So, You Wanna Be A Bounty Hunter?

Fresh off the heels of our latest fugitive capture, I thought it would be fitting to post about bounty hunting. I am often contacted by aspiring bounty hunters looking for advise about how to break into the business. This post will give you some perspective on the ins and outs of the bounty hunter profession. But first little bit about the bail bond business:

In states that have a bail system, like California, if you are arrested for a crime you can secure your release until your case has been heard by the court and a final resolution is reached. That’s where the bail bondsman comes in. The bondsman posts a bond usually for a fee of approximately 8% of the face of the bond guaranteeing you will appear in court as promised. If you do, at some point there will be a resolution to your case. You could be found guilty and sentenced to jail or state prison, declared innocent or not guilty and released or you could reach some type of plea agreement with the court. If and when the case is resolved, the bond gets exonerated by the court and the bondsman is no longer financially responsible for the defendant.

If the defendant fails to appear, the bond is forfeited by the court and depending upon the jurisdiction, the bondsman or his agent, (that means you the bounty hunter), have a limited amount of time to locate and surrender their client, now officially a fugitive from justice to the court or to the authorities. For the sake of this post, we will use California law, which gives the bondsman 6 months, and usually a six month extension if some effort has been made to locate the defendant. Once a bond is forfeited, the bondsman is on the hook for the entire face value of the bond if he or she does not surrender the defendant to the court within the time allowed by law. So if a defendant skips on a $10,000 bond, the bondsman will owe $10,000 to the court. If the bail is $100,000 the bondsman will owe $100,000 to the court. That’s where you, the aspiring bounty hunter comes in.

Many aspiring bounty hunters ask me how to get work in the industry. There is no shortcut. If you don’t have some type of experience apprehending fugitives, it’s going to be difficult finding work in the industry. Here’s why; a bail bondsman makes a significant investment every time they assign a case to a bounty hunter. If the bounty hunter can’t produce, they have to pay the court, that’s it, period! Paying out on one or two big bonds is all is takes to put a bondsman out of business. Because of that, they are very selective about who they assign this responsibility to.

Most small or independent bail bondsman, like those Hunt Private Investigations work for either chase their own skips or hire a bounty hunter to do it for them. In almost all cases the bondsman will have a personal relationship with the bounty hunter they choose and he or she will have a proven track record of success.

Some of the lager, statewide and national bail bond companies, such as Aladdin Bail Bonds, hire in house bounty hunters who work exclusively for that company tracking down their fugitives. This is probably the best option for someone with little or no experience to break into the field and learn on the job.

Bounty Hunting Realities

Dog the Bounty Hunter is a very popular reality show and has given the bounty hunting profession a high profile. But keep in mind that Dwayne “Dog” Chapman is also a bail bondsman. Many of the “captures” featured on his show are surrenders on his own bonds and the “fugitive” doesn’t know he’s coming for them. The success rate for a bond surrender, the term for taking a pre-fugitive defendant into custody is significantly greater than the capture rate of a fugitive on the run who knows he is being hunted and doesn’t want to get caught. Here are some things to consider before buying your bullet proof vest, pepper spray can and Indian feathers:

You gotta kill what you eat!

That means, no capture, no pay. The industry standard fee for bounty hunting is a percentage of the bond, usually 10 % for in state recoveries, 20 % for out of state and $30% and up for international recoveries, plus expenses associated with the investigation. For most investigative work, the client is billed for the time you spend working on the case. Not so with bail cases. Fugitive cases can take months to complete, travel is often involved, which means airfare, hotel and rental car expenses and there is no guarantee you’ll capture the defendant in time to meet the deadline exonerate the bond to get paid.

Big fish, little fish?

Don’t assume that someone with a $10,000 bond will be any easier to catch than someone with a $250,000 bond. Remember, your skip knows he or she is wanted, often times they prepared to run in advance and will do everything they can to avoid capture. Can you afford to invest months to collect a mere $1,000 on a $10,000 bond? You better be able to because you’re going to have to prove yourself on the small bond cases before you ever get the chance to work a big one.

Risky business

Bounty hunting is not a game. Taking a fugitive into custody is serious business and can be very dangerous. It is also fraught with potential liability. Foot pursuits and physical confrontation are not uncommon. Make sure you know the laws governing bounty hunting where you work because every jurisdiction is different. And be sure to abide by them! Not a year goes without bounty hunter somewhere being charged with kidnapping or some other violation of law for over stepping their legal authority. Dwayne “Dog” Chapman’s troubles,  with Mexican authorities a few years back is one of the more infamous cases that comes to mind. We all want to catch our skips, but you have to follow the rules or you’re no different than they are!


I have been chasing crooks since my 18th birthday when I joined the Army to serve as a military police officer. There are very few things that give me a greater a sense of accomplishment than taking a bad guy off the street. Bounty Hunting is a service my investigation agency provides that allows me to continue to feel that same sense of satisfaction. It can be a rewarding and worthwhile way to make a living if you have the skills and patience for it.

Want more info?

Check out my interview about how to become a bounty hunter with the Criminal Justice School at:

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