How to Locate a Gold Mining Claim

How to Locate a Gold Mining Claim

Yes it is true; you can still go out on government land and stake a gold claim similar to the days of the gold rush.  You just need some determination, the spirit of adventure, and willingness to do a little hard work.  In California and 18 other states the government will still allow a US Citizen to prospect for valuable mineral deposits and locate a mineral claim.  This right is granted under the General Mining Law of 1872 that’s grants people the right to explore and search for minerals on public lands and also states the rules for locating a mining claim.  Finding a mining claim can be fun and rewarding. It is not however a simple process.   It requires multiple trips to the gold country, numerous trips to the county seat and BLM Headquarters to file the appropriate paperwork.  I just located my first claim a few years ago and received quite an education in the process.  I will share my experience you in a hope to reduce the complicated process down to a simple 3 or 4 step process that is fun and easy.

A little over a 150, years ago my Great Great Grandfather came to California via a Clipper Ship to search for gold in the foothills.  He was able to discover enough gold to buy a 1500 acre ranch in the Sonoma Valley.  Staking or as it is called now, “Locating” a claim was very similar in those days as it is today.  However there now is a lot more paper work involved.  During the gold rush miners would simply drive 4 stakes into the ground and lay claim to that territory.   The land claimed by the miner was respected by other miners as off limits to mining by non-authorized miners.  When the miner went home for the day he would simply leave his tools in the hole signifying that it was an active claim and that it was not abandoned.  Other miners would generally leave the claim alone for at least ten days without seeing any activity on the claim.  After ten days the neighboring miners would figure that the claim owner must have lost interest, went in search for other claims, or got killed and wouldn’t be returning and the ground was open again for a new claim owner.  Today claims are protected by filing the proper paper work with the regulatory agencies.  Claims can be held for up to one year without any activity.  These agencies also can give a miner “Title” to the claim that can be sold, traded, or purchased legally in a more civilized manner.

Before you “Locate” your claim it is very important to do your research prior to going out in the field.  The easiest way to start is to find a basic area that you are interested in gold mining.  You may like the area for many different reasons.  Some reasons may include the proximity to your own house, good history of finding gold in the past and easy access to the location where you would like to mine.  So before you step one foot out into the woods, you first must determine what land is open to mining and mineral entry.  You can forget about State Parks, National Parks and Monuments, campgrounds.  These lands generally are off limits to locating your own mining claim and are generally closed to mineral entry.  You can however try to search for land on most US Forests and BLM land.  Currently the BLM manages 47 million acres of subsurface mineral estates underlying federal surface land. So with that being said, there is a lot of land out there that is ready to be claimed.  It is the miner’s responsible to know what land is open to mineral entry and what area is closed or already claimed.  There is no one map that shows every claim.  Up to this year there was a terrific website that did list most of the claims and gave you great place to start.  However that website was shutdown. The site still offers other services that are worth checking out, including topo maps.  A miner is faced with the tedious but important chore of finding out what land is open for mineral entry.  It is best to find the legal description of the area and go to the BLM office in Sacramento and check with them to assure that there is not already a claim and that the area is open to mineral entry.  In good gold barring areas there are frequently wide areas that are already claimed. Once you have determined what land is open, you are now ready to go out into the field.

Once you are out in the field it is important to find an area that actually has gold.  It is a legal prerequisite for a valid mining claim that within the boundaries of the claim, that there actually be a valuable mineral deposit.  The word “Valuable” is up to you to determine the definition, but if you can find $100.00 worth of gold a year on the claim that is generally accepted as a valuable mineral deposit.

Marking the claim

If the claim is not marked correctly the claim could be considered invalid and you run the risk of losing the claim.  The most common way to make the claim is to place a stake in each corner of the claim.   A stake  must be wood  at least 1 ½ inches in diameter that projects higher than 2 feet above the ground or a mound of rocks taller than 2 feet above the ground or a non perforated capped metal post or pipe at least 1inch round and taller than 2 feet above ground.  Each claim marker should have some information on it.  The marker should include the following information.

                Name of the claim

                Mailing address

                Number of feet of stream or acres

                Date of location

                A description of the Monuments             

                A description of the claim

This information should be posted on the markers or I have seen some claims place this info in a water proof jar or bottle at the base of the marker.  It is a good idea to note the GPS coordinates of the corner markers to help with the legal description of the claim.  After placing a discovery monument at the point where you discovered your valuable mineral deposit, you have 90 days to file your claim with the office of the BLM in Sacramento.  You also have 180 days to place the corner monuments on each of the corners of your claim.  The BLM recommends that you erect the corner monuments the same day that you stake your discovery monument.  Each corner post should have NE1/4 or NW1/4 or SE1/4 or SW1/4 posted on the stake.  You will have to draw a map of your claim and the corner monuments should line up with map. 

Each man women or child is allowed to claim 2o acres.  You can add up to 8 people on a single claim making the claim as large as 160 acres. You will need to fill out a FM-2(a) form titled Placer Mining Claim Location Notice and head to the BLM office in Sacramento.  It is a very secure building and you won’t be allowed to bring your cell phone or camera into the building.  You will also need a photo ID to enter.  Once in the building, head over to the Mining Department where you can file your claim.  The office staff is a little over worked and a little less than helpful.  They will answer your questions, but don’t go out of their way to educate you about the entire process.  Have your questions ready before you go in to the office.   You will have to pay your fees which add up to $189 for the first year.  You will have to file the FM-2(a) from and a map of your claim clearly marked.  It is important to note that all claims must be in the shape of a square or rectangle with lines running north to south and east to west. You can simply draw on a topo map with a ruler to mark your lines. I have found a useful tool that they have for sell is a book titled, “Location and Validity of Mining Claims and Sites in California”.  It is about the size of a phone book and is packed with all the rules and regulations of locating a claim.  The book also has copies of some of the forms that you will need.  It is a good resource.  Once you have filed your claim in the BLM office you will need to go to the county recorder’s office in the county that your claim is located.   You will need the same forms and map.  The county usually only charges a small fee for service and a per page fee for recording.  Once you have recorded with the county your claim is now legally yours!

You are now able to sell, trade, will, or just hold your claim.  You are now entitled to all the valuable minerals on your claim. Owning a claim doesn’t give you the right to keep hikers, fishermen, hunters, ect… off the claim.  You are only entitled to the mineral below the surface.  It will be up to you to enforce your rights.  I have found that people love to rip down claim signs.  If your claim has good access you may want to use a ladder to post signs high out of vandals reach.  I was disappointed to return to my claim the first time to find my signs ripped down and tossed down the hill.  If you have problems on your claim with vandals, litter bugs or dope growers, you may want to contact the BLM law enforcement division.  I have found that they take managing their property seriously and will act on any illegal activity on BLM land.

Locating a mining claim is a lot of work but it is very rewarding.   Take the time to do the research before going into the field.  Bring the nessarsay equipment to locate and stake the claim properly.  Fill out and file the paper work correctly with the BLM and the County Recorder’s Office.  Then enjoy your claim.