When prospecting or mining one of the most basic distinctions is between placer and lode claims. The type of staking and filling, methods employed in mining, and rights protected vary greatly between the two. While it may seem fairly straightforward there are still many rumors and misunderstandings when dealing with both of these claim types.
First lets dispel a couple of rumors and then we will look at the definitions and rights protected by these claims.
- Rumor #1 Lode/placer claims are clearly superior to the other. This is a rumor we see frequently tossed around on the internet, especially when someone is trying to sell one type or the other. Clearly this can’t be true as there are many different mineral deposits that are found on a claim only in one form or the other. While it is true that you may have a gold bearing vein on a claim AND a good placer deposit, this usually isn’t the case. You are most likely to find EITHER a good vein or a good placer deposit. If you are lucky enough to have both, we recommend staking a placer and lode claim. This isn’t really a competition between lode vs placer, both have their place.
- Rumor #2 Having a lode/placer claim will protect ALL the minerals and keep anyone else off my claim. This is not true either. A placer claim will protect all of the placer deposits on your claim and a lode claim will protect all of the lode (veins) deposits on your claim. If you only stake placer claims and someone comes in and wants to mine a vein with a lode claim over your placer claim they may be able to do that. The reverse is also true, if someone wants to work a placer deposit over your lode claim and they file a placer claim they have the legal right. These situations are VERY RARE as many areas are likely to only have a prominent deposit of one type or the other.
Ok so what is a placer claim exactly and what deposits does it cover?
For the sake of simplicity I’m going to quote the BLM directly here. They are the ones who manage all of the paperwork, except for in Alaska where many claims are managed by the state. In Alaska there are no distinctions between lode and placer, a mining claim is a mining claim. We will talk more about that in another article.
Mineral deposits subject to placer claims include all those deposits not subject to lode claims. Originally, these included only deposits of unconsolidated materials, such as sand and gravel, containing free gold or other minerals. By Congressional acts and judicial interpretations, many nonmetallic bedded or layered deposits, such as gypsum and high calcium limestone, are also considered placer deposits.
Placer claims, where practicable, are located by legal subdivision (for example: Township 10 South, Range 11 East, Section 9, SE1/4). The maximum size of a placer claim is 20 acres per locator (see Figure 2). An association of two locators may locate 40 acres, and three may locate 60 acres, etc. The maximum area of an association placer claim is 160 acres for eight or more persons.
The maximum size of a placer claim for corporations is 20 acres per claim. Corporations may not locate association placer claims unless they are in association with other private individuals or other corporations as co-locators.
Placer claims cover ALL DEPOSITS not subject to lode claims. This is somewhat ambiguous, but can be interpreted simply by the assumption that if you are NOT following a vein it is a placer deposit. If you are panning in a river, high banking, dry washing, etc you need a placer claim. A noted exception is nonmetallic bedded or layered deposits.
An important difference between lode and placer claims is that placer claims are located by legal subdivision. You can’t arbitrarily stake a placer claim at an angle or make the boundaries directly over the deposit like a lode claim. You will need to write the claim based on the township, section, range and then quarters or smaller divisions of a section. How small you divide the claims will depend on how many people will be working the claim. If you are in an association of 8 people you can claim 160 acre placer claims. Note that you will still be paying fees per 20 acres though. The only advantage of a 160 acre claim over 8 20 acre claims is less posts in the ground and less paperwork. The fees WILL be the same. Corporations are required to stake 20 acre claims unless they are in association with other individuals or corporations.
What about lode claims, how do they work and what do they cover?
Once again I will quote the BLM. They are the law when it comes to mining claims.
Deposits subject to lode claims include, classic veins or lodes having well defined boundaries. They also include other rock in place bearing valuable minerals and may be broad zones of mineralized rock. Examples include quartz or other veins bearing gold or other metallic minerals and large volume but low grade disseminated metallic deposits. Lode claims are usually described as parallelograms with the longer side lines parallel to the vein or lode (see Figure 1). Descriptions are by metes and bounds surveys (giving length and direction of each boundary line). Federal statute limits their size to a maximum of 1,500 feet in length along the vein or lode. Their width is a maximum of 600 feet, 300 feet on either side of the centerline of the vein or lode. The end lines of the lode claim must be parallel to qualify for underground extralateral rights. Extra lateral rights involve the rights to minerals that extend at depth beyond the vertical boundaries of the claim.
Lode claims cover veins. They also cover broad zones of mineralized rock such a a large porphyry deposit. Lode claims can be a maximum of 1500′ X 600′ and can run in any direction. They are designed to follow veins and are generally written with the vein in the center of the claim with 300′ on either side. The end lines of the claim are parallel and give extralateral rights as is covered by the Apex law. We will cover this law in another article. When blanket staking a very large deposit or multiple veins it is common to orient all claims in the same direction such as north-south or east west.
Lode claims are generally a little harder to write and require writing descriptions to a location monument, corners, and center lines. With lode claims in particular there are different state specific requirements for posts, descriptions, maps, etc. The administrating county may also have specific requirements. We hope this article clears up any confusion and will help you make informed decisions about lode VS placer claims whether you are staking one yourself or buying one from someone else.
More information can be found on the BLM website.
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Thanks for reading and happy prospecting!