WoW Guide: How to Play a Survival Hunter

***The information contained in this guide is currently out of date. Please check out our Hunter Guide for more up to date information concerning your Hunter needs!***

Survival is one of the most popular specs for Hunters looking to do some serious raiding and some serious damage. Even if you didn’t choose Survival because of it’s popularity, you still chose it as the spec for you, and like most other World of Warcraft players you want to be the best possible Survival Hunter you can be.

Playing a Hunter of any spec can be a ton of fun, but despite what most people think there is a lot more to Hunter’s than simply pressing one button or face rolling on the keyboard. This guide will attempt to extend a helping hand and walk you through the basics of playing a Survival Hunter allowing you to steer firmly clear of Huntard land.

The Basics

Survival Hunters, like their Beastmaster and Marksmen brothers, are firmly entrenched in ranged DPS and as such will be expected to provide their group with high end DPS. To achieve this DPS Hunters use a series of shots (usually in some sort of rotation) which cost mana, have various cool downs, and various affects. While pushing out the most DPS possible Hunters are also expected to watch their aggro as pulling off the tank could mean game over for the entire raid. To help them on the way Blizzard has provided Hunters with Feign Death which causes the Hunter to appear dead and allows the Hunter to drop all aggro, and Misdirection which should not only be used at the beginning of boss fights to help the tank gain aggro, but will also help divert aggro from the Hunter back onto the appropriate target.

Besides worrying about their shot rotation and not pulling aggro Survival Hunters like all other Hunters need to be aware of their pet. Pets can be a huge advantage to any Hunter, but if mismanaged they can easily become a liability. The Hunter will be expected to know how and when (and when not to) use their pets against the various mobs that will be encountered. They will also be expected to be aware of their pets, and to be sure to keep them from pulling at random. Hunters should expect to select a pet that will benefit the raid in some way, even if another pet is more appealing.

While almost never used in a raiding situation, during 5 mans, Hunters may be asked to make use of their ability to trap or kite. Trapping and Kiting take some finesse and practice to learn, but once learnt can be invaluable to a group.  A skilled Hunter of any spec should be able to keep a target crowd controlled for any amount of time. Survival Hunters have the advantage of Scatter Shot here, which will delay a mob long enough for your trap cool down to come back up.

While Hunters do have the disadvantage of having to remain at a slight ranged distance to do any real damage, they can still manage to top the DPS meters if played correctly.

Item Stats and Bonuses

Your first and foremost goal as a Survival Hunter should be to reach the hit cap. Currently the hit cap for Hunters is set at 8% or 263 hit rating. Less hit is needed depending on how many points you have in Focused Aim. Below is the amount of hit needed for each point in Focused Aim:
0/3 Focused Aim - 8% or 263 Hit Rating
1/3 Focused Aim - 7% or 229 Hit Rating
2/3 Focused Aim - 6% or 197 Hit Rating
3/3 Focused Aim - 5% or 164 Hit Rating

If you have the luxury of constantly being in a group with a Draenei you can subtract another 1% from your needed hit. It should be noted that if you are far below the hit cap it is a far better idea to break down and spec into Focused Aim than to try to gem for the needed hit.

Survival Hunters, like Marksmen Hunters also want to reach the hit cap in order to bring their Steady Shot cast time down to the Global Cool Down. This will help your reach your full DPS potential. To reach this goal the Hunter will need to have at least 522.7 haste rating, unless specced into Improved Aspect of the Hawk. While Hunters tend to use Steady Shot much less now it is still a much needed filler shot. Once Steady Shot reaches the GCD the Hunter will be able to fit more Explosive Shots into their shot rotation, further improving their DPS.

This should be fairly easy to reach, but until you do your DPS will be lacking. Missing your target is never a good thing.

Agility is probably one of the best stats to stack as a Survival Hunter. Not only do Survival Hunters gain extra bonuses from Hunting Party and Lightning Reflexes, but with every critical strike Expose Weakness will proc, converting all that extra agility into attack power letting you go into a DPSing frenzy.  While Agility is no longer quite the coveted Survival stat it used to be thanks to the nerf to Expose Weakness (no longer affects the entire raid), Survival Hunters should still value Agility slightly higher than most other stats.

Crit is probably the next most important stat, and if you read the previous paragraph closely you will already know why. To make the best use of the Survival Hunter’s proc on crit talents (such as Expose Weakness) Survival Hunters should ideally have 30% hit, but the more the better. You can’t really go wrong with this stat.

While Survival Hunters do need sufficient amounts of Attack Power to do any real DPS, a rather large portion of that Attack Power should and will come from your Agility. That being said, never sacrifice a large amount of Attack Power for a small amount of Agility; it’s simply not worth it.

While Intellect on Hunter gear may seem unimportant and simply a way to be able to tell Hunter and Rogue gear apart, I can assure you that is simply not the case. Survival Hunter’s Careful Aim (with 3 talent points) gives 1 Attack Power for every Intellect, and a larger mana pool means a higher return from the Replenishment Buff from Hunting Party. Not to mention a larger mana pool leads to fewer mana problems while raiding. Like it or not, Intellect on mail gear is not just for Shamans anymore.


As a Survival Hunter you will need to dump most of your points into the Survival tree (duh). One of the most common specs is 0-15-56, with some slight variations from Hutner to Hunter. Killer Instincts, Master Tactician and Thrill of the Hunt are all must haves without question for the Survival Tree. Here are some other prime choices from the Survival Tree:

Lock and Load - Since Explosive Shot is the Survival Hunters damage mega bomb so to speak, this is an excellent talent to pick up, as when it procs it causes your next two Explosive Shots to trigger no cool down, cost no mana, and consume no ammo. Obviously when Lock and Load procs Explosive Shot should be spammed until the proc is gone, but try not to cancel out the last tick of the Explosive Shot effect with a new Explosive Shot.

Expose Weakness - As talked about earlier this ability has recently been nerfed and is no longer raid wide, but still is a valuable talent. Activated by your crits, Expose Weakness will increase your Attack Power by 25% of your Agility for 7 seconds. Three points in this talent gives you a 100% chance to proc this ability, however if you stack enough crit you may be able to drop to two or even one talent point(s).

Lightning Reflexes - There is no reason why every single Survival Hunter should not have all five points into this talent as with each point it increases your Agility. Agility still remains one of the most important, if not most important stat for a Survival Hunter, and any boost to that is just icing on the cake.

Explosive Shot - Second only to Kill Shot, Explosive Shot is another one of those must haves for Survival Hunters.

Hunting Party - This talent provides two benefits:, it increases your total Agility and also provides mana regeneration for 10 of your party/raid members. While a great talent, most Hunters will only drop two points into it instead of three.

Not all of your points will be going into the Survival tree, as there are some mandatory talents in the Marksmen tree that every Survival Hunter needs including Lethal Shots, Careful Aim, Mortal Shots, and at least 1 point in Go for the Throat. Improved Aspect of the Hawk from the Beastmastery tree is also an option for those Hunters looking for a talent to reduce the Haste they need to get Steady Shot to the GCD.


Hunters have eight aspects that they can use, with only one aspect being able to be active at one time. The aspects currently available to Hunters are: Aspect of the Monkey, Hawk, Cheetah, Beast, Pack, Wild, Viper, and Dragonhawk. You may be thinking how will I ever know when to use each of these Aspects, but don’t fret as you will only have to worry about two of them in a normal raiding situation: Aspect of the Dragonhawk, and Aspect of the Viper.

Aspect of the Dragonhawk increases your ranged attack and chance to dodge. You will be in this Aspect most of the time, only coming out to use Aspect of the Viper when you are low on mana. Aspect of the Viper regenerates mana back each time the Hunter uses a ranged attack and is equal to twice the base speed of the Hunter’s weapon. As soon as you have gained a reasonable amount of mana back you should quickly switch back to Dragonhawk and continue to DPS from there.

Shot Rotation

Now that you know what stats are best for you, have your talent build picked out, and are in the correct Aspect, you are ready to set out and try your hand at DPS. But what shot rotation should you use? Does it even matter?

As a Survival Hunter your shot rotation will be based off a priority list. Each time a GCD comes up, attempt to fire the ability nearest to the top of the list, however, mana cost should also be taken into account as the more mana you use, the more time you will spend in Aspect of the Viper. The list is as follows:

- Kill Shot
- Explosive Shot
- Black Arrow
- Serpent Sting
- Aimed/Multi-Shot
- Steady Shot

The only time this shot rotation will vary is when Lock and Load procs, in which case you will spam Explosive Shot, allowing all DoTs to tick before the next is applied. So for maximum damage your shot rotation during Lock and Load will look something like this:

Explosive Shot - 0.5 seconds - Explosive Shot - 0.5 seconds - Explosive Shot

However if you have a lag issue, or simply don’t want to worry about the timing this rotation can be used with only slightly less damage resulting in:

Explosive Shot - Serpent Sting or Black Arrow - Explosive Shot

Once Lock and Load fades your shot rotation should return to the normal priority list.


Commonly used Major Glyphs for Survival Hunters are:

Glyph of Explosive Shot
Glyph of Serpent Sting
Glyph of Kill Shot
Glyph of Steady Shot

The Minor Glyphs currently available to Hunters are rather poor, however there are some that are not entirely useless including:

Glyph of Mend Pet
Glyph of Revive Pet
Glyph of Feign Death


Pets are for any Hunter a vital part of their class, and with the right pet that is used correctly they can vastly increase the Hunter’s damage and usefulness. Currently there are several Pets that are viable for raiding:

Wolf - Brings Furious Howl which boosts the Hunter and Pet’s Attack Power. Considered to be the pet with the most damage.

Wasp - Has a Sting ability that deals damage and reduces the target’s armor. Does not stack with other similar debuffs, but if you have no one in the raid doing an armor reducing rebuff this pet could provide that extra DPS booster.

Cat - Has a Rake ability, which puts a bleed dot on the target. While the Wolf and Wasp are probably better choices this is an option for those who dislike both.

All three of these pets are in the Ferocity class, which means they all provide Call of the Wild. While it no longer is raid wide, it can still provide a damage boost for the Hunter, especially when timed with Heroism/Bloodlust.

Once you have picked out your pet you must set to the task to learn to control that pet. This means turning growl off unless your pet is actually supposed to tanking, keeping your pet off aggressive so that it doesn’t pull random mobs, and being sure that your pet is attacking when it’s supposed to be. A good Hunter will make their pet seem like an extension of themselves.


All Hunters have five different traps. Some are crowd control, while others can be used to do damage. All traps are instant cast and have a 30 second cool down and as of patch 3.2 now stay active for 30 seconds. Traps have three separate cool down categories: Fire (Immolation, Explosive, and Black Arrow), Frost (Freezing, Frost) and Nature (Snake Trap). Only one trap from each category can be active at any one time.

As a Survival Hunter you will be using Black Arrow in your rotation, so using any of the other traps in the Fire category will put your Black Arrow on cool down, possibly costing you valuable DPS and therefore should not be used. Survival Hunters can use all other categories of trap with impunity.

Usually asked for in 5 mans and rarely if ever asked for in raids, Hunters can be very efficient at crowd control. To do this effectively the Hunter should lay a Frost Trap just before the pull, standing behind the Trap the Hunter should shoot the mob they are to crowd control as the pull is made. When the mob steps on the trap it will become frozen in a block of ice. If the mob needs to be kept crowd controlled for an extended period of time the Hunter simply moves a little distance away and lays another Frost Trap as soon as the cool down is up. Once unfrozen the mob should run at the Hunter again, and become frozen in the next Frost Trap. Repeat until the mob is ready to be killed.

In some cases due to AoE damage, or bad luck, the frozen mob may find it’s way out of your trap before your next cool down is up. Don’t panic! Scatter Shot the mob, so it becomes confused for 4 seconds, move a little ways back and lay your next Frost Trap as soon as possible. If things go well you will have your Frost Trap down well before the mob reaches you.


The ability to keep a mob (or other player) at a distance, while pulling it along in the direction desired by the player is perhaps one of the hardest Hunter skills to learn. While no longer as important as it once was it is still something that every Hunter should know and learn. Some tips for kiting are:

- Be sure to gain enough threat initially on the mob
- Use all slowing effects available to you (Frost Trap, Concussive Shot, Scatter Shot etc)
- Use Aspect of the Cheetah depending on your confidence level. Rememeber, while this lets you run faster, one hit and you will become dazed
-When in a pinch let your pet take over
-Outside of an instance mobs will return to their spawn area if they are kited too far without taking damage
-Be prepared to Feign Death to allow the tank to pick up the mob quickly

These are just a few of the tactics employed by kiting Hunters. This skill is something that is learned through real trial and error by each individual Hunter rather than any definitive strategy. So if you kite and fail, try, try again. Eventually you will proudly be able to say you have mastered the fine art of kiting.

Huntards and You

You will find while playing a Hunter that you will be the butt of many jokes, even if you happen to be an excellent player. You may even have people shy away from taking you in groups simply because you are a Hunter. This is because there have been many Huntards before you, and others still out there that are so full of epic fail that it has possibly forever tainted the Hunter class. To get an idea of what you should avoid doing to prevent yourself from being labeled a Huntard and for a good laugh, visit my How to be a Huntard in 10 Easy Steps article.

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