How To Become A Bounty Hunter In California (full expert guide 2022)

Do you need to know how to become a bounty hunter in California? This post takes you through the process.

I’m always on the lookout for new income opportunities that you can take advantage of. Like always, I’ll give you my verdict at the end of the post.

So let’s get right into it.

What is a bounty hunter?

A bounty hunter is an old-fashioned term for a bail enforcement agent. It is also another term for a fugitive recovery agent. Bounty hunters work with bail bond companies and other people in the bail industry to:

  • Arrest fugitives who have ‘skipped’ bail
  • Help out bail bond agencies and bail industry professionals. They can do this by recovering any assets lost due to people skipping bail
  • Help defendants by providing them with incentives to not skip bail

Bounty Hunter Requirements

There are no formal licensing requirements to become a bounty hunter in California. This does mean that anyone can become a California bounty hunter.

Recent lawmaking has helped. The laws guide people who want to become involved in professional fugitive apprehension.

The Bail Fugitive Recovery Persons Act first came into force back in 1999. Since then, an updated version of this law was created in 2013. The Act is also known as Penal Code 1299 (or sometimes ‘PC 1299’). This law gives anyone who wants to be a bounty hunter some guidelines and rules. If you want to become a bail recovery agent, then you need to meet the requirements of PC 1299.

The specific legal requirements for becoming a bail enforcement agent are:

  • You have to be at least 18 years of age and be a documented US citizen
  • You will have to undergo a thorough background check
  • You have to have no felony convictions
  • You must be a current resident of California
  • You have to follow the PC 1299 requirements. These are the rules on required courses and training programs

There are exceptions. If you work as a bounty hunter in another state then you can work in California. However, you have to comply with the California Penal Code and California law. If you are a licensed private investigator, you don’t have to worry about any of the requirements.

The path to a career

Becoming a fugitive recovery officer in California requires training (the PC 1299 requirements mentioned in the last section) and it isn’t exactly a cakewalk. There is a lot of commitment required.

First of all, you have to complete at least 20 hours of bail education. This is via a California Department of Insurance (CDI) training course. There are a few courses involved, namely the Accelerated Bail Agent Pre-licensing and Bail Fugitive Recovery Training Course and the Bounty Hunting and Bail Fugitive Recovery Course. Clock up 20 hours on these courses and you’re through that section of the training required.

Next, we’re talking specific training in powers of arrest. Fugitive recovery agents need to train in this aspect of their job, and this is done by completing at least 40 hours of courses. There is a great Arrest and Firearms Course offered by California state (the PC 832). This covers all you need and you can get your 40 hours achieved through that.

Once you have completed that considerable training, you will gain certification. These documents are incredibly important, and should be carried by you at all times. They are proof of completion documents and all professional bounty hunters need to carry them when doing their job. As a fugitive enforcement agent you will need to be clear on how you are different from private citizens, especially when you are apprehending someone.

Then, it’s all about networking.

Getting known as a bounty hunter

Becoming a bounty hunter in California is mainly about who you know. The basic set up involves you getting work from a bail bondsman or bail bondsmen in an agency. You can’t make progress towards this stage unless you get to know some of them first of all. You need to network, in other words.

Bail bondsmen need to feel like they can trust you. This takes a little time. Once you get your first job you should then be all about building that trust and developing a rapport with the bail bondsmen you meet. You’ve done the training, and now it’s about getting experience with the job.

Once you’ve completed the recommended training, look up fugitive recovery agents in your part of California. Get in touch with them and ask if you can be part of a ride along so you can experience what the job is like. You’ll start to pick up a working knowledge of the role of a bounty hunter. This process could take a little time. Be polite, and contact the bounty hunters by email or phone. Explain what you want to do and discuss your potential career.

Bonus: email template for reaching out to a fugitive recovery agent

Use the following template when you are trying to reach out to a local California bounty hunter:

“My name is _______, and I’m a recent graduate in the criminal justice field. I’m interested in working as a bond enforcement agent, and I’ve started the process for certification. Would you be available in the upcoming weeks to meet to discuss your job and the field in general? You can contact me at _____.”

Preparing to be a California bounty hunter

Studying around the industry is a great way to get yourself prepared for the work. It is not necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree in a related subject but it can help with building your credibiilty. So even if you have ‘just’ a high school diploma this is still a career choice for you.

Many prospective bounty hunters study criminal justice or sociology, sometimes to degree level. Alongside building your credibility, taking courses in these subjects gives you the foundaton in the key skills required in the job. It’s important to know the background to the criminal justice system, and an understanding of criminal behavior can only make you more valuable. And by all means, go for a bachelor’s degree if you can. It only adds more credibility.

Top tip: If you do nothing else when it comes to studying, make sure you understand what critical thinking skills are, and how to develop them. The level of analytic thinking you will need to use as a licensed bail agent is phenomenal.

Some would-be bounty hunters take classes in self-defense and martial arts, just to build confidence and experience of dealing with any situations that may arise. You will also want to secure a permit that allows you to carry firearms in your state. Then you will have to complete a Firearm Ownership Report and submit it.

The gear and the vehicle

As a bounty hunter, I have to dress the part. If I came to the door and looked like Carrot Top, you’d laugh.

Duane Chapman (Dog The Bounty Hunter)

You will want to purchase safety gear too. While you don’t have to walk around in full body-protective gear, there are a number of items that are worth buying. You should at the very least buy some handcuffs, so that when you have apprehended someone you are able to contain them. You should also think about buying some protective gear, such as vests, that will help to keep you safe. Equipment like this can be bought online.

Then you need to think about your vehicle. Your car will have to transport you for long distances at a time. You’ll be carrying out multiple journeys as you work to apprehend bail jumpers. If you don’t have a reliable car that has low mileage, you’ll be in trouble. If you’re in a position to get yourself a new vehicle, choose something inconspicuous and reliable.

At the same time, start to build connections with the local bail bondsmen. These people receive instant notification of court dates and any incoming bails and are very much ‘plugged in’ to the criminal justice system. They will also have up-to-date information on any fugitives and bail bond laws. Getting to know them means that they will think of you the next time they have a job ready.

At this stage, some bounty hunters offer to do their first job for free for bail bondsmen. It is an instant trust-builder. It’s not mandatory of course, but may be worth considering. Bear in mind also that bounty hunters are independent contractors (self-employed) so you will have to manage all of your paperwork and work hard to market and sell your services.

The job

The biggest part of being a bounty hunter is the research and work involved in finding the fugitive. Once a bail bond agent professional has given you a case to work on, it’s time to become a detective.

While bounty hunters are not technically private investigators they do have to work in the same way for much of the time. With your ‘bail piece’ (which shows that the perosn you are tracking is a fugitive) and your copy of the bond, you should start to dig into the wanted person and their life. Access phone records and check address databases thoroughly.

You can also hop on social media to contact friends and family. This will allow you to ask questions about the fugitive and their past. Spend time getting to know the person you are looking for and look out for people who they have wronged in the past. They will be happy to discuss them and may even know where they are.

When you find your first one

When you find your first fugitive it’s important to remember a few guidelines that will help you keep everyone as safe as possible while allowing you to do your job within the laws of the state (i.e. San Diego laws).

You should always try to avoid physical force. Let the fugitive know that going with you is the best option for them. This will both reassure them and encourage them to make the right choice. Always remain calm and focus on negotiation.

If things do go wrong then you have legal authority to use physical force to apprehend the fugitive. Move in when the time is right and formally arrest them. Place them in handcuffs and then take them to a jail in the county where they were first arrested.

Some bounty hunters turn up to a fugitive’s address in the middle of the night as a guarantee of locating them. When you do reach an address, remember to notify local law enforcment officers that you intend to make an arrest. The police department will most likely want advance notice of when an arrest is due to take place.

Working with law enforcement officers

It is important to remember that any successful bounty hunter works closely with local law enforcement as part of their responisbility for public safety. Be aware of the right channels to use to notify local police of what is happening. They will usually accept phone calls to a special number.

When all is over and you have arrested the fugitive, you can then contact the bail bondsman who hired you to discuss payment. You will need to be able to show records of the arrest and any other documents that prove you apprehended the person in question. Keep all reciepts and bills for any expenses on your journey so that you can claim when tax time rolls around.

At all times be aware that you can not misrepresent yourself as law enforcement at local, state or federal laws level at any point.


Bounty hunting became a fully-fledged part of the US legal system in 1872, as a consequence of the Taylor vs Taintor case heard in the Supreme Court:

“When the bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their domain is a continuance of the original imprisonment. Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up to his discharge; and if it cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him into another state; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose. The seizure is not made by virtue of due process. None is needed. It is likened to the arrest by the sheriff of an escaped prisoner.” – Taylor v. Taintor, 1872, United States Supreme Court.

What is a bounty hunter’s salary?

The amount of money a bounty hunter gets every year is down to how many cases they take on. The more cases you take on, the more you make.

The current average salary is anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 a year. And that is if they take on between 100 to 150 cases a year. This of course depends on the value of the cases the bounty hunter solves.

The payout process can be understood by reviewing what bounty hunters do. An accused may seek the help of a bail bond company when bail is set at, for example, $100,000. For the privilege of bail bonding, the suspect usually pays a 10% fee.

If the accused appears in court as scheduled, the bail bondsman will be refunded the bail they put up for him or her, and they will also keep the 10% fee he or she paid them. However, if the subject skips town and fails to appear in court, a bail bondsman may hire a bounty hunter to find him or her.

Usually, bounty hunters are paid 10-20% for successfully returning fugitives. This means they would earn $10,000-$20,000 by returning if the bail was $100,000.

What is a surety bond agent?

The surety bond agent (another name for bounty hunter basically) will do everything possible to ensure the defendant knows when and where they need to be for court. A surety bond agent will begin the process of tracking down a defendant if he or she fails to appear in court and an absence is recorded as part of the undertakings of bail. It’s basically the responsibility to make sure someone attends court and if not, the bounty hunter tracks them down. All of this is instigated by a surety company (bail bondsman).

How much is Dog The Bounty Hunter worth?

It is estimated that Dog the Bounty Hunter has a net worth of $6 million. Popularity of the first reality show was enormous. As a result, he still receives a portion of his income from his television career and other endeavors.

Extra resources to help you become a bounty hunter in California

Take a look at the following for more information:

The verdict

Well, this is obviously not for everyone.

But if you are happy to travel miles to apprehend people, and you’re pretty organised, it’s as good an income opportunity as you could ask for. Put the work in getting to know bounty hunters first. That way, you’ll know if it’s for you.

It is my aim to help you make more money and to spend it wisely. If this post helped, check out my most popular post on ice vending machine businesses.

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Sal Ashraf

I'm a freelance writer. This site is all about getting more business, and keeping that business, whether you're a solo entrepreneur, or a large company.

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