In a safari camp somewhere in generalized Africa, the wealthy American Francis Macomber, his wife Margot Macomber, and their hired white hunter, a British man named Robert Wilson, have gathered to celebrate the hunt from which they have just returned. Though at first it seems as if Macomber has successfully killed a lion, it gradually becomes clear that he in fact “bolted like a rabbit” when the moment to shoot arrived, too cowardly to face the creature head on. All three characters are roundly embarrassed and bicker while they drink; eventually, Margot stalks off, seemingly humiliated and upset. When Margot later returns to the men, they discuss a second hunt—this time for buffalo, and an opportunity for Macomber to redeem himself.
Flashing back to the night before the original hunt, Macomber hears the lion’s roar, which he deems “frightful”; upon confronting the lion on the hunt the next day, he hits it twice but fails to kill it. When Macomber, Wilson, and the African natives assisting them subsequently seek out the wounded creature to finish the job, Macomber panics, running away “wildly” and leaving Wilson to kill the lion on his own.
That night, Margot—impressed by Wilson’s skills, especially contrasted with her husband’s cowardice—visits Wilson’s tent and the two sleep together. Hours later she returns to her own tent with Macomber, who has been awake for some time; she does not bother to deny her tryst.
The following morning, Wilson, Macomber, and Margot again bicker about the hunt, their vitriol exacerbated by the previous day’s events. In an internal monologue, Wilson explains that he sleeps with clients’ wives as a service—and that he treats his affairs as “windfalls.” The buffalo hunt proceeds nonetheless.
Macomber, suddenly emboldened and feeling “wholly without fear,” kills two of them. Similar to the first hunt, one of the buffalo is only wounded. This time, however, Macomber goes after it eagerly. Wilson observes that his client has undergone a transformation, “more of a change than any loss of virginity”: though he was once an “American boy-man,” he has suddenly become a true man. Margot is alarmed by Macomber’s transformation and by his newfound comradery with Wilson, who is suitably impressed by his client.
Macomber, Wilson, and the native guides approach the wounded buffalo and begin to shoot at it. They still fail to kill it, and Macomber stands his ground as the angry animal charges toward him until he suddenly feels a blinding pain in his head. Margot has shot “at the buffalo” with a rifle from the car, where she has been watching the hunt, but she has hit her husband instead.
Both the buffalo and Macomber lie dead on the ground. Wilson observes Macomber impassively, while calling the buffalo a “hell of a good bull.” He then mocks a traumatized Margot, who he seems to believe has killed her husband purposefully. He asks her why she didn’t “poison him” instead, simultaneously suggesting that he will help her to cover up the crime. Margot, miserable, entreats him to “please, stop it.” Wilson, sinister and scathing, acquiesces: “Please is much better. Now I’ll stop.”