There are thousands of abandoned claims throughout the west
Do you want your own mining claim? A good way to get one is to go over the list of claims which have been closed by BLM. BLM posts this information online at https://reports.blm.gov/reports.cfm?application=LR2000. You can search a number of ways for closed claims, but if a claim has been forfeited it will be in the database. Each year thousands of claims are forfeited and available for new filing. Unlike real estate, mining claims are more like a subscription, if you don't renew it every year then you lose it. Claims are forfeited for a lot of reasons.
A claim can be sold, transferred, quit-claimed, abandoned or forfeited and we're sure there are some other possibilities as well which were not aware of. For simplicity we'll just call them closed claims.
Generally a closed claim is available for new location, but not always. Each year we see people file claims in areas which can't be claimed. If you see an ideal claim, in an ideal area, which appears to be open - check twice. Another red flag is when you see claims which are abandoned after only a year.
A good example is the Middle Fork of the Feather. Each year we'll see people file new claims in an area which is designated as wild and scenic river. Prior to the wild and scenic designation there were legitimate claims. Those claims were grandfathered and remain valid mining claims. Once one of those claims is abandoned or forfeited the area is no longer available for new locations. People will see a claim closed, then file, not realizing the area is withdrawn from new claim locations.
Pay attention to the details, for mining claims they're important. Just because there isn't a mining claim there doesn't mean there can be. Certain areas are withdrawn from mineral entry. You can go out put some stakes down, file with the county and BLM and everyone will gladly take your money, but about a year later you'll get a letter from BLM saying the area isn't open to mineral entry and your claim is forfeited. You can check land status by using BLM's master plat records which you can find by typing in BLM GLO Records.
Usually when a claim is sold BLM simply changes the name of the owner. Selling a claim doesn't affect its status, it's still a valid claim. However, sometimes a person will use an abandonment form instead of a quit claim form and BLM will then close the claim. The new owner would need to file a new location to have a legitimate claim.
If you file late BLM doesn't play around. Remember there are thousands of claims out there and they can't notify every owner if they're late. If you file late then your claim is forfeited as a matter of law. Each year you must file something to keep your claim active. The majority of claim owners file and pay the annual maintenance fee. However, if you own 10 or fewer mining claims you can file the small miners waiver. If you file the waiver you must also submit an affidavit of assessment work. In the first year you must also file a Notice of Intent to Hold (NOI) and for tunnel and mill sites you must file this annually. It's pretty easy to miss one of these filings and it happens every year. If you miss - then you forfeit the claim.
People sometimes pay the wrong amount of fees. Sometimes it can be tricky on how much you owe. Some filings are no cost, some are low cost and some, like the maintenance fee, are relatively high cost. If you're filing multiple things it can be easy to miss a fee.
If you want to look for your own claim, then a good starting point is the Western Mining Alliance Claims Report. This is the single best source of information for finding forfeited claims and provides all claims forfeited the previous year by the Western states. The report takes the tedious part of looking section by section and instead provides all closed claims by county, river or other geographic location. This may lead you to areas you hadn't considered when you start looking at claims which have closed.
We produce an annual report on mining claims which is likely the most detailed report available. Each year we track over a quarter million claims across the west and beginning in October we compile a list, by state, of claims we believe will be forfeited over the next six months. With this list you can find areas which potentially will be available for new claims well ahead of the general public.
The Western Mining Alliance Advanced Report publishes the list of claims still in adjudication, or already forfeited by BLM. This list contains many claims which won't be forfeited and extra caution is required when using it to ensure you don't file over a legitimate mining claim. With diligence and research you will find the gems, but there is also a lot of chaffe to sort out.
The Claims Report provides a check to see whether any new claims have been filed since the previous claim closed. But, claims close and are filed every day. In Nevada, for a typical year we see about 20,000 new claim filings and about 15,000 closures. When using the Claims Report you should always take the next step and verify with LR 2000, the official source for mining claim status. Check to ensure there is no filing in the same area, in the same year as you think the claim was forfeited. If there is a new filing you can go to the county recorder and request a copy of the filing. We've found that about 90% of the time when we see a claim close in a good area, and we see a new claim, that new claim is usually filed where the old claim was.
If you find a claim which you believe may be forfeited you'll notice a hyperlink on the claim number on LR 2000. Click on this hyperlink and it will display a record of filings. Although this isn't 100% accurate it can eliminate some claims which are on your list. If there are no filings for the assessment year then you're ready to move on to the next stage of your research, actually visiting BLM, or calling them.
Once you have a short list its time to validate your information. A quick trip to the BLM office can provide you with additional information LR 2000 doesn't have. Specifically it can tell you whether the previous claim owners filed, or if there has been a change of ownership. BLM runs a supporting database to LR 2000 which is accessible only to employess which provides them additional detail. It only takes about 10 minutes, but when you are looking to file a mining claim this is time well spent.
While at the BLM office pay the money and buy a copy of the BLM guide to mining claims, "Location and Validitity of Mining Claims and Sites in California," this is an excellent resource to legally file and maintain your mining claim.
One last check then its out to the field. You need to visit the county recorder and check records for the specific section you're interested in. A mining claim must be filed with the county recorder to be valid. Prior to 1972 mining claims only had to be filed with the county recorder, not BLM. If you know the claim name or the claim owner then looking up the claim is easy. Most of the recorders have a few dedicated computers you can use to check the status. If you don't know the claim name, or owner, then you can go to the tax assessors office and for $1.00 (or so) you can get a print out of all properties in the section. This will include mining claims. This list will provide you with the owner names and parcel IDs. With this information you can return to the County Recorder and look up the owner filings.
If everything looks good you're on to the last step. Go to the location and walk it, check it, and take a pan so you can make your discovery. Some people never visit the claim prior to filing and this isn't legal. Your goal is to file a legal mining claim. Location requirements vary from state to state so know your state's requirements. For California, if its a placer claim filed under the Public Land Survey System then you need only post a discovery monument with the location notice. If it's a lode claim you must still post all four corner markers and the discovery monument. Put up your monument and your location notice with a map which shows the boundaries of your claim. This is important for others who are either neighboring claim owners, or others who are looking for claims. I've seen people also put a copy of their annual assessment work or maintenance fee filing to let people know its an active claim. The law says when you drop a claim you're supposed to remove the posts, but few people do so there are an awful lot of old monuments out there.
Before you run out there and start picking up a bunch of claims realize it can be expensive. The cost for 2015 is $155 per 20 acres. It may not sound like much for a mining claim but it adds up quickly. By the time you actually file the claim with BLM your cost for a 20 acre claim will be $212, then there is about $20 to file with the county. Each year you'll need to pay property taxes which vary, but are around $25 - $50 per 20 acres on average. It adds up.
Filing on abandoned claims is full of risk. This risk is manageable, but you should know what you're doing. Many people over-file legitimate claims each year. Usually it's resolved peacefully, but keep in mind if you file over someone you just lost your money. You have no legal right to a claim not lawfully located. Sometimes its hard to determine the boundaries, especially of the older claims. If in doubt - don't file.
It's possible someone could jump on your newly filed claim, and this happens every year. Sometimes a person will see a new filing at BLM and then just change their location date to be before your location date and file a new location. BLM will accept the location notice with the older date as the legitimate claim. Remember, you have 90 days from the date you monument your claim to file with both the county recorder and BLM. When you file with BLM the new location goes onto LR 2000 and people who are smart at using LR 2000 can do a search for newly filed claims and then walk in with a new location notice. Some people will wait to file with BLM until the 90 days is almost up, then drop the paperwork to ensure this doesn't happen.
There's a lot of people out there who are willing to steal your claim. Don't be one of them. If you're lucky enough to get a good claim do it ethically. We've seen some people jump on a claim the day after paperwork was due. That's a good way to really create some bad blood, not just between you and the prior claim owner, but between you and neighboring claim owners. Rivers are really like small commuities for dredgers and claim owners get to know each other. If you're the guy who just took the claim, don't expect a lot of friendliness up and down the creek.
There are thousands of claims out there to be filed on. Some rivers may be better than others, but with work, patience and research your odds of acquiring a good mining claim are pretty good. There's just too many areas out there with gold to make enemies doing it. Life is short, gold is plentiful. With research and work you too can have your own mining claim.