Hit the Ground Running (away)!
Hunters begin their career with a ranged weapon and a melee weapon, already equipped and trained to use them both. You will not learn to tame a beast as a pet until level 10, so you have some time before you will start using your skills as an animal handler. This is a great time to get used to something all hunters need to do from time to time. They call it "kiting." It means to keep a target chasing you, while not letting it catch you. As if you have it on a string and are running joyously through a field, trailing it behind you like a kite. Which you're also shooting.
Ordinarily, a hunter will have a pet to gain the attention ("aggro") of their target, while the hunter shoots that target from a distance. However, you won't have that option for the first ten levels, so now's the time to start learning how to maintain distance. If you have the room to work in, you can run around with an angry target chasing you for some time, pausing only to deliver another shot at it as you go. You won't have much you can do to slow down your target at first, but practice running while shooting. If you stand still and shoot at the target until it gets to you, you'll get fewer shots in before you have to start swinging your melee weapon at them. Raptor Strike is a nice melee damage attack, but it won't get you nearly as far as Autoshot.
When trying to maintain distance, do not just back up while shooting. Many a hunter, myself included, just instinctively backs away from a charging target, in order to keep them in our arc of fire. This is a mistake. We run backwards much more slowly than we run in any other direction. Once you've shot the target a couple times, you can run to either side, or "strafe," and keep a little distance between you and your target in between shots. You won't be able to stay away forever, without any way to slow the target. They'll usually catch you before you can kill them with ranged attacks. But if you stay on your toes and keep aware of your shot timing, you should be able to get one or two more shots in before the target is too close to shoot.
Target Too Close.
You won't be able to hold them off for long in your lower levels. Later on, you'll get skills such as wing clip and concussive shot, which slow your target when used in melee or at range, respectively. We also learn traps with slowing effects, and talent points can be used to give our traps an additional snaring effect. But at the early levels, in all likelihood, you'll be doing some melee fighting, probably more than you'd like to.
At this point I find it beneficial to learn a new weapon skill. Hunters are given pretty paltry melee weapons to start with, and there's no reason you should stick with it. I always save up until I have 10 silver and a little time, and then I run for a weapons master. I always get a two hand proficiency as soon as possible. The first ten levels are where you'll probably be doing more melee combat than the rest of your career. Why trust a dirk to do that hitting for you, when you could be using a bastard sword? I have found it to be a real advantage to pack a little more behind your melee attacks than the one handed dagger, axe, or letter opener that you're given to start with.
To learn a new weapon style, visit a major city and speak with a city guard. Ask this guard where to find a Weapons Master. Weapons Masters teach other weapon styles, though not all masters teach all weapons. You'll need to ask the Weapons Master where others are, and what they teach. Hunters can learn all weapon styles except for maces and wands. We cannot learn to wield shields either. Weapons training will generally cost 10 silver, except for Polearms, which cannot be learned until level 20, and costs a gold. At the early levels, it doesn't especially matter which two hander you learn, if you can only afford one. Once you've learned it, try to find one you can use as soon as possible. Without a pet to keep your target at range, you'll be dealing more damage in melee from levels 1-9 than you will likely deal from 10 onwards.
Addons to Live By
You may not want to install any addons for any number of reasons, but if you're open to the idea, there are a few addons I swear by and absolutely will not use a hunter without. Of note in this article:
Zhunter is an addon with a host of hunter benefits. It provides drop down menus for many of our skills, which can save a lot of action bar buttons for other things. I find it essential, though, for shot timing. Using Zhunter's shot timer gives you a "casting bar" which shows you the time until your next autoshot. This makes it a lot easier to kite, as described above. You can run as fast as you can, so long as you turn around and face your opponent in time for that autoshot to go off. It'll be hard to time it at first, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be glad you did.
Clearing the Chamber
This is how I've started out. My most recent hunter, pictured in this article, has begun in Azuremyst Isle, and is making good progress. As soon as I could afford to, I took her to the Exodar and learned Two Handed Swords. With that added damage on Raptor Strike, the early levels go quickly. The sooner you get get a pet, the sooner you can get to the real work. Stay tuned! In two weeks we'll go into getting that pet. Until then, this is a Little Blue Hunter in a big red kitty's world, saying,
"I'll take square."