How to file a mining claim

Author: KEVIN HOAGLANDFriday, March 28, 2014

How to file a mining claim

Categories: From Gold Prospectors magazine

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From the Gold Prospectors July/August 2013 issue

By Kevin Hoagland

Since gold prices broke the $1,000 mark, I have never been asked more questions from GPAA members about how to file a mining claim: "What is a claim? How big can a claim be? How do I go about staking a claim? How do I share a claim with the GPAA? How much does it cost to file a claim?"

What is a mining claim?

There are two types of Bureau of Land Management recognized mining claims: lode and placer. In this article, I will cover placer claims. The easiest definition of a placer claim is: “All forms of deposit, except veins of quartz, or other rock in-place.” Or, simply, any deposit not located in a lode deposit. OK, so still what is a claim? A mining claim is a piece of publicly accessible federal land located in states that are open for mineral entry and claiming. On this public land, you — the locator — have found a viable locatable mineral deposit, such as gold or silver and you wish to mine these metallic minerals.

Some federal lands are not eligible for claiming. Areas like national parks and monuments are certainly out of bounds. American Indian and military reservations are off the list as well. And, while there are some military reservations that will allow entry but not claims, I’ve found that because of all the hoops one must jump through it’s not really worth your time and effort. Also off limits to prospecting and mining are areas set aside for research and, of course, those designated for wildlife protection as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System and some areas designated as Wild and Scenic.

A mining claim gives you the right to extract the minerals on the claim, but doesn’t give you exclusive rights to the property. In other words, the minerals are yours to remove within specified guidelines, but you cannot keep others from using or being on your claim so long as they are not prospecting or mining. On any given day, I can visit one of my claims and find a host of people enjoying my claim by camping on it or using a great swimming hole during the summer.

How big is a claim?

The maximum size is 20 acres per person or locator in the Lower 48 states. The maximum size for an association placer claim is 160 acres with eight or more people. To keep it simple, let’s stick to the scenario of one person staking a single 20-acre claim.

How do I stake a claim?

It’s easier than most people think to stake and file a claim. You need to start out with a locatable mineral source. In this case, it is gold that you’ve found in or on a placer location. This is your point of discovery, which you will need to set your corner posts and file your proposed claim. Let’s say your claim is 660 feet by 1,320 feet — a 20-acre claim. Follow the four cardinal directions with the point of discovery in the middle.

Note: Know though that claims do not always have to follow an exacting line within a singular grid and that the point of discovery is not always going to be located in the middle of the claim. This is where your prospecting skills come in and you will always want to claim the best paydirt.

On your topographical map, you will locate your new claim by section, township and range. After doing this, you will generally leave the field and head back to your home office. With the map section information, you will likely want to enlarge it to a full sheet of paper using a copier. Now, draw in the area for the claim to scale. A maps section is made up of four equal parts which divides total area into the NE, SE, SW and NW, which in turn are divided equally into 16 squares. This means that any two connecting squares will equal 20 acres. In this case, your fictitious claim is located in the western half to the southwest in the northwest corner in Section 35, Township 12 ½ North in Range 2W in the Gila and Salt River Meridian (Hint: Townships are listed on the left side of your topo map while ranges are listed across the top.) This is written on your paperwork as a 1-20 acre mining claim in the West ½, SW ¼, NW ¼  of Sec 35 T 12 ½ N, R 2W, GSRM. I know it seems a bit confusing at first, but a little practice will allay any uncertainty.

The hunt begins

Wait until you know the status of the land before setting any location or corner monuments just in case you find another claim on the spot or an overlap. You can always adjust for an overlap in your office and it is much easier to do it there than in the field by physically moving posts.

Note: I have known of a few prospectors who have set their location marker when they made their first discovery only to find later they had over-claimed a spot and walked away from it without removing their marker. Be sure to always check for any current paperwork that you may find in the area of the claim you are considering staking. Out-of-date paperwork or no paperwork is a good indicator that the area is not currently under claim.

Now, let’s see how to check the area for claims. I suggest you become familiar with the BLM website, LR2000:

This website is the easiest way to check the status of the land you want to claim. And, believe me, it is much easier and faster than the olden days of just a few years ago when we would have to visit the BLM office to search for hours through microfiche files.

The LR2000 site will show you if your dream claim is already under claim or if there are any special circumstances concerning the land. This is very important information to research because if you move forward without verifying the status of the land, you could find yourself over-claiming an existing claim which would make yours invalid. It is not the job of the BLM office to tell you if you are over-claiming. Their responsibility is to file your paperwork and collect the non-refundable fees associated with your filing. You are expected in all cases to properly research the land status.

Stake and file your claim

So, you have done everything correctly to this point and for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that the land status is open. Let’s stake and file!

Grab your GPS and take a trip to your local prospecting store to pick up four corner marker tags and a federal mining claim sign. Run to your local lumber or plumbing supply store and get some 4 x 4 wooden posts or three-inch or four-inch PVC pipe, a plastic or metal container for the paperwork and your posthole digger or narrow blade shovel.

Let’s use three-inch PVC pipe for this example. If you are going to use PVC pipe of any size, it cannot be perforated pipe and you must use a cap on all pipe to prevent birds and little critters from becoming trapped in the pipe. The cap will also keep the pipe from filling with water when it rains.

Some states are no longer allowing PVC pipe for location markers, so be sure to check the current regulations of the area you are looking to set your post. Heading back to your claim set your point of discovery marker. Dig a hole deep enough to secure the PVC post underground. The BLM is now recommending that you bury your post no more than one foot into the ground with 3-4 feet above the ground showing. This is another reason why having proper paperwork at the point of discovery is required. In many areas, depending on the foliage or terrain, a shorter post may not be easily seen. Properly drawn maps are a must for letting others know the directions and distances to the corners of your claim. Stack rocks around the base of the post for support and affix your large “Federal Mining Claim” sign to it. I do this with an all-weather fast dry epoxy. I also duct tape and epoxy a plastic or metal container to the post with the opening facing down. This will give you a place to keep your paperwork secure and out of the elements once you have finished filing. Generally, I attach the lid to the container with a piece of nylon cord to keep it from disappearing. 

Using the marked-up map and GPS, locate your corners and place the post and your completed corner marker tags. The NE corner will be your No. 1 corner and your other corners will be SE No. 2, SW No. 3 and NW No. 4. These are compass positions that will allow people to instantly see where they are on your claim and give them a direction to look for the other corners. 

With this done, it’s time to finish the paperwork. Depending on the state, you’ll have anywhere between 30 to 90 days after staking your claim to complete the paperwork. I suggest you do not dally and get your claim registration done as quickly as possible. I’m lucky, here in Arizona, that I have a BLM office not far away and it’s always worth the trip to file in person. If you do not have the proper paperwork for filing, visit the BLM website: Once online, you can search for the forms you’ll need. Most forms are universal, but some requirements may vary by state.

Not only will you will need to file your paperwork with a BLM office, you will also have to file your paperwork in the County Recorder’s office where the claim is located. Filing is when you will need to break out the wallet to pay the filing fees. By the time you’re done, expect to pay $190 to $220 for filing fees with the BLM and the county.

Once you’ve received your certified serial numbers from the BLM, it’s time to make it all official. Head back to your claim, final paperwork in hand, place a copy of your paperwork into the container, secure the lid, add your serial numbers to your signs and you’re done! You have successfully located, filed and officially been granted a federal mining claim.



If you are interested in sharing a claim with the GPAA, contact the Claims Department for all of the current information about Share-A-Claim opportunities. Call 1-800-551-9707.

Kevin Hoagland is the Executive Director of Development for the Gold Prospectors Association of America and Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association. He can be reached at

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