"The Most Dangerous Game" by American short story writer Richard Connell (1893-1949) is an adventure tale of hunter, Sanger Rainsford, who as the story opens is sailing to Brazil to hunt jaguars. The story, published in 1924, won the O. Henry Memorial Award and explores the ethics of big game hunting.
Hunters Whitney and Rainsford are aboard a boat en route for Brazil, where they will hunt jaguars. As they pass Ship-Trap Island, they discuss the superstitions sailors have about the place. The conversation turns to hunting jaguars, and when Whitney points out that hunting isn't a great sport for the jaguar, Rainsford retorts that the jaguar has no feelings and that Whitney is going soft. Rainsford stays alone on deck, but when he hears what sounds like gunfire, he leaps up on the ship's rail to see what it is. He falls in the sea and, unable to get back to the speeding yacht, swims in the direction of the shot. As he swims, he hears an animal cry but ignores it. Soon he reaches a shore and falls asleep.
When Rainsford wakes, he sets out to discover who fired the shots and finds a patch of blood in the foliage, plus human footprints. As darkness falls he stumbles across a huge mansion in the jungle. His knock is answered by a gigantic man pointing a gun at him. They are joined by an elegantly dressed man who introduces himself as General Zaroff, a Cossack, who tells Rainsford he has read his book on hunting snow leopards. The mansion is full of big game trophies, and when Rainsford says he thinks the Cape buffalo is the "most dangerous of all big game," the general replies that he hunts something much more dangerous.
The General refuses to tell Rainsford what game he hunts, only that Rainsford will be amused. He tells Rainsford many tales of his hunting experiences and declares that, because he became bored with the sport, he has found a new animal to hunt. Rainsford is puzzled, and the two men discuss the qualities any quarry should have. Rainsford is in shock when the General says that the ideal quality is "reason" because he realizes that the only animal with that quality is man. Rainsford accuses him of being a murderer, and Zaroff laughs at his scruples.
The Hunted (Spoiler)
Rainsford wants to know how the General finds men to hunt. Zaroff replies that the sea often sends them to him and points out the channel off Ship-Trap Island, where boats founder. Rainsford demands for the general to allow him to leave. The General agrees on the condition that Rainsford hunts with him. Rainsford sets off in the dark, using all his hunting knowledge to try to outwit the General. When he jumps in the sea, Zaroff believes he has lost his quarry, but Rainsford turns up in Zaroff's bedroom to claim his prize.
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