Disclaimer: In order to avoid the wrath of attorneys who make a living doing this we're obligated to tell you this article isn't legal advice and you should consult with a competent mining attorney when considering filing or purchasing a mining claim. We don't represent the information provided here is in compliance with the myriad of laws, regulations and legal precedence. We disavow any attempt to provide legal advice and fully admit we're just dumb miners with no knowledge of legal things. The information below is simply a summary of information provided by the Bureau of Land Management in their book "Location and Validity of Mining Claims in California."
Many people file mining claims which aren't valid. It takes more than just filling out the papers, dropping them at BLM and putting up some signs. We've looked at thousands of claim filings over the past couple of years and it is our opinion at least 50% of them arent' valid. We thought we'd summarize some of the reasons people file invalid claims so you can avoid expending the money and time to file a claim incorrectly.
The legal location of a mining claim must follow fairly precise rules established by the Bureau of Land Management, in accordance with the 1872 Mining Law and state and local laws, as well as other federal laws passed since the 1872 Mining Law. The BLM book is perhaps the best source of information on how to file and maintain a mining claim correctly and we recommend it if you are considering filing your own claim. The book is available from the BLM State Office for a few dollars, but its worth it. If you are in Nevada, we have a digital copy of a guide put out by the University of Nevada on our Research page.
This is the most common problem we see. A single locator can file on only 20 acres. Often we see a location with far more acreage than is allowed. BLM will typically file a flawed claim and give you a registration number, they typically don't review the claim for validity unless there is a dispute (with them). Disputes between claimants is a civil matter and BLM doesn't referee. In one case we saw a person who had located 320 acres and the BLM had issued a claim number for it. Probably to this day that person thinks they have a valid mining claim, but other claimants could swoop down on him like vultures and pick apart the entire claim and the claimant would have no recourse because it's not a valid claim. Two locators can file on 40 acres, three locators 60 acres and so on up to a maximum of 160 acres by eight locators.
Second only to acreage the gulch claim is a real problem. Sure, it's legal to file a gulch, but BLM discourages it and for good reason. If your claim is in an area which has been surveyed you are supposed to file in accordance with the Public Land Survey System. You can file a gulch if your minerals are in a very narrow area, such as a river. Although we've seen a lot of gulch filings we haven't seen many which are valid. While people know they can file a gulch claim by using metes and bounds such as "Beginning at the confluence of Slug Gulch an Starvation Creek and extending up Starvation Creek to the North with 50 yards on each side of the center line..." The gulch claim must still be constrained to 20 acres for one locator, 40 for two and so on. However, most people don't realize the gulch claim must fit into a 40 acre square with one locator, a 60 acre square for two locators and so on. Most people run their gulch claims across multiple 40 acre squares trying to take up as much creek as they can. It is not a valid claim. You should consult the BLM manual prior to filing a gulch claim. It's a risky type of claim but if you insist on doing it do it right and read up on it.
Commonly referred to as "Claim Jumping." We've seen a lot of over-filings. The problem is especially bad on the big popular rivers such as the North Fork of the Yuba but we've seen the problem on a lot of secondary rivers as well. On one claim we saw two people over-filed on the top of a valid claim and each person had held their claims for at least six years without realiziing they had over-filed and had been over-filed. When you're in an area with a lot of old claims make sure you do thorough research. Don't just look at the BLM closed claim list as your guidane. We've seen multiple instances where a claim which was held for ten or twenty years, and in one case sixty years, was over-filed on top of a valid mining claim dating back 100 years. When the claims get to be that old you really have to spend some time in the County Recorders office to determine the claim ownership history. We just saw on "closed" on Oregon Creek where the closed claim was overfiled on a valid claim from 1892 and then the over-filer had been over-filed by yet another person. It can be a real mess, so with any claim always go to the County Recorder. If you're buying a claim there is no "title search" and you need to do it yourself. Be really careful when buying a claim to ensure it's not actually a claim filed over another claim. People will sell anything, and people will buy anything. Do your homework or find someone to do it for you. At the least ask for a money back guarantee the claim is valid. May not be worth much, but it's something.
Read the requirements for location. Paper filing is not location. You need to go to the claim, make a discovery and erect a monument. You then have 90 days in which to file your location notice with the County Recorder and BLM. If you don't go to the creek, the actual creek, you won't know if someone has already staked it. States differ on the requirements for boundaries. Lode claims typically always must have corner markers, a discovery monument and sometimes center line markers, but they are always filed by metes and bounds. Placer claims in some states, such as California, if they are filed by the Public Land Survey System need not have corner markers, but still must have the discovery monument. It's always a good idea to put up corner markers or witness points to let others know your boundaries.
You should try to be as accurate as possible on your location document. You do this so others looking for claims in the area can see your claim. When we're doing research we really appreciate good, accurate filings. Many of the filings we look at our sloppy, unreadable, unable to see the location on the map or are just filed in the wrong place. The law doesn't require perfection, but you should try to be as accurate and clear as you can. The description should be as close as possible to your on-the-ground markers. In the case of a dispute between the paper filing and your boundary markers the boundary markers take precedence, if you've made a reasonable effort to locate.
If you over-file a legal mining claim, then drop your filing. You can't file a claim in an area not open to location. If a claim exists then it's not open to new location. If you over-file part of another claim then you can amend your claim and drop the part you over-filed on. There are thousands of areas to file in, there is no need to get into a court fight over a claim. If you're right, then stick to your guns, but if you're wrong then drop it. There are hundreds of mistakes you can make when filing claims, and quite frankly we've made them all. It's likely we've abandoned as many claims as we've kept because we got something wrong in the filing. It's easy to screw up the filing. For many things, including the location description you can amend the location notice, but for some things you can't. The most important part of locating a mining claim remains ensuring the area is open to new location. If you're not willing to do the research required at the County Recorder's then you are taking a big gamble.