by Silent Doug
Letterboxers often include a cryptic tag line in email messages or when they stamp a letterbox journal, a series of letters and numbers that might look something like this:P17 F43 X18
This is a shorthand way of letting others know how many letterboxes you have planted (or placed) (P) or found (F), or personal stamps that you have exchanged (X) with other letterboxers you've met on the trail. Another way to swap personal stamps is to attend a local or regional gathering of letterboxers. These events allow letterboxers to exchange personal stamps, hunt for letterboxes planted for the occasion, and enjoy the company of others who share your interest in the hobby. The event organizers usually create a special "event stamp" for the gathering. Attendees stamp their logs with this custom stamp, and include an "E" in their tag to represent the number of event stamps they've collected.
Hitchhikers are counted in much the same way as letterboxes. If you create a hitchhiker and get it started on its journey, you can include it in your P count. If you find a hitchhiker in a letterbox, then you can count it in your F count. When you drop off that hitchhiker to a new letterbox, however, you should not include it in your P count.
Some letterboxers may add a "V" to represent the "virtual" letterboxes that they've found, or they may trackhitchhikers with an "H" or "HH." From here, imaginations can run wild, with letterboxers counting everything from how many of their boxes have been confiscated by park officials to how many 911 calls they've had to make while out on the trails!
You can only include a letterbox in your F count once, no matter how many times you visit that box, even if the stamp, clues or location have changed. You must also record your visit in the letterbox's journal for it to count as a find. If the journal is full, or the stamp is missing, then it's probably okay to count the find. Identifying the probable location of a box from a distance and then turning back because or rain or darkness does not count as a find (next time, bring a flashlight and rain poncho!). If you can't find a box, but you do find evidence that the box has been destroyed -- perhaps mangled by critters or ill-mannered teenagers -- then you can't count it as a find. (Not to be philosophical, but can you find what isn't there?)
Private letterboxes can be counted in your P and F counts, as well as letterboxes not listed on the LbNA web site. As long as a box has a clue, stamp, and journal, it's eligible to be counted as a find.
The Letterboxing North America FAQ discusses some of these issues, and others have been discussed on the LbNA talk list. There is a general consensus of how to manage your counts, but you're on the honor system, so feel free to modify your personal recordkeeping to fit your own desires. The overriding rule of thumb is that you shouldn't try to deceive anyone with your PFX count.