Learn About Being a Bounty Hunter

Old West Bounty Hunter
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As with so many criminal justice and criminology careers, the profession of bounty hunting has been popularized in everything from reality TV to science fiction. Which makes finding out how you can get a bounty hunter job - and what bounty hunters actually do - that much more interesting.

Whether it's Duane "The Dog" Chapman or Boba Fett, bounty hunting gives the appearance of "law enforcement light" - offering all of the excitement of working as a police offer without the lengthy hiring process, background check or all that messy responsibility to protect and serve. 

What Bounty Hunters Do

In the United States, most states use a bail bond system, in which people who have been arrested can secure their temporary release from jail while they wait for their trial. They put up a large amount of money that they will lose if they don't show up for court.

Often, the bail amount is too high for the arrested subject to come up with on his own. A bail bond agent will put the money up for the suspect, and charge the suspect only a small percentage of the actual cost of the bail. When the subject shows up for court and the case is complete, the bail bondsman gets the bail money back.

If the subject fails to appear for court - or "skips bail" - the bail bond agent loses the cash he put up, and can't recover it unless and until the suspect is brought to justice. That's where a bounty hunter comes in. Bounty hunters - now more often called bail enforcement agents - track down subjects who skipped bail and turn them over to the court system. They get paid by collecting the reward put up by the bond agent, usually a percentage of the original bail.

What It Take to Be a Bounty Hunter

Believe it or not, depending on the state, it doesn't take much to be a bounty hunter. Individual states have specific laws regulating what, if any, authority private citizens have in arresting fugitives. In most cases, though, there is no training or certification required to get started as a bounty hunter. In theory, and depending on where you live, the day you decide to be a bounty hunter, you can be a bounty hunter. 

That's the theory. In reality, a successful bail enforcement agent needs to have a strong understanding of the laws and criminal processes in the states she is working. Given the dangerous nature of the job - capturing fugitives from justice is never safe - she needs to have knowledge of defensive tactics and safe apprehension tactics. 

Pitfalls of Bounty Hunting Jobs

It's easy to see why making a life as a bounty hunter might seem appealing to people with an adventurous spirit. There are a lot of landmines on the road to success, though.

For one, what one state may call bond enforcement, another may call kidnapping. As examples, bounty hunting per se is illegal in Florida. In Kentucky, only officers of the peace are authorized to make arrests. Outside of the United States, bounty hunting is almost universally against the law.

While bounty hunting may not come with the same level of regulation, training, and responsibility as law enforcement, it also comes without the protections under which police get to operate.

Where law enforcement officers are agents of the state and protected under sovereign and qualified immunity laws, bond enforcement agents don't have the same protections because they operate as private citizens. This means they can be held liable for any injuries or damages that occur as a result of carrying out their job.

How Much Bounty Hunters Can Earn

Earning potential for bounty hunters can vary wildly, and has everything to do with the abilities of the enforcement agent, the relationships they form with bail bond brokers and the bounties they are able to collect. It's possible for bounty hunters to make more than $100,000 per year if they're very successful. You're far more likely to make closer to $50,000 or even less, though. Keep in mind that bounty hunters have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, so the final net gain may be even lower.

The Bottom Line About Bounty Hunting

Bounty hunting is not for the faint of heart. You need to be highly motivated, willing to educate yourself, ready to do hard work and able to protect and defend yourself. Though there's often little or no official training or certification required for the job, the benefits must be weighed heavily against the potential negatives. If after a careful evaluation you still think you're up to the task working as a bounty hunter might just be the perfect criminology career for you.