Creating a prospecting map

Example Prospecting Map

Due to a recent BLM application upgrade, the process I use for creating a prospecting map has changed a little. This document describes the simplified new process, however my previous article on the topic still has some useful information and is worth a look. Note that the last set of steps of creating your prospecting map hasn’t changed, so this article refers you back to the original one.

Let’s start by understanding our goal. You are creating your prospecting map to help you discover the borders of the claims in and around the area you want to prospect. While prospecting you will use your map to find claim boundaries to ensure you don’t mineral trespass.

This article should provide you with information on Mining Claims and how to prepare before your prospecting trip to ensure you are not breaking the law (often called mineral trespassing which is simply taking minerals from a claimed area). You will learn about the mining claim processes, learn how to research locations of claims in your prospecting target area, get them onto a map, and use that map to avoid mineral trespass. Let’s get started.

What is a mining claim and what are the general rules?

Let’s start with some useful links. I’ll go over the concepts that are relevant for this article for now, but I recommend to give these resources a look for your awareness.

Mining Claim Website: https://www.blm.gov/programs/energy-and-minerals/mining-and-minerals/locatable-minerals/mining-claims

The BLM’s Mining Claim Guide: https://www.blm.gov/sites/default/files/PublicRoom_Mining_Claims_Brochure-2019.pdf

It is important to know how the claim process works.  Generally when registering a mining claim the claimant has the rights to remove surface and lode-based minerals for commercial use. Equally the claimant owns the responsibilities for clearly marking their claim, following mining rules, and ensuring proper reclamation. The claim is typically 20 acres in size, up to 1500 by 600 feet, so a rectangle or parallelogram in shape. As a citizen you and I can walk and picnic on our public land (with some exceptions of course) which includes areas that are claimed. In the eyes of the law, the second you take any rocks from a claimed area you are stealing from the claimant (even if the rock is just laying on the ground begging for you to take it. It’s pretty simple, if the area is claimed prospect somewhere else!

Tip from Dave: Preparing for your prospecting adventure really speeds up finding where you can/can’t prospect when out there with boots on the ground. It also provides a level of confidence you are not breaking the law. The time you spend preparing and understanding available places to prospect is critical to the day(s) of your adventure and maximizes your actual prospecting time! It is tempting to just follow the guide book and head out empty handed, until you’ve been confronted by an angry claim owner which takes the fun out of the experience! The more you do it, the quicker it becomes.

The abridged process to establish a claim is the claimant must provide appropriate paperwork to both the County and then the BLM with who is claiming the land and where they are wanting to claim. The BLM will verify that the claim can be created and then they will activate it. Once the claim is active the land must be clearly marked by the claimant with physical corner boundary posts such that anyone interested can find the claimed area. You are creating your prospecting map to help you discover the borders of the claims around the area you want to prospect to ensure you don’t mineral trespass.

The who isn’t important to our map creation process so we will focus on the where part. The claim’s precise location is submitted using a specific surveying technique on a Certification of Location (COL) document. At the location where the claimant discovered their mineral interest they must mark it by physically placing a post in the ground. Using surveying techniques this Discovery Point is pinned and then connected to the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) mapping standard the BLM uses. From there the corners (borders) of the claim are recorded in relation to the Discovery point using the same surveying technique.

We will be researching, acquiring and using the COLs of the claims in our area of interest to plot the claims onto our prospecting map.

Researching your target area for mining claims

Step #1 will get us a list of which claims are in the general area. The BLM stores the claim’s who data but not the where data (the COL document) in their The Mineral & Land Records System (MLRS) database which is available to use for free on their website. Querying the MLRS will provide a list of all the mining claims and their claim identifier (the data you will need in the next step) in our prospecting area. Since the claim is smaller than the resolution of data stored in MLRS we can’t know exactly within that section of land the claim is; which is why we need the survey provided in each claims location document.

Tip from Dave: Wandering around the forest in the general area looking for claim posts isn’t that much fun, I’ve tried it. Thus we need more detail for our prospecting map!

Tip from Dave: Some popular internet sites (such as Diggings) pull their information from MLRS. Thus those websites do not show exactly where claims are at which is misleading. Many folks I’ve talked to, including myself at first, thought that the claims were that entire area that is shown by the MLRS or Diggings-type website which isn’t true.

Step #2 using the Claim IDs from MLRS we will reach out to the BLM (or potentially the County Recorders Office, see below) providing our list and they will return COL documents for each claim, which have the details needed to plot the claims onto our map.

Step #3 will build the map using a mapping tool like Google Maps to overlay the claim boundaries onto our map. Using the mapping software’s layering tools, we will be able to see visual satellite landmarks and topographic information to help us find the claim boundaries when out prospecting. I typically print and take with me both a satellite and topographical maps.

Now is a good time to answer the question you may be thinking “I have no surveying experience, will I be able to do this mapping?” It is important to realize that “good enough” applies to this process. We are just trying to find the general vicinity of the claims borders using our map (like the general hillside the corner posts are on), then when we are hiking around we’ll discover the actual posts. I’ve found that being as close as possible is good, but being exact isn’t necessary. No professional survey certification required!

Enough introduction, let’s get to it. To create a prospecting map, I go through the following steps:

Step 1: Find all the claims in the general area I’m targeting

Tools that you will need for this step are two BLM applications available for free on the internet:

Let’s use the MLRS application to research the popular area Devils Head (which has many claims) as our example. Either navigate using the tools available in app, or you can center on the popular Virgins Bath area and zoom in. The tool offers “layer” filters (see the icon in the lower right on the map) where you can turn off closed claims, etc. You will have to zoom in about 10-12 times to see the claimed areas in the pink hatched overlay as I have it displayed here.

The zoomed in view of the main Virgins Bath area of Devils Head locality. The pink areas are sections of the PLSS mapping system that have one or more claims, identified by the Claim ID text. These Claim IDs are what you provide to the BLM to get Certificates of Location.

Step 2: Pull the Location Certificates for those claims

For your first time working with the BLM, I recommend to call them, let them know you are creating a prospecting map with active mining claims, and need to get Certificate of Location documents. They will help you with how to communicate and what information to provide. They will also let you know the costs as they charge a nominal amount for scanning and emailing you the COL PDFs. To save on costs I don’t have them scan all the pages of the COL, just what is useful for my purpose of creating a map and they will know what I need and leave out the other pages to save a few bucks.

Then you will email the BLM office with your list of Claim IDs and once they have the PDFs ready they will request payment and once cleared will email you those COLs. You are ready to start mapping in the next step.

Some counties, like Douglas County (why I chose the Devils Head location for our example), have their Records online and available for free to the public. This provides an alternative to working with the BLM for the COL scans and also is free (only requires you create an account). As of this writing most of the counties I prospect, except Douglas, do NOT have this option and you’ll need to go through the BLM using the process outlined above. The next process will show you how to self-serve the COLs in your list.

In Douglas County’s online Records application you need the claim name to pull the COL document. As you saw above, the MLRS system provided the Claim ID. Remember the process of submitting a claim? You first submit the COL to the county, then to the BLM. When you submit to the BLM the Claim ID is created, and that is never communicated back to the county since it is supports the internal BLM system. Thus the BLM’s application Claim ID is not stored in the County’s system and can’t be used for this research.

To get the claim name (and other information that is publicly available in MLRS), in a new browser window, open up the BLM Serial Number Report and fill in the State (in our example, CO for Colorado, and the Serial Number, in our case the lower right claim is CO101703240).

Add the required fields, State and Serial Number, and click OK.
You will see the claim type, name, claimant(s) and other information. You can click on the link to see detailed paperwork filing and other claim management information which is not useful for creating our map. Take note of the Claim Name which is what you will use on the Douglas County Open Records website.

Douglas County Official Records site: https://apps.douglas.co.us/LandmarkWeb (note that you will need a login to view and/or download the claim Location Certificates).

On this website (other counties may differ) you will follow the following steps after logging in…

  1. Document Search
  2. Choose the document type of “Location Certificate” (they call it slightly different than the BLM), leave the dates wide open (the site is reasonably fast)
  3. In the results field, filter using Grantee and type in the Claim Name (in our example Triple B)
  4. Once the item is found, click on it to bring it up
  5. Download and save on your computer
Type in the claim name in the “Grantee” filter

Step 3: Create your prospecting map

This section of my tutorial has not changed since the older post, please refer to my older article to continue.