GUIDE: Choosing your animal companion for Hunters
This guide will introduce adventuring hunters to the different types of pet available and their advantages.
Editor’s Note: This guide is written during patch 3.3 (3.3.3 to be absolutely precise). Hunters from the Future (or the past – I’m looking at you, Chromie) may find the information here inaccurate. An examination of hunter pets in Patch 4.3 is included in “This Is Beast Mastery in 4.3”.
Perhaps you have reached Level 10, and this Tame Beast spell is burning a hole in your spellbook. You probably have questions – Are all beasts alike in capability? Which one should I choose? How do I go about actually taming a beast?
Perhaps you are a higher-level player looking for more information on the different pet types, or seeking advice on the ‘best’ pet for your purpose. Either way, read on for Certain Information…
Types of Beast
Broadly speaking, tamable creatures fall into three classes. A beast’s class determines its skills and abilities and the talent tree it has access to. Each individual creature has a unique ability (except for cats and spirit beasts who have two). For example, cats have Rake which does bleed damage over time while wolves have Furious Howl which increases the beast and the master’s attack power. The beast’s other abilities become available as you become more powerful and train him.
FEROCITY Pets place their focus on sheer physical damage. They are not the most survivable pets and they don’t have as many interesting tricks, but if you want something dead at maximum speed, you’ll do well to have a ferocious beast by your side. The Ferocity class includes:
- Carrion Birds
TENACITY Pets have high survivability and extra skills designed to attract the attention of enemies. They are excellent for distracting enemies and taking their blows while the hunter shoots them from range. The Tenacity class includes the following:
CUNNING Pets are flexible, offering a variety of cunning tricks (do you see how that works!). They don’t have the pure DPS output that Ferocious beasts do, nor as many survivability talents as Tenacious beasts. What they do have, however is utility: Talented, they can keep dash up virtually all the time when high mobility is required. They can become more survivable and do 50% extra damage when they have less than 35% health and similarly they can do extra damage to enemies with sub-35% health. They have a roar which restores your mana and can break themselves free of stuns, fears and other movement impairing effects. These skills find a natural use in battlegrounds but you shouldn’t dismiss the Cunning pet for use in other environments too. Some of the beasts classed as cunning are:
- Birds of Prey
As you may expect, the full list is available at Petopia.
Certain beasts are classed as EXOTIC, and these are shown on Petopia with an exclamation mark by their name. These beasts slot into one of the above categories, but can only be tamed by hunters with the Beast Master talent at the end of the Beast Mastery tree.
So… What do I choose?
Pet choice really does depend on the individual. The relationship between Hunter and Beast is near symbiosis, particularly for Beast Masters. If your only concern is to find the ‘best’ pet for dealing maximum damage, scroll ye down until you see the “Maximum DPS!” header. Personally? I have always emphasised choosing a pet you like. Particularly if you are a new hunter, you should go for whatever pet you like the look of. Hunters have been known to cross the entire world at level 10 to tame a beast, not because it’s any more effective but because it was damned cool. By all means, browse Petopia and select a good-looking pet or one with skills you think will be helpful for you. If you took a liking to one of the beasts you had to temporarily tame in the level-10 quest, go and grab one of those.
As for top-level hunters: A lot of you will want to go for the pet that gives you the highest damage output. That’s fine, and I applaud your pursuit of maximum effectiveness! With that said, I knowingly run with a suboptimal pet. Why? Because I love my spirit beast. It’s one of the rarest and most beautiful beasts in the wild. I love his sound effects and animations. It also appeals to my inner roleplayer – it just seems wrong to say “Sorry, Ryoku, you have to stay in the stables while I head off to fight with this wolf I have no connection to at all”. As far as I’m concerned, so long as you are able to be competent nothing else matters. The damage difference between Ryoku and the optimal DPS pet is within the margin of error for me. So long as I’m maximizing the damage I do in other ways, you shouldn’t be able to notice any difference.
So what do I choose?!
I’m not here to choose for you :P
Browse Petopia, find yourself a pet that looks cool or that has the abilities you want. If you’re after a unique or special looking pet, have a look here. Your pet is a key component of your character. Take your time to choose one that fits.
Taming your beast
So you’ve chosen. If you’ve picked a difficult to find pet, you’ll need to research where to find it. I find that looking the creature type up on Wowhead and browsing through the comments is a good bet for this. Now track your beast. You’ll want to have your plan in mind for when you find your animal companion.
- Much like Avatar, when you start to tame your beast he will try to kill you. Try and make sure you have a bit of space to work with so that you don’t pull any other hostiles nearby. Once the taming process begins, you will be unable to take any action. Make sure you have quick access to the Tame Beast button!
- For rare beasts, you will probably want to fire a single shot into him to ‘tag’ him as yours. Other players who may also be after him will get no XP or loot and cannot themselves start taming. Concussive Shot can also be handy, if you have it, to slow the beast down and delay his inevitable attempts-to-savage-you.
- If you are level 20 or above, drop a Freezing Trap. Stand just behind it, so that the beast has to run across the trap to get to you.
- With your animal-companion-to-be targeted, hit the Tame Beast button. If you are taming a very rare creature – like my own Spirit Beast – this will be the longest 20 seconds of your entire huntery life. Do not move. Do not attempt to take any action as it will break the spell.
- Wait. Wait some more. You’re not done waiting yet. Come now, you’re magically suppressing a creature’s natural will to bind it to you. Did you expect it to be instant cast?
- Finally, finally the beast is yours. You relax your control a little and feel the mind of your new companion pushing rebelliously against you. No matter. He doesn’t understand what’s happening and the flood of enhanced intelligence and new abilities must be distressing. It will take some time to build his loyalty, but eventually he will follow you of his own free will, because you are his person. This is a good time to start building a relationship, however. Your new friend will be very distressed, make sure you have some food with you that he’ll like – check the petopia entry for that species. A nice piece of fish for a sabrecat will boost his spirits and reinforce your relationship. Hit the “Feed Pet” button and click on the food in your bags, or use an addon like the most excellent Gazmik Fizzwidget’s Feed-o-Matic.
- Ensure you carry enough food around with you to keep your pet’s morale high, as he’s more effective that way. Your pet levels and becomes more powerful along with you. If you leave your pet stabled and don’t use him for a while, he’ll fall behind – up to 5 levels behind you. From level 20 onwards, your pet will gain his own talent points at a rate of one point every four levels. You may train your pet by spending these talent points to grant new abilities or improve existing ones.
Your animal companion will follow you to the ends of Azeroth and beyond, distract enemies for you, cover your retreats and fight alongside you no matter the odds. In return, you will heal (and sometimes revive) him, shoot enemies off his back, feed and care for him and gift to him a portion of your intelligence, stamina and power. This is the bond – the symbiotic relationship – between a Hunter and his pet. Without the other, each is diminished.
Some of you will be here looking for advice on the best pet to use for instances and raids. If you’ve grown attached to your Ferocity or Cunning pet, you are satisfied with your performance and are unmoved by talk of the ‘best’ pet, good for you. If you are otherwise doing your best and giving it your best shot, I support you! If you’ve grown attached to your Tenacity pet, I will advise you to also pick up a Ferocity pet of your choice for instances. In lower level dungeons it’s really not a concern, but once you hit Northrend the extra DPS output can be critical: The difference between victory and repeated death. With that said, allow me to repeat myself. If you are getting the job done, don’t let anyone tell you that you MUST do something. Effectiveness, competence and effort are the only metrics by which you should be measured. I once had a rogue berate me for running a dungeon with a suboptimal pet, but the bosses went down and we walked out with nigh-identical DPS figures. He still wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t ‘wrong’, but a Hunter who’s engaged with the game does more DPS than a hunter who’s off playing something else.
If you want to squeeze every last DPS point out of your pet, however, then let’s crunch some numbers!
Allow me to introduce you to femaledwarf.com: Zeherah’s Hunter DPS Analyser. It is a web implementation of Shandara’s legendary hunter DPS spreadsheet, with the advantages of not being a spreadsheet and having an armory import button. The idea is that you enter in all your gear, gems, enchants, spec, glyphs, buffs, shot priority, pet, pet spec, pet spell priority (and so on) and it will give you an estimated DPS figure for a stand-still boss fight of a certain duration. It only works for top level characters, and due to the real world not being perfect (and bosses requiring tactics) it won’t give you the same figure you’ll see in reality. What it WILL tell you is what swapping out a piece of gear or changing your pet should do to your DPS. The figures should be taken as relative, not absolute.
I’ll import my Hunter with my Spirit Beast, Ryoku. Assuming no buffs at all, we’ll let the analyser do its thing and give me a figure. Please bear in mind that at the time of writing I’ve not really played my hunter for some months, and he’s ridiculously behind. I’m not going to add any buffs, debuffs or change my gear in any way. One thing I will change to make the test consistent is to set my pet’s spec to the “Common Pet Spec”.
Here’s what I get with Ryoku over a 3-minute fight:
This is our baseline. Without changing anything else, I swap the selected pet. Here’s the result for a cat:
So using a cat is a 70 DPS loss compared to my Spirit Beast. I’m actually pretty surprised by this. So, I kept going. I already had a very good idea of what pet I would find at the top of the pile. I found what I expected to find in the end, but that doesn’t invalidate the importance of testing for yourself – load your hunter into the DPS Analyser and test my findings for yourself. Anyway, let’s get to the reveal. I loaded my spirit beast back in first for this screencap, so the ‘Previous’ figure you see will relate to Ryoku.
Ladies, Gentlemen and Others, the Wolf provides the highest DPS increase out of all commonly available pets. This is because of Furious Howl, which buffs the hunter’s and pet’s attack power, producing a a regular boost in DPS. This was the expected result. Our testing does not end quite yet, however! There are one or two other interesting things to discuss…
- Raptors do more damage for me than cats (about 65 DPS more) and only 4 DPS less than spirit beasts.
- Wasps do pretty impressive damage, coming up only 18 DPS lower than wolves for me.
- For Beastmasters, Devilsaurs appear to improve damage more than wolves, placing them on top for BM.
At the risk of repeating myself, all this applies to my gear and my spec (Beastmastery). You? You might get different results. I suspect if you’re a Marksman or Survivor, you’ll find that the Wolf is still top for you. Don’t take my word for it though, hit femaledwarf.com, hit the armory import button, import your level 80 hunter and test it for yourself! Remember also that you shouldn’t expect to see these figures reproduced ingame, and that some of these numbers are within the margin of error. The only way to know for certain if swapping your pet out will give a concrete increase in damage per second is to try it out, the DPS Analyser can only give you an idea.
And remember, you really don’t have to use whatever pet I or anybody else says gives the highest output. Ryoku will continue to accompany me for the forseeable future!
Thanks for dropping by!
Petopia – The definitive guide to hunter-pets.
Femaledwarf.com – Level 80 Hunter DPS analyser based on Shandara’s spreadsheet.
GFW Feed-o-Matic – This ingenious goblin device takes all the effort out of feeding your pet.
Wowhead – Information on every creature in the game, often including maps of where they can be found and comments on strategies for finding and taming beasts.
Good luck out there, Hunters. Comments? Questions? Let me know!