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Helpful Hints.....
 
 
So you want to do a little amateur fossil hunting and you are wanting to know what would be helpful.  The first obvious helpful hint is that the first place for you to look for fossils is near where you are, especially if you are just getting started.  Where would such places be near where you are?  Sometimes there are local rock shops in your area, and some of them are owned by people who hunt fossils themselves, so they can give you some ideas where to look.  Then, of course, there is the library.  Libraries always have useful information, and many have good fossil books for you to look at, which may give you ideas of where to look in your area.  Many areas have geology or paleontology societies that you can join.  These societies are always a great place to start, as they have experienced members who can provide assistance and information, and they just might take you with them on one of their searches.
Some things to remember when you are fossil hunting.  Always obtain permission prior to hunting or removing fossils from private lands.  Always make sure what land you are on when you are hunting fossils, and whether the land is private land, or public land.  Some public lands, depending on where you are, have their own regulations concerning fossil hunting and where it is permitted.  To avoid any problems, and to make sure you are not breaking any laws, always make sure you know that you have permission to hunt fossils in a given area.  Even if you have permission to hunt fossils, not all fossils in a given area are allowed to be removed, or there may be limitations.  One state for example, allows an individual to collect  25 pounds of petrified wood a day, but commercial use of it is not permitted and it cannot be sold.  There are fewer restrictions on hunting invertebrate fossils than with vertebrate fossils.  Also, invertebrate fossils are more abundant, and there is a greater diversity among them.  Three of the most popular invertebrate fossils to hunt are trilobites, ammonites, and crinoids.  All of these can be found in various places throughout America, with trilobites being the least abundant, and crinoids being the most abundant.   To learn more about these fossils, and to see what fossils we have discovered, return to the Paleontology main page.  From there, you can review the different collections and information we have.  To learn more about fossils, click on the images below to take you there.
Before starting out, make sure that you are well supplied.  Since you will not always know what types of fossils you will find, taking a variety of supplies with you can make retrieving the fossils you find a lot easier.  Make sure that you have enough containers to put your finds in, and a permanent marker to label the containers, not the fossils.  It is important to label each container where that fossil was found, since you may not remember where every fossil was from after you get home, especially if you visit more than one site during your trip.  It also might not be the same day they are found that the fossils are cleaned and prepared.  If that happens, remembering where you found a fossil becomes that much harder.  Another hint is to make sure that the fossils you find are packed well enough to avoid being damaged on the trip home.  There is nothing worse than finding a fossil that has survived millions of years in good condition only to have it damaged in the short amount of time it takes to travel home because it was not properly packed for the trip home.
       A  notebook is very helpful item to take with you.  You can record 
important information on each of your searches, such as what fossils you 
found, and where.  This way you can review your notes later to see where 
you had success hunting fossils and where you did not.  There is nothing 
worse than finding a great place to hunt fossils and then not 
remembering where it is.  A good example of this comes from one of our 
own early fossil hunting trips.  We had been hunting throughout the day, 
traveling from one site to another, when we discovered a good fossil 
site.  However, we were tired, and it was towards the end of the day.  
We were ready to return home by then.  No one thought at that time that 
returning to this site would be difficult to do, but it has proved 
otherwise, and we have not found it again.   Time passed, the area changed due to new construction, and it no longer looked familiar.  On another note, there are always one or two local people where you are planning to hunt fossils who have hunted fossils themselves.  If you have the good fortune to meet such people while hunting for fossils, often times they will tell you of other sites, and remembering where these sites are before you can visit them can be a hard thing to do.  By having a notebook with you, you do not have to worry about remembering, unless you do not even remember that you brought a notebook with you to write such information down!  Of course, it also helps to 
have something to write with, and you are wise to take both pens and 
pencils. Take a camera with you. A camera will let you photograph and record where you found unique fossils or the fossils you will find which 
are too big or difficult to remove.
A trowel, spade, and even a regular screw driver will be useful to have with you.  They can help remove the surrounding matrix around the fossil very easily in most cases. Sometimes both a hand pick and a hammer may be needed.  Even a rubber mallet can be handy, along with a few larger tools, such as a shovel and a pickaxe. Paint brushes in different sizes are useful.  Since some fossils are delicate, and paint brushes are good to use to clear away any loose debris covering a fossil.  When digging around a fossil, brushing away any debris while you are digging can be helpful in determining the fossil’s location, so that you can avoid damaging the fossil while you are trying to dig it out.  There is nothing worse than using a hard instrument to help remove a fossil only to have it cause damage to the fossil.  Since it may not be known just how big a fossil is, without brushing away debris as you dig, you may inadvertently damage the very fossil you want by your own digging.  While hunting crinoids, a nice example of a crinoid stem was discovered.  It had a width of 1.5 cm (just over ˝ inch) and a length of 120 cm (just under 4 feet).  By carefully brushing away the debris while digging, all the buried pieces to this fossil were located, and removed without damaging them.  This discovery also emphasized a few more points on having the proper supplies with you when you hunt fossils.  This particular crinoid stem was in 27 pieces.  By having a pencil with us, we could number each piece, and each end, as it was removed. By doing this, we could determine the order that the pieces went in, and which 
end faced the next piece.  It could then be put together again correctly, after it had been properly cleaned and conserved.  By using a pencil, the pencil markings could easily be removed, and no permanent marks would be left on the fossil. Click on the icon to view this fossil find.  
One important area we need to briefly discuss concerns safety.  It is easy to become lost when wandering through fields, woods, and vast open areas, when hunting for fossils.  Always check to make sure you know where you are and how to get back.  Find highly visible landmarks near where you are starting from and make sure that you can still see them as you hunt farther away from where you started.  A compass is good to take with you and especially if the area you are planning to look in is either thick with foliage, has a rough terrain, or is vast.  You can see the directions you are heading in, by checking the compass, and that will help you to know the direction you need to go to return to where you started. 
Make sure that you have brought enough items with you (poncho, hat, sun screen, change of clothes, etc.) to deal with changing weather conditions.  Make sure that you have good selection of first aid supplies.  Blisters, splinters, cuts, and sunburns are not uncommon.  Always bring plenty to drink, as you may be exposed to high temperatures while fossil hunting, and you may stay out longer than you anticipated. When this happens, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and sun stroke can become a problem. 
Something less common, but more of a problem, are poisonous creatures.  It is always wise to watch where you walk and put your hands.  We had a good example of this while we were hunting fossil along an embankment.  We had been hunting at this site for a few hours, and we each took turns looking in the same areas.  One area had been looked in before, and no one saw a spider, yet another person found a black widow spider in this same area.  This location was remembered, because the empty web and egg casings had been noted, but the spider was absent then.  Well, no one had to wonder the next time someone saw the web, because the spider was there!   Fortunately,  the spider was seen in time, and we all just avoided that area.
 
We hope that you will find this information useful in hunting fossils but we have one more subject we want to discuss before providing some areas to hunt fossils.  Remember, when it comes to the fossils you find to prepare it, take care of it, and share it.  Prepare the fossils you find for display in your home, office, or learning institution.  Why find a fossil buried in the ground for millions of years just to bury it again in a box, a garage, a basement, or an attic?  Why keep a fossil if you do not plan to take care of it?  Each individual fossil represents extinct forms of life from moments in time that can never be replaced.  Though there may be many fossils of a particular type, each fossil
represents only that one individual creature, and the fossil that creature left can never be replaced.  Remember to share what you find, as it may inspire someone to pursue a career in this field, and who knows what discovery they could make.  Some fossils you find may not be what you want and other fossils you have found may not seem as nice once you find better examples.  A good use for the fossils you do not want can be found in donating them to local schools.  Often, such fossils are great for teachers to use in their classrooms, for showing their students examples of fossils.  Also remember that what you find might be unique, or rare to that area, and such information is valuable in
researching that area or that creature.

Now, if you are ready to hunt fossils, click on the image below to go to our list of fossil hunting sites.

 
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