Relic Hunting in South Carolina at the National Detecting League, A Larry Cissna Event
Updated: Jan 26
The National Detecting League (NDL) is a metal detecting event that is held by Larry Cissna. It is a three day natural hunt. The event is a metal detecting competition of sorts between the States. People from all over the United States attend it each year. The location of the NDL is different from year to year. This year's NDL was held in South Carolina on a 10,000 acre plantation. The piece of property has history dating back to the Colonial period. There were a total of 33 teams from different States throughout the US that participated in this year's event. Seven ESMDA club members participated. During the first two days of the hunt, teams compete against each other to earn points. The team with the most points by the end of day two are crowned the champions of the NDL and receive a nice trophy or wall plaque commemorating their win. Members earn points for their team by digging artifacts such as buttons, bullets, coins that predate the year 1865. Each artifact you find is worth one point. This blog discusses the exciting adventure members from the NY Team, Cooper's Recruits, experienced while attending the NDL.
Sign-ups for the NDL occur several months prior to the actual event. Once Larry has received your registration form and fee for the hunt you are then invited to join a private Facebook group. Only those who are attending the event receive access to join the group. In a way it's sort of like receiving an invitation to join a secret society I guess. Well I've never actually received an invite to a secret society but I imagine that if I did it might feel somewhat similar in nature. Important information about the hunt is communicated to the attendees through the use of this group. And while it essentially is just a simple tool to communicate information it does a great deal to build anticipation and excitement for the hunt. I believe that events in general are a lot more fun when you are able to anticipate them beforehand. My grandfather used to always say "Hunger is the sweetest sauce". It gives you something to look forward to and time to imagine all the possibilities. The Facebook group also served as a way to get to know a little more about the other attendees that were participating in the hunt.
South Carolina is roughly a 16 hour drive from New York state. Everyone participating in the hunt was expected to arrive prior to 8:00 pm on Thursday. The event gets kicked off with an opening ceremony, at the hotel meeting room, on Thursday Night. Opening Ceremony, now I know what you must be thinking. Wow, that sounds really fancy! Am I right? No worries though it's not as if we had to dress up special or anything. The room was filled with a sea of camouflage and an occasional flannel thrown into the mix. There was also a mirror of friendly, smiling faces practically everywhere you looked. One thing for sure is the attendees all seem extremely happy to be there. The opening ceremony served as an opportunity to connect with your team members and meet some of the other participants as well. At the Opening Ceremony, the address of hunt location and a map of grounds was given out to each hunter. Larry went over important hunt information and rules and we were all introduced to the panel of judges. The role of the judges was to determine if each artifact met the necessary criteria to count as a point. In order to count as a point artifacts must have been made of metal, be identifiable, and predate the year 1865. Each judge was assigned certain teams so it was sort of important to pay attention to who was assigned as your team's judge. Oh course, if you forgot you could always ask. At the end of Day 1 and Day 2 everyone would meet at the judges table to show off their finds and receive their point totals.
Following the opening ceremony the NY team met to discuss our game plan for the next day. We met in a hotel room armed with our laptops and cell phones. Honestly, we probably were at a slight disadvantage compared to the teams who reside in southern states. Locating old homesites in the south is a whole different ball game all together. Being from the north it's hard to know what signs to look for. Of course, I asked some of those nice southern gentlemen but it still didn't make a whole lot of difference. Finding old homesites in the south isn't all that easy. We did find what I believe must have been an old homesite or two just through sheer luck. The only clues that there ever was even once a standing structure in those locations was a large patch of iron in the ground and the remnants of a few broken bricks.
Day 1: We woke up by 5:00 am so that we had ample time to gear up and arrive at the site location by 7:00 am. The hunt started with a quick group meeting at 8:00 am. Hunters left the meeting filled with excitement of what the day might bring and eager to begin metal detecting. The NY team decided to start off the day detecting together. The first location we stopped to detect at produced a few finds, mostly musket balls. Our strategy was to try out an area that looked good, detect it for an hour or so and if it wasn't producing any finds to move on to another area. The land was massive in size so there was plenty of space to detect. All together we probably hit up a total of seven different areas on the property that first day. Everyone was expected back to the judges table by 4:30 pm. By the end of Day 1, the NY team had found a handful of various relics; three ringer bullets, musket balls, flat buttons, a 1833 large Cent, and an old trigger guard just to name a few. Cheryl Huxhold found a sweet 1908 barber quarter. Exhausted from an 8 1/2 hour day of detecting, we stopped for dinner and then headed back to the hotel to rest up for another exciting day of detecting.
Day 2: We arrived at the site, at 7:00 am, on Saturday morning. The morning meeting was cancelled and we were informed that we could begin detecting right away. Ready to start detecting for the day we decided to drive towards a site we had hit up the day before. We were headed down the road one second and then the next thing we were stuck, stuck in the mud that is. It apparently had rained overnight and the road we had just driven down the day before had become impassable for our 2020 Traverse. Now, us New Yorkers, we can drive no problem in a foot snow. A sheet of ice, nah that's nothing but throw some mud at us and darn it we get stuck. Remember we're from New York now, so I'm sure we probably made some classic mistakes while attempting to free our vehicle from the mess of surrounding mud. As the guys accessed the situation, I took off to see if I could quickly locate the caretaker of the property. I flagged down the first vehicle I saw. Some very kind folks from South Carolina who offered to help. We were stuck pretty good though so we decided we better wait for the tractor to come and pull us out. While I was off walking, the others phoned Larry to save the day. He arranged for a tractor to come pull us free. Knowing that the predicament was soon to be solved I decided to detect nearby. I'm grateful that I did too cause I not only found a few cool relics but as I would learn later I missed out on having to watch the rental vehicle nearly collide into the tractor. Apparently as the tractor was pulling our vehicle free we picked up some serious momentum. I'm pretty certain that witnessing the near collision probably would have sent me into a state of panic. Next year, we'll make sure our rental vehicle has plenty of ground clearance.
Free from the mud we headed to another area. Throughout the course of the day we hit up a handful of different locations on the property. On the second day some of the hunters managed to locate the site of a Civil War cavalry camp on the property. Believe it or not we drove right by that location the day before and didn't even stop. Woulda, coulda, shoulda! Several bayonets and really awesome confederate buttons were discovered.
The New York team found a few neat relics on Day Two as well. Mike Yacko from the NY team dug half of a Rev War cannon ball and a trigger guard.
The closing ceremony was held on Saturday night at 8:00 pm. Each team had a table to display their finds that they had made during the first two days of the hunt. The attendees all have an opportunity to walk around the room and view everyone's finds. It's really cool to see all the various unique items that were dug. The winning team, West Virginia were crowned the champions of the 2020 NDL and some really great prizes were raffled off. The whole raffle drawing process probably took 45 minutes or more. There were a ton of prizes given away. Metal detectors and other merchandise, gold coins, cash prizes, and a $1,500.00 gift certificate to Engineered Sleep Mattress Company located in Greenville, SC just to name a few. Two spots to attend one of Larry's future hunts were raffled off as well. In the middle of the raffle drawing our Team Captain, Ed Rifenberg, somehow managed to misplace his tickets. As Larry continued to call out the wining numbers, Ed frantically searched for his missing tickets. Unsure if he dropped them somewhere in the meeting room and afraid Larry would see him walking towards the podium and mistake him for one of the winners, Ed searched the floor for them in a crouched position. I'm not sure if I ever laughed quite so hard. Ed ultimately ended up finding his raffle tickets in the cuff of his own pant leg. While at the Closing Ceremony, we also had many enjoyable conversations with folks from all over the country. It's always entertaining to swap detecting stories with others. Events like the NDL also present the perfect opportunity to learn more about metal detecting. We had a chance to speak with Peter Eles for a little while. I was thankful to have the opportunity to pick his brain and receive some great metal detecting advice.
Day 3: We arrived at the site around 8:00 am. The third day of the hunt was more relaxed. The competition for points was already completed. We meandered from place to place having a great time detecting. We met a bunch of really friendly people on the third day. As faith would have it we just so happened to stop our vehicle by a group of gentlemen while we were waiting for another vehicle to pass by us. One of the men, Dan Yarrusso struck up a conversation with us. Seeing our licence plate, he asked what part of NY we all were from. After exchanging pleasantries he stated that he had something to show us. I asked him if it was a great find. He told me that it was even better and let me tell you it certainly was. Dan, as it turns out, used to do quite a bit of metal detecting in NY state at one point in his life. He was a diver and just so happened to have a copy of a Summer Resort Guide from the year 1922. The guide provides information about the locations of various resorts all throughout New York state. Dan was kind enough to share it with us and I believe it will prove to be a precious gift for locating several new spots to go metal detect within our region. The NY team made some cool finds on the last day of the hunt as well. Dale Long found a sweet bridle shield. Gino DiCarlo dug an 1888 seated dime and I dug a beautiful 1857 seated dime.
Larry's hunts are about more than just metal detecting. They're about giving back to the community as well. The attendees of NDL raised $4,300.00 for the Sweeny Police Department Canine Unit to help with the fight against drugs. Below is a photo of Larry Cissna presenting the check to Sgt. Mitch Ferrel.
On the way home we had the opportunity to stop in Gettysburg, PA. Visiting the historic town was a great experience. The scenic countryside is breathtaking and it's quite riveting to view the hallowed battlegrounds. Ed Rifenberg's Great, Great Grandfather was a member of the Pennsylvania 153rd Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Below is a picture of Ed standing next to the 153rd Pennsylvania Infantry monument.
It's honestly all the little moments really that make the event so memorable. The jokes among friends, the laughter and fun, the joy of digging relics, the friendly community of diggers, and the genuine camaraderie of the group as a whole. If you're interested in learning more about Larry Cissna's future hunts you should send him a friend request on Facebook. Larry holds quite a few organized natural hunts each year. He has been holding these events for 23 consecutive years now. He began holding organized metal detecting hunts in 1998.
Group metal detecting hunts are a great opportunity to meet new people who share the same love you have for metal detecting. A lot of organized hunts are often seeded. One of the many things I love about Larry Cissna's hunts is that they are natural hunts held on large, well researched, historic properties. Properties you would never have the opportunity to detect otherwise. Properties that present the chance to potentially score some amazing, once in a lifetime finds. Larry clearly does thorough research in order to find these different tracks of land for each hunt and those who attend truly reap the rewards.