Rainsford is being hunted by a madman who has everything in his favor. Zaroff, the Cossack general, is an expert hunter. He has a powerful rifle and a pack of dogs. All the odds are against Rainsford. His inner conflict involves not losing his nerve, not becoming panicked. If he becomes panicked he won't be able to think straight, and his only hope of survival is being able to use his wits to elude and trick his pursuer.
Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed through the morning mists. The general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day's sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror.
"I will not lose my nerve. I will not."
Rainsford is terrified, but experience has taught him that it is possible to act rationally and effectively even when experiencing great fear. Ernest Hemingway called this "grace under pressure." Soldiers in combat have to learn to perform as they have been trained to do even though they are experiencing the completely normal emotion of fear.
"Nerve, nerve, nerve!" he panted, as he dashed along.
The author, Richard Connell, emphasizes that Rainsford does not win the one-sided contest with Zaroff because he is fearless but because he able to keep control of himself in spite of his fear. Rainsford likes hunting big game himself because the animals are dangerous. No doubt he has been in perilous situations many times before. This is a great asset. He has learned self-control.
"The Most Dangerous Game" is somewhat reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway's story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." In that story the main character loses his nerve when he is confronted by a charging male lion. If Robert Wilson, the guide, hadn't stood his ground and killed the lion, Macomber would have been killed. Later when they are hunting buffalo Macomber learns to control himself in spite of fear, and it is an exhilarating, life-changing experience with which the reader can identify because of Hemingway's magical writing ability.
he was trying to escape