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Bounty Hunting is a Complicated Profession

Bounty hunting is a complicated profession, don’t you agree?” So asks Werner Herzog aka “The Client” in the very first episode of The Mandalorian.

But is it though?

Um, actually, bounty hunting isn’t big deal really. And apologies to Dog, but his A&E reality show–Dog the Bounty Hunter–is more hammed up and less realistic than the Disney+ show that features Jawas and Baby Yoda. So, let’s take a look at the actual complications of real-life bounty hunting.

What is a bounty Hunter?

A bounty hunter is someone who is hired by a bail bondsman to find and capture a fugitive in exchange for a monetary reward. Or, in the case of The Mandalorian, a bounty hunter is given a bounty puck by Greef Karga of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild on Nevarro.

If someone is arrested, yet doesn’t have the financial means to pay bail, they may borrow the money from a bail bondsman. But if they then skip their court appointment they become a fugitive from justice and the bail bondsman is on the hook for the bail money. In order to recoup their potential loses, the bail bondsman will then often hire a bounty hunter to track down the fugitive for a “bounty,” which is typically 10% of the bail money.

Bounty hunters actually play a respected role in today’s judicial system but their history goes back centuries. During the Wild West frontier period, bounty hunters weren’t uncommon and would find work using the old wanted posters that have endured as a trope to this day.

One such Old West bounty Hunter–Thomas Tate Tobin– was frequently hired by the US Army and was known to return his bounty’s head in a sack. Another famed bounty hunter went by the name Dry Wolf and tracked down bootleggers during prohibition.

Bounty hunting is largely regulated nowadays, with most states having a clear licensing and registration procedure. One of the exceptions is my state–Minnesota. So let’s now stake out Stew Peters, Minnesota’s infamous bounty hunter.

Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Stew wears a bullet-proof vest, carries handcuffs, and drives a black Ford Explorer with tinted windows and a caged back seat. So, if you were wondering if he’d fit in with Greef Karga and the rest of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild of Star Wars, then wonder no more.

Stew describes his job as, “99 percent boredom, 1 percent holy [crap].”* He has a list of regular snitches informants and nowadays, he scours social media for clues as well. Strong Google-fu is his greatest asset.

There is typically a disgruntled ex that is all too willing to sing. Either that or a worried mother. Regardless, that usually sets up a stake out for Stew, who passes the time by idly checking on his fantasy sports teams.

After a long, boring stake-out Stew is like a right fielder who hasn’t had a ball hit to him for like five innings but is suddenly startled into action by one crack of the bat. Once he spots the perp slink out of a girlfriend’s window or a seedy hotel, the chase is immediately on.

Except it’s rarely a chase. Most bounties give up right away. But it’s not uncommon for bounties to simply try to hide, one time in a clothes dryer. And Stew did have one bounty jump from a third-story window, fracturing his ankle and ending the chase. I would’ve watched that on The Mandalorian.

Stew has a crew. He employs a half dozen other bounty hunters, forming a sort of guild of his own. Stew’s Crew has backgrounds ranging from military to security to martial arts, so they are trained to either bring in perps or, you know, orchestrate a heist or jail break if need be.

Peters and his crew sometimes deploy tasers or football tackle fugitives into fences. But they’ve only been shot at twice and never by a disintegrator rifle or blaster. See, bounty hunting isn’t like what you see on TV at all.

Stew fully admits that he was a little bit of a con himself back in his younger days, which is probably part of the reason he always captures his man. He knows how perps think, having once been there himself.

But Stew suggests that the thrill “isn’t the gun slinging and the door kicking and the wrestling and the chasing.”* The thrill for Stew is the feeling that he outsmarted and outwitted the bounty. Luckily, The Mandalorian makes the thrill be the gun slinging and the door kicking and the wrestling and the chasing.

And when Stew isn’t chasing a bounty he coaches his son’s hockey team, which is what really makes you a celebrity in Minnesota.

So, is bounty hunting a complicated profession? Not really. Character’s like Stew make it look easy.

Thankfully, characters like Mando make it look cool. And show writers like Jon Favreau make it look exciting. But complicated? Nah.


* Many thanks to Rachel Hutton and her piece on Stew entitled “Minnesota’s Best-known Bounty Hunter Captures State’s Most Wanted” in Minnesota’s Star Tribune which you can read in its entirety here!