There are thousands of abandoned claims throughout the west
By now we here at the Western Mining Alliance have spent thousands of hours doing research, locating rivers and putting together the information on areas available for staking your own claim. What we've come to realize is there are thousands of old mines and mining claims out there and a lot of them are in very good areas.
What we term a "Closed Claim" can be many things. If you've done LR2000 searches on the BLM website then you are familiar with the term "Closed" versus "Active." A closed claim generally means it was forfeited. If you've watched closely you may know there is a period of time when the claim is neither closed nore active? Didn't know that did you?
There is a short period of time when BLM has the claim in adjudication, meaning its being prepared for forfeiture and the claim status, and the claim itself seems to just drop off the site. When it reappears it has a status of Closed. If you're a claim owner and you see your claim just disappear, you may want to check on it.
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, but the reason for the closure is important to you.
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. As a rule of thumb if you see an ideal area which isn't claimed there may be a reason. Another red flag is when you look at an area and it seems claims are filed but only held a year or two then there is also likely a reason.
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. Historically, if you look back you'll see there were legitimate claims in the area for a long time, but once the designation is slapped on the river no new claims can be filed. So when the existing claim holders eventually abandon their claims no new claims can be refiled.
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 Certain areas are withdrawn from mineral entry.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 Google as BLM GLO Records.
Claims can sold.
If a claim is sold you'll see a closed status for the previous owner's claim. It doesn't tell you someone else bought it, so you have to dig a little deeper. Your first check is to always look and see if there is a new filing in the area.
If you file late BLM doesn't play around. Remember there are thousands and 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.
The Claim Owner Modified the Claim
Sometimes you'll see a claim owner re-locate the claim to sell of part of the claim, but keeps part of the claim. This happens frequently and you need to again check for new filings in the area.
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.
The Claims Report provides a detailed listing of all claims forfeited the prior year. It gives you all the information the BLM report would provide and adds the name of the river or geographic feature and the name of the USGS mapsheet the claim is on.
Once you find a few claims you're interested in, make a list and then use LR2000 to ensure there have been no new filings in the area. New filings are a red flag meaning the area isn't going to be open for you to file a new claim in, but it's still possible.
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.
When using the Claims Report lists 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, just accept it may already be filed on and move on to the next claim. There is really no such thing as a dream claim, gold runs pretty good in a lot of places, some of those places you may never have heard of. Look for the claims off the beaten track, not the areas everyone can drive to and throw in a dredge.
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.
You're almost there. 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.