The three trees of a Hunter are all viable for a hunter to choose for leveling, player versus player combat, or end game raids or instances, but since only two of the three trees allows for the complete use of talent points the player is forced to cross trees, hybridizing into other talent trees. The three trees all have options to offer for utility, open DPS, and survivability.
Most of these talents improve on your active pet and skills that pertain to them, such as Thick Hide, Improved Mend Pet, and Bestial Swiftness. Some of the other talent points improve your aspects (Improved Aspect of the Hawk or Improved Aspect of the Monkey). Beast Mastery is the one of the few trees out of any classes without a level 20 learnable skill from a talent (another example is Shaman's ability to use two-handed axes and maces). The talents attainable at level 30 are Spirit Bond and Intimidation, and the level 40 talent is Bestial Wrath. The level 50 talent is The Beast Within.
The Beast Mastery tree is excellent for grinding. The majority of hunters choose a Beast Mastery when leveling because of the speed at which an enemy mob will go down per mana used by the hunter, reduced or inexistant downtime thanks to healing on both part of the hunter and pet, and the ability to still kill mobs while under the affects of Resurrection Sickness.
This tree can also be versatile for PVP. Since the majority of players would attempt to Crowd Control the hunter's pet, Bestial Wrath and The Beast Within enable the hunter and his pet to become immune to Fear, Polymorph, Stun and other sources of Crowd Control.
In addition, some hunters have found success with using a pet in high level raids. It takes diligence to keep your pet alive and active, and the pet can only be used for certain fights. During some boss fights, AoE attacks can kill the pet within a matter of seconds if not taken care of. Recent modifications to some encounters, the addition of Avoidance and the modification done to Improved Mend Pet have all contributed in making pets usable in raid environments and deal a significant amount of damage. With Serpent's Swiftness a Beast Mastery build can out damage a Marksmanship build during long fights.
- Note: As of 2.1 pets can now gain a 50 percent immunity to AoE spells.
- Note: As of 2.1 pets are no longer affected by Shatter by Gruul in Gruul's Lair nor do they proc Flame Wreath by Shade of Aran in Karazhan.
Most of the talents deal with specifically increasing the ranged damage you can cause. The level 20 learnable talent is the largest single damaging shot a hunter can perform: Aimed Shot. The talent attainable at level 30 is Scatter Shot, which many hunters also consider to be a pivotal talent because it is the only ability usable in the hunter's Dead zone. The level 40 talent is Trueshot Aura which gives party members increased attack power. The level 50 talent is Silencing Shot which prevents the target from casting by silencing them for up to 3 seconds.
The Marksmanship tree is good for high-level instances and raiding. With such important talents as Improved Hunter's Mark and Rapid Killing, the Marksmanship tree scales well with gear and is less gear dependant than the other trees. This tree will still remain the best to deal damage without using a pet.
Following the enhancements to the Beast Mastery tree that came with The Burning Crusade, what used to be the ultimate raiding specialization has fallen in disgrace due to the bad scaling of Trueshot Aura for end game raids. By comparison Ferocious Inspiration from the Beast Mastery tree and Expose Weakness from the Survival tree are currently both offering better scaling than Trueshot Aura in the context of end-game raids. It is however still a very powerful build.
This tree can also be quite good for grinding. With the more damage you can do, the less time you have to spend fighting a mob. Enemies can be killed faster and, when combined with a Beast Mastery spec, grinding becomes incredibly fast and efficient.
Marksmanship is also an excellent option for PvP. The talents Lethal Shots, Mortal Shots and Barrage add great burst damage to a hunter whilst Scatter Shot is a great tool to help deal with players that get in your Dead zone.
Most of the talents deal with specifically increasing the melee survivability such as Deterrence. Some of the other talent points improve your traps (Trap Mastery) and burst damage (Killer Instinct). The level 20, 30 and 40 learnable talents are Deterrence, Counterattack and Wyvern Sting, respectively. At level 50 the Survivalist Hunter can learn Readiness.
The Survival tree is the most complete of any hunter tree with what many hunters consider to be fewer useless talents (although some argue over things like Improved Feign Death).
The Survival tree is excellent for PvPing. With such important talents like Deterrence, Improved Wing Clip or Counterattack hunters improve their chances to survive in melee or get out of it. A hunter can choose to focus on improving his traps, his melee fighting skill or his ability to get back into shooting range.
This tree can also be quite good for raiding. Although there are not many talents that increase your damage, Lightning Reflexes gets better with higher level gear. It is possible for a hunter to obtain over 700 agility with gear and Lightning Reflexes, making the Expose Weakness debuff on his target a real asset in any boss fight. Many hunters like the utility their characters have outside of raids too.
Some hunters have found success with being Survival and grinding. The trap talents make kiting a much easier task, and skills like Readiness, Clever Traps and Wyvern Sting allow a hunter to crowd control multiple targets at a time.
The most important thing to realize about hunters is that you can choose any build and find success with it. Even the seemingly useless builds like a Survival/Beast Mastery spec can be very good for people who solely want to PvP. The idea is to find the build that you like and which best fits your playing style.
Beast Mastery Builds
With the expansion of The Burning Crusade the talent tree has no longer been looked at solely as a method for the hunter to level easily. Talents that used to benefit only the pet now benefit the hunter to a large degree. Beast Mastery builds are now highly looked upon for Player versus Player combat and end game raiding for sustained DPS, especially because of Serpent's Swiftness and mana efficiency.
- Endurance Training
- Improved Revive Pet
- Unleashed Fury
- Improved Mend Pet
- Bestial Discipline
- Bestial Wrath
- Serpent's Swiftness
- The Beast Within
In function of personal goals and preferences, point distributions and priorities will vary. In most cases though, a Beast Mastery build will include the recommended talents, then fork into either Survival or Marksmanship to complete the build.
Classical 41/20/0 Beast Mastery build. This build is very common for raiding, sometimes with variations. The key talents will remain the same though: Improved Mend Pet to make sure the pet can survive, thus deal damage and proc Ferocious Inspiration as many times as possible. In case the pet dies, Improved Revive Pet has been added so reviving it and putting it back into combat is as mana efficient and as fast as possible. All talents pertaining to improving the damage dealt by the pet are taken. Animal Handler figures in it not because of the mounted speed increase (which is insignificant in raids) but for the improved chance for the pet to hit a boss.
41/0/20 Utility BM The lack of points in the Marksmanship tree here is somewhat offset by the slaying talents and Surefooted. This build is however slightly less oriented towards personal damage than the previous one. Its purpose is complementing a Beast Mastery build's crowd control capacity. However, a Survival based (or full) build is more indicated to that goal.
Levelling and grinding. This build focuses on one thing and one thing only: reducing downtime when levelling or grinding. It makes your pet a very capable tank at the cost of some damage. Spirit Bond is one of the key talents: it's a passive talent that heals both the hunter and his pet without it costing any mana. To further increase the mana efficiency, Improved Mend Pet, Improved Revive Pet and the Efficiency talent are selected.
BM/Surv PvP. This build focuses on surviving your opponent while still delivering decent damage. Critical hits are pretty much ignored since resilience tends to negate its effects. Spirit Bond, Deterrence, Survivalist or Endurance Training all improve a hunter's survivability in a PvP environment. Improved Wing Clip and Intimidation are used to control opponents, namely to get back into safe shooting range. The killing blows or escaping crowd control yourself are done with Bestial Wrath and The Beast Within.
BM/MM PvP DPS build. This build focuses on delivering as much damage as possible through hunter talents. The focus talent Go For The Throat is ignored here in favor of Improved Arcane Shot because Arcane Shot can be used when moving. In order to use it a bit faster, thus gain better burst damage, the focus talent isn't taken. Regaining focus tends to be more useful for long fights, and PvP rarely qualifies. Taking Mortal Shots as a must for better critical hit returns limits the possible investment though.
Variations in order to suit personal preferences are always possible and even advised. These builds are just very generic guidelines and may not work for your playing style.
With the expansion of The Burning Crusade and the elaboration of the Marksmanship Build, hunters have received quite a bit of flak for being "overpowered." Hunters were given a silencing spell, along with several talents that directly increase their attack power. But almost since it's conception Marksmanship has been the end game/raid tree.
- Lethal Shots
- Improved Hunter's Mark
- Aimed Shot
- Rapid Killing
- Mortal Shots
- Scatter shot
- Ranged Weapon Specialization
- Improved Barrage
- Careful Aim
- Trueshot Aura
- Master Marksman
- Silencing shot
This list may seem intimidating, since there are more talent options to take than a player might want to, but that is because the Marksmanship tree has been given almost no "junk talents." Try what works, respec if need be, and have fun.
- Mordikaiin's Raid DPS Build
- Mordikaiin's Raid Trapper Build
- Mordikaiin's PvP Marksmen Build
- Innerdemons Hemo Build
- Innerdemons Raid Build
- Rifkind's Build
- Ithar's Build
- Clubsoda's Build
- Biron's Build
- Luckymarlin's build
- Beck's build
- Whiteminn's build
Survival tree is about keeping the target out of the hunter's dead zone and keeping them there. With the Burning Crusade expansion the tree has seen a major refurbishing with the addition of Readiness, Hawk Eye, and Master Tactician. Survival tree has been easily turned to for putting a player's extra talent points or for a Player versus Player oriented Hunter.
- Monster Slaying
- Humanoid Slayer
- Hawk Eye
- Savage Strikes
- Improved Wing Clip
- Clever Traps
- Survival Instincts
- Killer Instinct
- Lightning Reflexes
- Wyvern Sting
- Master Tactician
- Mordikaiin's Melee Survival Build (Duel Wield Daggers is best choice for this build!)
- Mordikaiin's Ranged Survival Build
- Innerdemon's Build
- Jelar's Build
- Obold's Build
- Velourium's Build
- Myrddrael's Build
- (Woof's ultra sexy pvp/raid build)
-  [Kanta's PvP MM/SV Spec]
-  [SA3K's build: Solo, PvP, and PvE combo, outagro pet, move Improved hawk to Endurance Training if you prefer soloing and PvP to PvE]
- Tillmow's Raid Survival Build (unbeatable , PvE only, max Dmg Build!)
Hybrid hunter's are all about all round stability. A hybrid hunter will almost never be highest on DPS but will be the guy who is most able to be in control of every situation, "The Ultimate Crowd Control Hunter". Putting enough talents in Beast Mastery so that your pet can hold aggro and give some decent damage, in Marksman enough talents so you do some decent damage and buff the group & putting enough talents in Survival to be able to trap well. A hybrid hunter can easily chain trap one target, while off tanking another with his pet, all while helping DPS the main target, although using this spec doesn't guarantee that you will be top in DPS!
- Endurance Training
- Thick Hide
- Unleashed Fury
- Lethal Shots
- Improved Arcane Shot
- Scatter Shot
- Trueshot Aura
- Monster Slaying
- Humanoid Slaying
- Clever Traps
This build should get decent DPS, but what it really focuses on is being a support class. It has Expose Weakness, and Master Tactician so that Expose Weakness procs more. It has Improved Hunter's Mark, again upgrading all attack power, and it has Trueshot Aura, which once more raises Attack Power. Any melee class and other Hunters will like you very much for this spec.