You’ve no doubt heard the phrases, “First and Foremost,” or “He Who Laughs Last, Laughs Best.” Well, one thing I’ve realized over the course of my many metal detecting experiences is that seemingly the first or last finds are oftentimes the best ones. Substantiating this theory, I regularly find the same notion purported on metal detecting message boards, and the posts typically begin something like “Not 30 seconds into the hunt and…” or “I was swinging the coil while walking back to my car….” Though these same scenarios have played out for me several times, two such notable experiences come directly to mind.
Back when I first started detecting, on a hunt at my in-law’s backyard, I switched on my detector, starting swinging the coil on the edge of a flower bed, and immediately got a great hit that rang “Silver!” A quick dig confirmed it to be a 1945 Mercury dime in great condition. Turns out I didn’t find anything else of note that day. That find is obviously emblematic of the “First find, best find” half of my theory, but it sticks out to me even more so because it was my first merc. The can slaw and foil I dug that day didn’t even register in my head because the initial find was so memorable.
When a first dig yields a great find, it sort of fills your tank with enough adrenaline to carry you through the rest of the hunt, putting that instant thought in your head that “this is going to be a great hunt.” No matter if that prediction holds up or not, at least you know for the remainder of the hunt you’ve got something good in your finds pouch that you can savor later. It’s a great feeling and I relish it every time it occurs.
As to the other half of the theory, how many times have you found something on your way back to your car, house, or wherever you have concluded a hunt? I call this type of last-ditch effort “retreat swinging” and it often has resulted in a substantial find for me. No more perfect an example of this was the last-dig unearthing of my oldest and proudest find to date: a 1723 Wood’s Hibernia copper. I won’t rehash the excavation and exhausting ID process that followed that find (you can read much more about it here), but the important factor is that it occurred as I swung the coil on the return trip from my backyard to my garage to store my detector for the day. That hunt, in stark contrast to the merc hunt mentioned above, was a complete bust from the beginning until that very last find.
It’s even better when a last-dig, best find occurs naturally and is not forced. By “forced,” I mean that sometimes we may say to ourselves “I’m not stopping until I find something good” or “I won’t quit until I get another coin,” and the hunt ends positively because we intend it that way. However, when it happens organically, as was the case with my Hibernia find, it quite unexpectedly transforms a losing hunt into a winner. There is no longer a memory or emphasis on the pull tabs and other assorted junk unearthed; you’re too engaged with that final piece of treasure and it motivates you to get out on a hunt the very next day.
So, if there’s a moral here (other than simply giving voice to the first/last find theory I’ve often held), it’s that if you find something good on the first dig, savor it; don’t think ahead to your next dig or what the property at hand may also yield. Conversely, if a hunt is going poorly for an extended period, keep hope alive; your last swing can be the one that brings you to glory.