How to Become a Bounty Hunter in the US

Bounty hunters or bail recovery agents locate, apprehend and return people who are facing charges before a court of law, but have failed to appear after being released on a bail bond. Bounty hunters are hired by the person or company that put up the bail or bond. The job requires an innate ability to understand how the human mind works, especially when someone is in trouble.

Although the term conjures up images of rowdy rogues from the Wild West, being a bounty hunter or bail recovery agent is a legal profession. Individuals are licensed and certified to operate legally in all but a few states such as District of Columbia, Kentucky and North Carolina in the United States.

What Does a Bounty Hunter Do?

Bounty hunters hunt down people who are charged with criminal offences and bring them back to face the charges before a court of law within the prescribed time frame. Failure to do so will result in the bail bondsman having to forfeit the entire amount put up for bail or bond. Bounty hunting helps to mitigate this possibility. Their specific duties include:

  • Meeting with the bail bondsman to receive instructions about the targeted fugitive
  • Consulting with the fugitive’s family members, colleagues and friends to get a sense of the fugitive and idea of where to start looking for him or her
  • Tracking the fugitive down using his last known whereabouts, location of the last phone call, credit card use or any other indicator as to his current location
  • Once they have tracked down the fugitive, they communicate with the bail bondsman that instructed them and the police to inform them of the impending arrest
  • Adhering to all the state regulations relating to transporting fugitives across state lines, possessing a firearm and using reasonable force to arrest the fugitive


There isn’t an academic degree that is required for this job. However, if you have a degree in criminal justice or other related law enforcement degree, you can use it to enhance your marketability in the profession.

Currently in most states, you will need to be licensed and certified to work as a bounty hunter. Certification is granted after undergoing a training course covering subjects such as:

  • Federal and state laws
  • American legal system
  • Bail and bonds law
  • Investigative techniques
  • Apprehension techniques
  • Care and custody of prisoners

After completing the course, you will have to sit and pass a written exam before going ahead to apply for a license. Note that previous law enforcement or military enforcement may entitle you to exemption from the course.

For your license application to be approved, you will have to satisfy the following requirements:

  • Successful completion of the training course
  • A clean background check showing that you do not have previous felony convictions
  • Recent credit report showing that you have stable financial status
  • Copy of your identification card or driver’s license
  • Fingerprint card to input your prints into the system

Additional requirements for becoming a duly licensed and certified bounty hunter are:

  • Have to be at least 18 years old
  • Obtain liability insurance and be bonded
  • Have a permit to carry a concealed firearm in states that allow you to carry
  • Proof of citizenship or state residency in the state you want to work in
  • You may also need to demonstrate that you have not had a previous history of mental illness, particularly given the decidedly predatory nature of the job


The following skills are necessary for the conduct of this job:

  • Sharp analytical, observational and investigative skills.
  • Ability to negotiate and stay calm in high pressure and even dangerous situations
  • Courage, self-defense and close combat skills if you have to tackle the fugitive
  • Patience, drive, physical and mental stamina to keep up the pursuit, even over a long time if necessary
  • Have excellent judgment and decision-making skills
  • Dependable and results-oriented as most bounty hunters get work through referrals
  • Reputation of apprehending fugitives as far as possible without incident.


Bounty hunters tend to charge a percentage of the bail or bond put up for the fugitive as fees for their services. The percentage rate is between 10 and 20%. However, there are others who are employed by bail bondsmen and earn an annual salary depending on their track record and years of experience. The salary also depends on the state you work in and the number of bounty hunters working in the areas.

The average salary per annum is as follows: 

Entry Level 


Mid Career


20 percent discount
20 percent discount




Work Environment

The work of a bounty hunter is challenging, unpredictable and often dangerous. They spend all their time conducting surveillance, tracking and strategizing how to capture fugitives. All the while, they have to mind their surroundings to avoid being vulnerable to any reprisals if the fugitive catches on. They also have to maintain strict adherence to the state and federal laws especially when the fugitive crosses state lines to avoid running the risk of being apprehended for breaking the law.

Career Growth and Job Outlook

There are greater opportunities for bounty hunters in large, urban states where there is high population and a commensurate crime rate. When you are starting out, you will have to build your reputation and establish a network of information sources and client referrals. Experience enhances your job prospects.

This job is ideal for people who like to work independently, have street smarts, insight into the criminal mind and can withstand dangerous adrenalin-inducing encounters.