The Hunter

Fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast

It’s been nearly two years now since I’ve reignited my passion for fossil hunting. Just recently I’ve been more and more exposed to fossils in some way or form… either at meetings, festivals, or on the beach.

Ammonite found on the foreshore during a hunt on the Jurassic Coast

This has only fueled my eagerness to go and hunt for them. In the past I only found time to hunt occasionally due to family commitments… This has meant that I now find myself spending more and more time on the coast. Time is limited with a full time family and on going house renovations but I find the time when I can and make the most of it… it’s not unknown for me to be out until the early hours hunting in the dark. I enjoy the solitude and have an amazing head torch!

When out I can easily spend 3-4 hours on a hunt. It’s back breaking work and to find anything you need to put the time and effort in. After a while you begin to understand your sites and find little pockets that hold fossils. You have to know your sites inside out… the sea is constantly changing them… one minute you have a hot spot and the next it’s gone… the sea has washed it away. It is also this same process that reveals other pockets where you can find new and exciting finds.

The need to go hunting is a strange thing… it feels like a magnetic pull or a child pulling at your sleeve. If I haven’t been for a while I get withdrawal symptoms… if you’re already a fossil hunter you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m always eager to get out and hunt, as long as I come back with at least one new fossil for my collection I’m happy and it’s been worth it… even if it did take me 4 hours to find in the dark!

A complete Belemnite guard I recently found on the Jurassic Coast

Setting your eyes on a fossil for the first time in millions of years is a fantastic feeling, words really can’t describe what it feels like. It is like it’s been waiting there all this time to be discovered by me. I respect the coast and the fossils I find and try to remove them responsibly and carefully.. it’s important that you don’t damage the surroundings. I collect out of passion and to build my collection… sadly, to often I see damage caused by those who collect for profit.

Steve searching for fossils on the foreshore

I regularly go fossil hunting with my friend Steve. It’s always a good hunt with him as I learn so much more about fossils, we look for new sites to investigate and go and see what they have to offer in the way of fossils. Steve is great at finding fossilized bones from marine reptiles… he can spot a bone a mile away! If your fairly new to this, it will be a while before you get to find bone fossils… it’s going to take time before your eyes are up to speed.

A Plesiosaur limb bone, recently found on the Jurassic Coast

Hunting is a messy job… you’ll be constantly digging in thick, sticky clays and clambering over damp, algae rich rocks. I wouldn’t advise you go in your Sunday best! Old trousers, shirt and sturdy boots are a must.. A thermal top to keep you warm while out on the coast, as you can get extremely exposed to the elements. If you’re close to looking like a tramp you’re sorted! (no disrespect to tramps)

Next you’ll need a good tool kit… you’ll need a geo hammer, chisel, goggles, trowel and of course a rucksack to carry it in. As you fossil hunt more and more your tool kit will grow and you will add tools that suit your specific hunting locations. It’s amazing how you start to look at gardening tools in a different way and a trip to a garden center is even more interesting these days! The best tool you have are your eyes… it takes a while to train them to recognise the shapes and textures but be warned, they can also play tricks on you! It’s easy to see things that aren’t even there… especially when you’re tired after a long hunt.

Some of my tool kit

It is important that you check the tide times in your area before you go, The tide can come in very quickly and you can get cut off in seconds… It’s best to hunt on a receding tide, you’ll feel much safer and will know that you have plenty of time to search for fossils. You’ll feel much more relaxed and can concentrate on the job in hand without the worry of a rising tide. Stay away from landslides and don’t climb cliffs… they are dangerous! Search for fossils on the foreshore, it’s much safer here and the sea will of done all the cleaning work for you.

Why you should stay away from landslides

If I find something of interest I always take it home. There have been too many times when I have discarded a muddy object, got home to think about it and wished I’d brought it back. You’ll never find that item again when returning to the site. Someone else would of picked it up or the sea will have washed it away… you snooze, you loose. It’s that simple!

Spot the small Echinoid (sea urchin) in situ found on the Jurassic Coast

When it comes to being a collector, it’s not just about the collecting. When you find fossils they are generally not in the best of condition and sometimes break on removal. Once home a good soak, clean and a touch of superglue normally brings them back to life. For that extra touch some oil or varnish will bring the colour out and make them presentable as a show piece. Sometimes you find fossils encased in stones… you’ll need to invest in some professional air prepping equipment to expose them… or you could take your find to a specialist and pay them to do all the hard work for you. It’s all part of being a hunter.

I love it when friends and family visit… I get to show them my new finds from the Jurassic Coast and tell them the story of how it was found… every fossil find has one! I’m just not so sure they always share my enthusiasm!

You have to go through this process… it’s what makes us… THE HUNTER

Until my next adventure on the Jurassic Coast….

Websites of interest…

Martin Curtis, Jurassic Coast Guide and Ambassador

Tweets from Steve Snowball


When fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast You MUST follow this code

 Jurassic Coast Fossil Hunting Code

Click to access WestDorsetFossilCode.PDF


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