When they first confront each other in the forest, Georg and Ulrich expect to fight to the death. Each harbors the desire to kill the other. Due to the long-simmering feud between both families, the men dream of exacting vengeance for past wrongs, imagined or otherwise.
In the story, Ulrich patrols his family's forest lands with the hope that he will come across his enemy. He imagines that, if he were to find Georg alone, he could get away with murdering him without incurring any punishment for his actions. When they come face to face in the forest, however, each is hesitant to take the other's life. The narrator tells us "a man who has been brought up under the code of a restraining civilization cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbor in cold blood and without a word spoken."
In the end, nature makes the decision for them. Ulrich and Georg are felled by a beech tree. Left physically helpless (both are pinned down by the massive branches of the tree), both men realize they must put aside their differences if they hope to survive. After much conversation, the men come to a consensus; however, by that time, it is too late to hope for a quick rescue. As wolves approach, the narrator leaves us to imagine the fate of both men.