Bounty Hunter Career Center
The profession of bail fugitive recovery, popularly known as bounty hunting, is a unique, yet rewarding, career in the criminal justice system. While bounty hunting may not be the right fit for most, experts in the field have shared their insider knowledge with us, including experience and skills required to succeed and how to get your start in the field. For those with the right abilities and background, fugitive recovery seems to be a rewarding career. Most experts in the bounty hunting field suggest that if you opt to pursue a position in fugitive recovery, it is wise to diversify into related work areas such as private investigation, process serving (serving legal and court documents), and bail bonds. These careers overlap in skill set to a high degree and provide additional opportunities for bounty hunters to fall back on. At any point, the cross-trained fugitive recovery agent can logically win work from several sources to boost overall earning potential. You should choose to pursue a career in fugitive recovery if the following environment works for you:
- It is a field that requires one to run his or her own business.
- It may require significant personal risk-taking.
- Training is required to understand the fundamentals of investigation, tracking, and use of force may be required.
- It often requires one to be compliant with rules and regulations (depending on the state).
- It requires great personal judgment and an ability to “wear many hats,” depending on the phase of the pursuit.
Five Reasons to Pursue a Career in Bounty Hunting
If you are considering a career in bounty hunting but are not sure if it’s the right career, continue reading below to review five reasons you might want to pursue a career in this field:
1. You are comfortable with risk-taking behavior although it is done in a calculated and planned manner.
Bounty hunters must engage in behavior that many people would find risky in order to find the person they are pursuing. Fugitives may be armed and dangerous, as by definition, they have jumped bail and are running from the law. Fugitive recovery agents have to confront and apprehend these people at their own risk. If you believe a profession as a bounty hunter is one that may suit you, you should have ample training in self-defense, investigation, and possibly use of force that may involve weapons. You should also aim to stay in relatively good shape in the event that you have to physically overcome or chase down a fugitive. Sometimes, no matter how much training or preparation you have done, you may still lose the fugitive. Some states don’t allow bounty hunters to carry firearms; you should check state laws for the state you wish to work in to understand what bounty hunters can and cannot do. One way bounty hunters decrease the amount of risk they are incurring is by having a detailed plan of action for catching the fugitive.
2. You are methodical in research and able to use multiple sources of information online and offline to form and support a plan of action.
To decrease the risk and to increase the chance of apprehending a fugitive, bounty hunters must be skilled investigators. An investigator relies on multiple tools to gather information. Bounty hunters must be able to find relatives and friends of the fugitive to speak with them to determine the fugitive’s whereabouts. They must also be comfortable using social media, background checks, vehicle records, and phone records to support their plan of finding the fugitive. If you are not comfortable interviewing strangers and negotiating with people, a job as a fugitive recovery agent may not be for you.
3. You are comfortable with the risks and rewards of running your own business.
The vast majority of fugitive recovery agents are entrepreneurs, meaning they take on all of the financial risks of their business. Being your own boss gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility, but it also requires a considerable amount of self-discipline as your salary will be directly determined by the amount of effort and time you put forth. Additionally, when starting off, running your own business means very few off-days and an unpredictable work schedule. Bounty hunters work odd hours and oftentimes nonstop until they find their fugitive. Experts suggest starting out as a low-paid or unpaid intern with a mentor who is already successful in this field. Thus it may take a while to build a book of business with bond agents.
4. You are comfortable adhering to rules and regulations imposed in many cases by state regulatory bodies or employers.
While bounty hunters are self-employed, they must follow the statutes set by governing bodies of states. Each state will have different rules and regulations for bounty hunters. For example, some states may prohibit a bounty hunter from carrying a firearm or entering a fugitive’s home to capture him or her.
Bounty hunters must understand the state law as it relates to fugitive recovery for his or her own jurisdiction, along with the states that he or she will travel through in order to catch the fugitive. A fugitive recovery agent must know these rules to ensure they make a lawful capture of the fugitive. It is important to know that in every state, a bounty hunter CANNOT present himself or herself as a law enforcement officer, nor wear any badge or shield that says they are associated with law enforcement.
5. You possess sound personal judgment, and can “wear many hats,” depending on the phase of the pursuit.
Fugitive recovery agents don’t just have “one job.” They may have to play the role of law enforcer, investigator, family counselor, and others. As a bounty hunter, you must be able to switch between these various roles when required to ensure that you capture your target. For example, if you are speaking with the mother of a victim, you may have to listen and talk through family problems before she will give you a lead on where her child is. Bounty hunters should be prepared to be patient and be able to show compassion when necessary.
As someone who runs his or her own business, a bounty hunter will need to be comfortable with handling the finances and taxes for the business, any office maintenance issues, and he or she will need to understand human resources issues if he or she ever finds the need to hire more help. Plus, they must find and secure contracts from bail bondsman. For more tips about the kind of person best-suited to be a bounty hunter, read our expert interviews with successful fugitive recovery agents in the field.
Bounty Hunter Job Description
A bounty hunter, or fugitive recovery agent, is responsible for locating, arresting, and returning fugitives to the place where they were originally detained. As previously stated, fugitive recovery agents must understand the applicable laws and regulations for all of the states that he or she works in. Bounty hunters must be able to master “skip tracing,” a term used for locating fugitives on the run. Additionally, a bounty hunter must be in good physical condition, must be comfortable engaging in hand-to-hand combat, and must be a skilled negotiator. When a fugitive is initially located, a bounty hunter’s first response should be to convince the fugitive that surrendering is the best option. Fugitive recovery agents must be able to handle high-stress situations and must make safety, for him or herself and the fugitive, a number one priority.
For more information about what a bounty hunter does, potential clients, and places of employment, continue reading below. To search for fugitive recovery jobs in your area, visit our Jobs Board.
What Does a Bounty Hunter Do?
Most fugitive recovery agents start their recovery process by winning a contract for the recovery with a bail bondsman. Once contracted, they will be given information about the fugitive who has skipped bail and develop a path to compensation for apprehending him or her. In the bounty hunter world, this person is often referred to as the “skip.” A bounty hunter should gather as much information as he or she can from the bondsman, including the skip’s name, last known address, social security number, date of birth, known associates, and make, model, and license plate of the fugitive’s vehicle.
After receiving this information, the bounty hunter must review the information and determine a plan of action to catch the fugitive. The plan should include a few people who may know the whereabouts of the fugitive but also have reason to share that information with the bounty hunter. In these instances, the bounty hunter may have to use his or her charm or skills of deception to enable the confidant to divulge where the fugitive may be.
Once a fugitive recovery agent knows where the fugitive may be found, he or she must conduct a stakeout. At this point, a fugitive recovery agent must be patient enough to wait until the fugitive is revealed and be prepared to confront him or her. Unlike most law enforcement officers, a fugitive recovery agent can be incognito or falsify his or her identity to gain the trust of the fugitive. Once the bounty hunter has located the fugitive, he or she must enact the plan of action for apprehension.
Bounty hunters must be patient and willing to travel long distances to apprehend his or her “skip.” Many fugitives will flee their original jurisdiction in hopes of evading arrest and/or punishment. Once the bounty hunter has caught the fugitive, he or she must travel back to the fugitive’s original jurisdiction to claim the reward.
Most fugitive recovery agents will be employed by bail bondsmen as independent contractors. If you are just starting out, you should spend a good portion of your days getting to know the bail bondsmen agencies in your city or state and letting them know you are available to work. Most fugitive recovery agents are paid a percentage of the bond that was posted for bailing out the skip.
Salaries for fugitive recovery agents vary greatly depending on the level of experience of the agent. According to the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents (NAFRA), bounty hunters will earn between 10 and 25% of a bond.1 More experienced bounty hunters usually earn jobs with higher bonds and unlike novice bounty hunters, they can negotiate a higher percentage of the bond.
When contracting with an agency, be prepared to show proof of the fugitives you’ve captured and explain why your work experience will make you a good bounty hunter. For example, if you’ve never been a bounty hunter but you have years of experience as a detective, that means you possess the skills needed to be a bounty hunter and you may command a higher payment.
Occasionally, a victim’s family may employ a bounty hunter if the assailant has skipped bail. In this case, you should make payment terms clear up front and once again advertise why you are the best choice to find the “skip.” It’s a better long-term strategy to build relationships with bail bondsman agencies as opposed to targeting families because a bail bondsman will have a multitude of job opportunities for you, whereas a family will have just one. Note that oftentimes, family members who post bail will sign a contract pledging assets as collateral, so a skip means the loss of that pledge, which may motivate them to help with the apprehension process.
Where They Work
Most bounty hunters work for bail bondsmen but from their own home office. If they have the space, a bail bondsman may allow you to work out of his or her office, but that is highly unlikely. If a career as a fugitive recovery agent is one that interests you, you should be prepared to dedicate a space in your home to work.
Other Jobs Related to Bounty Hunting
Being a fugitive recovery agent or a bounty hunter requires a specific set of skills; these skills often overlap with other professions. Continue reading below to determine how to maximize your job as a bounty hunter and bring in money in between hunting down fugitives.
Private Investigator/ Private Detective
Much like a bounty hunter, a private investigator (PI) or private detective (PD) uses multiple sources to find information on a subject. PIs are usually hired to determine legal, financial, or personal information about a person. Most PIs will review crime scenes, conduct background checks, recover emails and scour social media to determine information for their employer. PIs are usually employed by an individual, but several PIs or PDs have found consistent employment working for criminal and civil law firms.
PIs and PDs earn an average of $52,880 per year.2 For more information about the salaries of private investigators, visit our Salaries page, where you will find a sortable table including salary and employment information, as well as cost of living information, organized by state. The job puts more focus on experience than education, as the typical entry-level education is a high school diploma or GED. Most PIs or PDs will have a background in law enforcement or military training. Jobs for PIs are projected to increase between now and 2024 by 5%, a little slower than the national average rate.2
Another job that is similar to a bounty hunter is a process server. Process servers generally serve subpoenas or legal papers to individuals. A process server is usually employed by the court, a sheriff’s office, law firms, or private investigators; occasionally, a process server may do freelance work. Like a fugitive recovery agent, a process server has to find the person in question; however the process server is usually serving legal documents to a witness.
As of 2012, there were between 15,000 and 20,000 process servers employed in the US.3 Earnings vary quite a bit; a process server can earn between $20 to $80 for serving one person and top salaries for process servers top out at around $70,000 per year.3 Use our Jobs Board to search for related jobs in your area.
Bond Agent/ Bail Bondsman
A bail bondsman or bail agent provides a bond or insurance for defendants that allow them to avoid incarceration while waiting on their trial to begin. A bail bondsman will post funds to the court as a guarantee that the defendant will be present at his or her hearings. Bail agents deal with defendants, attorneys, and families on a daily basis and ensure that the defendant will adhere to the terms the bail imposed by the courts. When a defendant flees their jurisdiction or fails to show up to court, the bond agent may hire a bounty hunter to capture the fugitive.
As of 2014, about 34,000 bail bondsmen were employed and they earned an average annual salary of $44,010 per year.4 Because the job of a bond agent is highly dependent on your level of experience and the relationships you develop, salaries will vary.
As you gain clientele as a fugitive recovery agent and receive more requests from bail bondsmen, you may need to expand from a one-man (or -woman) shop to a full-service agency. As your workload increases, you may want to hire certain people for certain tasks, be that administrative work, running background checks, or having one person in office being the first line of contact for known associates of “skips.” As your business grows, you may want to consider becoming a bail bondsman yourself, or becoming a full-service fugitive recovery agent with other bounty hunters, private investigators, and process servers working for you on your staff.
Bounty Hunter Salary and Career Outlook
Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect and report data about the bounty hunting profession specifically, we use the related position of private detective and investigators as a comparable proxy for employment data and salary information. In 2014, the BLS reported 26,880 people employed as a private detective or investigator in the United States, with the highest concentration of jobs being in the states of Hawaii, Florida, and New Mexico.4 While the average salary may be comparable to that of private investigators at around $50,000 per year, the highest average salaries tend to be in the states of Nebraska, New Jersey, and Alabama.4 For further information about bounty hunting salaries, including a state-by-state analysis of pay, outlook, and cost of living, visit our Fugitive Recovery Salary Information page.
As previously mentioned, opportunities for private detectives are projected to increase by 5% between now and 2024, which can give us an idea of how much bounty hunter jobs may grow during the same time period.2 With the right skills, experience, and determination, a job as a fugitive recovery agent can be a very rewarding career and a great extension to a career in law enforcement.
1. National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents, FAQ: http://www.fugitive-recovery.org/faq.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Private Detectives and Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Spring 2012: https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2012/spring/spring2012ooq.pdf
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Financial Specialists, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132099.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Private Detectives and Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339021.htm