When, Where, and How to Hunt the Best Shells in the OBX

There’s no doubt that the minute you booked your OBX vacation rental you also started drafting your list of must-do activities. Shell hunting and beach-combing are two of the most popular things to do on our beautiful North Carolina beaches, and these things can be enjoyed by everyone in your group.

At Great Escapes, we know that it’s as much of an art as it is a science when it comes to hunting – and finding! – the best shells that the Outer Banks has to offer. In order to help you get the most out of your seashell seeking expedition, we’ve put together this handy guide for spotting the best shells in the OBX.

When to Hunt the Best Shells in the Outer Banks

The North Carolina Outer Banks is a great place to hunt shells at any time of year. Whether you visit in spring, summer, fall, or winter, you’re sure to find a shell treasure or two!

That said, there are times when the shelling is better than others. These include:

  • Early in the day, before other beach combers hit the sands.
  • At peak high and/or low tide. Shifting waters leave shell deposits in easily accessible areas.
  • Winter. Increased storm activity + decreased beach activity = excellent shelling opportunities!


seashells on the obx at sunrise | Great Escapes OBX

Where to Hunt the Best Shells in the Outer Banks

While the southern end of the Outer Banks gets a lot of (well-deserved!) public credit for being a great location to hunt shells, beaches like those in Ocracoke and Hatteras are not the only hot spots for hunters!

One of the best tips we can give for finding special shells is to hunt areas that are not well-trafficked. The northern end of NC’s OBX offers miles of beach sands, making it easy for you to wander away from large groups of people and discover something truly special!

Other quick tips for places to look for shells:

  • Clumps of seaweed
  • Tidal pools
  • Surf line (that spot just where you can get your toes wet, and nothing else!)
  • Water line (that spot in the sand just where you can anchor your chair and not worry about the water snatching it away!)


father and daughter hunting for shells | Great Escapes OBX

How to Hunt the Best Shells in the Outer Banks

As we’ve already told you, finding the best shells in the Outer Banks will require some sleuthing. Any gumshoe worth her sea salt will tell you that having the right tools for the job will increase your chances of success. We suggest the following:


  • Small container or mesh carrying bag to keep your hands free
  • Handheld net, for skimming the surf line
  • Shoes to protect your feet from unseen sharp edges
  • A laminated shell guide, like this one
  • Reading glasses or small magnifier to inspect special finds


family hunting for shells on the obx | Great Escapes OBX

Shell Hunting Etiquette

There is a basic level of etiquette that should be observed when participating in any activity, something that “insiders” and people who have been doing it a long time just seem to know, and which others tend to learn through trial and error. In an effort to shorten your learning curve, we here at Great Escapes suggest you keep the following things in mind:


  • Don’t take more than your “fair share.”
  • Don’t disturb the wildlife, or disrupt any habitats that you discover.
  • Leave it better than you found it. Filling holes and removing trash ensures that you – and everyone else – can come back and hunt shells on another day.


boy hunting for shells on the obx | Great Escapes OBX

Shell Hunting Rules and Regulations

There are the unwritten rules of etiquette, and then there are the written rules of law. Protect yourself from earning a ticket or fine by knowing the following, at a minimum:


  • The local rules and regulations governing shell collecting and removal. There are often prohibitions against taking live shells from state and national parks, and certain types of shells may be regulated as well.
  • The boundaries of public and private lands. Hint: if you are hunting shells in front of waterfront homes, the beach area from the water to the dunes is generally public, and from the dunes inward is generally private. When in doubt, stay below the high tide line, closer to the water.


shell in sand and surf | Great Escapes OBX

And there you have it! Lots of great tips and techniques that you can use to ensure that you find the best shells in the OBX!