The young hunter Max has just lost a shooting contest to the peasant Kilian. Max’s steady decline in marksmanship is cause for worry. For Max is in love with Agathe, the daughter of the chief forester Kuno. And in order to obtain Agathe’s hand and hence the right to the hereditary post of forester, Max must take a trial shot that proves his worthiness. The trial is set for the very next day.
Despairing after another failure, Max allows himself to be drawn by another young hunter – Kaspar, who himself had once wooed Agathe without success – into the arms of dark powers: Kaspar promises to get Max some magic bullets that always hit their targets. Max must meet him at midnight in the Wolf’s Glen.
Agathe is injured when a portrait of an ancestor falls on her head. Full of longing, she waits for Max to arrive. Ännchen, a relative of Agathe, tries to distract the heavy-hearted bride. Agathe speaks of the reassurance and hope she draws from the consecrated roses given to her by a pious hermit. Finally Max returns home, but Agathe’s relief soon gives way to foreboding when her beloved hurries off to the Wolf’s Glen.
Kaspar waits for Max in the Glen. Kaspar had made a pact with the Black Huntsman, Samiel, under which he has but one day to live. He will be reprieved, however, if he can furnish Samiel with another human soul as a substitute for his own. Max arrives as planned for the mysterious tryst. On his descent he is beset by dismal visions and delusions.
Agathe is alone in her chamber. She has had a nightmare, which she interprets as an ill omen, and seeks solace in prayer. Ännchen joins her and tries to cheer her up. The bridesmaids appear but instead of a bridal wreath, the box they bring contains a skull. Agathe decides that her bridal wreath should therefore be woven from the white roses given to her by the hermit.
Kaspar has shot all his magic bullets; Max has only one left and he is saving it for the trial shot. This, however, is the seventh, whose flight can be determined by Samiel. Prince Ottokar chooses a white dove as the target for Max’s trial shot. Max takes aim and fires; Agathe and Kaspar fall to the ground. Agathe has only fainted – the hermit’s consecrated roses have protected her from Samiel’s power. Kaspar has been hit by the bullet and dies with a curse upon his lips. Max confesses that he used magic bullets; Prince Ottokar banishes him from the land. The hermit intervenes, recommending that the custom of the trial shot should be abolished and Max punished with one year’s probation, at the end of which he should gain Agathe’s hand in marriage.