It’s a blustery winter night in the eastern reaches of the Carpathian mountains. Even the animals are restless. Ulrich von Gradwitz, a wealthy landowner, roams a narrow stretch at the edge of his extensive forest property, holding a rifle. He’s left his party of men waiting in ambush at the top of the hill, but he and his men aren’t hunting for game.
Ulrich’s grandfather seized this particular strip of forest from a neighboring family in a court battle. While the piece of forest isn’t notably good for hunting, the lingering claim to the land from the rival family means that Ulrich guards it more closely than any of his other land. Georg Znaeym, the descendant of the man who lost the forest patch, continues to hunt on the property, believing it to be rightfully his.
Ulrich hopes to meet, and kill, Georg alone in the forest, and when he rounds a huge beech tree, he does. Georg holds a rifle too, and like Ulrich, the desire to kill the other man fills his heart and mind. However, neither man can immediately shake off his training in social norms, and shoot. While they hesitate, the storm sends the beech tree crashing toward the ground and the two men.
The tree pins Ulrich and Georg to the earth, nearly killing them both. Bloodied, in pain, and relieved to be alive, the men struggle against the branches, but can’t free themselves. Georg gives up fighting the tree to insult Ulrich, and calls him a thief. Ulrich calls Georg a poacher in return. Georg answers with the threat that if his party of men is the first to arrive on the scene, they will roll the beech’s trunk over Ulrich, killing him. Ulrich returns the same threat of death.
Ulrich uses his remaining strength and one somewhat free arm to take a wine-flask from his pocket. The alcohol warms and comforts him. When he looks over to Georg, he feels pity, and offers him the flask. Georg refuses it.
In his pain and weariness, Ulrich feels his intense hatred for Georg fading. He tells Georg that if his men are the first to arrive, he will ask them to save Georg first, instead of killing him. Ulrich now believes there are things to life more important than borders. After he suggests that they end their quarrel, he asks Georg to be his friend.
Georg takes so long to answer that Ulrich thinks he might have fainted out of pain. But then, Georg imagines out loud the effect of ending their feud. He thinks that it would mean peace not just for the two men, but for all the forester folk they know. Georg declares that he has also changed his mind from hatred, and agrees to be Ulrich’s friend.
The men still hope that their party will be the first to arrive, but now they want their men to save their former rival, instead of killing him. When the wind calms for a moment, Ulrich and Georg decide to join their voices in a call for help. They send a hunting call across the forest.
Ulrich cries with joy when he sees figures approaching through the trees, down the hillside where he left his men behind. The figures run. Ulrich and Georg wonder whose group of men it is. Georg realizes that there are more of them than his crew. He repeatedly asks Ulrich if they are his men. Ulrich answers no, laughing with fear. Georg asks again who the men are. Ulrich says, “Wolves.”