Zaroff then proceeds to try to convince Rainsford that what he does is not problematic. As he explains it, his sport only mimics the natural divide between the strong and the weak that is found in nature. In addition, Zaroff explains that he hunts what he believes are the scum of the earth. Rainsford doesn’t believe that this is a valid point because they are still men, regardless of what they have done.
Rainsford inquires as toward the origin of Zaroff’s prey. Zaroff reveals that he has set up a trap on the island. There are lights that indicate a channel but there is actually none. Many ships end up wrecking on the rocks near the island. Zaroff collects the men, feeds them, and sends them to his training school for preparation. He then releases them one by one into the jungle under the guise of joining him on a hunt. Zaroff gives the men a head start and then pursues them during the cover of night. The rules of Zaroff’s game are simple—if the prey is able to elude Zaroff for three days, then he has won.
Rainsford does not understand why anyone would willingly participate in such a sport. He asks Zaroff what happens if someone chooses not to partake in the game. Zaroff says that his quarry has two options—they either join the hunt or suffer at the hands of Ivan. Zaroff reveals that he has yet to lose a game, although one man did come close to victory. Zaroff leads Rainsford through the mansion to see his pack of dogs that frequently assist him on his hunts. Zaroff invites Rainsford to the library to view the latest collection of heads. Rainsford excuses himself, citing exhaustion. Zaroff allows him to retire to his chambers to rest all the while lamenting the fact that Rainsford will not be able to join him on the hunt. Rainsford is unable to sleep. He rises to look out of the window and gazes at the dogs below. He feels enveloped by the darkness of night.
The next day Rainsford is reunited with Zaroff at lunchtime. Zaroff explains that he had a rather unsatisfying hunt: he was bored. Rainsford reveals that he wants to leave immediately. Zaroff is slightly perplexed by this request. He tells Rainsford that this is unfortunate as he has not had the chance to hunt. Ignoring Rainsford’s desires, Zaroff exclaims that they shall both hunt that night. Rainsford rejects the offer but Zaroff quickly reminds him that he can either participate or be subject to Ivan’s fists. As Rainsford sits incredulously at the table, Zaroff continues to remark on what a great hunt it shall be. Finally, Zaroff has found an adversary that he deems worthy of his talents. Rainsford interrupts Zaroff by asking him what happens if he manages to beat him. Zaroff promises him, upon Rainsford’s win, to transport him to a nearby town. Reading Rainsford’s mind, Zaroff adds that he is a man of his word. Zaroff remarks t hat Rainsford must never speak to anyone about what happens on the island if he manages to win. Rainsford does not agree to this request.
Zaroff explains that Ivan will provide him with hunting clothes, food, and a knife. He suggests that Rainsford wear moccasins as they leave a very faint mark in the earth. In addition, he advises to avoid the swamp because there is quicksand there. Apparently, one of Zaroff’s previous prey had attempted to hide in the swamp and had succumbed to the quicksand along with one of Zaroff’s best hunting dogs. After relaying this advice, Zaroff excuses himself from the table for a siesta. He encourages Rainsford to get an early start out.
Ivan enters the room after Zaroff’s departure and hands Rainsford his hunting materials. Rainsford sets off into the jungle surrounding Zaroff’s house. For two hours he makes his way through the thick trees in a panic. He finally realizes that he has to get a grip on his emotions in order to succeed at the task at hand. Rainford realized that running around aimlessly was not going to help his plight. Instead, he decides to leave a trail consisting of loops and spins. Afterwards, he climbs a large tree to make himself comfortable for the night. Rainsford is confident than Zaroff will be unable to follow him to his current position. Despite his attempts at self assurance, Rainsford is unable to sleep that night.
At dawn, a squawking bird gets Rainsford’s attention. Something or someone was approaching through the bushes. To Rainsford’s surprise, it is General Zaroff. Zaroff pauses beneath the tree where Rainsford is propped. Rainsford has the inclination to jump on him from above, but he decides against it because Zaroff is carrying a pistol. Zaroff looks puzzled as his eyes search the area. Slowly, his eyes creep up the tree. They stopp just short of the branch where Rainsford lays. A smile spreads over the general's face and, casually, he walks away.
This portion of the text fleshes out some of the philosophical and moral questions behind the sport of hunting. In the first part of the story, Rainsford makes it very clear that he does not believe animals have any understanding of the logistics of hunting or of fear. Here, Zaroff builds on this discussion by providing his interpretation of the deeper meaning of hunting. For Zaroff, it is a metaphor for life. Moreover, Zaroff feels that the hunting of men is valid in his particular case because he only uses what he refers to as the scum of the earth.
Zaroff recruits most of his men from a trap that he has set in the waters surrounding the island. He feels that this is a valid method of “recruitment” because after he’s caught the men he allows them to train. They are well taken care of while training at Zaroff’s mansion. Zaroff presents a bit of an oxymoron in his treatment of the men. On the one hand, he feels that they should be treated as men in that they should be allowed a fair chance at learning how to hunt, be given sufficient food, etc. However, he also mercilessly forces them into participating in the hunt, ignoring the fact that the men would never choose to join the game.
Rainsford finds himself wrapped up in Zaroff’s game when he is invited to join him on a hunt. He declines and is told the next day that he will be Zaroff’s most worthy adversary. The terms are simple—if Rainsford wins by deluding Zaroff for three days, he is free to go. Rainsford has no choice but to participate. That afternoon, as Rainsford heads off, the enormity of the situation finally strikes. Rainsford loses control of his emotions as he aimlessly runs around the island with fear.
Rainsford’s first inclination is to escape. Ironically, he has been chosen for the game because of his prowess as a hunter. However, because he has never had to be in the position of the prey, he struggles with the role at first. If anything, Rainsford acts more like a terrified animal than a rational man during the first segment of the hunt.
As soon as Rainsford is able to control his primal sense of fear, he begins to rationalize and view the situation as a hunter. He ultimately decides that hiding in the trees after leaving a convoluted trail would be his best bet. Unfortunately, the next morning Zaroff is able to follow his trail. The fact that Zaroff was able to accomplish a task that Rainsford thought impossible presents Zaroff as a far superior adversary than Rainsford imagined possible.