If you take the average hunter and strip him bare of all gear and weapons, he would still be a shining thing of such deadly beauty you would ache to look upon it. And should you dare to attack that hunter in all his natural grace, that ache would turn to sharp, searing pain as a fury of fur and fangs descended upon you.
But it is important to note that though we hunters are glorious to behold with all our parts exposed, it does not mean that we shouldn't wear our gear. With approximately 90% of all drops designed specifically for hunters, it would be a shame to let them go to waste. And as long as you're wearing you gear anyway, you should accessorize. Grab some gems to accentuate that sparkle in your eye and the lovely flash of muzzle in the face of overwhelming odds.
Join me after the cut as we do some window shopping and suggest what gems go best with eyebrow-searing DPS. Diamonds may be forever, but Relentless Earthsiege Diamonds mark the end of all life within range of your gun.
Rare vs. epic quality gems
In general, you want only the best quality gems in your gear; however, I certainly agree that you don't want to blow your cash on epic gems for your crummy quest blues that you're going to replace within a week or two. As a general rule of thumb, you can probably get away with rare (blue quality) gems in the gear you plan to replace soon. Save the epics for loot that's at least item level 232 -- the stuff you'll be purchasing with your emblems and getting from the ICC 5-mans.
You want a Relentless Earthsiege Diamond in your meta gem socket. The agility is nice, but the sweet part here is boosting your critical damage by an extra 3%. This meta gem requires you to have one of each color gem socketed somewhere on your gear. Be sure you meet this requirement.
Blue gems do not increase our DPS, and as a result we do not use them. Even the hybrids -- purple and green -- are subpar for hunters. Your meta gem requires you to have one blue gem, and so you will want to use only one. Choose a blue socket with the best socket bonus and put a Nightmare Tear in it. This gem is giving you both 10 agility and 10 intellect (which translates into 10 attack power with our Careful Aim talent). You are only allowed to equip one Nightmare Tear, but that's okay; you only want one. This gem will satisfy your blue gem requirement.
In any further blue gem sockets, ignore the socket bonus entirely. It's not worth a subpar gem. Instead use agility, armor penetration or hit gems as needed.
Our red gem sockets are tasty deliciousness just aching to boost our DPS. We have two primary choices for our red sockets, depending on our gear levels. Delicate Cardinal Ruby is the standard go-to red gem for hunters, since for most hunters agility is our best stat. However, if you've reached the point where ArP is more DPS for you than agility, then you'll prefer a Fractured Cardinal Ruby.
The exact point when ArP is better than agility depends on a number of different factors on your gear and what raid buffs you have. As a general rule, MM should start considering it at around 800-900 passive ArP (ArP from gear only, not counting procs or gems). BM with a ilvl 264 ranged weapon should start considering it at around 400 passive ArP. SV almost never wants to gem for ArP, except in the most extreme situations with insanely good gear.
BM is the only spec that wants to consider Bright Cardinal Ruby for red gem slots. At what is considered very low gear levels nowadays, BM prefers the AP gem. As their gear improves, agility becomes better than AP, and surprisingly quickly they want to move on to ArP gemming.
Yellow gem sockets end up giving us hunters the widest variety of gem choices. With blue, you use the Nightmare Tear. With red, you figure out which stat is best and that's all you use. But yellow gives us some options.
If you are not yet at the hit cap, gems are an excellent way to prop up your hit rating and a very nice tool to balance that hit cap out as your gear changes. There's nothing like the joy of getting an upgrade that suddenly drops you 60 hit rating below the cap. A few gems and you're back where you need to be. The Rigid King's Amber is a giant 20 hit rating boost.
In some cases, if a yellow socket has the right kind of socket bonus, it's worth it to use a Deadly Ametrine to get the socket bonus. In most cases, this is only worth it for an agility socket bonus -- certainly not worth it for a stamina bonus, and usually not worth it for an AP bonus.
If the socket bonus isn't a sweet stat, then ignore that bonus and go straight for the old standby, Delicate Cardinal Ruby. I know passing those socket bonuses by can be a hard concept to wrap your head around. They call out to you, they sing their siren's song and try to trick you into taking sup-optimal gems until you're wearing a glittering rainbow of silly stats. But hold firm, and the ultimate DPS will be yours.
You want to be a hunter, eh? You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout, and round it off some elf-bashing. The end result is massive DPS. Scattered Shots is the WoW.com column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill versus gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101, and even solo bosses with some extreme soloing.