How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Three Methods:Meeting the RequirementsGetting a GigFinding Your Skip

Bounty hunters, professionally known as fugitive recovery or bond enforcement agents, track down fugitives who didn't show up in court in exchange for a percentage (usually 75%) of the bail amount. While this can be a lucrative pursuit (an experienced bounty hunter can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 annually[1]) it's also a dangerous one. If you're considering becoming a bounty hunter, here's an overview of what you need to do.

Method 1
Meeting the Requirements

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    Check the laws in your state. In the U.S., bounty hunting is backed up by the 1872 Supreme Court case Taylor v. Taintor, but regulations vary from state to state. In yours, it may be illegal or you may need specific licensure. The professional organization representing this industry is the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents [1]. Information can be had online or with a quick call to your local police department, courthouse, or in a visit with a friendly bondsman.
    • It's a good idea to research the legal requirements for neighboring states or countries too, as you may not be able to follow a suspect there unless you meet those requirements.
    • In most places other than the U.S., the activities of a bondsman (pledging money or property as bail to secure the appearance of a criminal defendant in court, in exchange for a fee from that defendant) are illegal[2], which eliminates the role of a bounty hunter. If you cross international borders in pursuit of a fugitive, your acts as a bounty hunter could get you arrested.
      • In fact, the only two countries that use commercial bail bonds are the US and the Philippines. This is just one of many laws where the US goes it alone.[3]
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    Pass a background check. Let's get honest here for a second: In some places, Hobo Joe off the street could be a bounty hunter (he would never be suspected, that's for sure). But in others, you may need to pass a background check. If you're not a convicted felon, this'll be a piece of cake.
    • You're thinking of Dog Chapman, that felon in Hawaii with that bounty hunting TV show, aren't you? Well, sure, he's a felon -- but did you ever notice how he doesn't apprehend the criminals himself and how he doesn't carry a gun? There. You want to carry a gun, right? And do the arresting yourself?[4]
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    Get a permit to carry firearms. Again, this all depends on where you live. But if you want to travel across the country, you'd be better off having one. The more "permission" you have in general, the better.
    • Every state is different, so it's impossible to tell you just how to do this. Rest assured, wikiHow should have you covered. You can get a gun license in Minnesota, in Massachusetts, in Georgia, the list goes on and on. We can cover all your gun toting needs!
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    Be a legal adult. You gotta be 18.
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    Get certified. Right, so certain states require licensure or certification. You've got that part, yes? If you live in a state that does require certification, beware of schools that are just absolute crap. Do your research beforehand to make sure you're spending money on something that will actually pay off in the long run. Wondering about your state right now? Here's a list of states that do not require certification:
    • Hawaii
    • Alaska
    • Montana
    • Idaho
    • Wyoming
    • Kansas
    • Minnesota
    • Michigan
    • Alabama
    • Pennsylvania
    • Maryland
    • Vermont
    • Maine
    • Delaware
    • Rhode Island
      • It's straight up illegal in Oregon, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois, and Nebraska, at least currently. Laws are subject to change every couple of years.[4]

Method 2
Getting a Gig

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    Find a mentor. You know how all those famous people are famous because they have famous dads or famous brothers or they rubbed noses with someone once and made an unfortunate tape? Well, to break into the bounty hunting industry, you gotta have an "in" too. Find someone in the business that will take you on as their protégé. You gotta learn the ropes somehow!
    • This is especially true if your state doesn't require certification or licensure. You have to prove that you know what you're doing and you're capable of doing the job required of you. Finding a mentor and building your name is the best way to do that.
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    Go to college. No, it's not required to have a college degree to be a bounty hunter, but it's a good idea. You'll also have more respect from your bounty hunting peers if you do. Not to mention the back up plan when the cases are few and far between.
    • It's a good idea to major in psychology, sociology, or criminology if you're serious about this field.[5] Putting yourself in the mind of your "skip" is imperative to finding them -- and you'll be more likely to get assigned skips in the first place! Between you and the guy with the GED, who are they going to send on the hunt?
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    Get gear. By gear, we mean...well, weapons and the like. You'll probably tote a gun (if you can be trusted), handcuffs, possibly pepper spray, and whatever else you'd like to have in your utility belt. Like a boy scout, it's best to be prepared.
    • You may have to wear clothing identifying you as a bounty hunter, depending on the state you're in. While some let you off with looking like Joe Schmo, others require you to be a little less inconspicuous.
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    Get reliable transportation. If you just got word of a skip that has fled to Seattle while you're on the East Coast, how are you going to get there? Your best bet is hopping on a flight and renting a car. Because of that, you'll need a small stash of money to get started.
    • For local cases, you'll just need a reliable car. For local cases and everything else, you'll need a bit of money to get started. You won't get paid until you successfully apprehend your criminal, so your initial expenses are out of your own pocket.
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    Talk to bondsmen. These guys are your bread and butter. The more in with them you get, the better off you'll be. Get them on a friendly basis (Wednesday night poker tournament, perhaps?) and they'll keep your name in mind for the next "skip" that skips town.
    • Everyone's new to the bounty hunting game at one point or another. If you have to do a few gigs for free, so be it. Not only will you gain experience, but you'll show that you're capable, true to your word, and made of the right stuff.
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    Market yourself. This is a profession that heavily relies on word of mouth. You won't exactly be handing out business cards at the local Chipotle that say, "John Smith -- Bounty Hunter Extraordinaire." Cool though as that may be. So get to know your bondsman's network. Name drop yourself. Ask and prove.
    • It's all about the networking. Who you know, not what you know, right? While you should be honing your skills at this time too, communication should be one of them!
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    Obtain clients. Contact a bail bond agency (bondsman) and offer your services. As a bounty hunter, you are self-employed and like any self-employed professional, you must advertise and market your services. You'll likely get a phone call at any time of day, asking you to leave at a moment's notice. Be ready!
    • If you get an assignment, get a copy of the "bail piece" (which indicates that the person is a fugitive) and, if it's required in your state, a certified copy of the bond so that if you find the fugitive, you can arrest him or her. You will also need a power of attorney, which gives you the authority to arrest the fugitive on behalf of the bail bondsman.[1]
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    Train for safe apprehension and surrender of fugitives. Military, law enforcement, and/or self defense training will be critical in your ability to do your job as safely as possible. You'll be more confident in your skills and you can tell anyone who asks just what you're capable of.
    • Being as well-rounded as possible is in your best interest. If you're a Jedi mind-reader who excels in karate, great! But if you're a Jedi mind-reader who excels in karate, jiujitsu, parkour, and can pick locks, fantastic.
    • Because of the nature of your job, having law enforcement training is a very, very good. If you can find a class, you'd be best to take it! Your local college probably offers something, but your police department can easily point you in the right direction.
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    Understand the risks involved. Every fugitive is considered armed and dangerous, and in some states, you might not be able to carry firearms. There's also the chance that the fugitive may seek revenge after you turn them in, whether they are convicted or not. At the same time, consider that most violent criminals don't get out on bail, and most fugitives who are caught by bounty hunters don't put up much of a fight.[1]

Method 3
Finding Your Skip

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    Sharpen your investigative skills. You have to play security guard, police officer, and private investigator all rolled into one. While being able to physically handle someone is part of this job, handling them mentally is much bigger. To find someone who's running from the law, you need to know how to:
    • Detect lies
    • Skip trace
    • Negotiate
    • Access and analyze phone records
    • Dig into a person's past
    • Interview friends and family
    • ...And do whatever it takes to find the fugitive
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    Research your subject thoroughly. Search through databases of addresses, phone numbers (trace their calls, too), license plate numbers, and Social Security numbers to figure out where the fugitive might be, then go there. Stake out the area -- sometimes this can take hours or days, so sleep now!
    • Look for the "Judas" -- a person who's been betrayed by the fugitive and might be willing to rat him or her out (perhaps a drug dealer, ex-girlfriend, etc.).[1]
    • Tip motel clerks and the like to call you if the fugitive shows up with weapons.
      • This is why it's best to know a lot of people. The more "favors" you can call up, the better. While you are doing the work, yes, you're heavily relying on the people in your path to lead you to your goal.
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    Use the element of surprise. Many bounty hunters show up in the middle of the night, or pose as a delivery person. Avoid physical confrontation - not only is it safer for you that way, but you have to bring back the fugitive in good shape because jails won't accept them with broken bones or large bruises. Put handcuffs on the suspect and drive him or her to a jail in the county where he or she was originally arrested.[1]
    • If you find the fugitive, you can enter his or her home unannounced, but only after establishing without a doubt that the person lives there.[1] A mother's, girlfriend's, or uncle's house doesn't count.
    • You don't have to read the fugitive his or her Miranda rights before arresting them, like you do other criminals.[1]
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    Know that calm heads can prevail. Not every case is going to be a cross-country chase that means weeks spent in seedy hotels. You'll likely get the young girl who just bit her husband in a moment of fury. In cases like these, you may be able to just talk to her as you. You the bounty hunter. The skill here is in knowing who will respond to logic and reason and who won't.
    • Some cases have been done by phone.[6] If you can convince the skip it's best for them to come to you, they may. However, this is a rare scenario. What you should know is that anything could happen. They could be surprisingly cooperative or they could waste a week of your life and tanks upon tanks of gas fleeing from you. At least this career will be full of surprises!
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    Collect for services. If you've successfully apprehended your guy, it's time to take a journey back to your bail bondsman to collect your pay. You can invoice him for all the expenses you incurred while on your chase. If he's a good guy, he'll pay you promptly and in full.
    • Because of the nature of this job, your paychecks will be incredibly inconsistent. Feast or famine, really. If you can handle the instability and the days from home, you're now well on your way to becoming the next successful bounty hunter!



  • Note that in most countries other than the US bounty hunting is illegal, and you will be arrested (See Dog Chapman's case).
  • Be aware the fugitive might seek revenge on you. If he or she does, be sure to call your local police department.
  • While the bounty hunter featured in a popular reality show, Duane "Dog" Chapman, is a felon, he's more of the exception than the rule. Generally felons do not become successful bounty hunters because of licensing or certification requirements. Even if there are no such requirements in a particular state, bail bond agencies are reluctant to work with felons because it creates a greater liability.[7]

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