One of the most important considerations whenever you venture out to search for gold is to determine if the ground that you want to search is open and available to prospecting. Unfortunately, you can’t just go out and search anywhere that you want.
Private lands will require permission from the landowner prior to doing any prospecting, and many public lands have limits or bans on mining. It is important that you understand where you are allowed to prospect so you don’t get into trouble.
It is also very important that you understand how mining claims work, and ensure that you aren’t searching for gold on someone’s mining claim.
(Note: The information below is primarily for prospectors in the U.S. Depending on the country or state that you are in, the various rules will be surely be different. Be sure to do your research and make sure you are doing things the right way.)
Determining if you are on land that is open to prospecting is fairly straightforward in most areas. Get some good maps and know where you are. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management provide good basic maps that include land ownership on them.
The majority of federally managed lands are open to prospecting, but there are a few exceptions such as wilderness areas and certain areas of archeological significance. When in doubt, contact the local land management office in the area that you want to prospect.
Metal detecting for gold on private lands requires permission from the landowner, no exceptions. There is lots of good gold-bearing ground that is on private lands, and it may be worth your effort to try and get permission. You never know when you might get access to an area that has never been detected before.
It is not uncommon for prospectors to make deals with landowners on a split of the finds. The landowner grants permission, and gets 10% -20% of the total finds. It’s definitely worth considering if it gets you access to some good ground.
Mining claims are probably one of the most misunderstood (and important!) aspects of gold prospecting. In the United States, a mining claim gives the claim holder exclusive rights to the minerals on a predetermined tract of land, assuming they have properly staked, claimed, and maintained the claim by paying their required fees.
The term “claim jumper” describes someone who is searching for minerals on someone else mining claim, and it isn’t just a term from days past. There are still thousands of acres throughout the United States that are claimed, and you can get into serious trouble if you go prospecting or metal detecting on someone’s claim.
Despite popular belief, a mining claim does not need to be marked and posted to be a valid claim. Claim markers often fall down over time, get run over, or stolen. Also, it is very common to have claims post still up in places where a claim has expired and is now open for mineral exploration again. The previous claim holder just didn’t bother to go out and remove their claim markers.
You need to do your research and determine if you can legally search for gold in an area prior to ever leaving the house. One of the biggest challenges with gold prospecting is simply finding an area that is open that you can legally prospect.
With that said, there are plenty of good gold-bearing areas where you can find gold with a metal detector or any means you choose, you just need to go to the extra effort of finding them. Explaining all the complexities of mining law is beyond the scope of this post, but below you will find a few links that will give you additional information about mining claims and researching claim status. Although some of these sites are state specific, the information will generally apply to all federal lands throughout the U.S.
A program called the LR2000 is the best online tool available to search for currently claim status (link below). Claims are filed with the State BLM office as well as the County Recording Office. It is always best to contact these offices for further information and clarification about mining in your area.
You should always have a good set up paper maps for the area that you are prospecting. People are more and more reliant on electronics these days, and so often depend on their smartphones and GPS units to get around. While these are great tools, I still feel that having good quality paper maps for your area is always a good idea. You never have to worry about maps breaking or running out of battery!
Quality maps can be acquired quite cheaply from the local BLM or Forest Service Offices for the area that you want to search. They will include major roads, landmarks, and most importantly they will show private and public lands so you can avoid trespassing.
Another handy online resource for research is a program called MineCache, located at minecache.com. It provides an overlay to Google Earth that shows locations of many mines, as well as active mining claims. It is extremely handy for getting a quick view of potential claim status for a certain area, and for the most part I have found the information to be quite accurate and reliable. Still, it is important that you double check claim status with the BLM and County for the final assurance that an area is unclaimed before you start prospecting.
My Land Matters
My favorite research tool right now is mylandmatters.org. Just as with MineCache, you will need to do your final check with the BLM and County, but it provides an easy way of doing the preliminary work of checking areas for active claims before you leave the comfort of your home. It is much more user-friendly than the LR2000.