Hunter 101: Day 1 as a Hunter

Posted: by Frostheim

So you’ve read the Introduction to the Hunter Class and decided to go for it and roll up a hunter. Whether you’re playing WoW for the first time or finally done putting in your time as a support class and ready to try the real thing, this guide will walk you through your first day of playing a hunter.

Hunters are unlike any other class in WoW in several ways, and developing the right habits from the start will help you to maximize your hunter skills down the road.

Hunter Races

The very first choice you have to make when creating your hunter is what race to be. Any race except gnomes can be hunters, though not all do it as well. It’s important here to stress that the difference between the best hunter race and the worst is less than 2% damage, which is less than the effects of randomness on your damage and far, far less than the effect of your skill in playing the hunter class.

But if you want to really push your damage to the limits, you’ll want to play one of the optimal hunter races. For PvE these are:

  • Alliance: Worgen is the best Alliance hunter race from a pure numbers perspective. Second place goes to draenei, and third place is dwarves. Everyone else is basically equally bad.
  • Horde: Orcs and trolls vie for the best Horde race for hunters, though trolls are dependent on the right weapon, so over the long haul orcs tend to be a bit better. Everyone else is basically equally bad.

It’s worth noting that the pet that you start with at level 1 is based on your race. You’ll get to acquire more pets of your choice once you pass level 10, but if your starting pet is important to you, you can check out this list of starting hunter pets by race.

You and Your Guardian Pet

When you first zone into the game with your shiny new level 1 hunter, you’ve got nothing to your name but a gun or bow, Arcane Shot, and your trusty pet.

From levels 1-9 your pet is considered a “guardian” pet. This pet is controlled entirely by the game’s AI, and you have no ability to tell it what to do. Once you hit level 10 that will change and you’ll have a lot more interaction with your stalwart companion.

While your pet is still a guardian it will automatically attack the first thing you attack, and it will also attack something that attacks you. It will do its best to catch the attention of what it’s attacking to make sure that enemy attacks your pet instead of you. However, if you are fighting multiple things at once, your pet will only be able to attack one at a time, and you will have no ability to tell your pet to switch to the target that you prefer.

In general, you only get credit for kills that you participated in. If your pet attacks an enemy and kills it all on its own, you won’t be able to loot that enemy, nor will you get any reputation or (usually) quest credit for the kill. However, if you contribute just one point of damage at any time, then you’ll get credit.

Be aware that if you go all out when attacking an enemy, you’ll cause more threat than your pet, and the enemy will attack you instead of your pet. (If you’re interested, you can read about how threat and aggro work).

Your pet’s primary role when leveling is to act as a tank, absorbing damage so you don’t have to, and keeping enemies at range where you can shoot them. Your pet does, however, also deal damage that helps to take the enemies down faster. Be sure to keep an eye on your pet’s health and give him a break to heal up if his health gets too low.

  • If your pet dies, you have the ability Revive Pet that you can use. This will bring your pet back to life and ready to help.
  • If for any reason your pet despawns — because you got too far away from it, for example — you have the ability Call Pet which will summon him back by your side.

Hunters and Focus

As hunters, our resource mechanic is focus. We have a total of 100 focus, and that number does not increase as we level. Most of our hunter abilities and shots cost focus to use, and our focus automatically regenerates on its own at a steady rate of 4 focus per second. Our pets also have 100 focus, which works just like ours.

Once you reach level 3 you’ll be able to go to a hunter trainer to get Steady Shot. This special shot costs no focus, and when it fires we actually instantly regenerate 9 focus. Thus dealing damage as a hunter is a mix of using shots that cost focus and do more damage, like Arcane Shot, and using our lower-damaging Steady Shot to help get our focus back.

Eventually as we get to higher levels we can increase our rate of focus regeneration slightly: haste that we find on gear will slightly improve our base focus regen, and also shorten the time it takes us to cast steady shot.

How to Fight Like a Hunter

Our new hunter’s damage will come from three main sources: our pet, our special shots, and our auto-shot. Only hunters have auto-shot, and it’s automatically triggered whenever we attack a target. Until we leave combat, our auto-shot will continue to fire on its timer as long as we’re facing the enemy. If we switch targets in the middle of combat, our auto-shot will continue firing, but at the new target now. You can always turn auto-shot off by hitting escape.

As we discussed in the intro to the hunter class, hunters are unique in all the classes in WoW in that we have a minimum range. We cannot shoot an enemy in melee range — we have to be at least a little distance away from them.

Because of this you never want to be in melee range with an opponent!

This minimum range mechanic forces us hunters to learn threat control and movement skills at a very early level. The hunters who understand this and work on it from the beginning have a head start later in the game. The problem is that leveling is easy enough these days that you can get away with just standing there and flailing with your axe. Do not do that!

If you want to grow to be a skilled hunter, start out with the mentality that any time you’re in melee range with an enemy it’s a disaster, and your priority is to get back to range where you can shoot.

We have two primary ways to maintain this distance: our pet, and shooting on the move:

  • Our pet the tank: your guardian pet is eager to fight in melee so you don’t have to. But, if you do too much damage too close together, your pet won’t be able to keep the enemy off of you. Thus when you’re attacking, don’t empty your focus bar by firing as many Arcane Shots in a row as you can afford. Instead just right-click on the target to auto-shot it and wait for your pet to run over and start taking before you Arcane Shot. As you play you’ll get a feel for how much damage you can do, and how quickly, without pulling aggro.
  • Shoot on the move: one thing you’ll notice very quickly is that hunters can shoot on the move. Our auto-shot continues to fire even while we’re running, as long as we’re more or less facing in the general direction of our opponent. Similarly we can fire Arcane Shot on the move as well. Only Steady Shot cannot be fired while moving in these early levels. Take advantage of that. If you do pull aggro and an enemy attacks, start running away at once, but keep attacking it while running away! You can either strafe — running sideways in a big circle — or even jump shot if you’re feeling ambitious.

One fun thing you can do as a baby hunter is to ping an enemy with your auto-shot and let your pet charge in and start fighting, then switch to a new target. That new target will immediately start charging at you, but you can run away from it and continue to auto-shot and Arcane Shot it. You should be able to kill the enemy without it ever touching you. We call this concept kiting — your hunter is running and pulling the bad guy behind her like flying a kite.

How to Move Like a Hunter

Because movement is so important to the hunter class — an eventually becomes vital to every class — it’s important to develop good movement habits from the beginning. Specifically: your mouse is for turning. You can use your keyboard for moving forward and backward, or strafing, and for shooting things, but you do not use your keyboard to turn: it’s slow, inefficient, and can get you killed.

To turn with your mouse, just hold down the right mouse button and turn. If you hold down both mouse buttons you’ll start running, and in this way you can handle almost all of your movement with your mouse while your other hand handles firing off your shots.

See You in a Few Hours

That is our introduction to day one of life as a hunter. These tips will get you settled into some good hunter habits and pave the way for starting to build your hunter skillset that you’ll keep with you for the rest of the game. Next time on Hunter 101 we’ll take a look at the excitement of getting real hunter pets, and start discussing the hunter trees, talents, glyphs, and all the wealth of options that open up to us once we pass out of our starter zone.

Happy hunting!



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  1. Ril says:

    Reading through, this part jumped at me:
    “If your pet dies, you have the ability Revive Pet that you can use only when you’re not in combat. This will bring your pet back to life and ready to help.”
    not sure what it’s related to, but if it’s generally about pets, and not only about the starter ones, it’s wrong. one can rez a regular pet in combat too (ice trap + rez being a good combination). i’ve never had a pet die below level 10, so i won’t say anything about that. but to me (as a non native english speaker), it sounded like a general rule.

    • Ril says:

      oh, dammit, i think i misunderstood that post entirely, being only for 1-9.
      sorry, forget my post! :)

  2. JTW says:

    Any tips for us southpaws out there? Having the mouse in my left hand, which also controls the main keys, the right hand is delegated almost exclusively to the cursor keys.
    As I’m extremely left hand dominant, using the mouse right handed is to say the least difficult (to put it more bluntly, it’s nigh on impossible as I just don’t have fine motor control in my right hand or wrist, pressing the correct buttons on the keyboard is hard enough).
    So I tend to be pretty static when playing, as my left hand is on the primary action buttons, the right moving between the cursor keys and less important skills/actions, and I don’t have a third to control the mouse.

    I can still move, but the suggested mouse control of movement in combat (and especially jump shooting) is out of the question.
    One reason I like hunters (and other ranged classes) is that I can be further from the main action, thus have less of a need to move to engage and stay engaged, which is a major problem for my death knight (and sometimes my paladin, though the aoe effects paladins have in droves in large part make up for that).

    Generally in instances I stand near the healer and plink at the target, using my pet as a mobile component (and to engage things that slip past the melee group).

    • Sidoen says:

      You have two options really.
      1. Train your right hand to become more responsive and develop some muscle memory. It’s not easy and it takes a long time but it is doable.
      2. Look into alternative control systems. You can buy a mouse that has all sorts of options, buttons and controls on it to put more control into your left hand. You might also be interested in a “game pad” it’s sort of a keyboard/mouse – cursor. A pad with a bunch of programmable buttons on it that shaped more for a single hand.

      Those two pieces of equipment might let you put more power into your left hand as well as making better use of your right?

      • JTW says:

        tried the first for years, it doesn’t work.
        In my case the left hand dominance is bad enough I’ve trouble even using scissors, doesn’t get much more basic than that.
        Tried guitar lessons to develop some more independent control of my hands (both of them, tbh) but had to give that up because of physical problems (RSI (carpal tunnel) , arthritis like symptoms, etc.).

        As to the second, I’m not hardcore enough to buy dedicated hardware for WoW :) Most such things also are rather poorly designed and look like a big contributor towards developing RSI (the mouse looks nicely designed for ergonomics though, might get that one just because of that).

        I’m having fun, which to me is the important part. But it’s keeping me from doing things like (more than the very occasional) heroics and raids because I’m just too slow (and thus tend to get kicked out for not doing enough dps after the first few encounters, and after a ton of verbal abuse hurled in my direction).
        In slower paced games I’ve no trouble of course, so soloing classic dungeons (and soon to try outland and northend ones) works fine, but the social aspect is of course lacking when doing that.

    • Bakedtatters says:

      As a southpaw myself I feel your pain. I may be a bit luckier because of years in trades my right hand does ok but….. What I have learned to do is use my mouse in my left hand for turning and forward movement, my thumb on the spacebar for jumping, and keybound the B button for backwards movement.
      This leaves a good part of the keyboard for binds, i have fairly long fingers so my binds tend to be near the top of the keyboard, numbers and F keys, i like using the F feys cause it makes shot combos easy to memorize. I still have to move my hand to tab though targets but it still works pretty well for me. I won’t say it was easy becoming a mouse turner, i used the keyboard for a long time before I reached a plateau in my play that couldn’t be surpassed without the ability to kite acceptibly, people probally think i’m a freak because i never mount up in SW, just go from place jumping, spinning and practiciing jump turning, more out of habit than real need now, i just like doing it :D
      It was definitly worth the time and frustration tho, theres no better feeling than making a DK or a Warrior look and feel helpless, as your raining shots on him and he can’t even get close XD

      • Bakedtatters says:

        ohhh, i forgot to mention, have a 5 button mouse and use side buttons for strafing, sry

  3. Supersharkman says:

    On the Horde side, trolls and orcs are best for PvE if you are a min/maxer, but for PvP I prefer blood elf. 15 focus on demand every two minutes can be quite gamebreaking in some PvP encounters. My thoughts.

  4. Kirk says:

    One thing to add to this tutorial. Here’s how to always be shooting whatever your pet is attacking, i.e. reduce chance of pulling aggro and guaranteeing you get credit for a kill
    Set your pet as your focus by targeting him, then right-click on his avatar/picture at the top of the screen(not the little picture under yours). Next go into the interface GUI and turn on ‘show target of target’.
    When you return to the game attack something. You’ll now notice a smaller picture pops up underneath your pet’s focus image. If that image is not the mob you’re shooting at, click on that smaller image to change your target to your pet’s target.

  5. Kirk says:

    Also once one starts running dungeons. Just change your focus to the tank and you’ll always be able to select the tank’s target to attack.

  6. Fugitivelama says:

    Seems like an odd post to have on “A gathering place for WoW hunters [b]who have paid their dues[/b]”

    Just saying

    • Frostheim says:

      Aye, the WHU has evolved a bit from a few years ago — and leveling info is a fairly popular request that I’ve never covered very well. So I’m trying to rectify that with a leveling series.

      • JTW says:

        which is good. After all, as old hunters retire the ranks do need replenishment and where else would recruits get their training but from the masters :)

  7. Goodgracious says:

    Worgen is the best Alliance hunter race from a pure numbers perspective. Second place goes to dresnei, and third place is dwarves.

    Pretty sure it should be Draenei.

    And that’s my nitpick for the day.

  8. Ellrhone (Blades edge ) says:

    I wish I read a site like this when I started I am hunter 69 will be 70 tonight, still so confused, how to fight properly, what Gluphs, gems, ancharnt, I am a beast master 31talents, with a rare Tekk ( raptor) only now do i learn I should have a bear (tenacity)?? I so much want to do it right in dungeons I wont roll for any thing in case i get it wrong. So Iwill follow this site for more advise, and all that is said in the comments from all you good players.

  9. Zeddold says:

    yea i am new to a hunter and i was going to say “this seem and little out of date right now (when i post this) and what is this night elfs r not even on the list for good hunter even tho most hunters in WoW are night elfs so i wanted to know how come they r not on the list for one of the better races for a hunter?


    • Frostheim says:

      Night Elves just don’t have a very good racial as far as DPS is concerned.

      • Nightrayne says:

        To clarify.

        Worgen dps racial 1%crit
        Dranei dps racial 1%hit
        Dwarf dps racial 1%crit using guns

        As Night elfs go they have the highest base agi off all alliance classes. starting at 25 agi. So i would say they come in on a brilliant 4th place

  10. Toxis says:

    So night elfs arent good for hunter? I started to play wrath of the lich king one month ago as a tauren hunter.I will now start playing cataclysm (as a hunter) but i dont know wich class too take,I want to play in group too xd but night elfs are really my favorite but I saw it isnt good for hunter? So Worgen,draenei or dwarfs

  11. Mateusz says: