Working in bars and restaurants, Capps had often bagged her prey across the table. But over the next two months, she tracked the personal ads on and discovered dozens, if not hundreds, of men looking for older women.

She decided to give ol' cyberspace a spin.

On May 20, a little after midnight, Capps placed her first ad, entitled "Cougar looking for young stud."

Model: Rachel Gunn; Makeup: Rachel Elizabeth Meltzer
Jennifer Silverberg
Model: Rachel Gunn; Makeup: Rachel Elizabeth Meltzer
At age 53, Debra Reed doesn’t do married dudes. But prey with girlfriends are fair game!
Jennifer Silverberg
At age 53, Debra Reed doesn’t do married dudes. But prey with girlfriends are fair game!

"I like it when you say 'yes, ma'am,'" she wrote.

The first reply, which popped in mere minutes later, came from a "tall skinny white 33 year old church pastor, brown hair, green eyes, witty, godly and well hung...."

Capps didn't reply. "Godly" creeped her out. (She's Wiccan.) Instead, she watched as a dozen more e-mails poured in. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 33. Many sent photos of themselves. Naked.

Six days later Capps posted a new ad, aiming to home in on her type: "Cougar seeks young artsy/hippie dude." Again the replies flooded in.

She struck up some e-mail relationships, went on several dates and summoned one fellow, 26, to her home. Dissatisfied by their initial tryst — he was bossy in the sack — Capps rebuffed his subsequent (and graphic) e-come-ons.

But she was hooked on the hunt.

These days, she reports, she's working on organizing a cougar-themed speed-dating event.

"I had no idea there was this subculture of willing 'victims,' if you will," Capps says with a laugh. "It's not illegal, it's not immoral. I think anyone who looks down their nose at it feels a tinge of jealousy."

Knowing the cougar's habits is imperative for a successful safari. As Unreal learned through many an outing this past month, they don't go out after tornado warnings or during thunderstorms. On the bar scene, they run in packs and tend to hibernate Saturday through Tuesday.

Brio, in Frontenac, is rumored to be a sure bet Wednesday through Friday, though pedigree prevails. ("It's very much a little Frontenac club," a bartender imparts.)

Harry's, downtown, is hit-and-miss. Beware the broads circle-dancing, purses stacked on the pavement. It may scream Cougar Central, but it's likely to be an old ladies' night out.

Strip malls in Chesterfield dominate on Wednesday nights, and once a month cougars congregate at Parties in the Park in Clayton, then around Cardwell's afterward. Friday at Café Eau in the Chase Park Plaza is a sure thing.

But Thursday is definitely coug day.

In the city the party begins at Failoni's on Manchester Avenue at about 6 p.m. — right after the cougs drop the kids at the ex's and the moment the band starts. (Tip: Cougars looooove live music.)

We found them there recently in white jorts and jean dresses, wearing spiked heels and mucho mousse, drinking cherry bombs and blowjob shots. "It's like happy hour at Jurassic Park, isn't it?" remarks a 52-year-old white guy watching the cellulite and Botox glisten on the dance floor.

Down the street the Jive & Wail piano bar is providing some new competition for Failoni's by advertising "Cougar Night" in area publications including St. Louis Magazine and Alive.

Unreal is chaperoned by Cindy Capps and a woman named Sherry, who'd seen an online ad Capps placed in search of fellow cougars. "I didn't know what it was," Sherry says. "I'm 44; I work at home. I'm not here to get laid, but I am curious. I guess it's nice to know that I've got other options than a 55-year-old.

"Let me clarify," she adds. "I'm married, but I'm miserable."

The pickings are slim by the time we arrive at nine, so we move eastward down Manchester to yet another known haunt, JackSons'. Firefighters and bikers congregate outside. A young stud grabs Capps' buttocks as she walks in.

At JackSons' on this night, the prowling cougar can find everything from a metrosexual plastic surgeon to a meaty demolition man. The dance floor is a sweaty mess of long hair and miniskirts that seem to outnumber the young lads two to one. It's far too loud for conversation, but you can watch the cougars and their prey sign their ages to each other. Kind of like preschoolers learning to count. (Only less cute.)

Unreal spots a face we recognize at the bar: a young stud, no more than 26, who was making the rounds back at Failoni's. Ah, if we could only pick his cougar-centric brain for a minute. Instead, it is one long hour, watching him cup his cougar's tail as he nuzzles his head in her neckline.

Having found the bar scene hard to, um, penetrate, Unreal posts online ads of our own. The 21 cougs and coug-lovers who reply have more than a few stories to share.

Dr. Elliott is as good as any to begin with. (That's not his real name.) He says he's 47, with a practice based at St. Anthony's Medical Center. He dates women up to age 65 and prefers the ones who speak the King's English. These he finds at art museums, bookstores and charity functions.

Dr. Elliott's last fling involved a 64-year-old widow of a fellow doc. It began with a pool "party" at her house, he says, where he was the only guest. "We moved to the hot tub, which she suggested would be much more enjoyable if there were no clothes involved. We continued to the bedroom, where she was a tigress."

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