VICI, Okla. -- For deer hunters, trophy specimens carry ample antlers. For Dave Smith, trophies have built his empire.
However, most of Smith’s trophies don’t have antlers; they’re not even alive. The Florence, Ala., native started building actual trophies in a Del City, Okla., strip mall and parlayed that shop and the awards it churned out into one of the biggest, most successful and widely used trophy and recognition businesses in the United States.
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Smith’s company is called MTM Recognition, and it produces everything from little league trophies to police badges to catalogs to Super Bowl rings. The statue of Nick Saban in front of Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was made by Smith.
Many BCS bowl trophies also come from the Del City plant. Smith’s aptitude for building quality recognition products has allowed him the freedom to enjoy other trophies, such as the deer that roam on his ranch in Oklahoma, appropriately named Trophy Ranch.
Smith’s ranch is near Vici, Okla., in the western portion of the state. Much of the surrounding area is agricultural. The ranch used to be cattle grazing ground, but Smith has turned it into a deer hunter’s oasis, and not solely because of the heavy-antlered inhabitants.
When he’s not fishing on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Smith enjoys the company of his friends at Trophy Ranch. He created it for the sole purpose of entertaining pals. During a recent stay, our gang of three was treated to a first-rate experience.
Smith goes to great lengths to ensure the deer — and his buddies — are happy on Trophy Ranch. Seed and feed is bought by the ton to keep the grounds green and the deer healthy year-round. Smith’s focus, though, is what goes on inside the lodge rather than out.
The two constant faces at the lodge are Smith’s “help”; Bob Thomas and Steve Trygstad, employees at MTM and very adept hands around Trophy Ranch.
Between Trygstad and Thomas, they own a half dozen exceptional bird dogs and bring many years of management experience. Whether it’s cooking a steak to perfection, lending you binoculars or dropping you off at your stand, Trygstad and Thomas are the grease that keep wheels turning.
Though Smith would have no problem selling hunts given the size and number of deer on the land, you can’t buy a trip to Trophy Ranch.
“I built this place as a spot for me and my friends to come to have a good time and enjoy ourselves,” Smith says. “We come out here and eat, hunt, and get along.”
That’s a sentiment that most every Deer Camp across America can recognize and appreciate. It’s also something that many of us would do if we could build a fully functioning lodge situated on 2 1/4 sections of land.
If you happen to be a buddy of Smith’s, here’s how a typical day afield in late November might go:
5:30 a.m.: Thomas walks down the hall and wakes you. Hot breakfast and coffee are ready.6:00 : Trygstad ferries you out to your stand in a King Ranch F-250 with heated seats.
6:08: You arrive in your stand. If you’re in the aptly named Hilltop Hilton stand, you shed a layer of clothes because it’s so darn hot, despite the 20-degree temperatures outside.
6:20: Deer show up, feed around for a bit then a 135-plus inch buck runs them off.
6:20:18: You drop the buck, shut the window on your blind and catnap until Trygstad shows up in the toasty-seated pickup.
10:30: Back at the lodge, you grab another cup of coffee as Smith hollers that your bunch is shuffling around like a bunch of Democrats and demands that you grab a shotgun and hit the quail field.
10:45: The dogs make the first point, flushing a dozen quail. Two dozen shots are fired and three birds lay dead after the mayhem (your mileage and dead quail count may vary by shotgunning aptitude).
10:46: Intense ribbing about subpar shooting commences.
11:45: By now you’ve got a handful of birds in your vest along with 65 empty shotgun hulls.
12:30 p.m.: Lunch time. Grab a sandwich, shoot the breeze, watch football and get ready for another hunt in the confines of your plush blind.
2:30-6:30: Watch more deer, text buddies about this and that. Whack a doe for summer sausage.
6:35: Here’s Trygstad to get you, but the seat heater isn’t on. Comment about how the brutal conditions you’re forced to endure at Trophy Ranch.
6:45-whenever: Crack a beer, sit on the couch, clean deer, watch Trygstad grill fillet mignon, then crack another beer.
Trophy Ranch is still a relatively new operation and playground for Smith and his friends, but given the area’s predisposition for kicking out bruiser bucks and the attention paid to the deer, it’s only going to get better.
Without a doubt, the biggest and best trophy that Smith makes is handed out to everyone who stays at his ranch for a spell; enough laughter and memories to last a lifetime. And maybe even one of those antlered trophies that deer hunters like so much.