Introduction to Filing a Gold Mine or Gold Panning Claim

Old MinersIf you have “gold fever” you chose the right time, because gold prices keep going up and up, and there still is plenty of gold in “them thar hills.”  Whether you want to actually work a gold mine or prefer to pan and sluice for gold in a stream, if you’re serious and want to turn it into a business, you’re going to want to stake a claim (or buy one from someone else). 

Over the next few days, I’m going to show you how to locate a gold mining claim or gold prospecting claim, how to file a claim and protect it, and what you can and can’t do with it.  All it takes is a little knowledge and effort.  I am going to provide you with the knowledge and links to the resources you need to file a gold claim.  Are you ready?

First it’s important to become familiar with some basic terms:  mining claim; locatable minerals; lode claim; placer claim; unpatented claim; patented claim; Prudent Man Rule; Marketability Test


What is a mining claim?

A mining claim is the right to explore for and extract “locatable minerals” from a tract of federal public land in the United States. 

The General Mining Act of 1872 as amended (30 U.S.C. §§ 22-54 and §§ 611-615) is a United States federal law that authorizes and governs prospecting and mining of these minerals.  All U.S. citizens of the United States of America 18 years or older have the right under the 1872 mining law to locate a “lode” or “placer” mining claim on federal lands open to mineral entry.

A mining claim does not give you ownership of the land unless it is a “patented.”  It also doesn’t automatically mean you can build on that land.  I’ll discuss that in the post How to File a Gold Mining Claim or Gold Panning Claim.

While the property itself isn’t transferred into your name, claims to the minerals on that land may be staked, bought and sold, leased, willed, or inherited like any other property, as long as the annual fees are paid on time.

You can file gold mining claims on certain types of federal property, which will be discussed in more detail in the post Locating a Gold Claim.  While you can do prospecting on private property (with permission from the owner), you cannot file a claim there.

A final note about gold mining claims is that you can claim up to 20 acres.  However each 10 acres must be shown to be mineral-in-character (there is a reasonable expectation of further economic mineral under these lands).  So you can’t just say you want 20 acres.  You need to prove why.

Knowing the laws, rules, and regulations is very important.  However I’m going to make it very easy for you if you read all four posts in this four-part series.


What are locatable minerals?

As was explained earlier, a mining claim is the right to explore for and extract “locatable minerals” from a tract of federal public land in the United States.  Locatable minerals (also known as “stakeable minerals”) include both metallic minerals (gold, silver, lead, copper, zinc, nickel, etc.) and nonmetallic minerals (fluorspar, mica, certain limestones and gypsum, tantalum, heavy minerals in placer form, and gemstones).

Then there are minerals that are considered “NON-locatable.”  Since July 23, 1955, common varieties of sand, gravel, stone, pumice, pumicite, and cinders were removed from the General Mining Law and placed under the Materials Act of 1947, as amended. 

Today, minerals that are subject to lease include oil and gas, oil shale, geothermal resources, potash, sodium, native asphalt, solid and semisolid bitumen, bituminous rock, phosphate, and coal.  In Louisiana and New Mexico, sulphur is also subject to lease.  These deposits must be leased from the Department of Interior when found on public land.


What is a lode claim?

A lode claim, also known in California as a quartz claim, is a claim over a hardrock deposit.

Lode deposits are mineral deposits found in rock that commonly must be blasted and then milled to remove the valuable minerals. Lode claims cover classic veins or lodes having well-defined boundaries and also include other rock in-place bearing valuable mineral deposits. Examples include quartz or veins bearing gold or other metallic mineral deposits such as copper-bearing granites.


What is a placer claim?

A placer claim is a claim over gold-bearing sand or gravel, often along a stream or river. 

Placer claims cover all those deposits not subject to lode claims. Originally, placer claims included only deposits of mineral-bearing sand and gravel containing free gold or other detrital minerals. By congressional acts and judicial interpretations, many nonmetallic bedded or layered deposits, such as gypsum and highcalcium limestone, are located as placer claims now as well.

Placer deposits have accumulated through weathering and then transportation and concentration of the minerals in stream sediments.

Basically the difference between a lode claim and a placer claim is that lode claims are staked on hardrock deposits and placer claims are staked on unconsolidated deposits.


What is an unpatented mining claim?

All mining claims are initially unpatented claims, which give the right only for those activities necessary to exploration and mining, and last only as long as the claim is worked every year.


What is a patented mining claim?

If a proven economic mineral deposit is developed on an unpatented claim, provisions of federal mining laws permit owners of unpatented mining claims to patent (to obtain title to) the claim. The patented claim is then treated like any other private land and is subject to local property taxes.  That’s the GOOD news.

The BAD news is that because of a Congress-imposed moratorium, the federal government has not accepted any new applications for mining claim patents since October 1, 1994.


What is the Prudent Man Rule?

The Prudent Man Rule was first defined in Castle v Womble, 19 LD 455 (1894), where the Secretary of the Interior held that: “Where minerals have been found and the evidence is of such a character that a person of ordinary prudence would be justified in the further expenditure of his labor and means, with a reasonable prospect of success, in developing a valuable mine, the requirements of the statute have been met.”


What is the Marketability Test?

The Marketability Test was first defined by the Secretary of the Interior in Solicitor’s Opinion, 54 ID 294 (1933): “…a mineral locator or applicant, to justify his possession must show by reason of accessibility, bona fides in development, proximity to market, existence of present demand, and other factors, the deposit is of such value that it can be mined, removed, and disposed of at a profit.”


10 Comments on Introduction to Filing a Gold Mine or Gold Panning Claim

  1. bob lee
  2. just looking for a little dirt to pan in i have hah 5 heart attacks and wife had a stroke so with little money from diability we are looking to find a claim to work as we can

  3. Jann
  4. When I was in my teens we had a ranch in the Colorado High country.
    That was in the 1950′s. The ranch was sold however, I found gold there and at that time it was against the law to own it. I used to fill my mothers empty peanut butter jars up with the nuggets..yes..big nuggets of gold and she took them to Denver and had them assayed and blackmarket sold hem, at 32.00 an ounce.
    I never disclosed where i found it and today, being as the ranch is owned by someone else and they do not know they are sitting on billions of there any safe way to cash in on this knowledge i have.
    I fear just telling them and getting a bullet in my head. :)

  5. charles
  6. i am looking to stake a claim just north of phoenix. gold is abundant in arizona just as much as anywhere else. i would like to get a partner. to get this opperation going. i been looking for gold my self. and know that there is alot of gold out there. i have a couple places where i go and know there is golds there. i just need a bobcat type tractor. but i can also just do as i been doing. digging by hand. i want to get a claim steaked. or buy a claim that has been abandoned. my phone is 623-776-4844 leave me a message. i would like to get a nice opperation gpoing. i see those guys on t.v. in alaska. thier waisting thier time. the gold is here in arizona the mother lode is here waiting for me to get it. i also am going to nevada my cousin lives in reno .he knows where the gold is . and can hook me up in the areas that are rich in gold. well my number is there. here is your chance. you can sit on your ass. or get up and relalize that the gold rush is just begining.

  7. charles
  8. jann want to meet you and help you of course as a partner. and we can go get that gold. i used to live in colorado my self. but there is more gold in arizona than anywhere else in this awsome u.s.a. we live in . 623-776-5844

    Anyone in N. AL interested in finding and staking a claim together please contact me. My email address is

  9. Dan
  10. Can’t find he mapping system the BLM had on its website to locate mining claims. Can you provide the link that tells me if there is a mining claim in the area of interests? Thank you Dan

  11. Dan
  12. My email is Im also looking for a prospecting partner for the southern calif area. Will venture into NV and AZ. I search for meteorites too.

  13. Fred
  14. Kewl read, I’m way out here on the east coast, there’s quite a bit of gold that still can be found in creek beds, tributaries, and ground, however most of the lands upstate around Spartanburg sc. are owned by mining companies, and even Catawba, Union county etc in NC are almost unaccessable these days, Reed’s gold mine is open to the public, however they won’t let anyone pan for gold directly out of the creek, instead they bring it to a trough with a backhoe, and sell the dirt for $2.00 a pan, not very profitable in the long run.

    However I do have extensive research, and like all treasure seeker/hunters know, that the vast majority of the work to be done if via books.

  15. Lee
  16. You guys are so lucky to have your youth.
    I would love to go prospecting.

  17. rich foster
  18. im looking for a claim or 2 in the northern part of Georgia . I would be up to listening to a partnership or buying the claim . my email is . send me name rough area , and a good phone number
    thank you -rich

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