You may think of bounty hunters as operating outside the law, but in fact, they are subject to strict regulations in many states. Before you can go into business as a bounty hunter, you may need a license to engage in this work. Licensing requirements for bounty hunters are usually based on a clean criminal record and the character of the applicant, but your professional experience, level of education and skills may also play a role. Getting licensed to work as a bounty hunter isn’t a quick process, often taking months, and the process may include a state-mandated training program. It’s important that bounty hunters understand their rights, responsibilities and legal limitations as they approach the work of arresting fugitives and bringing them back to face a trial or court proceeding.
What You Need to Be a Licensed Bounty Hunter
The first thing you must do if you want to be a bounty hunter is find out what, if any, laws pertain to bounty hunting in your state. Regulations vary widely, with some states outlawing bounty hunting completely and others having no regulations or restrictions whatsoever. Many states fall somewhere in between, establishing a licensing or certification process for those who wish to work as bounty hunters.
Often, states that required bounty hunters to be licensed set a minimum age for applicants, which can be as low as 18 or as high as 25. In applying for a bounty hunter license, you will undergo a background check. As a bounty hunter, you won’t work for the government directly but instead are employed by a bail bonds agency or, more commonly, self-employed. You don’t necessarily need the same spotless record you must possess to be employed as a sworn law enforcement officer, but a criminal history of serious or repeated offenses may end your bounty hunter career before it even begins.
In some states, you must meet a minimum experience requirement in a position such as law enforcement officer or licensed private investigator. Other states have no such requirement, allowing candidates of any employment background to pursue the career path. States that have a minimum education requirement often look for only a high school diploma or a GED, rather than formal postsecondary education.
Once you are confident that you meet all eligibility requirements to become a bounty hunter, you must submit the application and required paperwork to your state agency in charge of licensing bounty hunters. You must pay an application fee to attain your initial bounty hunter license and, often, an additional fee to renew your license periodically. Often, but not always, getting your bounty hunter license requires the completion of some sort of training program. Once your license application is processed and approved, you may also have to wear a uniform while engaged in your professional duties as a bounty hunter, again depending on your state’s requirements.
If you want to carry a gun as a bounty hunter, you must follow your state’s requirements to do so legally, which may include firearms safety training courses and a background check. Unlike law enforcement officers, bounty hunters are not assigned or required to carry a firearm.
The Best Career Preparation for Bounty Hunters
Just because you don’t need a formal degree to qualify for a bounty hunter license doesn’t mean a college education isn’t valuable in this line of work. Your success as a bounty hunter – not to mention, your income – hinges on your ability to get results. Any skills you can develop that can help you do so are worth adding to your repertoire, including technical and computer skills, security skills, investigative skills, observation and deductive reasoning skills, communication skills and negotiation skills.
A college education may be one way to cultivate these skills, but you have a lot of freedom to choose how you want to learn. You might major in criminal justice, law enforcement, computer science or any number of other programs of study. Maybe you decide to earn a certificate rather than a full degree or to take a variety of courses as a non-degree student. In this path, you can choose the perfect blend of classes to advance your skills – like philosophy courses in logic and reasoning and psychology and sociology courses that help you better persuade a fugitive to come into custody. Since you don’t necessarily need a degree, you may decide to pursue these studies through free non-credit online courses.
You can also prepare for a bounty hunter career by building a mentorship relationship with an established bounty hunter in the field. When you network with existing bounty hunters, you may have the opportunity to ask questions about breaking into the field or even shadow them as they work.
Keep in mind that any education or training you decide to go through to improve your skills must be done in addition to any classes your state may require for licensing or certification. Having a degree or college credit does not waive state licensing requirements.