Something of an odd question. What is the "in world" difference between a Ranger and a Hunter? How would you differentiate them in a game world when they are fairly similar to one enough in concept?
I'm trying to come up with a decent description of how the classes would be in the world I am designing but both seem so similar that I'm having trouble.
The idea is to write up a description of the classes as they fit in a game world. Not the class descriptions and mechanics but what the class... I guess... "represents".
One of my players mailed this as a basic idea:
"Rangers are almost bounty hunters. They excel at hunting things, whatever species it may be. They are also not exclusively found in the wild, but urban areas as well. They are quickly able to adapt and use their surroundings to their advantage, but do not form a bond with it.
A hunter on the other hand, is a person who forms a close bond with nature and animals. So much so that he is able to exhibit the traits of animals. He is a warrior of nature and generally found most commonly there."
It's good but I want to be able to go beyond that and actually be able do a write up.
With a few exceptions, classes aren't recognized in the world.
Very much this. While there is probably an internal difference about how a Ranger and a Hunter feels about themselves and what they do, 99% of random villagers or townspeople wouldn't really recognize the difference between "two hinterlanders with pet bears" that have two different classes (probably keying instead on what the individuals, or the bears, look like.)
Classes are abstract game mechanical concepts that aren't generally understood in the diagesis.
I agree that class distinctions should be a lot fuzzier in-world. Archetypes in particular make it hard to distinguish classes based on individual features - for example there's a ranger archetype that grants animal focus.
Probably the clearest distinction would be that a hunter has a stronger mystical connection to nature (ie more magic) than a ranger - though not as much as a druid.
And you can be a hunter without being a Hunter.
But let's say we have a pair of twins, Rose (class Ranger) and Hazel (class Hunter). Both use a longbow and have a hunting dog companion, and both describe themselves as "hunters." People might not care about categorizing these twins based on their slightly different skill sets, but they might very well be interested in describing the differences between the twins. In which case, how would they do it?
"Well, Rose is a better shot, and she's at her best when hunting the magical beasts in yonder woods, but she can only handle a few simple spells. Hazel's got a more magical talent, and she's a terror when fighting with her dog, but she's not as formidable on her own."
EDIT: Though, OP, I'm a little unclear on why Paizo's descriptions of the classes aren't enough.
Role: Ranger are deft skirmishers, either in melee or at range, capable of skillfully dancing in and out of battle. Their abilities allow them to deal significant harm to specific types of foes, but their skills are valuable against all manner of enemies.
Role: Hunters can adapt their tactics to many kinds of opponents, and cherish their highly trained animal companions. As a team, the hunter and her companion can react to danger with incredible speed, making them excellent scouts, explorers, and saboteurs.
If you're looking for world-specific roles for the classes then it might indeed be difficult to differentiate the two because despite some differences in focus they do fill very similar in-world roles. I wouldn't, for example, expect to see an organization that would accept members of the Ranger class but not members of the Hunter class.
Rangers are plainly martial enough to kind of fill in on the Fighter's niche. In warfare with anything more complex than "two forces charging one another across an opefield" they have the advantage in skills that make them look like elite soldiers trained for war in hostile territory.
Plus, they have magic. Pathfinder encourages high fantasy, so the idea of an elite military soldier not having a few spells of their own is kind of rediculous by that standard.
Hunters, meanwhile, lean more heavily towards the Nature side of things. They have much of the martial prowess, but they also have a highly synergistic and borderline symbiotic bond with their natural companion. They also have magic, but it's magic that's strong enough to influence the identity of the class. Heck, I could see the Hunter being mistaken for a Druid or even filling in for one in a small community.
Level does make it harder, but not impossible - at least as long as you get the chance to observe them over different contexts and get a good sense of several of their capabilities.
A level 2 hunter is about as good in combat as a level 1 ranger - and can also cast spells, unlike a rookie ranger.
A level 11 ranger is a better caster than a low-level hunter, but their combat skills are legendary, which sets them apart pretty sharply from low-to-mid level hunters.
Then it gets more complicated.
If the fighter/druid starts wild shaping into elementals, that's a giveaway, but not all druids have that. Depending on build they might notably favour a particular type of weapon. If you're sharp you might suss out that a fighter/druid doesn't have as much mundane skill as you'd expect from a hunter with similar martial and magical skill.
Now, I'm not saying that people in-world will always be able to figure out each others' class or classes. But they should be able to recognize and describe notable abilities or differences in skill set, to a good extent.