There is certainly an ironic twist to the plot when Sanger Rainsford becomes the hunted after having been a hunter for most of his life. To foreshadow this ironic twist, in the exposition of the story as Rainsford and his fellow hunter Whitney talk on board their ship as they anticipate their hunting jaguar near the Amazon. When Rainsford agrees with Whitney that hunting is exciting, he calls it the "best sport in the world."
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
This remark of Rainsford that he does not care about the feelings of the jaguar is, indeed, ironic because Rainsford himself later becomes the "big-game" [jaguar] and he, too, learns the fear and pain of being prey. For, as Rainsford crouches amid the leaves of the tree in which he hides, watching Zaroff beneath him, calmly smoking and sending smoke rings up to him, Rainsford nervously watches, wondering if the general will see him. After Zaroff departs, Rainsford fearfully realizes that the Cossack has not missed seeing him: "Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror."
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.
Later in the narrative, as well, Rainsford waits nervously to see if the general falls into the Burmese tiger pit that he has fashioned. As he does so, "[H]e lived a year in a minute." After one of the dogs is killed in the trap, General Zaroff returns to his castle. The next day of the hunt, Rainsford is being chased and runs for his life. "Rainsford knew now how an animal at bay feels." Further, when Rainsford escapes and turns up at the castle, he tells the general, "I am still a beast at bay."