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Scattered Shots: Climbing Hunter talent trees

Welcome to Scattered Shots. I am Eddie "Brigwyn" Carrington from The Hunting Lodge and I'll be your tour guide each Thursday as we explore what makes our Hunters tick and how we can make them better.

I've read comments here, over on the Official Forums, and other Hunter blogs and forums saying how Blizzard is forcing Hunters to spec either as Survival or Marksmanship. I always find this a hard argument to support, especially since it is Blizzard that has continued to give us three different talent trees that we can spec into. But as always, there seems to be a preferred talent spec.

To me the blame isn't Blizzard but us Hunters always looking to squeeze out every ounce of DPS out of our class and remain on top of the damage meters. (Go ahead let the flames begin, but hopefully you'll give me a chance here.) We go out of our way looking, experimenting, and testing different build combinations to find the one magic build that gives us top DPS. Once we have found that, we tend to forget that we really can play all three builds. No, they all won't perform the same. And if you are in a progressive, hardcore, min/max raiding guild, well then stick with the spec-du-jour. But if you are like the majority of the players out there, you probably want to play something that better fits your play style. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it has to fit just right.

So let's look at the different Talent Trees, discuss a bit about what makes each one tick. Then look at the currently recommended builds and shot rotations for each spec.


Let's first look at the current leader of the DPS race and for many the preferred raiding spec, Marksmanship.

I like to think of the Marksmanship Hunter as the epitome of the Sharpshooter, one might even say the William Tell or Robin Hood of the Hunter specs. (I'd use Sniper but that talent is over in the Survival tree.) The can sit back and with their weapon of choice and unleash a barrage of damaging shots from a distance.

The Marksman Hunter has a casual relationship with their pet. Unlike the pure partnership bond exhibited by the Beast Mastery Hunter you will see that the Marksman Hunter relies less on their pet and more on their own ability to achieve higher numbers.

One thing you need to consider as you raid as Marks is threat management. Because of the higher Crit and damage bursts done by Marksmanship you might out aggro your Tank. So make sure you keep an eye on your threat meter or use an add-on like Omen.

So what spec should you use? There seems to be three recommended builds depending on your hit rating, raid composition, or play style.

7/57/7 Elitist Jerks Highest DPS Build
This talent build will give you the opportunity to achieve the highest possible DPS as a Hunter. Just understand that you will never reach the full potential of this build unless you have all of the recommended buffs.

Another requirement of this spec is to use the correct shot priority.
7/57/7 Marksman Build
This is an optional spec recommended by Rilgon of Stabilized Effort Scope to the one by Elitist Jerks. Its major difference between this spec and the EJ one is where a few talent points are located. It moves the 2 points from Endurance Training, and puts it into Focused Fire instead. There are a few other tweaks also that allow you to not be so dependent on specific raid buffs.

7/57/7 Focused Aim Build
If you like the above spec, but find yourself shy of the Hit cap, then you might want to try this optional spec. It uses 3 points into Focused Aim to help get you capped.

For these specs, the following shot priority would be recommended. The only addition might be using Silencing Shot when it is available.
  • Serpent Sting
  • Kill Shot
  • Chimera Shot
  • Aimed Shot
  • Arcane Shot
  • Steady Shot

This is probably the closest thing to a red-headed stepchild spec that Hunters have. Until the release of Wrath of the Lich King it was often maligned. It has recently earned respect for not only providing utility with Hunting Party, but as a bona fide DPS spec thanks to the combination of Lock and Load and Explosive Shot.

Back in my day, Survival was the "Melee Hunter" spec. Thanks to talents like Savage Strikes, Deflection, and Counter Attack you could actually go toe-to-toe with mobs and not feel overwhelmed. Add to those talents like Surefooted, Trap Mastery and now Scatter Shot you can actually "survive" a close quarters fight.

Survival is extremely dependent upon the Hunter's ability to maximize their burst damage potential. Because of this requirement, Survival Hunters have often been considered some of the most knowledgeable Hunters in the game. (No disrespect to Marksman or Beast Mastery Hunters intended.)

Like the Marksman, Survival Hunters tend to pull aggro and will also need to keep close tabs on their threat.

Some recommended builds are:

6/14/51 Elitist Jerks Highest Survival DPS Build
As with all of the "Best" DPS specs, you are very dependent upon the rest of your raid party being able to give you the correct buffs.
  • Kill Shot
  • Explosive Shot
  • Black Arrow
  • Serpent Sting
  • Multi-Shot
  • Steady Shot
0/14/57 Survival Spec
This spec was originally recommended in Xumio's Survival Guide (Disclaimer: Xumio's guide is hosted at The Hunting Lodge.) when 3.1 was released. Many Hunters still use this spec, attesting to its viability.

If you go with this spec you will want to make sure to use the recommended shot priority as well.
  • Kill Shot
  • Black Arrow
  • Explosive Shot
  • Aimed Shot/Multi-Shot
  • Serpent Sting
  • Steady Shot
Beast Mastery

If you are a Beast Mastery Hunter you are now feeling the let down of being at the bottom of the DPS pile. After riding high during Burning Crusade, BM Hunters are facing the same criticism and scorn that Marksman and Survival faced previously.

This close relationship that Beast Mastery Hunter's have with their pets is what brings out the dedication to this spec for many Hunters. Many Hunters feel as passionately about their pets as some feel about having peanut butter on their pancakes. There is also a lot of versatility available to the player. Beast Mastery is the one spec that you can tune to go out and farm with your favorite Tenacity pet. Then switch a few points here and there, grab your Wolf and hit the raids and still do a respectable DPS. By some accounts only about 800-900 less than Survival and about 1,200-1,300 less DPS than the highest reported Marksman build. Granted, that is enough for the min/max raider to discount the spec, but not enough to throw it away if you're part of good casual guild or group of friends.

If you decide to go ahead and play as a Beast Mastery Hunter you might want to consider these builds.

54/12/5 Best DPS Build
This build is recommended as the highest possible Beast Mastery DPS Build. One critical thing to notice here is that the 51st talent (Beast Mastery) is included. In order for this build to be effective you need to make sure and buff your Ferocity Pet attacks to include Shark Attack and Wild Hunt.

Just like Marksman and Survival, Beast Mastery now has its own shot priority as well. Gone are the days of the Steady Shot Macro.
  • Kill Shot
  • Multi-Shot
  • Arcane Shot
  • Serpent Sting
  • Steady Shot
53/11/7 Raiding BM Build
I find this build interesting on a couple of points. One, it highlights using Aspect of the Monkey for kiting. If you are like me you might decide to move this over to Endurance Training.

The recommended shot priority for this build would be:
  • Kill Shot
  • Arcane Shot
  • Multi-shot/Aimed Shot (optional)
  • Serpent Sting
  • Steady Shot
One of the discouraging things about writing posts like this is that many feel that these are the only options available. Often times giving the impression, if you don't follow some recommended spec then you're less of a Hunter. By offering you a few different options for each talent tree, I hope you will be encouraged to maybe tweak and play with your spec a bit and see what works for you. I would love to hear your opinions and what specs you use for your Primary and Secondary spec and why? So tell us, what's your favorite spec?
So you want to be a Hunter, eh? Well then you came to the right place. Scattered Shots is the one column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a Hunter. Each week Scattered Shots will cover topics to help you Fix Your DPS, Choosing the Right Spec, Gear Selection, Macros and Pet Selection and Management.

Filed under: Hunter, Analysis / Opinion, How-tos, Raiding, Guides, Classes, Talents, (Hunter) Scattered Shots

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