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Bounty hunter education guide

female bounty hunter tracks fugitive on computer map

Bounty hunters aren’t just reality TV stars. They’re real-life criminal justice agents who must be prepared for a challenging career full of diverse experiences and unpredictability.

Earning a criminal justice or law enforcement degree can be a great way to start pursuing your bounty hunting job. Since every state has different laws governing bounty hunting, it’s important to familiarize yourself with local licensing requirements.

In this article

What is a bounty hunter?

Bounty hunters, also known as fugitive recovery agents or bail enforcement agents, are responsible for the capture and return of individuals that have failed to appear for their appointed day in court—at which point these individuals are considered fugitives. Bail bondsmen work with bounty hunters to apprehend these fugitives. 

Five steps to becoming a bounty hunter

Meet the basic educational requirements.

high school students taking exam

Earning your high school diploma or GED is an important first step toward pursuing your bounty hunting career. It’s important to note, however, that many states don’t have educational requirements for bounty hunters.
Since these professionals often benefit from a keen knowledge of the law and its boundaries, pursuing a degree in criminal justice or a related field could benefit those who wish to become a bounty hunter. In addition, earning a related degree can teach about valuable fields related to bounty hunting such as legal systems, corrections and forensic science.

As many practicing bounty hunters own and operate their business, candidates often study marketing, business administration, computer technology or accounting to gain a deeper understanding of self-promotion as well as the skills and traits necessary to operate a successful business.

Research your local requirements.

Person talks to municipal worker at counter

Standards and requirements to become a bounty hunter differ by state and municipality. It’s essential to do a quick search on your state’s requirements and relevant laws unique to your area.

Retrieving fugitives often requires bounty hunters to travel to across state lines, so knowledge of the laws within the states in which you may need to operate is essential to being successful. Candidates should always verify that they meet a location’s requirements before doing work there.

Complete the required focused and specialized education.

two men practice disarming an attacker

Bounty hunting requires specialized professional education in a variety of fields.

De-escalation techniques are essential for bounty hunters to stay safe while they work. Many bounty hunters benefit from learning self-defense techniques with a specialized focus on personal de-escalation and the humane treatment of fugitives.

Firearms training and other forms of self-defense training may offer a balanced insight into both self-defense and de-escalation techniques. Bounty hunting can be a dangerous career, and these defense tactics can help build confidence when pursuing fugitives.

If required, earn your state license.

gloved hands guide inked fingers over fingerprint card

After completing the proper training, you may need to apply for a license and pass a licensing exam. You may also be required to undergo a fingerprint check, background check and drug test. Candidates should verify licensing requirements in their area.

Gain experience and network within the community.

two professionals meet in cafe to talk

Bail bonds agents and bounty hunters have very close business relationships. Most work for bounty hunters comes from bail bond companies tracking down fugitives who have missed court after posting bail. Therefore, networking with your local bail bond companies can be crucial to building your business.

Bounty hunters may also work indirectly with other independent contractors and law enforcement agencies. For instance, private investigators are often hired by bounty hunters to help locate missing fugitives.

“Be involved, utilize scholarships and sponsorships to help grow your relationship within the community. Focus on self promotion, build a website and make sure you have a good SEO for your company site,” said Henry Mota, lead investigator and founder of Aces Private Investigations based in Houston, Texas. 

What do bounty hunters do?

Bounty hunters take the information given to them by bail bondsmen or independent contractors and use this information to track down and apprehend fugitives. In return, bounty hunters are paid a percentage of the returned fugitive’s bond amount.

The basic duty of a bounty hunter is to research, track, apprehend and return fugitives to the appropriate government agency. In order to succeed in capturing criminals, bounty hunters must do several things:

What skills do you need to succeed?

Those who possess a keen understanding and respect for the legal system are often ideal candidates.

One of the most critical aspects of fugitive recovery is the humane treatment of individuals and an expertise in de-escalation techniques. Developing a strong ability to humanely treat individuals and conduct your job in a safe and legal manner is imperative in bounty hunting. A good bounty hunting candidate will prioritize their own safety and that of any potential fugitive. The safe recovery and return of a fugitive is a bounty hunter’s number one priority.

Many law enforcement agents, private investigators and others with experience working in the legal system can often easily transition to bounty hunting. Those with prior law enforcement or military experience tend to possess many of the skills needed to be successful in fugitive recovery.

“Many hiring agencies like former law enforcement agents and former military personnel,” Mota said.

Median annual salary and job growth

Bounty hunters are generally paid a percentage of the original bail once a fugitive has been apprehended and returned. As a rule, expected commission for a recovery is approximately 10% of the original bail. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median national annual salary for Recovery Agents, classified under Private Detectives and Investigators, is $52,120.

Employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to grow 6.1% through 2032 says the BLS—slightly faster than growth projection for all careers combined.

Private Detectives and Investigators

National data

Median Salary: $52,120

Projected job growth: 6.1%

10th Percentile: $33,710

25th Percentile: $38,360

75th Percentile: $75,740

90th Percentile: $92,660

Projected job growth: 6.1%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $46,340 $33,370 $67,330
Alaska $57,690 $37,720 $96,370
Arizona $57,250 $34,960 $93,240
Arkansas $75,000 $34,320 $102,910
California $58,650 $35,490 $91,350
Colorado $64,220 $34,530 $100,890
Connecticut $68,290 $36,750 $100,320
Delaware $39,520 $35,510 $78,790
Florida $49,920 $33,280 $96,900
Georgia $50,580 $29,360 $86,730
Hawaii $62,660 $34,580 $118,500
Idaho $39,010 $21,680 $68,440
Illinois $63,170 $38,030 $95,010
Indiana $41,600 $30,390 $78,460
Iowa $39,810 $33,280 $83,550
Kansas $46,330 $30,300 $64,880
Kentucky $43,130 $32,240 $74,620
Louisiana $41,930 $33,900 $63,970
Maine $43,630 $35,280 $64,400
Maryland $57,000 $37,030 $81,490
Massachusetts $52,730 $37,350 $67,960
Michigan $59,940 $31,300 $86,730
Minnesota $43,780 $35,430 $87,940
Mississippi $33,280 $20,680 $77,650
Missouri $41,770 $33,280 $103,910
Montana $71,290 $37,050 $89,210
Nebraska $58,510 $36,400 $82,580
Nevada $57,000 $28,280 $100,240
New Hampshire $61,670 $38,020 $102,650
New Jersey $41,710 $36,090 $105,020
New Mexico $52,750 $34,110 $79,730
New York $60,700 $35,370 $129,680
North Carolina $67,090 $36,610 $97,380
Ohio $49,680 $31,940 $77,580
Oklahoma $39,840 $33,190 $65,780
Oregon $69,260 $37,440 $108,070
Pennsylvania $49,720 $31,750 $80,910
Rhode Island $62,770 $37,440 $81,880
South Carolina $45,170 $35,360 $82,990
South Dakota $53,480 $41,160 $67,250
Tennessee $50,970 $34,140 $96,370
Texas $51,930 $30,250 $84,660
Utah $37,190 $29,680 $100,780
Virginia $65,340 $33,280 $107,200
Washington $58,650 $38,170 $105,290
West Virginia $59,280 $37,000 $101,480
Wisconsin $54,380 $28,320 $76,960

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

How much do bounty hunters get paid per case?

Most commonly, the amount a bounty hunter receives is a percentage of the bond amount connected to the fugitive’s case. However, that percentage or payment varies from case to case. Different factors impact the earnings of a bounty hunter including time spent and distance traveled on a certain case. Bounty hunters often negotiate their rates with bail bond companies.

Bounty hunter career FAQs

How hard is it to become a bounty hunter?

The process of becoming a bounty hunter is different in each state. Some states have very few formal requirements while others require candidates to undergo an application process. That process may require applicants to pay associated fees, take a licensing exam, complete a set amount of training and then complete a background check and fingerprinting.

Do bounty hunters make good money?

According to the BLS, bounty hunters earn a median annual salary of $52,120 and the top 10% of earners can make upwards of $92,660.

Financial earnings in bounty hunting vary depending on your clientele as well as your relationships with hiring agencies and companies. Many bounty hunters work hard to promote themselves and actively network to grow their business. A keen understanding of business administration, the legal system and financing can benefit bounty hunters who aim to earn more money.

Can anyone become a bounty hunter?

Aside from the educational and licensing requirements that vary from state to state, there are some basic prerequisites for bounty hunters. Many states require bounty hunters to be at least 18 or 21 years of age. State laws may also require bounty hunters to have a clear criminal history with no misdemeanor or felony convictions.

joe edwards

Written and reported by:

Joe Edwards

Staff Writer

Aces private investigation team in front of van

With professional insights from:

Henry Mota

Lead Investigator and Founder of Aces Private Investigations