1. Compile Research
The cheapest way to increase the value of your mining claims is to gather research material on your specific property or the nearby mines and district. Many states have a Bureau of Mining or State Geological Survey that can help you with this. Nevada has one of the best. The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology – associated with the University of Nevada, Reno has put many of their district files online here: http://www.nbmg.unr.edu/Collections/MiningDistricts/MiningDistricts.html
Also, you can call the state geological surveys and they will likely send you information on your area (if you ask nicely). Recently, I asked for some information on the beryl gemstone areas in western Utah and a geologist at the Utah Geological Survey sent me about 10 reports that saved me hours of time doing research. Utah has one of the best Geological Surveys and they are very nice too!
Another source of materials is junior mining companies that are active in your district. If they are public companies they most likely have a technical report available on their website or online. If the company is listed on the Canadian exchanges, their reports are available on the SEDAR system here: https://www.sedar.com/homepage_en.htm
Arizona is another state with an excellent geological survey. Affiliated with the University of Arizona they make all sorts of geological reports available online. The U of A is one of the best geological departments in the world and has studied nearly every mining district in Arizona. Almost every major mining district in Arizona has multiple, detailed, professional quality reports. Here is the link to the Arizona Geological Survey document repository: http://repository.azgs.az.gov/
Several of my properties have had Master’s or Phd theses written about them. These can save a future operator thousands of dollars and months – or years of time. Finding them creates lots of value.
2. Take Better Pictures
Mineral exploration is very visual and good pictures are the best way to promote or sell a mine. I am guilty of not taking enough pictures when I am out in the field. No matter how many I take – I always wish I took more.
Learn about how to take a good prospecting photo. The best light for outdoor photographs is either early in the morning – just after sunrise – or late in the day just before sunset.
Make sure to photograph the vein material and all the workings – from multiple angles. Keep a notebook so that you don’t forget what the photo is. Get closeup pictures of the rocks. Photograph anything with lots of color – especially blues, greens, and reds.
Get some larger pictures of the landscape – maybe from a hilltop or mountaintop. Sometimes these are the pictures that sell the mine – especially for hobbiest mines.
3. Rock Sampling and Assays
Take a sample of the material you think will have good metal values. If you are exploring for gold – take a sample of the in-place vein. You can also sample dumps, tailings, ore piles and float. In-place veins are the best material because they represent what is actually in the ground – unmined. However, usually old mines will have a small pile of high grade ore near the shaft or adit. Old-timers left these piles here on purpose for testing and to help sell the mine – usually these have good value.
Take good pictures of these samples and then send in to an assay lab. My two favorite assay labs are ALS Global and SGS. Both of these are large laboratories that are widely used (and accepted) by the mining industry. I will have another blog post about assay labs and the pros and cons of various labs. But in general, you should stay with the big labs and the standard tests. When in doubt – just do a gold / silver fire assay and/or 33 element ICP to get the other metals of interest.
If you get good results this will go a long way to generate interest in your prospect. What are good results? 1 ppm (parts per million=gram per metric tonne) for low grade gold or 31 ppm (1 oz/ton) for high grade veins.
4. Add Claims and Increase the Size of Your Property
One of the most straight forward ways to increase the value of a property is to add claims. Staking several claims at once lowers your cost per claim and could increase your profit margins. Also, very few junior mining companies are interested in single claim properties. About 10-20 claims (200-400 acres) is the minimum size that junior mining companies are interested in. Junior mining companies are the best buyers because they have more money and are looking for new projects to increase the value of their stock. Usually these companies are listed on the OTC markets in the US or the TSX exchange in Canada (https://www.tmx.com/).
Recently, I had a customer add 30 claims to a project I sold him in Nevada and he was able to raise the price and get interest from a wide variety of junior miners. He could end up doing very well by just increasing the claim size.
5. Soil Sampling
Most prospectors are 100% focused on deposits with exposed bedrock, but the best of these deposits have already been found and there is greater opportunity finding deposits under soil or gravel cover. 50% of Nevada is under alluvial cover. However, most of Nevada’s operating mines are in areas of exposed rock. Over 200 million ounces of gold has been produced in Nevada in exposed settings and it is estimated that there is another 200 million ounce of gold (or more) under alluvial cover. This is one of the greatest mining opportunities of the 21st Century.
Learning how to explore under cover will separate you from the pack of amatuers and wannabees.
Many types of large deposits (copper porphyries) are almost certainly under cover or they would have been discovered by now. Recent discoveries of deep deposits in Arizona (Resolution Copper and Taylor Zinc) have been massive and generated vast amounts of wealth.
Soil sampling is one of the best methods for finding deposits under cover. Large metal deposits will leave a surface footprint of pathfinder elements such as arsenic or even a very low grade same-metal anomaly.
SGS – the assay laboratory I mentioned above – developed a test known as the Mobile Metal Ion (MMI) test that finds these residual geochemical footprints. Known as “deep seeing” geochemistry, the MMI test uses a weak leach that only samples metal ions that were brought to the surface from capillary action and evaporation. Analyzing the patterns in these metallic ions (copper, gold, moly, lead, etc) can show you where buried deposits are likely to be located.
However, even using conventional soil tests (4 acid leach or Aqua Regia) and looking for pathfinder elements is likely to be successful.
Combine the soil test with geophysics, mapping and other methods and you are on your way to a discovery that a big mining company will pay you for.
6. Geological Mapping
Geological maps are a great way to see what’s going on at the property and where some of the best opportunities might be.
In Nevada, many gold and silver deposits are located on the contacts between volcanic plutons and older metasediments. Mapping these contacts can be especially helpful.
In Arizona, mapping faults and looking for directional changes in the faults can be useful.
Both states have excellent databases of geological maps at the regional level that are often good enough.
But sometimes you need an actual local geological map prepared by a geologists.
Recently, I spent about two weeks in the field with a geologist working on a geological maps of one of my properties.
The style of mapping many geologists is called “Anaconda Style Mapping” named after the methods developed by Anaconda Mining for its mines at Butte, Montana.
Anaconda style mapping involves mapping all the rock types (lithologies), the structures (faults, fissures), and the veins and their orientation.
At Butte, geologists would note the strike and dip of the veins and then note where they intersected. These intersections were often very valuable.
A geological map will give you some drill targets on its own. If you are at a loss of what to do next on a property: always start with a geological map.
Even just mapping the faults or the contacts would add lots of value to a property.
7. Geophysics such as mag surveys, induced polarization (IP) surveys, ground penetrating radar, or seismic.
One of the problems with geological mapping is that it can only observe the surface – unless you have access to underground workings.
Most of the action goes on underground. But drilling can be expensive.
One way to ‘see’ underground without drilling or access to workings is geophysics.
Geophysics uses the physical properties of rocks – magnetism, electrical resistance, electrical conductivity, capacitance, density, porosity, etc – to map and model underground geology.
One of the cheapest geophysical methods is magnetic surveys. A magnetic survey measures the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field on the surface to infer the magnetic susceptibility of the rocks underground.
Different rock types and structures will show up on a magnetic survey.
For instance, volcanic intrusives will show up a large circular mag highs. Faults will often show up as linear features – sometimes mag lows.
Large shear zones will often be mag lows.
Mag surveys are done by putting a magnetometer on a backpack rig and walking lines to measure the magnetic field in a grid pattern. Recently, mag surveys are done using drones as well.
A magnetometer costs about $15,000, but you can also rent them. Or you can hire a geophysical survey company to do the survey for you.
Geophysicists will take the data you have gathered and create both 2D and 3D maps.
These will give you an idea of what is going on underground – sometimes up to 1,000 feet in depth.
Mag surveys map geological features indirectly so it is important to get some expert advice on how to interpret the maps.
Other geophysical methods can supplement the mag survey such as gravity, IP, ground penetrating radar and seismic depending on your needs.
There are several dubious geophysical survey methods – such as NMR which are not widely accepted by professional exploration geophysicists. Beginners will often get sucked in by some of these vendors promising to pinpoint veins exactly or find gold using satellites.
Here is a short article about voodoo geophysics: http://www.terraresources.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Technology-Assessment-Group-Flyer-V2.pdf
8. File a Notice Permit or Plan of Operation
If you want to drill or use heavy equipment on your property (assuming you are on BLM ground) you have to file a permit first.
In fact, having this permit in place is often a selling point for prospective buyers and partners. It is one less thing to worry about.
The simplest permit is a Notice Permit. For small projects that don’t involve actual commercial production a Notice Permit allows you to file a simplified form, pay a bond and get started within about 60 days.
Notice Permits only allow you disturb up to 5 acres. Disturbances are calculated by measuring the actual area of your workings. This could include the dimensions of a trench or a the dimension of a drill pad. Also the length and width of any roads.
Notice Permits are pretty simple and can be prepared by any competent geologist or engineer. Even non-technical people could prepare this permit with the proper backup.
Notice Permits consist of a narrative about the work, a map showing the location and dimensions of the work, and a filled out ‘bond calculator’ spreadsheet that the BLM provides.
The bond calculator spreadsheet is an estimate of the disturbance of the work you propose and will show the bond amount.
The bond is an amount you will pay to the BLM as a guarantee that you will reclaim the work – put it back the way you found it. If you do this, the BLM will refund the bond amount after you reclaim your work.
The bond amount is an estimate of what it would cost the BLM if they had to come out and reclaim the work themselves.
The Notice Permit is filed with the local district office of the BLM and it usually takes about 45 to 60 days to approve. They might have some changes or suggestions. Also, they might want to conduct a field visit.
In mining states like Nevada and Arizona, the BLM works on lots of these permits and is pretty good about getting these approved on a timely basis.