The profession of bail enforcement, popularly known as bounty hunting, is a unique, potentially rewarding career within the criminal justice system. While bounty hunting may not be the right fit for many people, professionals in the field have shared their insider knowledge with us, including the 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 can be a rewarding career. Most professionals in the bail recovery field suggest that those interested in fugitive recovery diversify their skillset by gaining experience in related work areas such as private investigation, process serving (serving legal and court documents), and bail bonds. These careers overlap in skillset to a high degree, providing additional opportunities for bounty hunters, who often work as free agents. At any point, a cross-trained bail enforcement agent may work in several capacities, boosting his or her overall earning potential. For more information on the bail process and the parties involved and for general information on how to become a bounty hunter, read our overview of the career process. You should understand the following before choosing a fugitive recovery agent job:
- Bounty hunting is a field that usually requires one to run his or her own business.
- Fugitive recovery may require significant personal risk-taking.
- Training is required to understand the fundamentals of investigation, tracking, and use of force may be required.
- Bail enforcement often requires one to be compliant with rules and regulations (depending on the state).
- Bounty hunting 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 bail enforcement but are not sure if it’s the right career for you, continue reading below for five reasons to pursue a career in this field:
1. You are comfortable with risk-taking behavior 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, also known as “skips,” may be armed and dangerous, as by definition, they have skipped the court date agreed upon through their bail bond and are effectively running from, or at least avoiding, the law. Bail enforcement agents are contracted to confront and apprehend these individuals 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. Some states do not allow bounty hunters to carry firearms; you should check state laws for the state in which you wish to work to understand what bail enforcement agents can and cannot do. One way bounty hunters decrease the amount of risk they incur is by having a detailed plan of action for catching the fugitive before they start.
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 mitigate 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 locating the fugitive. If you are not comfortable interviewing strangers and negotiating with people, a job as a bail enforcement 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 the 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, especially at the beginning, running your own business means very few off days and an unpredictable work schedule. Bail enforcement agents work odd hours and oftentimes nonstop until they find their fugitive. Successful professionals in the field suggest starting out as a low paid or unpaid intern with a mentor who is already well-versed in this field. Have patience because it may take a while to build a book of business with trusted bond agents.
4. You are comfortable adhering to rules and regulations imposed in many cases by state regulatory bodies or employers.
Given that bail enforcement agents are usually self-employed, they must follow the statutes set by governing bodies of states. Each state has different rules and regulations for fugitive recovery agents. For example, some states may prohibit bounty hunters from carrying a firearm or entering a fugitive’s home to capture him or her. Other states prohibit the profession altogether, as they have no private bail system in place.
Bounty hunters must understand the state law as it relates to fugitive recovery for not only their own jurisdiction but also the states that they must travel through in order to catch the fugitive. A bail enforcement agent must know and understand these rules to ensure they make a lawful capture of the fugitive. It is important to know that bounty hunters can’t present themselves as a law enforcement officer, nor can they wear any badge or shield that says they are associated with law enforcement as the impersonation of law enforcement officers in any state is illegal.
5. You possess sound personal judgment and don’t mind “wearing many hats.”
Bail enforcement agents don’t just have one job. They may have to play the roles of 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 the whereabouts of her child. Bounty hunters should be prepared to be patient and 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 (or with hiring an accountant to handle it for them), office maintenance issues, and handling human resources issues if he or she ever hires additional employees. In addition, bail enforcement agents must find and secure contracts with bail bondsmen. For more tips about the kind of person best suited to be a bounty hunter, read our professional interviews with successful fugitive recovery agents in the field.
Bounty Hunter Job Description
A bounty hunter, or bail enforcement agent or fugitive recovery agent, is responsible for locating, arresting, and returning fugitives to the detention center where they were originally detained. As previously stated, fugitive recovery agents must understand the applicable laws and regulations for all of the states that they work in. Bounty hunters must master “skip tracing,” a term used for locating fugitives on the run. Additionally, a bounty hunter must be in good physical condition, be comfortable engaging in hand-to-hand combat, and 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 bail enforcement agent jobs in your area, visit our job 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 bond agent. Once contracted, they will be given information about the fugitive who has skipped bail and develop a path for apprehending him or her. In the bail enforcement world, the fugitive 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 and reviewing this information, the bail enforcement agent must determine a plan of action to catch the fugitive. The plan should include interviewing a few people who may know the whereabouts of the fugitive and who may also have reason to share that information with the bounty hunter. In these instances, the bail enforcement agent may have to use charm or, in some cases, skills of deception, to enable the confidant to divulge the fugitive’s possible whereabouts.
Once a fugitive recovery agent knows some locations where the fugitive may be found, he or she must conduct a stakeout. At this point, a bail enforcement agent must be patient enough to wait until the fugitive shows up and be prepared to confront him or her when the opportunity arises. Unlike most law enforcement officers, a bounty hunter may go incognito and/or falsify his or her identity to gain the trust of the skip. Once the bounty hunter has located the fugitive, he or she must be prepared to enact the plan of action for apprehension.
Bail enforcement agents must be patient and willing to travel long distances to apprehend a “skip.” Many fugitives will flee their original jurisdiction in hopes of evading arrest and/or punishment in another state. Once the bounty hunter has caught the fugitive, he or she must travel back to the fugitive’s original jurisdiction to claim the reward from the bondsman.
Most bail enforcement agents will be employed by bail bondsmen as independent contractors. For those agents new to bail enforcement recovery, you should spend a good portion of your time getting to know the bail bond agencies in your city or state and letting them know you are available to work. Most bounty hunters are paid a percentage of the bond that was posted for bailing out the accused criminal in the first place.
Salaries for bail enforcement agents vary greatly depending on the level of experience of the agent, the jurisdiction in which they work, and other factors. According to the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents (NAFRA), bounty hunters typically earn between 10% and 25% of a bond.1 More experienced bounty hunters may earn jobs with higher stakes bonds and, unlike novice bounty hunters, may be able to 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 how your work experience and other factors make you a successful bounty hunter. For example, if you are new to bail enforcement but you have years of experience as a detective, you may be able to prove that you already possess the skills needed to be a bail enforcement agent and command a higher payment for capturing the fugitive.
Occasionally, a victim’s family may employ a bounty hunter if the assailant has skipped bail. In this case, you should make the payment terms clear up front and be prepared to explain why you are the best choice to find the alleged criminal. It may be a better long-term strategy to build relationships with bail bond agencies and bondsmen as opposed to targeting families because a bail bondsman will have a multitude of job opportunities for you, whereas a single victim or family will have just one. Sometimes, family members of the fugitive may employ the services of a bail enforcement agent, because by posting bail for the accused criminal, they have signed a contract pledging their own assets as collateral. If their family member has skipped bail, the contract has been broken, so family members of the accused may be motivated to help with the apprehension process as well.
Where They Work
Most bail enforcement agents work for bail bond agents but usually from their own office or home. If he or she has space and is a trusted partner, a bail bondsman may allow you to work from his or her office, but that is unlikely. If a career as a fugitive recovery agent is one that interests you, you should be prepared to dedicate a space, either in your home or in your own office, for work.
Other Jobs Related to Bounty Hunting
Being a bail enforcement agent or a bounty hunter requires a specific set of skills and these skills often overlap with other professions. Continue reading below to determine how to maximize your job as a bounty hunter while supplementing your income with related work.
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 some PIs or PDs find consistent employment working for criminal and civil law firms.
PIs and PDs earned a median of $59,380 per year as of 2022.2 For more information about the salaries of private investigators, visit our salaries page, where you will find a sortable table including salary, employment, and cost of living information organized by state. The job, much like bail enforcement, 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 2021 and 2031 by 6%, about as fast as the national average rate for all occupations.2
Another job that is similar to that of bail enforcement agent is 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 and does not have to apprehend anyone.
As of 2022, there were almost 9,000 process servers reported in the US.3 Earnings vary quite a bit; a process server can earn between $20 to $80 for serving one person, while top salaries for process servers can be higher than $70,000 per year.3 Use our job board to search for related jobs in your area.
Bail Bondsman/Bail Bond Agent
A bail bondsman, or bail bond agent, provides a bond (similar to insurance) for defendants that allow them to avoid incarceration while waiting for 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 bondsmen deal with defendants, attorneys, and families on a daily basis to ensure that the defendant will adhere to the terms of the bail imposed by the courts. When a defendant flees his or her jurisdiction or fails to show up to court, the bail bondsman may hire a bounty hunter to capture the fugitive.
According to the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS), there are thousands of bail agents in the US and they earn an average annual salary of between $25,000 and $50,000 per year.4 Others have estimated the number of bail agents in the US at around 15,000.5 Because the job of a bail bondsman is highly dependent on the level of experience and the relationships he or she develops, salaries vary.
As you gain clientele as a bail enforcement agent and receive more requests from bail bondsmen, you may need to expand from a one-man (or one-woman) shop to a full-service agency. As your workload increases, you may consider hiring additional people to handle certain tasks, such as administrative work, running background checks, or 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 bail enforcement agents, private investigators, and others 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 bail enforcement profession specifically, we use the related position of private detective and investigators as a comparable proxy for employment data and salary information. In 2021, the BLS reported just under 29,000 people employed as private detectives or investigators in the United States, with the highest concentration of jobs in the states of Florida, California, and Texas.6 The highest average salaries were reported in Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon, and Virginia.6 For further information about bounty hunting salaries, including a state-by-state analysis of pay, outlook, and cost of living, visit our guide to salaries in fugitive recovery.
As previously mentioned, opportunities for private detectives are projected to increase by 6% through 2031, which can give us an idea of how much bail enforcement agent 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 rewarding career and a sensible extension from a career in law enforcement.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I become a bounty hunter?
Becoming a bounty hunter or a bail enforcement agent is different for everyone. Most people start with a background in a related career in criminal justice, such as policing or detective work. Then, they develop relationships with bail bond agents or bail bondsmen and become licensed to work as a bounty hunter in their state of residence. Make sure you research your state’s regulations if you are interested in pursuing bail enforcement as a career.
How much do bail enforcement agents get paid?
Bounty hunters are usually paid by the job, which is negotiated on a per-job basis with the bail bondsman with whom he or she is working. As mentioned above, most bounty hunters earn an average of 10% and 25% of a bond.1 While the total salary for bail enforcement agents varies widely depending on how much they work and their success, the comparable job of private investigation has average earnings of around $60,000 per year, which may be similar to potential earnings for bounty hunters.6
Do I need a degree to become a bounty hunter?
Since bail enforcement agents are largely self-employed, most bounty hunters do not need a degree to begin working in the field. Bail enforcement is more about who you know and building relationships with bail bondsmen and other law enforcement officials in your area. That being said, a degree in criminal justice or a related field will provide training in subjects such as research methods, statistics, corrections, and criminal law, which may make you a stronger bail enforcement agent. A degree may also make you a more sought-after partner for bail bondsmen who are looking for agents.
1. National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents, FAQ: https://nafra.net/faq
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. Zippia, Process Server Demographics and Statistics in the US: https://www.zippia.com/process-server-jobs/demographics/
4. Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS): https://www.pbus.com/page/3
5. The Center for American Progress, Inside the Commercial Bail Bond Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems: https://www.americanprogress.org/article/fact-sheet-profit-over-people/
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Private Detectives and Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339021.htm