After Zaroff’s departure, Rainsford lets out a stifled breath in relief. Confused by Zaroff’s behavior, he begins to ponder the meaning of his actions. A frightening thought occurs to him—perhaps Zaroff was playing with him. The thought of being saved for another day’s hunt fills him with terror. After gathering his nerves, he slides down from the tree. Rainsford immediately begins working on a trap.
Zaroff returns and almost falls prey to the well-constructed trap. However, as Zaroff sensed danger at the very last moment, the trap only managed to hit his shoulder. Zaroff calls out to the open, saying that he was impressed by Rainsford’s Malay man catcher. Promising a return, Zaroff heads out into the darkness.
Rainsford runs desperately. Without realizing it, he had run into the swamp. One of his feet sinks into the murky quicksand but he manages to wrangle it loose before it was too late. Inspiration comes to Rainsford and he begins to dig. After digging a hole of sufficient height, Rainsford begins whittling away at branches to make stakes. Using various types of foliage, he constructs a covering for the hole. Satisfied with his handiwork, Rainsford ducks behind a tree and waits.
Zaroff approaches with unusual speed. Suddenly, Rainsford hears a crack and a scream. Rainsford darts out from behind the tree only to be disappointed by the sight of Zaroff standing in front of the pit. It turns out that one of Zaroff’s dogs had fallen into Rainsford’s trap. Impressed by his construction, Zaroff retreats to the house once again.
The next morning, Rainsford is awakened by a harrowing sound. The pack of dogs is coming his way. He knows he had two options—either he could stay where he was or he could run. An idea occurred to him—and he begins to run away from the swamp. Upon climbing a tree, Rainsford is able to sight Zaroff, Ivan, and the pack of dogs. Using a trick he learned in Uganda, Rainsford fastens a knife to the end of a young sapling. Orienting the tree toward the path of his pursuers, he takes off. After a few minutes, he climbs a tree to see if his trap had worked. His heart sinks when he sees that Zaroff is still standing. Ivan, on the other hand, had succumbed to the knife.
Frustrated, Rainsford picks up his run once again. After spotting a blue patch between some trees, he decides to run in that direction. When he arrives at the source he realizes that he is facing the sea. He can hear the hounds fast approaching. Without a second thought, he leaps into the ocean.
When Zaroff arrives at the edge of the cliff, he stops to regard the waters below. Disappointed, he shrugs his shoulders, takes a puff of a cigarette, and drinks a sip of brandy. He then heads home. That night he eats a good dinner, all the while lamenting the death of his faithful servant Ivan. After drinking a nightcap, he heads towards his bedroom. Immediately after switching on the light a man appears from behind the bed’s curtains. It is Rainsford. Zaroff congratulates Rainsford on his win. Rainsford tells Zaroff that the game is not over yet. Zaroff agrees—whoever wins the last battle would sleep in his bed, the loser be fed to the dogs. The story ends with Rainsford remarking on the quality of the bed he slept in that night.
The encounter with Zaroff filled Rainsford with a terror that he had never known. It was this overpowering emotion that drove Rainsford into a heightened state of awareness. Finally realizing that the only way to beat Zaroff at his game was to be the smarter hunter, Rainsford changed his approach. Rainsford begins to hunt Zaroff with the same amount of passion as Zaroff is hunting him.
This new approach to the game reflects the big-game hunting that Rainsford and Zaroff both love so much. Many of the animals that they have pursued in the past were hunters themselves. Rainsford, much like big-game, is at a disadvantage because he has no gun. Instead, he has to make use of the natural surroundings to set traps for Zaroff, Ivan, and the pack of hunting dogs. Rainsford’s use of natural resources further conjures the imagery of hunting that Zaroff previously presented: a game that reflects the true order of nature.
The death of Ivan is symbolic of Rainsford’s improvement over the course of the hunt. During his first few attempts at building traps, he manages to mildly damage Zaroff’s shoulder and kill one of the hunting dogs. With each trap, his accuracy improves. Ivan’s death at the hands of Rainsford’s knife is both frustrating and exciting. Obviously, Ivan was not the target that Rainsford had intended to kill. On the other hand, however, he has managed to remove one of the major facilitators of the implementation of the game on the island. In a manner of speaking, Rainsford is slowly destroying the pieces that allow the game to be played.
Rainsford is pushed to the boundaries of the island by Zaroff’s final approach. Faced with certain death at the hands of Zaroff or the unknown future of the sea, he chooses to jump over the edge into the water. Zaroff, upon approaching the edge of the cliff, assumes that Rainsford has committed suicide. It is in this moment that Zaroff makes his fatal mistake. He fails to see the possibility of Rainsford’s survival. Due to this oversight on his part, Rainsford is able to outsmart him.
The last scene of the story can be read in several ways. The first, most literal interpretation involves Rainsford winning a night in Zaroff’s bed after defeating him. But a more metaphorical meaning can also be extracted from the text. In this case, Rainsford’s use of Zaroff’s bed could stand for his adoption of Zaroff’s role. He has been fundamentally changed by Zaroff’s game. Rainsford now understands what it means to be the hunted and to be a hunter of men.