Local News

Animal lover shoots candid pictures of wildlife

SEBRING - On most weekends, when most people are still in bed, Jeff Wood heads out to the Preserve in Sun 'n Lake with his grunt tube, antler rattlers and cap doused in doe urine.

Wood may be armed with a hunter's tools but his goal is not to kill any deer.

Far from it.

Over the last many months, this animal lover has spent several days taking candid, up-close and beautiful photos of deer, buck and doe in the wildlife.

His friends and family enjoy his photos of Highlands County's backyard wildlife on Facebook, his wildlife pictorial offerings enhanced by night vision cameras he has installed in various places.

The minute-or-so-long video feeds give a candid glimpse into how wildlife interact with each other and behave when they are not being watched.

In one, you can see a deer's ears each perk in different directions to the sound in the background.

In another, a six-point buck chases away a raccoon who happens to wander close; two bucks spar with each other in another video; a fox chances upon a deer in one.

Wood's uncle, Warren Tamargo, gets "great pleasure" and "relaxation" watching the videos.

"To be able to see such secretive creatures up close and in such detail is truly amazing while being able to relax in the comfort of my own home," said Tamargo, who has gone out with Wood a few times and experienced it in person.

"It is unbelievable how many different types of animals he has captured on video and camera, deer, hogs, turkey, snakes, turtles etc.," Tamargo added. "He is very protective of the area and the animals. He has been an animal lover since he was a small boy, so this has been such a great experience for him."

Wood chanced upon the Preserve while biking and his goal is to preserve and share images of the deer life in the Sun 'n Lake natural wildlife habitat, where deer hunting is illegal.

These days, come rain come shine, Wood spends three to four hours a day on most weekends, taking photos and sometimes dodging the wild animals he comes across.

Once he remembers being was too close to comfort to three 250- 300-pound boars; another time he was chased up by a tree by a hog; there have been gopher tortoises, bobcats, his first rattle snake and plenty of buck and deer Wood has encountered in his three-to-four mile walk on his nature photography trips.

His aunt Stephanie Watson also is a big fan.

"In the last year he has purchased night vision cameras to be able to photograph the way the animals live for us to see. There have been beautiful birds landing right on his hand that he has still photos taken. It is a wonderful place to know the wildlife and different types of birds can live without harm," she said.

She loves seeing how the animals interact: foxes, raccoons, "we think we saw a panther and all the deer together."

Watson hopes Highlands County will make sure they preserve this area for the future of the wildlife and "see how important it is to allow more land to be set aside so the wildlife can live without being disrupted."

Wood, who is the manager at Branier Custom Molded Shoes in Sebring, hopes his weekend photography trips help bring Highlands County's backyard wildlife to his Facebook friends.

A longtime hunter, who has "religiously hunted across the United States," Wood now hunts only with a bow and arrow, and while he's OK shooting a hog, he won't shoot a deer, he said.

He also bemoans the hunting practices of some, who he said use ruthless means and don't care if their hunting is illegal.

"They just want to kill something," he said.