authorization from a national forest to use a metal detector, but should check with a district ranger about the forest’s policy if they have questions.
A national forest may close some wilderness areas to metal detecting. The national forests consider metal detecting to be a low surface impact activity that involves digging small holes that are rarely more than six inches deep. An individual is not permitted to use a metal detector on public lands that contain or would reasonably be expected to contain archaeological or historical resources.
Normally, developed campgrounds, swimming beaches and other developed recreation sites in a national forest are open to recreational metal detecting unless there are archaeological or historical resources present. If this is the case, forest supervisors may close the area to metal detecting and post the closure at the site. Federal law protects archaeological remains on public land. Anyone who discovers such remains should leave them undisturbed and notify a Forest Service office.
No Collecting on Texas State Parks or Lands
The Antiquities Code of Texas prohibits the unpermitted collection and excavation of artifacts on state, city or county land. Typically only qualified professional archaeologists are eligible to receive permits. Many Texas ghost towns are located on public land, but treasure hunters should not use a metal detector to find and take objects from a ghost town even if no entity is visibly monitoring metal detection.
No Collecting on State Beaches
An individual may use a metal detector on state public beaches. Yet they may not remove an artifact without incurring penalties. Anyone who finds an artifact on a Texas beach should draw or take a picture of the object or structure. They should also take photos of the area where they found the object and note its GPS coordinates. The treasure hunter should share this information with a marine archaeologist with the Texas Historical Commission.
Metal Detecting in City Parks
Municipal regulations in cities such as San Antonio and Houston may permit metal detecting in city parks. A city may require an individual to get a permit to engage in this activity. This is true in San Antonio, where a candidate must submit a completed application to engage in metal detection.
San Antonio’s guidelines for metal detecting in city parks limit the use of metal detectors to developed parks that do not contain designated archaeological sites and are not designated natural areas. The guidelines limit use of metal detectors in certain areas, such as ball fields. Detectorists may not use tools of any kind for digging. If they find an archaeological artifact, the permit holder is required to notify the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, and the state of Texas retains ownership of the artifact.
In Houston, it is prohibited to disturb plants and animals in a city park. Metal detector users may not destroy public property. This means they cannot dig in the ground of a public park to retrieve an artifact that they locate with a metal detector.
Accessing Streams and Penalties
Texas Parks and Wildlife provides that metal detector enthusiasts may investigate the bed and, to a limited degree, the banks of a navigable stream. This does not include a dry stream where a person is walking and using a metal detector. If an individual moves from the water to private property next to a stream, they may be committing a criminal trespass. Criminal trespass is usually charged as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000.
When an individual takes an item from the land of another after committing criminal trespass, they can also be charged with theft. Theft is a Class C misdemeanor if the property stolen is worth less than $100, and the penalty for this offense is a fine of $500, but no jail time. A theft is a Class B misdemeanor if the property stolen is worth between $100, but less than $750. The penalty is the same as for criminal trespass, up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000.
A theft is a Class A misdemeanor if the property stolen is worth between $750 but less than $2,500. The penalty for this offense is up to one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. If an item stolen is worth over $2,500, the act of theft can be charged as a felony, which carries more severe penalties.
- Texas Historical Commission: Antiquities Code of Texas
- Texas Historical Commission: Antiquities Permits
- San Antonio Parks and Recreation: Metal Detecting Permit
- Texas Parks and Wildlife: Criminal Trespass
- Houston Parks and Recreation Department: Park Rules and Regulations
- Texas Historical Commission: Found an Artifact on the Beach?
- Texas State Historical Association: American Indian Reservations
- Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas: Homepage
- Texas Historical Commission: Artifact Collecting in Texas
- City of San Antonio: Metal Detectors Guidelines
- United States Department of Agriculture: Mineral, Rock Collecting, and Metal Detecting on the National Forests
- Texas Penal Code: Chapter 31, Theft
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.