Mining Claim Primer

This section will seem overly simplistic to someone in the mining business. However, this is an attempt to define basic mining-claim terminology for the layman.

See Mining Claim Links for various state and Federal statutes.


The US Government (or in some cases a State) has issued a patent on an unpatented mining claim or group of claims.  Once a mining claim patent is issued, the Patentee (claim owner or owners) then owns 100% of the lands specified in the patent document.  The land is then private property, and can be sold, leased, built on, or mined. As with most other private property, the seller can sell the surface and minerals, and can sell them separately.

A mining claim patent however does not always include all of the lands within the boundaries of the claim.  These exceptions to the patent should be spelled out in the Patent document, and may be indicated on the Mineral Survey Plat.  For instance, in an extreme example, a patent of a 10 acre claim might only convey to the Patentee a few acres or a portion of an acre, because the remaining land had already been appropriated.

Presently there is a moratorium on the patenting of mining claims, which is unlikely to be rescinded.  Prior to the moratorium, patenting of a mining claim was extremely difficult, rare, and costly.  Claims were only patented if a valid mineral discovery was proven, often at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Early claims were generally 300 feet wide by 1500 feet long (10.66 acres). More recently, patented claims were generally 600 feet wide by 1500 feet long.


One of the requirements to “prove up” an unpatented mining claim, prior to being granted a patent, is a “Mineral Survey”. A Mineral Survey Plat is generally the best representation of where a claim lies and may also describe the exclusions, i.e. the portions of the claims not conveyed per the patent.  The Registered Mineral Surveyor who performed the mineral survey will also file his field notes of the Mineral Survey, which may provide information not found on the Mineral Survey Plat.  Mineral Surveys of most patented mining claims in Colorado were done in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, consequently there are often inaccuracies due to terrain, and the equipment used.  Many surveys were made with a solar compass (google for a photo). Distance was measure by a chain or tape or triangulation.  Often the survey tie for the claim was to a Mineral Monument; some which were miles distant, also resulting in inaccuracies due to terrain and to the tie method.

Note that not all claims upon which a mineral survey has been performed actually become patented.  Mining District Sheets (Connecting Sheets) and Master Title Plats often show Mineral Surveys of claims that were never patented, and in most cases the underlying claim is no longer active. On a Master Title Plat these unpatented mineral surveys are indicated by a lighter solid boundary-line than that of a mineral survey that was patented. A patented mineral survey will also usually show a patent number in addition to the mineral survey (MS) number.


Any US citizen over the age of 21, or any active US corporation, can locate (stake) a mining claim on certain unappropriated lands of the United States (generally BLM or USFS lands).  The claim location gives the owner of the claim a  possessory interest in the claim, but limits the owner to the right to explore for certain types of minerals.  There are strict limitations as to what the owner can do on the claim. The owner cannot live on, build on, cut timber, or gather building stone, or exclude others from his claim, except in some cases when those actions are in direct pursuit of a mining operation.  Patented mining claims were originally unpatented mining claims on which an actual discovery of valuable mineral was made and the claim or discovery was “proven up”.  To “prove up” a claim generally took years of exploration and the expenditure of thousands of dollars; hundreds of thousands of dollars today.  Furthermore, Congress has passed a moratorium on the patenting of mining claims, which is unlikely to ever be rescinded. Presently it costs $179.00 to stake a 20.66 acre claim and costs an additional $140.00 per year to keep it. BOTTOM LINE: Don’t stake a claim expecting to ever actually own the property and to be able to live on it or exclude others.


The Bureau of Land Management Master Title Plat is a township map showing actions effecting the ownership of lands originally held by the US Government. The Master Title Plat (MTP) shows the lands that have been transferred out of US ownership, but does not show the present owner.  The MTP also shows permits, some leases, and rights of way, etc.  A MTP or MTP supplement will show patented mining claims, usually with the corresponding mineral survey number. It may also show mineral surveys of claims that never completed the patent process.  A MTP is fairly reliable but they do show errors.  The map scale of a MTP is rarely correct and the position of the patented claims and mineral surveys shown is almost always grossly inaccurate.

A more informative and reliable government record, which details the  MTP notations, is the Historical Index.


Corresponding to every Master Title Plat there is a Historical Index which chronologically lists the actions that have affected the government lands within a township.  The HI will show the date of mineral survey, the patent number, and whether the mineral survey was ever patented.  It may also provide other information on the patented claim.  It does not list unpatented claims.


Mining districts with patented mining claims that originated from government lands probably all have District Sheets or Connecting Sheets that show mineral surveys. Most are more precise than MTP’s as to the position of the claim, but can still be grossly inaccurate.  These district sheets were originally under the control of the General Land Office, which later became the Bureau of Land Management.


GLO plats were prepared when a township was originally surveyed. Many date back to the 1800’s.  In some cases they are fairly accurated, depending on the equipment used.  However, in rough terrain they are generally inaccurate.  The Bureau of Land Manage has continued to resurvey many townships or portions of township, using better equipment.  GLO plats in some cases show mineral surveys, but the accuracy is poor.  Many GLO township plats have been suspended due to inaccuracies.


The Bureau of Land Management maintains a database listing certain information on patented mining claims.  The Survey Plat Detail sheet will list the acreage actually conveyed by the patent, the mining district, the date that the mineral survey was approved, the section, township, and range, and other information.


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