If you’re a longtime fan of the Star Wars franchise’s Boba Fett or of reality television series Dog the Bounty Hunter, you may wonder what a real-life bounty hunter career is like. Although the job is an exciting one that offers the thrill of chasing down a fugitive, there are many differences between what bounty hunting is like in the real world and how it appears in fictional or dramatized depictions on television. In particular, you can expect to be subject to more legal regulations, involved in fewer violent confrontations and engaged in a lot more research when working as a bounty hunter in real life.

More Regulation

TV bounty hunter

IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Bounty hunters aren’t above the law. In fact, they are subject to many different regulations that state not only what they can and can’t do in the course of their work but also what they must do to be qualified to work in the role. Individual states may decide to license bounty hunters, as Kansas has done, or to ban commercial bounty hunting completely, as four states in the U.S. have done.

These licensing regulations mean that not everybody can be a bounty hunter – at least, in certain states. A minimum age requirement of 25 in New Jersey means you can’t jump right into this career after finishing high school or even college, and the state’s requirement that candidates have a minimum of five years of law enforcement or private investigation work experience restricts the career to applicants with certain professional backgrounds. Additionally, a history of criminal offenses may be enough to prevent you from getting a bounty hunter license, although different states set different requirements as to what kind of offense disqualifies a candidate from eligibility for a license.

In these states with more extensive regulation, it isn’t only the process of becoming a bounty hunter that is controlled, but what you can, can’t and must do in the course of your work. You may be limited in the job title you use. For example, in Ohio, you can’t call yourself a “bounty hunter” but are supposed to use the term “bail enforcement agents” instead. In Connecticut, you must wear a uniform identifying you as a bail enforcement agent as well as a visible identification card on your person. In states like Montana, bounty hunters have more expansive powers to search premises, seize property and make arrests than sworn law officers, who are subject to more protocols and restrictions, do. Texas, on the other hand, prohibits bounty hunters from entering a residence at all without the consent of its occupants, which may include the fugitive.

The business of bounty hunting remains unregulated in some states, but bounty hunters in these areas must be careful to obey the law during their chases and arrests. Otherwise, they could face criminal charges for their actions while pursuing a fugitive.

Less Physical Confrontation

Onscreen, the excitement of bounty hunting is all about the physical chase. There’s often a compelling fight scene as the fugitive struggles to escape and the bounty hunter must take down the opponent. In real life, bounty hunters strive to avoid these violent physical conflicts. They don’t want to get hurt themselves, face criminal assault charges or, generally, hurt the fugitive, either. A calm and respectful demeanor and strong negotiation and communication skills are much more widely used in real bail fugitive recovery operations than guns.

Because the potential for violent confrontations still exists, bounty hunting is still a dangerous job. Bounty hunters should learn self-defense tactics. They may choose to carry a firearm but must first meet all state requirements – or risk facing criminal charges.

More Research and Surveillance

A surprising amount of the chase in real bounty hunting comes down to research. Modern bounty hunters use all tools at their disposal, sifting through the defendant’s social media profiles for clues to connections who might be harboring a fugitive or tracking down all known past addresses in public record databases. The research done with computers takes a great deal more of a bounty hunter’s time than you would expect from the depictions popular on television. There is also a lot more watching and waiting as bounty hunters surveil suspected whereabouts.

Surveillance is particularly crucial in states in which the bounty hunter’s right to enter a residence is based on whether or not the fugitive is currently occupying it.

Additional Resources

How Do I Get Licensed to Become a Bounty Hunter?

What Is a Bounty Hunter?

How Do I Become a Private Detective?