On a crisp, sunny day on the west side of Lake Hefner, Larry Dobbs walks on what once was water.
His metal detector makes a long beep followed by several short beeps. He's found something under the soft soil. With a trowel he digs up a 2-ounce lead fishing sinker.
Nearby, Dan Pierce is slowly swinging his metal detector back and forth.
“I've got money,” Pierce said. He digs up a copper penny. It's the start of this day's hunt.
Treasure hunters in Oklahoma have found more ground to cover because of extended drought. On dry lakeshores, where the water used to be, metal detectors are finding collectible items.
Guns and ammo
Rifle parts and unused ammunition have been uncovered from the dry silt of Lake Hefner.
“There are a lot of bullets in this lake,” said Larry Nowlin, a metal detecting enthusiast from Oklahoma City.
Old fishing lures, coins, rings, watches, cellphones — all items that used to be submerged — are being found and bagged in numbers.
At Lake Hefner, where the water level is the lowest in its 66-year history, things tossed out of boats or off the riprap dam or dam road have resurfaced.
Nowlin scooped up an assault rifle barrel.
“It had been under the lake a long time,'' he said. He's also found unused armor-piercing bullets. “You wouldn't believe the amount of ammunition people have thrown into that lake.”
Nowlin, 64, said he used to spend time with a metal detector on the dam riprap finding coins and car keys. Now he can walk several hundred yards before reaching water.
He has found coins that date back to the early 1900s. He recently found pennies from the 1950s.
“Someone throws coins off a boat, and then 60 years later someone comes along and digs it up,” he said.
Nowlin found a box containing rare old American and foreign coins. It could be loot from a burglary that was tossed from the dam back when the water reached the rocks, he said.
Plenty of lead fishing weights can be found, said Pierce, 62, of Oklahoma City, who is a member of the Twin Territories Treasure Hunter Club.
“You can sure find pounds and pounds of fishing weights and soda cans,” he said.
Pierce said anything found that can be traced back to an owner is returned.
Dobbs, 62, said he once found a $50,000 ring and returned it to the owner.
A member of the Central Oklahoma Metal Detectors Club, Dobbs said dry lakebeds are great for exploring and finding lost metal, but the drought has a drawback. The ground is a lot harder to dig in now.
When he first started treasure hunting he used an old bayonet to dig up metal items that are about 6 inches under the ground. But the bayonet scratched a valuable $5 gold coin. Now he digs carefully with a trowel.
He recently he found lost rings at a lake near Shawnee. And he's found antique fishing lures that have not rusted away.
“I like to get out and study history,” Dobbs said. “A lot of this is history to me, to see what you can find.”