Holy Shamoley! The Making of a Treasure Hunter

From mudlarker to real bobby-dazzler, how Gary Drayton has become a true global treasure

Chicago, IL (May 17, 2022) – Metal-detecting expert, Gary Drayton, is one of the more popular stars of the hit History Channel program, The Curse of Oak Island, and one of the most recognizable treasure hunters in the world today. Growing up along the shores of the North Sea in Grimsby, U.K., nobody could have predicted that Drayton’s affinity for mudlarking would ever lead to such worldwide fame.

Mudlarking – the decidedly British term describing the activity of sloshing and trudging about the riverbanks and coastal areas of England in search of historical items – was one of Drayton’s favorite boyhood pastimes. He made regular and interesting finds of bottles, clay pipes, coins and other lost items, some dating back as early as the 14th century. One particular find, however, would influence the rest of Drayton’s life. “I discovered a 1790 gold guinea hiding in the mud,” Drayton recalls. The excitement of finding the 22-carat-gold coin weighing a quarter of a Troy ounce prompted Drayton to up his game and begin metal detecting.

Metal detecting quickly became Drayton’s passion. His successes along British beaches and atop old, Victorian dump sites soon led to a career as a full-time beach and water treasure hunter. As such, he sought out the best detecting equipment. “My research at the time led me to the Minelab Sovereign detector, and eventually to the Minelab EXCALIBUR IICTX 3030EQUINOX 800 and other Minelab models I use today,” Drayton says. “Minelab machines excel at performing over tough ground and saltwater beaches. They thrive in the conditions and environments that challenge or cause other detectors to fail.”

Drayton left the U.K. at age 28 and moved to Florida in 1989. “Like every immigrant coming to America, I believed in the American dream,” he says. “I heard the beaches in Florida were paved in gold, which is something that would capture the imagination of any treasure hunter.”

While they’re not actually paved in gold, a lot of gold and silver can indeed be found on Florida’s beaches. This includes a good deal of modern jewelry lost by Florida’s millions of beach goers each and every day, but also occasional finds of historical gold and silver treasure from Spanish shipwrecks – specifically, the legendary 1715 Spanish Fleet, which was lost and sunk in a hurricane off of modern Florida’s east coast. Drayton credits American, Mel Fisher, as the world’s greatest treasure hunter. Fisher discovered the priceless silver and gold treasures of two of those ships, the Atocha and Santa Margarita, in the 1980’s. Drayton has spent the last 30 years of his life continuing the search for – and finding – the scattered remnants of treasure from these and other shipwrecks.

Among his numerous “top-pocket finds,” Drayton says his greatest ever is the ring he refers to as “My Precious”. “This is the magnificent Spanish 1715 fleet emerald treasure ring I recovered on the famous Treasure Coast of Florida. It’s 22.5k gold with nine flawless emeralds,” he says. Drayton found the ring between high and low tide during a family trip to the beach in the early 2000’s with a Minelab EXCALIBUR. When he had it appraised in 2005, the ring was valued at $500,000 and it has certainly increased in value over the 17 years since.

Drayton still lives in Florida several months each year, where he enjoys teaching others the skills necessary for successful treasure hunting. He spends six or seven days a week from December through May giving private lessons on detecting for coins, jewelry, and Spanish treasure washed up from the sunken ships. Drayton extends his teaching to the greater public by authoring numerous books, most of which focus on hunting beaches and water. Summer months are spent on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, and, when able, Gary returns to England to visit family and detect local farm fields for hammered coins, something he has a strong affinity for. “These early coins were produced until the 17th century and were made by placing blank pieces of metal between two dies and striking them with a hammer to produce the coins’ images,” Drayton explains.

A few years ago, Drayton’s regular treasure finds caught the eye of Hollywood producers, which led to several appearances on various TV shows before finally being asked to join the cast of The Curse of Oak Island as the team’s resident metal-detecting expert, something which Drayton says he enjoys immensely. “It’s not just the fame or being on the show,” he says. “Oak Island is an incredibly mysterious place and it’s just extremely exciting and rewarding to be a part of a team of so many smart and talented people working together to find answers to those mysteries. Every find I make there provides another clue or piece of the puzzle.”

Drayton’s preferred machine for water detecting is the Minelab EXCALIBUR but says advanced treasure hunters always need the right tool for any given search or conditions. “As any Minelab detector will tell you, the only way to beat a Minelab is with another Minelab, so I always have other specialist tools in the old toolshed,” he says. Searching for Spanish treasure on the beach, Drayton prefers the awesome, deep-gold detecting power of the GPX 6000. On vacations or while traveling he grabs his versatile EQUINOX 800 with Multi-IQ technology that allows him to search for all metals, in all soils, all the time, with just one detector. And for the majority of his beach hunts and most of his detecting on Oak Island, Drayton opts for the powerful and waterproof, all-terrain Minelab CTX 3030.

Like most dedicated detectorists, Drayton uses a pinpointer to help find smaller targets. His choice is the Minelab PRO-FIND 35 because as he says, “it can be used in saltwater without going nuts,” and also because the ferrous tones feature of the PRO-FIND 35 helps him to quickly retrieve targets in rocky areas which avoids wasting time. He says it’s also invaluable in the iron-infested money-pit spoils piles on Oak Island.

When Drayton isn’t instructing or working with the team on Oak Island, he prefers to detect alone. “Unlike my work on TV, I’m actually a bit of a lone wolf I guess,” he says. “I enjoy searching alone, which also helps to prevent my favorite and most-productive sites from being discovered.”

While most of his time is occupied by detecting, giving lessons, and filming, Drayton finds a few days each year to attend seeded hunts. These are events where the participants pay an entry fee and the person or club putting on the hunt buries old coins and metal targets with numbers stamped on them which can be redeemed for various prizes, from hats to relics or artifacts, to new metal detectors. Whatever is found, the searcher gets to keep. “Seeded hunts are not my cup of tea,” Drayton reveals, “but I attend several every year to connect with other detectorists and help others learn how to get the most out of their Minelab machines,” he says.  “I enjoy helping people during the hunts and enjoy the thrill of watching other people finding something cool.”

While working on Oak Island, Drayton is most often seen detecting with the waterproof, all-terrain Minelab CTX 3030.

Drayton engages with other treasure hunters and detectorists on social media. Keep up with him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, or visit his website.

Story by Rich Creason




Minelab is an Australian, multi-award-winning business that has successfully scaled world markets to command global leadership in its key areas of operation. Based in Mawson Lakes, South Australia, with regional offices in Cork, Ireland; Dubai, UAE; Monterrey, Mexico; Itajai, Brazil; and Chicago, U.S.A., the company specializes in advanced electronic technologies. Since its origins in 1985, Minelab has been the world leader in providing metal-detecting technologies for gold prospecting, treasure hunting and landmine clearance. Through devotion to research and development and innovative design, Minelab is today the major world manufacturer of handheld metal detector products. Over the past 30 years, Minelab has introduced more innovative and practical technology than any of its competitors and has taken the metal detecting industry to new levels of excellence. Minelab is a Codan Limited company (ASX: “CDA”). To learn more about Minelab, visit


Josh Lantz

Traditions Media