How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Find out all you need to know about becoming a bounty hunter and whether it's a suitable career for you!

Young man holding a gun during a rainy night
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Gone are the days of Clint Eastwood as Blondie in the 1966 classic movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, chasing villains in the Wild West to claim the reward.

The Wild West isn’t so wild anymore, and bounty hunters have traded their horse and lassos for more conventional modes of transportation and maybe a pair of handcuffs.  And as modern society evolves and progresses, some occupations have taken on a new form and adapted to the times and needs of our technology-driven world.

Bounty hunter is a term loosely used to describe a person recovering a lost element (be it a person or stolen property) and returning it for a reward.

The US and the Philippines are the only two countries that retain the profession in its original form of recovering a fugitive for a reward, mainly because of their judicial system and the bail bond element. In other parts of the world, meanwhile, bounty hunters are highly sought-after specialists who work with big corporations and insurance companies to return stolen goods and technology.

If either of these options sounds like your dream career, and you are a detail-oriented tech enthusiast with the ability to think unconventionally and creatively, read on and discover the exciting world of recovery agents, aka bounty hunters, and how to become one yourself.

1. Research the Profession

Modern-day bounty hunters are nothing like what you may have seen on screen. The rogue looking, fist-fighting renegades of days past have given way to sophisticated, highly capable licensed professionals.

Doing your research will help you determine if this career is meant for you and it will give you a clear picture of both the benefits and downsides of the job.

Job Description

Looking at the bail bond industry and the traditional role of the bounty hunter from the top, when an individual is charged with a crime, they may be released from police custody on a bail bond, a monetary amount that varies depending on the charge and the risk, that acts as a security that they will appear for trial.

When an individual or their family is unable to post bail themselves, they often contract a bail bondsman who will post bail for a percentage of the amount as their fee and have the charged released under their custody. If the charged becomes a fugitive, the bail bondsman is in danger of forfeiting the bail amount.

Therefore, they enlist the services of the bail enforcement agent, or bounty hunter, to locate and return the fugitive for a fee.

Duties and responsibilities include:

  • reviewing all relevant information regarding the fugitive
  • profiling the fugitive and establishing contact with their known associates and family to determine the extent of their knowledge for the fugitive’s whereabouts
  • using technology to attempt to locate the fugitive, be it social media, cell phone signals or credit card use
  • informing the bails bondsperson and authorities – if necessary – regarding the fugitive’s possible location
  • taking the fugitive into custody, with or without the authorities’ involvement
  • returning the fugitive to the appropriate authorities to face charges
  • ensuring the capture and return of the fugitive is within the legal parameters of the state or country.

Essential Skills and Qualities

As in every profession, there are some skills and qualities that will set you apart from the competition and make you a successful bounty hunter. These core skills and qualities are:

  • attention to detail – perhaps the most important skill you could possess for this line of work is having the ability to pick out details that others may have missed or omitted that will help locate the fugitive, such as their browser search history, phone logs or any other piece of information that may seem insignificant at first
  • communication skills – you’ll need to be able to not only get people talking but also determine further information by their verbal and body language
  • research skills – this includes researching all possible areas of the fugitive’s life and following clues that will lead you to their apprehension
  • patience – it may take a varied amount of time to locate the fugitive, which means the job is not one for the impatient or frustrated; being diligent, methodical and patient will help you excel in your field
  • physical and mental strength – being a bail enforcement agent requires both physical and mental endurance, whether it be in physical pursuit or defensive situations, as well as the ability to keep on pushing for the required result.

Working Hours and Conditions

If you’re looking for a 9-to-5, 5-days-a-week job, perhaps you need to consider alternative career paths. However, if you like the excitement and variation of an almost exclusively field-based job where the pursuit of a fugitive might take you across the country, to the most urban or remote areas, you’re probably looking at a good career option.

Depending on the situation, you might be woken up in the middle of the night to receive an assignment or, more importantly, a crucial piece of information. Your lifestyle should allow the flexibility of grabbing the essentials and rushing out the door to follow a lead, whatever the time may be.

As a bounty hunter, you never know how long a stakeout may be or how deep you need to dig when looking for answers or clues. Your watch becomes a tool of timestamping rather than timekeeping, and your overnight bag and gear are almost always set by the door. The job never gets boring!

Salary Prospects

Much like many contract-based or freelance jobs, earnings vary largely depending on many factors. Depending on where you are in your career progression, how long you’ve been in service, the level of your accomplishments and the fields you are specialised in, you can earn an average yearly salary of about $55,000 (about £42,800) according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Once again, the determining factors range from your experience to your style of action and even your networking abilities, not to mention the type of offenders and the flight risk associated with each.

Job Outlook

Taking it with a grain of salt, as long as the judicial system allows for bail bond and as long as there are offenders who are willing to take the risk of fleeing, there will always be opportunities in the bounty hunter profession. With technology and automation operating as a tool in this field rather than a risk, there will always be a need for good and effective agents.

2. Get the Qualifications

While formal qualifications and degrees and not directly necessary in entering the field, the more you know, the more effective and efficient you become. That said, there’s a variety of courses that can be very useful in your pursuit of a career as a fugitive recovery agent.

Knowledge of the criminal justice system is essential in being able to contain your scope of action within the legal limits and keep you out of prison yourself. Additionally, some states require a licence to practise, as well as a licence to carry a weapon.

The National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents (NAFRA) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) can guide you through all requirements for obtaining certification and licensing and even offer opportunities for apprenticeships within the profession in the US.

As a non-traditional degree field, qualifications are often quite varied, and without a direct relation to the job itself, a psychology or social work degree can be quite useful, for example, as would a private investigator course, knowledge of self-defence and knowledge of firearms operation.

In the unexpected and whirlwind world of bounty hunters, all types of knowledge are essential and can give you an edge to success. Skills, qualities, education and your instinct all combine to create your style and persona in the field.

3. Land Your First Job

Job opportunities can be found everywhere around you, from posters to billboards and from television to the internet. Your safest bet to acquiring your first job is probably an apprenticeship with an established agent, where you learn on the job and receive the mentorship to help you progress.

A good place to look would be to network with bail bondspeople, as they’re the main stakeholders in an offender skipping bond. Win them over, and you could be in the way of a continuous inflow of contracts from them and their associates.

If you’re looking to enter the bounty hunter field with a bang, meanwhile, you can set your sights high and try your skills and luck with locating some of the world’s most wanted – and, in some cases, dangerous – fugitives from Interpol, the FBI or the NCA.

4. Develop Your Career

Keeping up to date with technology and available tools, learning new skills and languages, and keeping physically and mentally fit are key factors in maintaining and developing your career as a bounty hunter.

While ensuring you comply with all regulations of associated bodies such as the NAFRA and the NCSL, you may choose to specialise in a specific field that will give you niche opportunities to develop your career. 

Moreover, as you clock more hours in the field, you should work on developing and expanding your networks of associates, informants and key post-holders that will help you become a better and more efficient bounty hunter. While technology and knowledge are always useful, keep in mind that many captures are simply made because someone informed on the fugitive.

By no means is this career path a glamorous or easy one. Being a bounty hunter is often quite the opposite, with the first few years being spent on stakeouts in cars in shady neighbourhoods, with danger looming over you and the thought of time off and a good night’s sleep being the ultimate luxury.

However, it's an exciting field, and one that ensures your daily routine is always varied and perhaps exciting. Not for the faint of heart, impatient and timid, bounty hunting could be your ideal career if you have the right skills and mindset.

Have you thought about becoming a bounty hunter or perhaps dipped your toes into it already? Let us know in the comments section below.