Elite Dangerous: So, You Want to Play a Bounty Hunter

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As discussed, in last week’s post, all Commanders in Elite: Dangerous are members of the Pilots Federation. This includes both player Commanders and NPCs, who are not Pirates or members of one of the Superpowers’ militaries. Apart from ranking its members’ performance, managing GalNet, and carrying the insurance policies for all its members ships, the Pilots Federation also enforces a code of conduct for its members.

Most local factions instinctively mistrust starship pilots, because of their itinerant nature. In order to quell the sentiment that Commanders can flee the rule of system law, the Pilots Federation enforces both local system bounties, and its own system of bounties, placed on Pirates, assassins, and pilots who behave against the organization’s code of conduct. This system of bounties has given rise to ranks of Bounty Hunters; armed and dangerous pilots who seek out offenders, and bring them to justice for profit.

The Job

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The key word here is hunter, and any seasoned hunter will tell you the keys to success are patience, knowing your prey, and bringing along a reliable weapon. You also have to be willing to go where the prey is with the understanding that you can go from hunter to prey in the flash of a rail gun.

The Milky Way, in Elite: Dangerous, has no shortage of nefarious characters with prices on their heads. The one place you won’t find any bounties, though, are uninhabited systems since there’s no one there to make or enforce any laws. Inhabited systems, though, usually have several spots where you can find dirty denizens  doing dirty deeds.

Once you find your spot, it’s often a waiting game. Bounty Hunting is long periods of cruising around and scanning potential targets, interspersed with frantic ship to ship combat. There are many locations and situations where you’ll be outnumbered, but if you can take the bad guys down and survive to make it back to a station, you’ll be in for a big payday. That said, none of this really matters unless you have the right ship with the right tools.

The Ship

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To a Bounty Hunter, their ship is their weapon. Every module fitted to the ship should serve to take down their prey and keep the Bounty Hunter alive while doing it; racking up a million credits in Bounty Vouchers doesn’t do them any good if they get blown up before they can hand them in at a station.

Big guns, good shields, and powerful thrusters will all aid the Bounty Hunter in taking down tangos quickly, living through dog fights, and buggering out when it’s beer-thirty, however there are a few other tools that will help improve the odds and even increase the payout of Bounty Vouchers collected; there are plenty of scumbags who have the death sentence on more than one system.

A Kill Warrant Scanner is pretty much a necessity. You can still tell if a target is wanted with the standard ship’s scanners, but the Kill Warrant Scanner will be able to tell if the target is wanted in any other systems besides the one you’ve found them in. You may have to travel a bit to collect those Bounty Vouchers, so a good jump range is handy, but it’s well worth it.

A Frame Shift Drive Interdictor and a Frame Shift Wake Scanner come in handy for snagging wanted felons in interplanetary space, and following them to other systems if they manage to wriggle out of your traps. The Interdictor allows you to interrupt a target’s warp field in supercruise (interplanetary travel), forcing them, and you, back into normal space where you can attack them. The Wake Scanner lets you scan the High Energy Wakes left behind when a target jumps to another system, showing you the destination and allowing you to follow them.

There are a few other gadgets that are useful to Bounty Hunters, but we’ll discuss those a bit later. For now, lets get into the nuts and bolts of finding, selecting, and taking down the Milky Way’s most wanted.

Doing the Work …

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Every hunter has their favorite spot. Some hunters spend weeks, learning about an area and tracking potential prey, looking for the perfect spot to lie in wait. Some hunters hire guides, or join lodges with private hunting grounds. Here, I hope to provide you with some strategies for locating your prey, based on my experiences in-game.

Whether you’re hunting on your own, or to fulfill a Bounty Mission you’ve picked up from a local faction, you’re going to need to find your prey. While some missions will direct you to a specific system, or a location on a planetary surface, most of the time you’re still going to need to find your targets; solar systems are HUGE, and planetary surfaces are no slouches either.

Bounty Hunters are mostly interested in finding wanted felons, so I’ll be focusing mostly on where to find wanted ships and Pirates. Some Bounty Missions might send you after Traders, or the security forces of other local factions. These actions can often net you a bounty of your own, so I’ll leave those for discussion in my upcoming post on playing a Pirate. For now, lets talk abut where there be Pirates.

The mechanics of finding wanted pilots are actually dead simple; if you target a ship ahead of you, either in normal space or supercruise, and are close enough, your normal ship’s scanners will scan the target and tell you, among other things, if they are Wanted or Clean. As a Bounty Hunter, Wanted is what you’re looking for. If you’re in normal space, and have one outfitted, you’d then deploy your Kill Warrant Scanner, scan them, then deploy hardpoints and take them out. If you’re in supercruise, and have one outfitted, you’d deploy your Frame Shift Drive Interdictor, pull them into normal space, scan them with your Kill Warrant Scanner, if you have one, then deploy hardpoints and take them out. It’s really that simple. Finding that Wanted tag is where the hunter’s patience comes in.

Hunting bounties in the normal space around stations, or in interplanetary space while in supercruise are certainly viable options. In fact, if you’re hunting wanted players, those are the two best places to look for them. If that’s your goal, look for systems heavily trafficked by players: systems involved in the weekly Community Goals or Powerplay are excellent places to run into other players. If your hunting players in the normal space around a station, you’ll also want to make sure to stay outside the station’s No Fire Zone; they will blow your ass up because they don’t care who is shooting or why. As fun and challenging as it is, though, it’s not the most profitable form of bounty hunting. Players are hard to find, and wanted players even more so. Add to that the fact that their bounties will be scattered around The Bubble, so there will be a lot of time involved in cashing in the Bounty Vouchers. Even hunting NPCs in these spaces takes more time than some of the other locations available.

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The next best hunting grounds are Nav Beacons. Near every primary star, in inhabited systems, you will find a Nav Beacon. As the name implies, these beacons exist to provide local system navigation data for ships not equipped with Discovery Scanners. These ships, both player and NPC, exit supercruise near the beacon, and then scan the beacon to receive a stellar map of the local star system. A patient Bounty Hunter can easily cruise normal space near a Nav Beacon, scanning ships as they pop in, and picking off those pilots who are wanted. Depending on the security level of the local system, local System Authority vessels may even jump into the fray, once felons are identified by a Bounty Hunter. If they do, take care not to accidentally shoot them in the ensuing melee. They have a zero tolerance policy for being shot. Traffic, however, in and around Nav Beacons is hit or miss; sometimes you’ll not want for targets and other times you’ll grow old waiting for anyone to show up, let alone someone with a price on their head. Thankfully, there’s an even better place to find wanted scum.

The Resource Extraction Sites (RES) scattered throughout planetary rings are the true Bounty Hunter’s playground. Much like Nav BeaconsResource Extraction Sites are populated by both players and NPCs, except in this case they are either mining valuable resources, or looking to steal from those who are. The difference is that spawn rates tend to be much higher in Resource Extraction Sites, especially in the more dangerous, Hazardous ones (HAZRES). While they come in four danger ratings, Low, Normal, High, and Hazardous, most hunters seeks out the HAZRES because of its high spawn rate and the higher likelihood of finding bigger fish. System Authority vessels are often found patrolling as well, and will jump in to aid Bounty Hunters. This is especially useful when you decide to take on an Imperial Clipper or an Anaconda.

As mentioned at the start of this section, once you decide on your location and locate a target, the rest is simple … well, mechanically. How easy or hard it is to take your target down all depends on the target and your ship, and your skill as a Bounty Hunter.

… With the Right Tools

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Full disclosure, I attained Elite status as a Trader though I am, as of this writing, ranked Expert in Combat. So, while I may not be the most knowledgeable about Bounty Hunting, I’ve done my fair share and know enough to stay alive and make a fair living at it. That said, there are whole communities of Bounty Hunters out on the internet and especially on Reddit. In fact, there’s an excellent write-up by iTARIS on r/EliteBountyHunters which discusses Notable Bounty Hunting Ships and LoadoutsiTARIS does a great job there of demonstrating good builds and outlining an attainable progression for Bounty Hunter ships, so I’m not going to duplicate effort. r/EliteBountyHunters is also an excellent resource for Bounty Hunters, and I highly recommend you look through some of the excellent posts there. I will share the ships I currently use for bounty hunting and where I spend most of my time doing it.

If I am doing Bounty Hunting as part of running missions, that is, I have picked up a couple of missions that require some bounty hunting, then I usually just do it in my mission runner Fer-de-Lance. It has everything I need to take down one or two targets, survive the fight, and get back to turn in the missions and Bounty Vouchers. If I’m going to take the Fer-de-Lance into a Nav Beacon or a RES, I slightly modify it, so I can hang out longer and rack up more Bounty Vouchers, by swapping in more Shield Boosters and a Shield Cell Bank. I also shut off my Cargo Scoop to conserve power.

If I’m in the mood for some straight-up Pirate killing or I want to go into a Conflict Zone (which isn’t good for Bounty Hunting, but will net you Combat Bonds), then I take this Vulture, because it is just damn fun to fly, and it won’t cost me a lot if I get blown up. Bounty Hunting is definitely a risk/reward scenario; always weigh the payout against how much it’ll cost you to buy your ship back should you be outmatched.

Wrapping it up

As I mentioned, I am far from the best Bounty Hunter in the world, but I hope I’ve been able to point you in the right direction. Hopefully I’ve given you enough resources here for you to try your hand at Bounty Hunting so you can decide if it’s the Elite: Dangerous career for you. Come back next week for a discussion on piracy in the Milky Way!


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