How metal detecting is helping people find their lost valuables

Local hobbyists find jewelry, dog tags

CASSELBERRY, Fla. – Gary Penta is a member of the Ringerfinders website, a site where trained metal detectorists locate lost rings and other metal items.

“The ring was actually a family heirloom (that) belonged to his mom,” Penta said about his first recovery attempt of 2020. “He contacted me that day and told me he was sick to his stomach that he had lost it.”

The day of the find, Penta went out on a boat with his friend Jerry Burbaugh. Penta wasn’t sure it would be a successful find.

“The water was dark. It’s absolute pitch black, you can’t see anything,” Penta said.

Not only was it dark, but the area in the Kissimmee river where the ring had fallen into was about 18 feet deep.

Despite the challenge it took Burbaugh, a professional diver, less than an hour to find it.

“(I) put a lead weight down exactly where I thought that the ring landed, did a circular search; about the second pass around, I could feel the ring,” Burbaugh said. “It was awesome. It was an unforgettable experience to be able to find that and give it back to Matt.”

Penta, an Air Force veteran, became a metal detectorist almost seven years ago.

“It’s a big-boy hobby. It encompasses all of theses fantastic aspects -- we use GPS, we research on the computers, old maps...” he said.

Among his favorite finds are metal toys and dog tags.

It’s a growing hobby that the president of the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club, Carolyn Harwick, said more and more women are finding interest in.

“Whenever you hear that detector beep, you might have an idea of what’s in the ground, but you never really know, so it’s a constant adrenaline rush. That’s why I like it and it doesn’t stop with the beep. Once you dig the target up, then you get to research and find out what the item is,” Harwick said.

The hobby has also helped Penta cope with the loss of his son, Andy, in 2013. Andy was serving in Afghanistan when he was killed.

“It’s, um, extremely therapeutic," Penta said. "It gives me something to look forward to every day when I wake up.”

It’s revealed his creative side. With some of the items Penta finds, he creates miniature artwork. He first began building tiny metal detectors.

“I do the knobs, I do the labels, the little switches,” Penta said.

For tips on how to get started with a metal detector, click here.

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