For several years I have been interested in gold prospecting. I have read a few books about it, bought some rudimentary equipment and panned for gold in the gold belt of North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama (found some, too) and even panned a little in Colorado and Utah (didn't find any there).
Lately, with all the financial newsletters screaming "Buy Gold!", I find myself thinking even more about prospecting. I just have a hard time convincing myself to plunk down my hard-earned money to actually buy something that may go up, or may drop in price the day after I buy it. Prospecting, however, is right down my alley. I mean, think about it: you get to camp in wilderness areas for however long you want, without feeling guilty because hey, you're "working"!
Panning isn't the way to do it, though. Not seriously. It's lots of fun and a good excuse to get out there where I want to be anyway, and it's a good way to test the waters in various areas, but if you want to get serious about it, placer mining on a claim you own is the only way to go.
Wikipedia has this to say about the subject:
In the United States, a placer claim grants to the discoveror of valuable minerals contained in loose material such as sand or gravel the right to mine on public land. Other countries such as Canada, Mexico, and Australia grant similar rights. In the United States, the valuable mineral in a placer claim is almost always gold, although other nations mine placer deposits of platinum, tin, and diamonds. Another type of mining claim is a lode claim.
A mining claim allows some security of tenure for the owner, providing an incentive to invest time and money developing the deposit. Mining claim laws vary from state to state, but claims staked over federal minerals follow federal mining law. Federal minerals are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Mining claims staked under either State or federal laws (state claims may only be staked on state-owned and managed lands; federal claims may only be staked on minerals owned by the federal government) are limited to lands available for claim staking at the time the claims are staked. Thus, if the land is not available for mineral entry (example: withdrawn due to its status as a park or refuge), then the claim is said to be invalid ab initio. An additional requirement is "Discovery", which follows the "Prudent Man Rule." This means that a sufficient indication of valuable mineral(s) would encourage a "Prudent Man" to further invest time and money developing the deposit towards the goal of mining it. The holder of a mining claim does not own the surface, the water, or even the rocks and gravel. A mining claim grants the holder with the preferential right to extract the valuable minerals within the claim, and for uses incident to that goal, such as prospecting, exploration and development. Gold mining is one of the most common uses for the staking of mining claims.
In Alaska, state mining claims may be up to 160 acres, and there is no distinction between lode or placer claims. The boundaries of the claim must follow the 4 cardinal directions, with an exception being adjustments for existing valid claims. "Claim jumping", which happens to this day, is a case where one person overstakes the claims of another. This results in civil action, and sometimes violence.
Claims staked on Federal-managed lands fall under Federal rules. Typically, the claim size is limited to 660'x 1320', or 20 acres. The claim must be either placer or lode, and the discovery point must be clearly marked.
The claim staking procedure includes setting a monument (a post of at least 3" in diameter and at least 3' visible above the ground, or a rock monument at least 3' in height) at the NE corner of the claim. This is known as the Number 1 corner, and it is here that the claimant places the location notice. Three additional monuments, one at each corner of the mining claim, must be set, numbered in a clockwise direction.
Copies of the claim documents must be filed in the local offices of the land managers, and filing fees paid. This must be completed within 45 days of the staking. In addition, fees for annual rental, filing, and work (or payments in lieu of labor) to fulfill requirements of "annual labor" must be completed by the deadlines set by the regulations in order to hold the claim. Failure to meet any of these requirements will result in a declaration of abandonment, and the claim cannot be restaked by the original locator or a successor in interest for one year from the date of abandonment. During this time, the claim may be relocated by others.
End Wikipedia article.
I have a couple of friends who do this. They own a claim in Arizona, and every summer, they park their travel trailer on the claim and stay there all summer, working the claim.
As I understand it, you can buy a claim from the existing owner, or file a new claim. Either way, you have to pay some filing fees (which aren't very much; probably less than property taxes would be if you actually owned the land) and you have to either do a certain dollar value of work on the claim each year, or pay that dollar amount if you can't get to it that year. In return, you get the use of the land for mining and mining-related activities which, depending upon the state, includes camping, building a permanent camp perhaps even to include a cabin, hunting and fishing for food, developing a water supply, etc. Some people treat a mining claim as a homestead and live on it year-round, which is fine so long as you are mining as opposed to, say, leaving everyday to go to a job (why would you want to do that, anyway?).
From what I've seen on the market, a mining claim can be bought for far less than actually buying a like amount of land. In fact, a couple of times I have almost bought a claim, and I may yet do so. But I would rather file a new claim or one which has been abandoned but is still productive...
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