Rainsford evades Zaroff by making a complicated trail, setting traps, and using weapons.
Rainsford accidentally ends up trapped on Ship-trap island with the sociopathic hunter General Zaroff when he falls off his ship one evening. He is an expert hunter, and so he should get along with Zaroff, who is an avid sportsman. However, Zaroff is an unusual hunter, and Rainsford finds himself in an unusual situation, becoming the prey instead of the predator. Fortunately, Rainsford has skills to match Zaroff’s. Ironically, this is one of the reasons why Zaroff chose him for the game. He needs a challenge.
Rainsford’s first strategy is to run (if that is a strategy), and then give Zaroff a trail to follow.
He executed a series of intricate loops; he doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the lore of the fox hunt, and all the dodges of the fox.
He then climbed into a tree and rested, finally, which brought him “new confidence and almost a feeling of security.” Even though he is confident for the first time, and he thinks that “only the devil” could follow such a trail, General Zaroff might just be the devil. When he finds him, Rainsford holds his breath. The fact that Zaroff can do this is very unsettling to Rainsford.
His first thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow a trail through the woods at night; he could follow an extremely difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers; only by the merest chance had the Cossack failed to see his quarry.
Zaroff saw something, because he stopped and smiled near Rainsford. The thought of General Zaroff smiling sends chills down Rainsford’s spine. He realizes that the hunter is toying with him. His evasion did not work. Zaroff found him, and let him go. He is enjoying the game, like a cat with a mouse. Knowing the ”full meaning of terror,” Rainsford realizes he has to do better if he is going to survive. He also can’t lose his nerve.
Rainsford does up his game, with the intricate “Malay mancatcher” trap. Unfortunately, Zaroff figures it out. It does wound the general though, and buy Rainsford some time.
But [Zaroff] was not quite quick enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the cut living one, crashed down and struck the general a glancing blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his alertness, he must have been smashed beneath it.
Zaroff congratulates Rainsford on this trap, telling him that he might have been caught if he had not seen it before. He goes to get his wound dressed.
Rainsford keeps moving, and after almost sinking into quicksand, makes his next move. He digs a pit with stakes on the bottom. It earns him another day’s rest.
"You've done well, Rainsford," the voice of the general called. "Your Burmese tiger pit has claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, Ill see what you can do against my whole pack. I'm going home for a rest now. Thank you for a most amusing evening."
Zaroff is enjoying the game, but the game is also getting harder. Each time Rainsford proves that he can do something clever, Zaroff ups his game, too. The tiger pit was a great success, but the pack of dogs terrifies him.
Rainsford tries to finally take Zaroff out after he sets an entire pack of dogs on him. He uses his hunting knife and a “springy young sapling” to accomplish this. The problem is that the knife lands in the wrong person.
His pursuers had stopped. But the hope that was in Rainsford's brain when he climbed died, for he saw in the shallow valley that General Zaroff was still on his feet. But Ivan was not. The knife, driven by the recoil of the springing tree, had not wholly failed.
At this point, Rainsford has whittled away at Zaroff. He has lost his best dog, and his giant mute bodyguard. All along the way, Rainsford has also been getting more and more wild. His nerves are wearing thin. He responds by making the final move—swimming. Rainsford makes his way into Zaroff’s chateau, confronts him, and reminds him that he is still the “beast at bay.”
Zaroff wanted competition, and he definitely got it in Rainsford. Rainsford had to fight for his life during this hunt. Unfortunately, although he started out ready to stand up for his principles, by the end of the story, Zaroff has transformed him into an animal, reduced to his baser animal instincts.