8 Steps to Become a Bounty Hunter – Career & Salary Guide

We often think bounty hunters were a thing of the past, chasing down criminals like Jesse James or Bonnie and Clyde.

The profession is still around today, although it has changed along with the times.

Bounty Hunter

Bounty hunters still search for criminals, but they also do private work looking for missing persons or finding people who miss their support payments.

If you are searching for a career that involves adventure and daily change, becoming a bounty hunter might be a career for you.

What Does a Bounty Hunter Do?

A bounty hunter is responsible for hunting down criminals who have failed to meet their expected responsibilities for appearing in court at a given time.

They are normally hired by bail bondsmen, who are hoping to keep from losing the money they put up to allow a person to be released on bail.

This job entails a great deal of research and may involve elements of danger.

Because bounty hunters are independently employed, they are not subject to the same restrictions as law enforcement officers and can do things like entering a residence without a warrant and arresting a fugitive without reading them their Miranda Rights.

Duties of a bounty hunter include:

  • Researching
  • Interviewing those who may have led to the fugitive’s whereabouts
  • Conducting stakeouts to determine when to make an arrest
  • Arresting the fugitive
  • Transporting the fugitive to the appropriate legal authority

How To Become a Bounty Hunter?

The path to becoming a bounty hunter can vary from one state to another.

Some general steps apply to almost every state.

  1. Earn a diploma. The first thing you must do is gain your high school diploma or a GED.
  2. Research state regulations. Each state has a different set of requirements for becoming a bounty hunter so you need to take the time to find out exactly what type of training and experience is required in the state you are planning on working.
  3. Complete necessary training. Complete your training. In addition to courses covering legal aspects of the job, you may want to gain efficiency in a weapons course, martial arts, and basic self-defense. Other skills that will be helpful include negotiating skills and a second, or third, language.
  4. Obtain background checks. Most states require bounty hunters to pass criminal background checks. In some states, any past discretion will eliminate you. In others, the regulations aren’t as strict. You will also probably need to pass a drug test. In a few states, a credit check is also required.
  5. Become licensed. In the states that require a license, you will need to be tested. This is normally a multiple-choice test that covers legal aspects of the job. In most cases, you will also need to gain a license that allows you to carry a firearm.
  6. Gain relevant experience. Several different types of experience may help become a bounty hunter. Many bounty hunters are former police investigators. Other types of experience include undergoing an apprenticeship with someone who is already a bounty hunter, working in other areas of law enforcement, working as a security guard, or working as a private investigator. Some military experience may also be considered, depending on what your duties were.
  7. Network with bail bond agents. Your assignments will come mainly from bail bond agents. You will need to build a relationship with as many of these in your area as possible. By continuing to network and gain experience, you will increase your chances of earning a living with this work.
  8. Complete ongoing training as needed to maintain a license. In most states, a bounty hunter license is only good for one to two years. After that time, you will need to renew it. Often, this includes proving you have undergone additional training hours. These hours will include keeping up to date on changes in the law as well as becoming aware of new techniques in both research and apprehension.

How Much Does a Bounty Hunter Make?

The amount of money a bounty hunter makes depends upon several factors.

These include what state they work in, how many contracts they get in a year, and who they work for.

An active bounty hunter can make a great deal of money, while one who is just starting or who has yet to make contacts to get assignments may find themselves with little or no income.

The average nationwide salary of a bounty hunter is $50,510 a year.

The lowest-paid bounty hunters are those in Mississippi, who average #39,150 a year.

The highest-paid bounty hunters are those who work in Oregon, where the average yearly salary is $70,640.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
New Hampshire200$67,960$32.67$102,650$38,020
New Jersey850$60,100$28.90$105,020$36,090
New Mexico140$51,090$24.56$79,730$34,110
New York1,700$69,260$33.30$129,680$35,370
North Carolina710$65,560$31.52$97,380$36,610
Rhode Island210$58,580$28.16$81,880$37,440
South Carolina200$52,270$25.13$82,990$35,360
South Dakota30$54,420$26.17$67,250$41,160
West Virginia60$67,340$32.37$101,480$37,000
Puerto Rico50$37,020$17.80$57,200$23,780

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is Oregon, where the average salary is $70,640.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • Oregon - $70,640
  • New York - $69,260
  • Virginia - $68,340
  • New Hampshire - $67,960
  • Washington - $67,490
  • West Virginia - $67,340
  • Illinois - $66,540
  • Colorado - $66,360
  • Connecticut - $66,350
  • Hawaii - $66,320
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Private Detectives and Investigators, OCC Code 33-9021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

What Education Does a Bounty Hunter Need?

There are multiple options to choose from on your journey to becoming a bounty hunter.

1. Pre-Licensing Courses

These courses are normally between 20 and 50 hours long and include such subjects as bail enforcement law, fugitive apprehension, and criminal justice ethics.

Currently, 23 states require that a person seeking employment in this field complete the pre-licensing courses as a minimum training.

2. Certificate

The certificate route can be a certificate in Bail Enforcement, Law Enforcement, or Criminal Justice.

Many of these certificate courses can be completed online and most are designed to accommodate those who already have a degree as well as those who have no college background.

One of the good points of a certificate is that it is often allowed to fulfill credits should you choose to go further in your education and earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

3. Two-Year Degree

A Criminal Justice degree with a Law Enforcement Focus will have you in school for two years and earn you an Associate’s degree.

In some cases, a person may opt to earn an Associate’s degree in either arts or science and also gain experience by attending a police academy.

In these cases, it is important to include classes in:

  • Civil disorder
  • Conflict resolution
  • Detention
  • Disaster control and response
  • Evidence collection
  • First aid
  • Investigation
  • Patrol
  • Report writing
  • Tactics

4. Private Investigator Training

In some states, you are required to become a licensed private investigator to enter the field as a bounty hunter.

To make sure you are fulfilling all the requirements, in addition to the private investigator courses, also include legal principles, investigation techniques, required equipment, and how to perform background checks.

Taking a course in general business management, including basic accounting is also helpful for preparing to work freelance.

Each state has its specific requirements for becoming a bounty hunter.

To find out what the requirements are in your state, check your local list of state requirements.

Licensing and Certification

There are a few states that do not require formal licenses to perform as a bounty hunter, but for the states that do, it is important to research the requirements as they vary widely.

One license you will need to acquire is a license to carry firearms.

This involves a background check, a psychological evaluation, and a licensing fee.

In the states that require a license, you will need to meet certain minimum requirements.

These include the proper education classes, background checks, and taking a written exam.

The exam consists of several multiple-choice questions that cover subjects such as legal ethics, laws regarding apprehension, and other techniques you will need.

Some states also require a certain number of practical hours in an area of approved experience.

In the states that don’t have a formal bounty hunter license, you may be required to be licensed as a private investigator.

Those states that do have a license normally require that you complete continuing education classes and renew your license every one to two years.

Job Outlook for Bounty Hunter

The job outlook for a bounty hunter is projected to be an eight percent increase over the coming several years.

This is higher than the national average for most careers.

This large increase in available positions is mainly a result of many people leaving the field, either to retire or to enter a different career.

Overall, an average of 2,300 new positions a year will be created.

This career is often one of the ones that experience a huge turnover.

This is due to the strenuous activity and inherent danger of the job.

The average age of a bounty hunter is the mid-40s.

This means that many are reaching the age of retirement or trying to maintain a family while working and this career is often not conducive to family life.

It is also mentally and physically taxing.

Should You Become a Bounty Hunter?

There are several factors you should consider when determining if this is the field you want to pursue.

Overall Satisfaction

In general, most people in this field are happy with the independence of the job.

They enjoy working on their own, setting their hours, and being capable of earning based on performance.

They are often thrill-seekers who enjoy the adventure.

For those who don’t enjoy things like the possibility of danger or not knowing when your next assignment will be, leaving for another position is common.

That means that those who stick with this career are highly satisfied with the overall experience.

Average Salary

While the average salary of a bounty hunter isn’t among the highest, it is enough to make a decent living.

You are only limited in what you can make by your effort to pursue assignments and make contacts with those who hire bounty hunters.

For many, the uncertainty of a regular paycheck makes this an undesirable position.

For others, having an additional position as a process server or security guard helps make the income worth the career.

Job Growth Outlook

The chances of finding a position in this field are above the national average.

It is projected that over 2000 new positions will be created between now and 2035.

This is an eight percent increase.

With the greater demand, the requirements may lessen in some of the more strict states, making it even easier to pursue this career.

Education Duration

As careers go, the educational requirements for the job of bounty hunter can be as little as 20-50 hours or as long as four years, depending on the course you take to reach your destination.

If you already have a background in law enforcement, moving into the position of being a bounty hunter may not require much more education at all.

The fact that a college degree can help but is not necessary for becoming a bounty hunter makes this appealing.

Another appealing factor is that more and more programs are being offered online so that you can train for a position while still working your current job to pay the bills.

Personal Skills Needed

What kind of person excels at being a bounty hunter?

The more of the following skills you have, the better your chances will be:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Intelligence to out-think the criminal
  • Perseverance
  • Well-trained in martial arts, self-defense, and firearms
  • Efficient in both time and resource management
  • Ability to sell yourself
  • A great communicator skilled at negotiation
  • Patience
  • Ability to remain calm under pressure
  • Highly self-controlled, especially regarding anger management
  • Physically fit

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a bounty hunter?

In many cases, a high school diploma or GED is the only education required, other than a firearms course.

In some states, however, you may be looking at going to school for at least two years.

It is best to check out your state’s requirements.

How much money does a bounty hunter make a year?

On average, a bounty hunter makes $50,510 a year.

This varies from a low of $39,640 in Oregon to a high of $70,640 in Oregon.

The amount you make also depends on how many assignments you get a year.

Are bounty hunters in high demand?

The projected growth for bounty hunters is an expected increase of eight percent over the coming years.

This is higher than the national average for most positions.

Bigger cities have a greater demand than smaller areas, but the demand is there.

What kind of education do you need to become a bounty hunter?

The minimum education requirements for becoming a bounty hunter are knowledge of legal apprehension laws, firearms classes, and the knowledge of research and background checks.

These can be obtained in criminal justice programs doer through experience.

What skills do you need to have to be a bounty hunter?

A bounty hunter must understand the legalities of apprehension and law enforcement in general.

In addition, they must have a great deal of self-control, be able to work alone and under high pressure, and be able to efficiently research, which requires computer use skills above average.

A bounty hunter also needs to be a good communicator and be physically fit.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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