You can still buy viable mining claims with rich deposits of gold, silver and other precious minerals,
but before you start writing checks, you want to know what's what.
Gold mining claims cover two types of deposits:
Placer (pronounced plasser not place...er) - A placer mining claim asserts a claim to the gold found in alluvial deposits (gold that's been moved by water). Most mining claims of interest to the weekend miner are placer deposits. If you're looking to float a dredge, run a sluice box and do some gold panning by a secluded mountain stream, or even swing a detector or do some drywashing in an old dry stream bed in the desert, a placer claim is for you.
Lode - A lode claim asserts a claim to gold trapped in the rock. Lode mining, also called hardrock mining, generally involves drilling, blasting, ore carts, stamp mills and a whole lot of heavy equipment. If you're looking run a serious gold mine with shafts, tunnels, etc, then a lode claim is for you.
Next you'll want to pay attention to type of claim offered.
Association - Association claims generally require one name per 20 acres of claim, so an 80 acre claim would require 4 people on the claim.
Individual - Individual claims are generally 20 acre parcels that a single person can own.
Fractional - These strike me as sucker plays, but essentially you're buying a small section of an existing claim and trusting the owners to keep up the filing fees, etc. Maybe they're a good deal, maybe not. Prospect the specific chunk you'd be buying before you buy and make sure you've got a solid contract.
Lastly is the question of patented or unpatented.
Patented - You may notice that patented mining claims sell for much more than unpatented. The reason is simple; with a patented claim you own the land as well as the mineral rights. It's real estate and it's yours. The federal government put a moretorium on patenting, so they don't come up often, especially not placer claims.
Unpatented - Unpatented mining claims are the most common for sale. With an unpatented claim you own the mineral rights, but not the land. Campers, hikers, fisherman, hunters, etc can all use the land just like you, but you're the only one allowed to mine it.
In a perfect world, you buy the claim and take it over no problems, pay your fees each year and own the mineral rights of the property. Do your due dilligence though. The government does nothing to prevent an unscrupulous seller from filing a claim on barren dirt, or over the top of an already existing claim.
To avoid the first, do some prospecting on the claim before you sign a check. Ask the seller for permission to spend a weekend prospecting on the claim - by yourself. Dig where you want to dig without influence from the seller. Then, if you don't find any gold, either there isn't any or you're premature in wanting to own a claim. To avoid the second, visit county records and do some research. Do not buy a claim over a previously filed and valid claim as the only way to sort it out would be through the courts and the owner of the older claim wins...
That's not to say you can't still buy perfectly valid unpatented claims with current fees and real gold. Just do your homework before you buy.
For Sale Listings - Mining Claims For Sale
WeGoMining.com has some great claims for sale, and Art is a good guy.
The Claims Post often has claims for sale, but the prices can be steep.
You might also check Craigslist, real estate sites, Goldbay and other sources,
but here's where ebay actually shines. Check out these current gold mining claim auctions on ebay: