Hunter Basics: Explosive Shot

Explosive Shot

Explosive Shot is the signature ability of the survival tree. However, I often find that many hunters are unaware of how and when to properly use it, especially in the event of a Lock and Load proc.

Until Kill Shot becomes available (once the kill target is at or below 20% health), Explosive Shot is the number one priority shot. In other words, its cast should not be delayed for anything. Many players have the wrong impression, thinking that Black Arrow and/or Serpent Sting should be applied first in order to further buff the shot. This is incorrect. Delaying Explosive Shot for any shot besides Kill Shot results in a DPS loss.

Explosive ShotHere is the Survival Hunter shot priority (accurate up through Patch 3.3.2)

  1. Kill Shot
  2. Explosive Shot
  3. Black Arrow
  4. Serpent Sting
  5. Aimed Shot
  6. Steady Shot

With the 2pc T9 set bonus, which allows Serpent Sting ticks to be crits, the shot priority then changes to this:

  1. Kill Shot
  2. Explosive Shot
  3. Serpent Sting
  4. Black Arrow
  5. Aimed Shot
  6. Steady Shot

Although, both Black Arrow and Serpent Sting (by way of Noxious Stings) provide buffs to ranged damage, you should never prioritize either of those abilities over Explosive Shot. Unless Kill Shot is ready, Explosive Shot should be used immediately as soon as its cooldown is up.

Why Explosive Shot is so damn good…

  • The damage is fantastic.
  • It’s on a relatively short, 6 second cooldown.
  • It’s an attack power based spell which is not dependent upon weapon damage (good for hunters just beginning end game).
  • It does non-armor mitigated fire damage.
  • It’s an instant cast shot.
  • It scales beautifully with raid buffs.
  • The graphic is pretty. 🙂

Lock and Load

Lock and LoadOne of the key components to dishing out massive quantities of ranged damage as a survival hunter is proper management of Lock and Load procs. Lock and Load is a buff which causes your next two Explosive Shots to trigger no cooldown, cost no mana and use no ammo.

The proc occurs as a result of periodic damage done by Black Arrow or fire-based traps (6% chance per tick), or via a Freezing Arrow, Frost or Freezing trap (100% chance). Lock and Load has an internal cooldown of 22 seconds, which means it can only proc as often as every 22 seconds. Procs in PvP are pretty predictable, as frost based traps will likely be in use as soon as they are available. In PvE, the proc chance will begin as soon as Black arrow starts ticking (during single target fights) or after a fire based trap has been tripped (in the event of multi-mob AoE pulls).

Although frost and freezing traps have a 100% chance to proc Lock and Load, it is not advisable to use them in a PvE rotation. Lock and Load procs pretty reliably off of Black Arrow and fire based traps, both of which are much better uses of a GCD instead of a non-dps ability such as Frost Trap. PvP’s a different story however. 😉

This is a pretty amazing talent, considering Explosive Shot does an incredible amount of damage. However, unless you execute properly during this proc, you won’t enjoy its full benefit.

The tooltip states that the effect will trigger no cooldown, meaning you could theoretically spam 3 Explosive Shots back-to-back. While this may seem like the right thing to do, especially considering how much I’ve been preaching its status in the shot priority, this is not the way to go about it.

Explosive Shot has three damaging charges. The first charge damages on impact, the 2nd charge occurs one second later, and the 3rd charge occurs one second after that. So in essence, Explosive Shot needs 2 whole seconds minimum to realize its full damage. Furthermore, each of these damaging charges has the potential to crit.

Explosive Shot crits

As you can see from the screenshot above, my Explosive Shot critted for over 5k on two of its charges. Fully raid buffed, the number could easily be 7K+. This helps to illustrate why it’s so important not to overwrite the final charge of an Explosive Shot.

Since Explosive Shot requires 2 full seconds to do all of its damage, by spamming the shot during Lock and Load, you run the risk of overwriting the final damaging charge with a fresh Explosive Shot. This is because the global cooldown is only 1.5 seconds in duration.

How to handle this? Easy… wait a half second after your GCD is up before firing another Explosive Shot. By simply waiting .5 seconds after the global cooldown refreshes, you’re allowing your Explosive Shot to release its final charge.

One common misconception, (and one I’ve been guilty of in the past) is thinking that it’s beneficial to squeeze another shot in between the 3 casts of Explosive Shot. While this may seem like a good idea, since you’re not delaying the use of your GCD, it actually results in a DPS loss. The reason for this, is because you’re actually pushing back the availability of Explosive Shot by one full second, or perhaps even longer if you should cast a non haste-capped Steady Shot in between.

Casting another shot after Explosive during a Lock and Load proc means that you’ll be resetting the global cooldown, forcing you to wait 1.5 seconds before the next Explosive can be cast, as opposed to only .5 second had you simply waited.

Ideal rotation during a Lock and Load proc:

  1. cast Explosive Shot
  2. wait .5 seconds after global cooldown
  3. cast 2nd Explosive Shot
  4. wait .5 seconds after global cooldown
  5. cast 3rd Explosive Shot

For players with high latency, or for hunters who are having a hard time getting used to timing the shots properly, the insertion of an instant cast ability in between is not the end of the world. It’s not the best way to treat Lock and Load procs, but it’s much better than overwriting damage ticks.

Forcing an Aimed Shot or Serpent Sting/Black Arrow (if they need reapplying) in between is not necessarily advisable, but it’s OK. Steady Shot could also be used in this case, but should be the last resort, as its cast timer will often exceed even that of the 1.5 second GCD for a SV hunter.

In PvP, the shot priority is a bit different in that Aimed Shot trumps all apart from Kill Shot. I would advise reapplying Aimed Shot if needed during Lock and Load procs. Tranquilizing Shot could also be used in between to knock off any resistances that might lessen the nuking power of your Explosive Shot.

Addons to help manage Lock and Load

I use two addons to help me manage my Lock and Load procs. One is Power Auras, and the other is SatrinaBuffFrame. Power Auras shows me when the buff becomes active and for how long. SatrinaBuffFrame gives me a handy little graphical timer which aids me in knowing when to cast my next Explosive Shot.

Explosive Shot useful addons

As soon as my first Explosive Shot hits, a timer appears that shows me how long until the last charge will be released. Just as the bar is about to expire, I know to cast my next shot. Since the shot does have a small amount of travel time, it’s best to cast the next one just before the timer runs out. Of course, this requires a low latency connection, as well as accurately gauging what that travel time will be (typically < .5 second).

I don’t necessarily think that either addon is necessary for managing Lock and Load, but they do help – especially the timer. I strongly advise the use of an addon like SBF or Quartz when learning to effectively handle Lock and Load. Eventually you’ll start to develop an inner meter by which you’ll be able to time the shots, but until then, use some training wheels so as to not gimp your DPS.

For those of you in the dark about Lock and Load or the amazing qualities of Explosive Shot, I hope this post helped to demystify some things. 🙂

One last note: For those of you new to survival huntering, or huntering in general, if you spec survival for Explosive Shot, be sure to pull Arcane Shot off of your action bars. They both share the same 6 second cooldown, but Explosive Shot is 100x better. It is in effect, a replacement for Arcane Shot for survival hunters.

35 thoughts on “Hunter Basics: Explosive Shot”

  1. @ Perceuss
    i agree, that Sv is the best fun. and still high survival chance. when i hit 80, i was Bm and retalented to Bm pvp. Some dudes think that Bm is an easy idiot talent, like playing nerdcleave 😀 Bm was disappointing in pvp, cause the lower dps than MM or Sv. in TBC was awesome that a hunter dude pop up the BW and a f@&#ing big cat’s gonna rape u :D. btw i was mage so IB saved the day (:O). so i just wanna tell my opinion, that if u want good rating, u have to reach higher skills in bm to kite or survive. popping BW isnt at all. An SV hunter have easier way to find the good CC. so u have disadvantages in the battle without BW.
    another thing, GJ this guide, a basic stuff for a new hunter. my question is, how to avoid counterclasses, this would be a nice guide, like how to nuke a rogue with high survival chances. im still starter in hunter, and i can handle many classes, except a good rogue or warlock. (of course in SV talent build) so all dudes, have any idea/trick or a good guide to learn some mechanics against counterclasses?
    thanks for the post! Trollspray

  2. You write “Explosive Shot should be used immediately as soon as its cooldown is up” and underline it too. But do you really mean it? Do you mean make a macro like:

    /cast Explosive Shot

    and interrupt your previous Steady Shot? Now, if your previous Steady Shot has just started its cast, this might be right, but if it’s got 0.1s left to go, you’ve wasted the cast time.

  3. Great post! Thanks a lot for the tips. I had no idea that I was missing out on DPS as a result of firing ES one after another during LnL. I will definitely be testing this out in Icecrown 🙂

  4. Great post – a ton of awesome information!

    There’s one thing I’m not clear on – sometimes due to latency, I can’t rely on the explosive shot effect on the target to know when to fire the next shot. But it’s not just a half second after the previous GCD ends, because haste decreases GCD time, doesn’t it? Is there a clever way to do this, perhaps with a poweraura that shows a 2 second timer every time you touch explosive shot, that is immune to latency? I’d try this myself but I don’t know enough about powerauras to figure it out, plus I’m not on my WoW computer at the moment.

    The other thing I was curious about – what addon is that that shows your damage and what it’s caused by, that I can see on the right of the screenshot? I might want to use that >.> pretty nice..

  5. I was reading a review recently I don’t remember where heh… which someone suggests after an amount of 54% self buffed critical we can remove explosive shot glyph and replace it with something else. Is this true?
    Also I would like your oppinion on my stats if you got the time to check my profile and give me a hint.

    • Avalion,

      I’m not certain about the crit %, but I read that as well. Makes perfect sense because eventually that glyph won’t be doing much if you’re sporting something like 80% or more crit with buffs, procs and such.

      I did some spreadsheet tests trying other glyphs in place of Explosive, but they resulted in losses in all cases. I’m probably a good 5%+ away from the target crit rating.

      Also, I’m pretty sure Steady Shot is the suggested replacement.

      Nice gear by the way. Your spec looks solid as well, but I’ll make one minor suggestion.

      Pull one point from Exposed Weakness and put it in Resourcefulness or IAotH. At 53%+ unbuffed crit, one point in EW is fine.

  6. I’ve been tinkering with an SV PvP build and….once I got used to relying on other tools instead of automatically smashing BW….SV is a lot of fun….the burst is stupid. I recently switched over to a SV Raid build to try my hand at raiding SV…just switching it up for the sake of it….I can raid BM and push really good dps, I just wanted to try something it different try and perfect another spec you know? Thanks for the posts of Garwulf.

    • Perceuss,

      Good for you. SV and MM both are great specs for PvP. Also, I find that the more time you spend playing either, the better you’ll be if you do decide to return to BM. Without the snare and stun immunity you’re forced into learning better movement and technique.

      I actually have an unfinished post from Dec that touches on some of this. I suppose I should finish that one sometime soon. o.O

      • HA HA yeah that would be nice Gar, I’m still waiting on the post about how dreadful hunter PvP gear is….when I was getting my Merc gear at 70…I was so excited to get it, it looked so sweet….now it’s just me sighing as I look at our PvP gear. You’re completely right about movement technique…once you can utilize the tools given to you..Scatter shot, Disengage, Deterrence, Wyvern Sting…a SV Hunter is quite a handful.

  7. Can’t help myself Garwulf =)
    Survival gets so few higher end defenders these days. I still consider it the best spec, I’ll see what I can do about drawing up a comprehensive article for it.

    • Oddly enough, I love Survival now. Early on in WotLK I didn’t care for it at all. I switched to it begrudgingly, in order to maximize my DPS, but dreaming of the day I’d be able to go back to Marksmanship.

      Now I don’t wanna go. I wanna stay survival. 🙂 I really like the play style.

  8. I use Mik’s Scrolling Combat Text and Event Horizon to help manage my Lock ‘n Loads in Survival Spec.

    In Mik’s you can set up a sound to play when an event occurs. Whenever I get a LnL, I hear a cheer. Event Horizon helps me manage ticks on DoTs (like SS and ES), as well as shots coming off cooldown. So it is easy to see when the explosive shot ticks have passed to then shoot the next explosive shot, and not overwrite any of the damage.

    Also, depending on where you are standing in relation to your target, it may take time for your shot to reach your target, so theoretically you could fire Explosive Shot again prior to the last damage tick, and the shot would get to target after the last damage tick.

    • Phil,

      I have an audible alert too. The aura is pretty low-key and only there as a second attention getter in the event I’m in a particularly chaotic battle.

      Timer bars are great for limiting the downtime. Many hunters don’t think to factor in the travel time, but it can make a difference in a long fight. Timing the L’n’L casts can save a couple of GCDs in a boss fight.

  9. @Skor Taran: Haste does NOT effect our GCD. Haste only lowers the cast time of Steady Shot and the time between auto shots (as well as Multi-Shot, but Aimed is better in most cases and going from 0.5s to 0.25s is not significant).

  10. My understanding (and I may well be wrong – feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken here) is that haste, which also affects spell haste, which itself reduces the global cooldown means that a hunter’s global cooldown can be reduced below 1.5 seconds, down to as low as 1 second (with a very high haste rating). If my understanding of that is correct (don’t have time to check it in-game right now), then casting multishot (instant cast, high damage) or refreshing serpent sting (assuming it’s below 50% remaining in duration, otherwise it’s a waste of mana, imho) between explosive shots during a lock’n’load proc is a good idea. Above it being a good way to force oneself to not overwrite the explosive shot ticks, it would represent an actual dps increase. Of course, the purely mechanical side of things may disagree but with human error and latency combined with a reduced gcd, I find those shots to be a good idea.

  11. Also, might be valuable to mention at the start of a fight it’s advisable to use a full rotation before blowing any haste cooldown such as rapid fire or hyperspeed accelerators. That is fire ES, AS, BA, Serpent, and then another ES as you activate your haste cooldowns. Before you say anything, yes this is a slightly non-standard shot priority. The reason fir AS before BA and Serpent is two-fold. First it allows BA and Serpent to be active through most of the cooldown, and second it frees up the need to cast an extra instant shot cooldown during the hasted attacks, basically you’re firing as many souped up SSes until your ES cooldown pops back up. If you’re glyphed for it serp will add a nice chunk to your SS and with a decent amount of arpen, be putting out some very respecable dps when hasted. As a side note if you have Deathbringer’s Will, it’s pretty much guaranteed to have procced by the time you hit BA or SS, granting them the atk benefit for the dot’s duration, and again making those SSes hit that much harder.

    Another common misconception about SV vs MM is that SV suffers more of a penalty from movement than MM. While it’s true if we’re in motion for more than 2-8 seconds(depending on refresh timing) at a time, we lose Sniper Training, a big dps loss. However, the SV rotation uses far fewer SSes, meaning during that 2-8 seconds we don’t have to lose any dps at all. Autoshot, move while firing an instant, preferably KS or ES, after moving about 1.5-2 secs, stop half a sec for another autoshot and repeat. Also, don’t run if a disengage will get you where you need to be. Using 1 gcd to save you a potential 5+ seconds of moving is almost always worthwhile. In fact if you’re not using it to avoid Rotface’s angry poo-poo, you’re only hurting yourself. =D

    • Some nice additional info Solaryn. Could be an idea for an upcoming theorycrafting post perhaps. It could be in the vein of say… “Hunter End Game: Mechanics of the Shot Priority”

      This post is about “Hunter Basics”. 😉

  12. Thanks for a nice post!

    I’m just curious, do you use traps alot to proc Lock and Load when running dungeons? I seem to be getting too few procs just from Black Arrow, but I’m not so sure trying to get a trap off is the way to go, since trash is dying really fast these days… Maybe I should just keep nuking, and try keep black arrow on whatever mob dies last?

    (My hunter is still only level 75, btw, in case that effects things.)

    Any input on how to make LoL proc would be great! 🙂

    • I use Immolation Trap a lot in ICC because there are so many multiple mob pulls. On the squishier ones, a Volley is great to follow things up, but on the groups where there is at least one focus fire target, it’s great to get the L’n’L started. Immo Trap pretty much procs L’n’L immediately when there are 5 or more mobs, because there are so many DoT’s going off.

      In cases such as that, an Immo Trap is handy because it will provide some nice AoE damage and nice threat to your tank, as well as enable you to get some initial burst on the kill target. It requires a little finesse with Disengage though. Unless it’s an LoS pull (where you can MD, lay a trap, then go wait), you need to use Disengage for it to be really effective. Do a quick pivot, hurl yourself into the pack, drop a fire bomb, then take a few steps and pew-pew. After a Misdirection of course. 😉 Running around to drop traps or get range results in too much downtime.

      Stick with Black Arrow if there are no more than 2 mobs. However, if you’re facing 3 or more, an immo trap is a good way to go for more threat displacement as well as a likelier L’n’L proc.

  13. It looks like you got some pretty cool Power Aura scripts going on there and they look different from your post. Could you update your Power Auras post to reflect your new scripts or post them here? Would love to get my hands on those they are badass! 😀

    Oh and so I am not off topic, nice post. This actually did help my PvE, I’ve been using Aimed Shots and Steady Shots(a lot of times when not Rapid Fired or with some kind of haste) between the LnL procs.

    Thanks for the post, it will help noobies like myself. 😉

    • Michael,

      I toned down a few of my previous ones and added some new sizzle. 😉 Instead of larger “auras”, I went with smaller graphics at full opacity. They’re even easier to see, but they clean up the screen a bit.

      I’ll post the new auras when I’m all done with them. I have to PvP and raid for a bit first, just to work out the kinks. Some of the new ones I’ve added are for Master Tactician and Expose Weakness. I originally added them to easily keep track of the buff uptime, but I may end up keeping them. My new trinket (and now AV ring) buff auras are working out great. 😀


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