At level 24, I've already made a good deal of progress, so I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, and I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.
...wait, let me start over.
Before I rolled the character, I had several choices to make. I wanted to hit the ground running with a plan in mind, so I had premeditated my choices for race, profession, pet, and gear to some extent.
Realistically, I've chosen my race very poorly. Trolls get passive health regeneration, +5% to beast slaying, and berzerking. Orcs have blood fury, resistance to stuns, +5% to your pet's melee damage, and +5 to axe skill. Tauren have war stomp and +5% to max health, and Blood Elves can manage weaponless ranged pulls by using Mana Tap. Meanwhile on the Alliance side, Night Elves have +1% to dodge, Draenei have a racial HoT, and Dwarves have stoneform. It should be obvious that any of the Horde races would have been a superior choice, but I'm just not comfortable playing that faction. So between the Alliance races, none of my choices were outstanding, but I opted for stoneform. Besides which, the personality I was imagining for this character simply seemed to suit a Dwarf better.
Leatherworking as a profession was an easy choice. Since I'd be avoiding instances, the ability to craft my own gear was not only convenient, but a necessity unless I planned to rely only on world drops, quest rewards, PvP gear, and auction house buys. Since I have an aversion to PvP, it was plain that not taking up leatherworking would have been grossly irresponsible. I decided that in the event that I simply had to attend battlegrounds for the sake of obtaining gear, working for trinkets and weapons would be a lot less demanding than working every 10 levels for a full set of armor.
I do carry ranged weapons, but only for the sake of stats. My current ranged weapon is a quested crossbow with +1 agi/+1 str. In-character I explain my willingness to carry a ranged weapon as a sort of sentimentality. In reality it's because I need the agility and strength on it.
Stat-wise, I found that agility was my number one stat to pursue. There are very lengthy discussions about this on WoWWiki, but the short of it is that a hunter gets +attack power, +crit, +armor and +dodge from agility. Stamina is my secondary stat, since it's necessary for me to have aggro (more on this in a bit). Strength can (and should!) be neglected in favor of agility, since for a hunter 1 str adds the same attack power as 1 agi, and 1 agi raises so many other stats besides just AP.
Why is it necessary for me to have aggro, and not my pet? To understand that we have to look at the hunter's melee attacks. Raptor Strike can be dished out once every six seconds, regardless of who has aggro. Wing Clip has no cooldown, but deals so little damage it can't rightly be considered a viable attack -- it's purely a crowd control mechanism. The remaining melee attacks are Mongoose Bite, which can only be used after you dodge, Counterattack, which requires that you parry, and Kill Command, which can be used whenever you've landed a crit. So if you do not have aggro, you will never be able to perform a Mongoose Bite or a Counterattack, because you will never have the opportunity to dodge or parry.
An alternate approach would be to put a lot of points into Beastmastery to boost my pet's dps and rely only on Raptor Strike and Kill Command. In my opinion, this is not viable for the "melee hunter" project, because at this point, it's the pet that's meleeing, with the hunter acting in a support role. Besides which, Kill Command isn't learned until level 66, and it seems unrealistic to claim you've been a melee hunter for 66 levels when your pet has killed everything for you while you back it up with white damage and a Raptor Strike every now and then.
The necessity of maintaining aggro also influenced my choice of pet. I looked over Petopia. Clearly none of the defensive pets were an option, because I don't want a pet that maintains aggro. Similarly a high-dps pet seemed like a poor idea; I was concerned that even without the pet Growling that its dps would outdo mine and draw aggro that way. So I looked at the "well-rounded" catalog. I was sold on the wolf: the only pet with the Furious Howl ability, a buff to both hunter and pet that increases melee damage dealt.
With leatherworking and skinning, a pet that eats meat, a need to cook to buff my stamina and regenerate health, the Monster Slaying talent available in the Survival tree, and various beastslaying enchants out there, I anticipated a lot of synergies happening that practically begged that I focus my efforts on grinding on beasts. And so I have, which is how I've gotten artisan skinning at level 24, and I'm ready for the artisan cooking quest. The quest in the Wetlands that rewards you with a leather chestpiece, the Raptorbane Armor, that adds 30 AP when fighting beasts was awesome for me.
That's been the plan, and I've largely stuck to it. Thus far it's been a really positive experience, and pretty smooth. I don't feel like I'm gimped. Rather, it all seems pretty natural.
Next post I'll talk about some of the things I discovered as I've leveled, including thoughts on dual-wield, stoneform, and using traps in melee.