For many classic television programs, especially Westerns, stock footage was essential to tell their stories and build their worlds. Sweeping shots of grand landscapes, huge herds of cattle, and long wagon trains just weren’t possible to get any other way. Well, at least in Los Angeles movie lots. Plus, many shows had access to libraries of footage stockpiled by the studios — why not take advantage of it?
The Rifleman was guilty of reusing footage as much as the rest of them. Even recycled shots of North Fork were cut into multiple episodes.
One interesting piece of film that appears numerous times is a clip of a deer running into a forest clearing. The buck trots out under a large overhanging tree and looks around. Sometimes Mark and Lucas see it while hunting and other times they see it while just riding through the countryside. No matter the circumstances, the scenes usually end with the animal high-tailing it back into the woods.
Both “The Angry Man” and “The Score is Even” feature the deer in the opening scene. The former starts with the McCains on the hunt and the latter with father and son out riding when the deer catches Mark’s eye. He suggests they shoot it but Lucas reminds him how far they are from home and that the meat would be wasted, something a hunter should never do.
In “Skull,” Mark sees a deer (well, the deer) and begins to follow it. While climbing to get a better vantage point, he slips and falls down a cliff, setting off a tense and dramatic episode.
The most notable use of the scene is in “End of the Hunt.” Not only is there plenty of other deer footage in the episode, the animal actually gets a name! He’s a legendary eight-point buck named “Old Spike” that Mark has been after for years. While Lucas faces off against an old (human) enemy, Mark gets his chance to shoot his prize. His view is exactly the same as one that he, and sharp-eyed viewers, have seen many times before.
It’s perfectly understandable why this particular piece of film would be reused so many times. It can be challenging enough to shoot with trained animals let alone ones you have no control over! And in the end, it’s the story that the clip helps tell that’s the most important thing – and on The Rifleman, it’s always a good one.