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DNF: When You Just Can't Find It

Updated on May 17, 2016

Every geocacher experiences it at some point sooner or later: A DNF. There are mixed emotions and reactions, but knowing what to do when you really cannot find cache after a careful, extensive search is what matters. It is the difference between success in disguise and complete defeat.

What is a DNF?

DNF is an acronym for Did Not Find. Whether the seeker simply failed to spot the cache or something unfortunate happened to the container, the end result is that the person looking for it failed to uncover its whereabouts and sign the log. This can be extremely frustrating or just mildly annoying depending upon how much effort went into reaching ground zero. A nano missing from its roadside spot is certainly irritating, but undoubtedly less frustrating than promised ammunition can full of goodies at the end of a long hike.

Losing the Battle...

Accepting the fact that you did not find the cache container can be disappointing. The effort to find it feels wasted and you wonder if the time would have been better spent searching for another cache. There may also be doubts that you just didn’t look hard enough or that another geocacher would have spotted it immediately.

But do not feel that a DNF is entirely your fault! In fact, the lack of a find at the designated spot may not have been your fault at all. There is the possibility that the container was not re-hidden properly after the last person found it. Occasionally, a fellow seeker may feel that the cache was not hidden well enough from the sight of muggles; as a result, he or she re-hid the container deeper in its place, a few feet away, or perhaps even covered with camouflage. This sort of rehiding, while discouraged by the community, does happen from time to time.

Another unfortunate thing that can happen is that the cache was disturbed by muggles, or non-players. Occasionally, someone who isn’t into geocaching comes upon the container and decides to investigate. This is the reason that it is HIGHLY encouraged that a note be included in the container explaining what it and geocaching are about. Sometimes the individual will put it back as it was, but more malicious people may purposefully misplace, steal from, or destroy the container.

In yet other instances, Mother Nature herself may be the reason that a geocache goes missing. If, for example, a container is placed on a beach, it might survive the changing tides on a day to day basis, but what if stronger weather comes passing through the area? The container might very well get damaged or washed away should the waves reach it. For caches hidden along nature trails, extreme shifts in temperature can cause a container to crack or warp. There is a reason why food items are forbidden from geocaches; animals have a much better sense of smell than humans do, and it is not unheard of for a creature gnaw through or smash a container to get at potential food items inside.

...But Possibly Winning the War

Not all hope is lost, however, just because a geocache could not be found. There are several things that can be done when a DNF occurs.

  1. Log your visit as a Did Not Find - Logging that you didn't find the geocache lets other seekers know that this is either a difficult find or that the cache needs maintenance of some kind. If the cache was on their list of ones to go after, they might want to give it some time before attempting it.
  2. Log a Needs Maintenance visit - When you log a Needs Maintenance log, it not only alerts other seekers and the cache owner of the situation, but also alerts administrators on Geocaching.com that there is a problem. They may remind the cache owner that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. If there are enough complaints and they are not taken care of, the cache may be archived.
  3. Add to your Watchlist - If you have your heart set on a particular geocache, but it isn't findable, add it to your Watchlist. By doing so, you are better able to keep an eye on activity pertaining to it. Has someone found the cache since you logged the DNF? Did the owner perform maintenance? When activity happens to a cache being watched, you will receive notifications accordingly.

Hit or Miss

In the end, one of two things will happen after a DNF or a Needs Maintenance visit is logged. The best thing that can happen is that the cache gets the attention that it needs and is made functional once again. In the worst case scenario, the cache is ignored and ultimately archived. The notion to take away from this is that while the game is not perfect, not every Did Not Find is your fault and that there IS something that you, as a player, can do to help work out the problems.

What do you feel is the worst part of a Did Not Find?

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