At the start of the story, Sanger Rainsford is sailing south to hunt jaguars in the Amazon with a fellow hunter named Whitney. Rainsford is presented as heartless hunter, unconcerned about the life or feelings of his prey. In the middle of the night, Rainsford accidentally falls over the side of the yacht, but saves himself by swimming to the rocky shore of Ship-Trap Island. He discovers a large manor on a cliff. He knocks at the door and is welcomed by General Zaroff, a man of noble Cossack heritage who apparently lives on the island alone with his servant, a deaf-mute named Ivan.
Zaroff explains that he is the ultimate hunter; he recieved his first gun at the age of 5, and has traveled the world and hunted every possible game animal. Now he has become so good at it that he's bored with his beloved pastime. After reaveling that he had to create a "new animal", he indirectly states that he hunts men. He stocks his prey by tricking ships into wrecking near his island with misleading navigation lights. When the surviving crew swim to his shores, he offers them a choice: they can be murdered by Ivan or choose to be hunted on the island by Zaroff. If they survive three days, he promises to set them free. Rainsford, who is immediately against the idea of hunting humans, tries to convince General Zaroff that hunting humans makes him a murder, not a hunter. This, of course, doesn't work and Zaroff offers Rainsford the choice: become prey, or die.
Rainsford must set out to survive his three days as a game animal with only a sack of food and a knife. The conclusion of the story focuses on what happens when these two skilled hunters finally match wits.
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