From an early age the call of the wild draws some adventurers from the comfort of their homes into the unforgiving primal world outside. Those who endure become hunters. Masters of their environment, they are able to slip like ghosts through the trees and lay traps in the paths of their enemies.
Hunters pull, use threat redirection, crowd control, and primarily ranged damage. Hunters have pets that add to their DPS, add group- and raid- wide buffs, and help manage aggro. They can also track, tame, and train animals and beasts found in the wild. The well trained pet, on countless occasions, has saved a hunter's life. They are the only class that can name, feed, and 'train' their pets; they can also be 'trained' to have one of three specializations: Ferocity for burst DPS, Cunning for utility, and Tenacity for tanking. This specialization can be switched at any time when not in combat or dead.
Hunters excel in outdoor survival skills, such as tracking and laying traps. They wear leather and cloth armor until level 40, at which they gain access to mail armor. Hunters start with a gun, crossbow, or bow. They can use all other weapon skills except wands, maces, and two-handed maces, but melee weapons are purely for vanity's sake, as the hunter's abilities focus on ranged attacks. They are unable to use shields or plate armor.
Hunters use many shots that either deal damage or apply a status effect that costs focus to use. Food and drink does not replenish focus; instead, the only source is by using certain abilities or by having it replenish naturally over time. Most other abilities are free to use such as Mend Pet or their Trap abilities. They can take on various Animal Aspects that grant special abilities, such as improved run speed, or additional ranged attack power.
Hunters are stalkers in the wild, living on their knowledge of survival and skill with a bow or rifle. They are deeply in tune with nature and some of its mightiest beasts are their allies. Of Azeroth's many creatures, few can resist the hunters' call, and fewer can survive their fury. Hunters are as varied as the world's many climates, but they are universally renowned for their amazing abilities to find their prey and bring it down. They come from any race (players are restricted to eleven races, see below), though certain races naturally excel at the hunter's profession. Most hunters seek to aid the balance of nature along with their druidic allies.
Hunters are skilled in stealth, slipping through the woods like a ghost. Orcs of the Horde first learned the ways of the hunter from forest trolls on Lordaeron and tauren have been masters of the hunt since the dawn of the world. Like the shaman, hunters call upon the spirits of the land, wind, and fire to aid them in their hunts and tasks. Their spells focus on the elements and the land.
The hunter is one of the oldest classes in history. They represent a deep connection between man and beast, and the hunters of Warcraft are not merely individuals who track animals and slay them for food, but custodians of balance. They understand the natural circle of life and death and the part they must play in maintaining it not simply as researchers, but as active participants. The "Hunt" is venerated, and the prey they choose to stalk is given as much respect as the predators hunters choose to learn from and embody.
All hunters create lifelong friendships with animal companions, who are also often their best and only friends, if the stereotype of the reclusive huntsman is to be believed. Hunters come in all shapes, forms, sizes, and specialties. Hunters are a curious mix of mysticism and rough wilderness know-how. They can learn to mystically align themselves with the aspects of various animals to assist them: the sharp eyes of a hawk and the swiftness of a cheetah; they gift themselves with a higher resistance against the dangers of the most important thing of all in the rites of a hunter — the very wilds they live in. Hunters use magically empowered traps to maim and snare their prey. They have various shots imbued with magic or explosives to slow, poison, handicap, and disorient their targets. They can even hold their breath and slow their heartbeat to a highly infrequent, inconsequential tap to give their pursuers the impression they are dead.
Ranged fighting requires a choice between a gun, bow, or a crossbow. When starting, this will depend on your race. Dwarves, worgen, and goblins are given guns, draenei, humans and Forsaken start with crossbows, and the other races get bows. However, all hunters can still use the ranged weapons that aren't inherent to their race. In general, crossbows are relatively slow, but hit harder and are favored for increasing burst damage, while guns are relatively fast and good for steady grinding. Bows have moderate attack speed and are favored for sustained DPS. Guns can be crafted by engineers, but there are no craftable bows or crossbows, so most ranged upgrades will come from mob drops and quest rewards.
Pets are the most important tools in the hands of a hunter. They serve as aggro-management, additional DPS, and as tanks. The pet is essential to all specs, dealing anywhere from 10% of total damage for a Marksman and Survival, to 50% for a Beast Master. Formerly, pets had anemic damage potential and weak AI that often made them more of a danger to a raid than an asset. But improved AI - pets now always attack from the back of a monster - and an innate 90% damage avoidance has made this no longer a concern.
Many beast-type mobs can be tamed, and each offer a set of unique active skills (there are special abilities just for wolves, just for cats, etc).
Hunters have a pet at level one. These pets are based on the user's race (night elves get a nightsaber, tauren get a plainstrider, goblins get a Crab, etc.). They are able to control the pet through various commands at level 10. Hunters can have only one active pet at a time and 4 others out of the actual game accessible in the new Call Pet UI. The stable can house up to 50 additional pets.
Hunters have five different types of traps available for use. Some traps are a type of Crowd Control; others are a source of damage, although they do not scale well to the hunter's level. Traps exist for 30 seconds, have separate 30 second cooldown categories, and a 2 second arming timer once placed. A hunter can have one trap of each category placed at one time.
Draenei: [Gift of the Naaru] heals 20% of the caster's health over 10 seconds, giving draenei hunters a healing ability. Extremely useful for high level PvP and PvE. [Heroic Presence] can help hunters perform better.
Dwarves: [Stoneform] removes poison, disease, and bleed effects, and decreases damage taken by a short period of time. Both of these can be very useful in PvE and PvP fights. [Crack Shot] increases ranged damage by a small percentage.
Humans: Humans gain the "racial PvP trinket" – [Every Man for Himself] – effectively freeing up a trinket slot which hunters might find more useful.
Night elves: [Quickness] adds an extra layer of survivability to night elf hunters. [Shadowmeld] provides an interesting element to night elves, allowing them to stealth to avoid mob detection (more useful for solo play), or to get out of combat when about to die. Pairing this with a combat pet that can also stealth makes for a deadly combination. In PvP settings Shadowmeld can be devastating, for the night elf hunter can operate as a rogue, attacking from a stealthed position! An additional bonus to Shadowmeld is the ability to temporarily drop threat in combat.
Pandaren: The pandaren [love of food] allows them to gain a larger benefit from well fed buffs. These versatile marksmen also take [less falling damage]. To add to their deadly hunter abilities, they also have a [natural stun] for when enemies get too close for comfort.
Blood elves: [Magic Resistance] provides defense against arcane-based attacks, while [Arcane Torrent] silences any spell caster within range. When enemies are not within range, it also serves as an additional way to regain focus.
Forsaken: The increased [shadow resistance] is always useful, as is [Cannibalize], which can rapidly increase your health, thereby saving your healer's mana. [Will of the Forsaken] is one of the best racials in game, and can be the difference between life and death in both PvP and PvE settings; it removes charm, fear, and sleep effects. Forsaken also have a passive [damaging ability] that strips health from the enemy.
Goblins: They use their rockets to not only [leap], but also to fire off a [barrage] into the faces of their enemies. And when they need to repair their equipment, they always get the [Best Deals Anywhere]. Their [Time is Money] ability increases attack speed, helpful for any hunter.
Orcs: [Command] buffs the damage output of the hunter's pet. [Hardiness] reduces stun duration, which can save a hunter in PvP settings. [Blood Fury] increases attack power.
Tauren: [War Stomp] is very important in providing an early stun to young hunters, especially useful against melee attackers that refuse to stay at range. [Endurance] provides tauren with extra health, meaning tauren hunters can have the highest possible HP of any hunter. The additional [nature resistance] is always a plus.
Trolls: [Berserking] increases attack speed by 20% for 10 seconds, useful for all hunters. [Health regeneration] in combat can help keep you alive during PvP fights or boss battles, and the increased healing can reduce down time for soloing players. [Da Voodoo Shuffle] reduces the duration of movement impairing effects by 15%. [Beast Slaying] gives a small boost against beasts. [Dead Eye] increases damage with ranged weapons.
[Alchemy] and [Herbalism] can be useful for hunters who need quick potion heals and various buffs from elixirs and flasks. These professions are also good all around for making money and supplying guild runs.
[Cooking] is good for non-combat health regeneration and provides good buff foods.
[First Aid] is good for for in-combat health regeneration and low downtime regeneration.
[Fishing] is good for leveling cooking and for feeding pets that eat fish or can generally eat meat that includes fish.
A hunter's primary responsibility in nearly all raid encounters is to sustainably generate high DPS. They should know when to use Feign Death to get rid of aggrobefore they gain more aggro than the raid's primary tank and then continue dealing damage.
Hunters will almost never be asked to trap during raids, but might be asked during 5man groups and heroics. Trapping is a form of Crowd Control. This is typically done by laying down a Freezing Trap in front of you before the pull, then using Distracting Shot to steal aggro after the tank pulls, thus making the mob run at you and into the Freezing Trap. Hitting the mob with a Concussive Shot as it comes to the trap is a good way to buy cooldown time, making it easier to re-trap. The generally accepted raid symbol for this is a blue square, although it is very important to confirm this beforehand. The tank or off-tank will usually be responsible for taking aggro off of you when the group is ready to deal with the mob. A skilled hunter of any spec should be able to keep at least one target controlled indefinitely.
It is possible to lay a trap before the pull, wait 30 seconds for the cooldown, trap a mob, and then move away a small distance and lay another trap. Whenever the first trap's effect wears off, the mob will usually run for you and right into another trap. This is called chain-trapping a mob.
When trapping in anything heroic level and beyond, if you know Misdirection will not be required on a tank in the next 30 seconds, it can be very useful to trap casters (such as the Spell Shades in Karazhan). This is accomplished by posting the pet out of line of sight or far enough away that a trap can be placed such that the caster will have to run into it before the pet is in its range. Once the mob is trapped, the pet can be sent into combat and a new trap placed on the other side. This is also very useful, such as with the spell shades, when dealing with mobs that constantly resist traps, as the pet will already be tanking the mob.
In some cases you will be asked to kite one or more creatures that either cannot or should not be killed during a specific encounter, allowing the rest of the raid to focus on other needs in order defeat the objective. Kiting is a skill that is best accomplished by hunters because of their Aspect of the Cheetah, pets, and armor rating; it requires a lot of practice. While kiting, you will need to shoot your target with instant abilities and often use speed boosts. Kiting for most hunters is the hardest skill to learn, yet is considered by many to be the most important.
The "OMG HUNTER LOOT" / "That's a hunter weapon!" : jokes exists for a reason. Don't forget you share your gear class with many other classes. It's very unlikely you're the only person who needs any given drop.
While the hunter is an easy class to play at a superficial level, it can be a highly challenging class to play well. People will consistently tell you that damage is the only reason for a hunter's existence; in raids, and possibly in soloing, that might be true, but in five man instances and battleground pvp in particular it isn't. You can use traps as a form of crowd control, and you need to monitor your pet to ensure that it does not cause problems.
In most MMORPGs, the hunter or ranger class variant is usually recognized as the ideal ranged puller in a group. World of Warcraft is somewhat unique in that within its culture, ranged pulling is generally not considered a hunter's responsibility, to the point where hunters in groups will actually be expressly forbidden from doing so. This is true despite the fact that, as with other games, in WoW Blizzard has equipped the hunter with numerous unique abilities (Disengage, Feign Death, Tracking) to assist them in the accomplishment of that task. The advent of Misdirection has changed this a bit, with tanks often requesting that a hunter "MD that mob to me."
In combat, hunters have the ability to quickly remove all threat they have generated on a target via Feign Death. This ability no longer removes you from combat when fighting raid bosses.
Pets in instances should be controlled carefully and watched closely; one wrong click can very well get you and the party or even raid killed. You should set your pet on passive or defensive mode (pets have been known to respond to the presence of World Dragons when in defensive as if on aggressive) as well as disabling autocast for Growl and any other AoE abilities to be secure.
Most hunters forget they have Tranquilizing Shot. This is incredibly useful, as it can remove buffs from raid bosses and enrages from most mobs; in PvP it can strip a player of their buffs in short order.