Red Dead Redemption 2 Bounty and Wanted Level: How they work, and how to escape from the Law

It won't take long for you to encounter the Red Dead Redemption 2 Bounty and Wanted Level system, because no matter how hard you try to be good the main story will steer you down a lawless route at times. You're part of a criminal gang after all, and you won't be able to keep Arthur Morgan away from the wrong side of the tracks all the time, even if your overall plan is to lead a life of honesty. Those dark roots run deep, so while you're running with Dutch and co you'll be expected to break the law to keep the story moving forward.

This does mean there will be times in Red Dead Redemption 2 when you incur the wrath of the law officers and get a bounty placed on your head, whether it's due to a wild shootout with dozens of dead, or a simple misunderstanding where you accidentally trod on someone with your horse. However you end up in trouble, all crimes are dealt with under the same rules, and our Red Dead Redemption 2 Bounty and Wanted Level guide will explain everything you need to know about this system.

How do Witnesses work in Red Dead Redemption 2?

It’s probably best to deal with this chronologically, and the witness is certainly the first roadblock standing between you and freedom. When you commit a crime in earshot of another person, they will notice, and you’ll receive a notification at the top right of your screen that reads “WITNESS”, with the associated crime listed below. 

When this happens you’ll receive a small eye icon on your minimap, which will alert you to the location of every witness in the immediate area. Unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, they will likely be running to the sheriff to snitch on you.

To stop a witness, your best bet is to chase them, hold L2/LT and press Triangle/Y to ‘Stop Witness’. This may stop the NPC in their tracks, and force them to hear your reasoning. Sometimes this isn’t an option and they think your crimes are so heinous that they won’t listen to you, in which case you need to tackle them to the ground with Circle/B. 

Once that’s been done, you can choose to Threaten or Beat the witness. At all costs you don’t really want to make any more sound if you’re trying to buy your freedom, so always use threats first. If that doesn’t work, a knuckle sandwich will then suffice, but then you’ll have to worry about the other witnesses you just created. If you succeed in tracking down and stopping every witness in your vicinity before they reach the authorities, gameplay will return to normal and you can leave scot-free.

How does the Wanted Level work in Red Dead Redemption 2?

Before we talk about the Wanted Level, we have to talk about identification. On the second rung of your weapon wheel you will find a bandana in the lower left corner. If worn, even if you do commit a crime, a witness will not be able to report to the sheriff that you’re Arthur Morgan.

This creates two different types of Wanted Level in Red Dead Redemption 2: Unknown and Known Suspect. The precursor to this is ‘Crime Reported’, which occurs if you fail to stop any witnesses before they reach the authorities.

Regardless of whether the witness sees you or not, you will receive a big ‘WANTED’ icon in the top right of your screen, and below it will list whether you are a known or unknown suspect. If you are an unknown suspect, the lawmen will come to where the witness reported the crime took place and look for suspicious people who fit the description in the red area on your minimap. This means you have a better shot at escaping as they don’t know what to look for.

If you’re a known suspect, the lawmen will know what to look for, and if you’re still in the red area, they will lock on to you fairly fast. Basically, if you want to get away with a crime, wear your bandana to make the escape a lot easier.

How do Bounties work in Red Dead Redemption 2?

If you don’t manage to escape despite our guidance, the lawmen will approach you and you will receive a bounty underneath your wanted meter. This varies depending on the crime, but it’s always a debt to the county that you will have to pay back if you don’t want the authorities to be suspicious of you, even when you’re just passing through.

If you do lose your wanted level, just residing in the area can open you up to the possibility of a jail sentence. Bounty hunters will be sent out at random to try and take you in, and these can be tough customers to deal with, way worse than your average lawman.

Bounties accumulate on a county basis, so committing crimes in a different county to the one you cast the first stone in will create another, separate debt for you to deal with, which will eventually result in nowhere being safe for you to roam. Luckily, we’re going to show you how to deal with it.

How do you lose a Wanted Level in Red Dead Redemption 2?

Once you’re wanted and in the identification stage, simply run or ride away from the red area that the authorities believe you to be in. Once you’re outside of the red zone, you will see your wanted level start to lose its blood red colour. Once that fades out and reaches the far left, the lawmen will give up the chase and you can get away unscathed.

If they catch you, depending on whether you’re still on a rampage or not, the lawmen will offer you a chance to surrender, which you can comply with by holding L2/LT and pressing Triangle/Y. You can also use conversation to defuse the situation if the crime is petty, which works on the odd occasion. 

If not, they’ll probably start firing at you, in which case you have to ride out of there as fast as you can and try to pick them off as they follow you. If saddled with this dire situation, your best bet is to probably use Dead Eye to pick them off and stimulate your horse so you can ride off into the sunset. If they do give chase, there is still a red area that you can step outside of to dip from the authorities.

Even if you get away with a crime, you’re going to have to deal with another problem. When you return to the scene of the crime, the associated lawmen who gave chase (or couldn’t find you) will appear as little star blips on your minimap. If they identify you, the cycle will renew and you’ll be running for your life. If you’re keen to return though, slap a bandana on your face and they will be none the wiser. Sure, they’ll be suspicious of you, but if they never identified you in the first place (and you refuse to take it off) you should be good as gold.

How do you pay off a bounty in Red Dead Redemption 2?

The final piece of the fugitive puzzle in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the bounty. Now that you’ve escaped with your money and your pride, you’re probably going to want to return to that county to conduct normal non-criminal activities (or go on a separate, perhaps even more lucrative rampage.)

All bounties are paid at the local post office. Luckily, you can pay a bounty for whichever county you please at any post office on the map. So if you’re exploring New Hanover but want to clear your name in Lemoyne, they can help you. Simply head to the mail icon in any of the game’s cities or stations and talk to the postmaster. Hold L2/LT and then hold Circle/B to ‘Pay Bounty’ and then select the state or states you wish to clear your name in. You can also just hold Square/X to ‘Pay All’. 

Either way, pay the fine and you will walk out of those wooden double doors a free man. Safe travels, partner.

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Freelance writer

Jordan Oloman has hundreds of bylines across outlets like GamesRadar+, PC Gamer, USA Today, The Guardian, The Verge, The Washington Post, and more. Jordan is an experienced freelance writer who can not only dive deep into the biggest video games out there but explore the way they intersect with culture too. Jordan can also be found working behind-the-scenes here at Future Plc, contributing to the organization and execution of the Future Games Show.