When a wounded soldier returns from the sandbox without the lower part of his leg, it can be hard to find employment back in the homeland. John Wayne Walding, however found his calling. Returning severely wounded after the Battle of Shok in Afghanistan, it took some time for Walding to find a focus in life. He eventually found—through his love of long range marksmanship—that building custom precision rifles was his passion. He founded the Texas-based 5 Toes Custom and began making handcrafted rifles. Defender Outdoors staff had heard Walding speak and really like what Walding was doing. They supported Walding’s cause and committed to purchasing some rifles from 5 Toes Customs, and one of the guns Walding crafted was a one-of-a-kind Defender Outdoors rifle.
John Wayne Walding
Born on the Fourth of July, John Wayne Walding has come to encompass the American way of life more than most. His parents decided to name the young Walding after the Duke himself. “I had a cool birthday so I needed a cool name. That’s a quote from my father,” Walding once recounted.
Walding began his 12 year tenure in the United States Army in 2000. Seven of those years he was a Green Beret in the 3rd Special Forces Group, a combat regiment that saw intense action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In one harrowing engagement, an operational detachment of the 3rd Special Forces Group and a commando battalion from the Afghanistan National Army set out to kill or capture Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the terrorist militia Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. The assault force ran into an ambush of over 250 enemy combatants, and through heroic bravery and sheer force of will they were able to turn the tide of the battle and evacuate the casualties. You can watch the U.S. Army’s episode of Faces of Strength for more information on the Battle of Shok Valley (video).
When he returned the United States, though, John found that his life had lost its direction; he was a Green Beret…without that, who was he? “Being a Green Beret was my North-seeking arrow, that was always the direction I was headed,” Walding recounted, “but when I lost my leg, that compass just starting spinning. That insecurity of not knowing where you’re headed breed sadness.”
John’s close relationship with professional golfer David Feherty was a turning point. “We never shot a round of golf together, but we’ve probably shot 10,000 rounds of ammo together,” Walding is fond of saying. Feherty suggested that Walding should learn how to build rifles. Walding had spent years shooting guns, but had never built one. John was apprehensive about starting a company to build rifles when he hadn’t had any formal training in gunsmithing. But Feherty reassured him by saying “if you build the gun and sell it, then right on; if not, at least I’ll have a bad ass armory.” So, with Feherty’s backing, John met with legendary gunsmith Dick Cook to learn the art of manufacturing precision rifles.
Months later, Walding was cranking out high-quality precision rifles, each hand tailored for the client. Walding made a point to say that they aren’t trying to do anything crazy and innovative; rather, 5 Toes Custom focuses on using the best parts and putting the time in to make sure the parts fit together perfectly. The result is a finely crafted rifle that will be the envy of your shooting buddies.
“Our rifles are like custom boots…you don’t come in to the showroom and pick that up and walk out,” Walding explained about 5 Toes Custom, “You say, ‘I like that toe, but I want that leather, but I really like that shank…And that’s how it works with us. You buy the gun, then we build it.”
5 Toes Custom is a for profit company, but a portion of the proceeds profits are donated to deserving charities. 5 Toes Custom gives back in other ways, too. “I like that my company can be a place where vets can buy handcrafted firearms; We lose 22 [veterans] a day, and I want to punch that in the mouth.” John hires other returning veterans to work in the shop with him, giving other veterans the same sense of purpose that 5 Toes Custom gave him.
You can learn more about John Wayne Walding here.
About the Rifle
This 5 Toes Custom rifle is truly magnificent. Built to be carried in the field, it is a sturdy rifle, but is substantially lighter than you would expect. This is achieved by using a Proof Research Carbon Fiber barrel and lightweight carbon fiber folding stock. With the heavier components made out of light and durable carbon fiber, the gun can take a beating yet be light enough to carry through the tough landscapes of a hunt. Defender Outdoors gave Walding full creative license on creating this rifle, wanting him to express his skills to make a rifle that was truly “badass”.
Built around a Defiance bolt-operated action, the bolt slides smoothly and locks tight. Tolerances on Defiance actions are second to none and the quality control ensures that every action works smoothly. Though a Jewell trigger can be requested, Walding used a Timney Calvin Elite trigger in this rifle. Walding said he preferred using the Timney trigger because of its reliability in the field, though Jewell triggers are amazing, crisp and light, they also may have issues when they get dusty or dirty.
The rifle is outfitted with a lightweight Manners folding stock. The bull barrel gives the rifle a sturdy and serious appearance; it decreases the weight about 68% while keeping the rigidity needed for a long lasting barrel. the hydrographic camouflage finish really sets the gun apart…while helping it blend in to the environment.
Each rifle 5 Toes Custom makes can be chambered in whichever caliber you prefer. This rifle is chambered in the versatile 6.5mm Creedmoor. We’ve discussed before why we like this round so much, and when you’re lugging the rifle around the field on a hunt, the 6.5 is hard to beat at most ranges. As Walding told us, “The 6.5 flies like a .300 Win Mag, but kicks less than a .308. Its big enough to kill just about any game in North America with good shot placement, but its small enough that if you shot a coyote or something it isn’t going to destroy it.”
5 Toes Custom finished the rifle off by emblazoning the folding stock with the Defender Outdoors logo. 5 Toes Custom currently produces about 50 guns a year, so we’re honored to be able to have received a rifle with such great craftsmanship.