Shooting at Soggy Bottom

“When you come up the lane look for the 2nd telephone pole on your left, in the field. You’ll see an orange flagging tied to a tree on your left. Turn left there, go across the field, past the pond and follow that road all the way to the woods.” My instructions seemed a little clandestine for 3D practice at Soggy Bottom.

I never found the 2nd telephone pole or the orange flagging tied to a tree.  I ended crossing the wrong field and drove into to wrong patch of woods.  Using my mobile phone, I call for help. Help arrived; it was Norman riding across fields on an ATV.

The private, 20-target 3D range, appropriately named Soggy Bottom, may be one of the hardest courses on earth.  The owner, Norman Gustafson, takes pride in maintaining a course that will stretch your limits and cost you arrows.  Being invited to shoot with the archers that practice at Norman’s complicated range is privilege.  Or, it may be that inviting an uninitiated to this obstinate range, watching a neophyte’s eyeballs pop at seemingly impossible shots, is amusing to the old pros. On this day I felt like the sacrificial lamb. The group shooting today was: Norman, John, Paul, Lee and me.

Beyond their skill in archery, these fellows live at the forefront of fashion.  You can see in photo below, from the brothers of “Duck Dynasty” to the models covering “GQ”, these Soggy Bottom boys lead the way in outdoor style.

Outdoor fashion leaders

We warmed up on a bag target at 20 – 40 yards before moving onto the range.  As we approached the first target I was puzzled.  There was no target in sight.  The stake was obvious, but I did not see a target. Remaining quiet, I looked into trees, looked for a lane, and scanned the perimeter. There was no target.  I thought to myself, how well do I know these guys and is that a banjo sitting on the ATV?


Paul recognized my confusion and pointed to the target.  The animal was not at the end of a cleared lane, about 25 years away, with underbrush and trees between it and us.  Accustom to shooting on ranges (limited experience even at that) where a lane can be seen and distances estimated I immediately knew I was in for a challenge.

There is a foam animal in the center of this photo
Lee taking aim

Moving through this mosquito infested, tick filled swamp we rotated our shooting order as we approached targets. One small critter, a beaver, was positioned on a log next to a tree about 30 yards from the stake.  When Lee’s turn came to shoot, he aimed and released an arrow. Instantly, we heard a sound other than an arrow striking foam.  Unsure of what Lee had hit we approached the beaver to find he’d split Paul’s X’ed arrow. 

Paul’s arrow, split by Lee’s arrow

As  the  target count increased so did the difficulty.  For example, there was a wolf in a field, the stake in an open area, the window to shoot within passed through dense forest, across a creek, and slightly uphill some 33 or so yards distant. Across the same creek, similar distance, Norman had a hen turkey on a small hill, surrounded by vegetation. The hen was positioned so that the profile was angled leaving the X on a tangent to the stake.  Any shot variance and goodbye arrow.   Norman looked but never did find my Beman.

Luck of the draw placed me first on what was promised to be the most difficult target, number 20. In a pond, sat an alligator at 31 yards (I know that now).  The sun had nearly sat and the gator was not much more than a silhouette. I struck wood and touched foam, they gave me a gentlemen’s 5.

Checking the gator

John won the day by one point.  The counting of X’s in Norm’s favor.  I finished losing only one arrow and collecting a large sample of Maryland ticks.  Apparently, ticks at Soggy Bottom enjoy Duranon Tick Repellent.

Doubtless, practice at Soggy Bottom will help prepare anyone for future 3D tournaments, so long as malaria, Lyme’s Disease, water moccasins, and poison ivy  don’t kill them.  Excepting me, the others in the group seemed unmolested by such pests.  Even though I was covered with anaphylactic dermatitis the next day, I look forward to my next adventure at Norman’s Soggy Bottom range of humiliation.

Norman, Lee, John, and Paul

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