If you don't know what bounty land is you can learn more by simply googling the topic. [If you want a handy reference and more info, try Christine Rose's book Military Bounty Land 1776-1855. This is my favorite "refresher" every time I need to order or identify bounty land for a time period I haven't worked in for a while. Note: This is an affiliate link.] This post is specifically about federal bounty land, there is also state bounty land.
Unfortunately, most bounty land is "unindexed" making it much more difficult to identify than pensions. As a complication, you must know the ancestor's name and service for the unindexed land to be found by the National Archives (NARA) search staff and sometimes slight variations in spelling may result in the request being returned as "not found" even though it exists. Having the BLW number (or application no. in the case of rejected applications) helps.
NARA is creating an index to the unindexed BLW applications but it currently covers surnames starting with A through part of K but is only available on a single computer in the microfilm reading room at NARA I in Washington, D.C. [Update: This index is now available at Fold3. It is "Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Index." It covers A to Ki surnames as of the end of December 2015 and surnames listed as "[Blank]." Here's the catch, everyone is listed as serving in 1812. However, these are volunteers from all eligible wars. Soldiers from 1812 were NOT explicitly picked out for the Fold3 index so don't be confused. You can not verify the war from this index. You can use the BLM GLO website to find an image of the patent which should list the correct service details which you will need to request the file.] The index also leaves a lot to be desired if you want to use it to identify multiple applications (either all variations of a surname or all applications for a unit, which is currently impossible). In other words, when it comes to BLW applications many genealogist ask "why bother?" when it is so difficult to identify.
In my personal research, most military service I know of is for the Civil War. Bounty land was granted for service prior to 1856. I did identify bounty land for one ancestor thanks to his Indian War pension. It was the standard BLW application. The unique information it provided consisted of my ancestor's name as well as his age and residence at time of application. The most valuable item was his original signature. Due to his particular type of service, his service details were basically boilerplate because most of the regiment applied for bounty land together and they had all served during the same dates. There was no description of his service beyond captain's name and dates and places of enlistment and discharge. Not terribly exciting although I'm very glad to have the signature.
Since NARA is one of my local repositories I wanted to take advantage of being able to easily request BLW applications. I also requested the applications for comrades mentioned in the pension. One of them was a rejected BLW application made in the 1890's, 35 to 40 years after my ancestor applied. My ancestor's application was handwritten by the county clerk, this application was on a form.
In lectures and articles about BLW applications, there is usually mention of potential gems like marriage certificates and Bible records. I know this is a long shot, as was proven by my ancestor's very standard file. This is one reason some genealogists don't bother with unindexed bounty land. There is a lot of information between the basic application of my ancestor and the Holy Grail of a Bible record. The comrade's application contains two examples of this buried in his application form. The image below shows where question 8, residence since serving, and question 9, physical description at time of enlistment, appear.
Below is question 8 and 9 enlarged.
I wish my ancestor's application had included the detail of question 9. His place of birth at the county level (in this case a district in South Carolina) is given. For this applicant, question 8 is also useful as he moved from the place where he served but later returned. His answer, if correct, lets you know where to look for records about him during a specific time period.
So why bother trying to get a BLW application? You really don't know what you'll find. Applications made at different times may provide more or less information. Remember one man may be eligible for bounty land under different acts which would be separate applications, too. Widow's could also apply and may have applied not knowing their husband already applied, resulting in yet another application. Pensions are usually combined but BLW applications aren't. Multiple applications may give you a variety of information. If your ancestor served prior to 1856, a BLW application is more likely than a pension. The details requested are extremely similar.
Because unindexed bounty land is difficult to identify, it is best to either plan a research trip to NARA I yourself or hire a local researcher rather than using NARA's request service. You can identify a local researcher through the D.C. area chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists website, http://dcapg.org/membersx_4.php.
If you aren't ready for this step, yet, get a copy of Christine Rose's book Military Bounty Land 1776-1855 to learn more. It also discusses state bounty land.
The pension images above are from:
Major Southerland (Pvt., Price’s Co., Ga. Vols., 1837), bounty land warrant application no. 337837 (Act of 1855, rejected); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 and 1855 and Disapproved Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service; Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1960; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.