MRAD vs. MOA: The Ultimate Showdown
When it comes to long-range shooting, there are two commonly used types of scope measurements, known as the milliradian (MRAD or MIL) and minutes-of-angle (MOA) systems. These are two separate but equally useful approaches for aligning rifle scopes, used to accurately zero in on a target via a segmented circle.
The style you choose will depend much on your personal preferences when shooting at a distance. But there are many things that may influence your decision. Here, we’ll cover the main differences between MOA and MRAD/MIL, and what they mean for your scope accuracy.
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Table of Contents
Some Background on How Scope Reticles and Turrets Work
There are two main components of aligning your scope properly: the reticle and turret. The reticle, either a crosshair or a red dot, provides an aiming point within the scope’s field of view. In the old days, shooters would stretch two pieces of horse hair across their scope to help guide their shot, hence the origin of the name crosshairs. In today’s shooting world, however, reticles are usually either laser-etched directly on the glass or made from simple wire. Reticles have become so advanced in recent years that some are capable of compensating for both bullet drop and windage, otherwise known as Bullet Drop Compensating (BDC) scopes.
A turret is a turnable knob on your scope used to adjust the reticle, and is normally located on the top and left side, and sometimes on both sides of the scope. There are two main types of turrets: target turrets and ballistic turrets. Target turrets were originally developed to assist long-range target shooters during competition. Using a tall turret with external markings in MOA, it allowed them to make fine adjustments when raising or lowering bullet impact. Ballistic turrets are raised as well but contain markings that usually come in 100-yard increments, providing a simpler and quicker way to adjust bullet trajectory.
When sighting or zeroing in on an optic, the reticle and turret are used in conjunction with each other to achieve the most precise long-range shot possible. This involves turning the turrets purposefully in order to move the crosshair left and right, up and down, ever so slightly.
Today’s scopes offer more accurate measuring capabilities, higher magnification, and better clarity to provide the shooter with more precision, power, and best of all, control over long-range shots. However, with more complex scope products available than ever, it can be hard to understand how to properly utilize all the marks and measurements so you can gain an accurate alignment. To help, you’ll first need to understand the difference between the two independent systems for scope alignment: MOA and MRAD.
What Is MRAD (Milliradians)?
Designed in a base-10 formula and developed for artillery purposes in the late 1800s, the MRAD method offers high-precision, easy-to-adjust scope alignment. Milliradian units (MRADs or MILs) are especially popular in military, police, and other highly tactical situations because of the measurement’s consistency over any range—a MIL is a MIL at 10 yards or a thousand yards. For that reason, they are also growing in popularity within the civilian market.
What Does MRAD Stand For?
MRAD stands for Milliradian, sometimes also abbreviated as MIL or MilRad. It’s a standard unit of angular measure, applicable throughout many areas of mathematics. In shooting, however, they are considered one-tenth increments, and the measurements work out to produce whole numbers. In realistic terms, MRAD established deflection is precisely .9999 centimeters at 100 meters or 99.99 centimeters at 1,000 meters. As you can see, the difference is negligible in terms of accuracy, so you can confidently count one centimeter at 100 meters, five centimeters at 500 meters, 10 centimeters at 1,000 meters, and so on. Because of this, MRAD is normally thought of as the easier and quicker method in terms of setting up long-distance shots, compared to the MOA method.
How Does MRAD Apply to Shooting?
MRAD-style scopes are best used in tactical scenarios when high-precision shooting is required. For example, U.S. Military forces use MIL-based scopes for certain weapon sets like snipers, machine guns, and mortars, largely because they’re capable of quickly measuring targets and compensating for changes in distance. Once you’re able to master the adjustments, they provide the ability for more precise measurements in a smaller amount of time. This video shows how an MRAD scope looks when zeroing in a rifle.
What is MOA (Minute-of-Angle)?
The other form of measurement is known as MOA, and was created by ancient Sumerians for astrological purposes. It’s set up in a base-60 format and then further broken down from there to provide an accurate measure of distance. In shooting, MOA is used to measure group size, target size, or shot dispersion, which has a circumference of approximately one inch at 100 yards on impact.
What Does MOA Stand For?
MOA stands for minute-of-angle and represents an angular measurement using a 360-degree circle. Splitting that 360-degree circle further, one MOA is equal to 1/60th of one degree. There are 21,600 MOAs in a full circle, giving the shooter precise marks to make adjustments against when zeroing in on a target. In simple terms, MOA is 1/60 of one degree of a 360-degree circle. At 100 yards, one MOA is close to one inch (1.047 inches exactly), at 200 yards MOA would be two inches, three inches at 300 yards, and so on. The caveat with MOA measurements, however, unlike with MRAD, is that the larger the distance, the more skewed your measurement gets when you round down. At 1,000 yards, for example, it’d be approximately 10 inches, but the real measurement is actually 10.47 inches. If not adjusted for, that half-inch could seriously affect the result of your shot.
What is an MOA Scope?
When searching for an MOA scope, you’ll find the majority of precision scopes come in one-eighth MOA, while standard scopes come in one-fourth MOA and red-dot scopes in one-half MOA. What this means is that with each turn of the dial you’re adjusting the scope in fractions of an inch. For example, every four clicks on a one-fourth MOA adjustable scope is one MOA, which is an inch at 100 yards. Because of this variety, many shooters find reticle alignment more difficult, in that some scopes do not produce whole numbers. Rather, it resembles something similar to .25 inches at 100 yards, .50 inches at 200 yards, and .75 inches at 300 yards.
Let’s say you’re shooting at a 100-yard target and the bullet misses your target. Using an MOA scope, you can turn the turrets to adjust the reticle for a more accurate shot. How much of an adjustment you make will depend on how far off your shot was. For instance, if you’re an inch above the bullseye, you’d want to adjust the point of aim by that same amount—or by one MOA. If your scope is calibrated at one-fourth MOA per click, then you’d need to adjust the down-position turret by four clicks (¼ * 4 = 1 MOA). Similar adjustments for left and right aiming can be made using the other available turret.
MRAD vs. MOA for Hunters
As with everything in the firearms world, there’s debate about the maximum distance you should be able to ethically shoot game. And, with ever-improving scope and rifle accuracy, it seems there will never be a clear-cut answer. It ultimately rests with what you’re personally comfortable with. That being said, the concept of one MOA at 100 yards is quick and easy to grasp, and it’s accurate enough for medium-range distances (the higher the distance the more accurate math required of 1.047 inches vs. a rounded-down one inch). However a MIL-based scope is still probably a better tool of measurement when hunting moving targets at a longer distance.
It’s true that MOA provides more precision, but because of this, it also requires more adjustment turns on a turret. MIL-based turrets, on the other hand, require fewer clicks to make a needed correction—something that can come in handy when you’re tracking an elk at 500 yards, for example. Either way, you can train yourself in any system that you’re comfortable with, and even mix if you’re good at making on-the-go calculations in your head. At the end of the day, the simplest method for you is most likely the smartest choice.
MRAD vs. MOA for Competitive Shooters
In competitive shooting scenarios, it’s generally recommended to use the MRAD system, unless you’re a seasoned competitor who is used to MOA. MOA is technically more precise, but realistically, the average person won’t be able to shoot the difference of one-tenth of a meter vs. one-fourth of an inch.
Another benefit of using MRAD in competitive shooting is that the majority of competitors will be using it as well, making it much easier to communicate with others. Most long-range sport shooters are migrating to the MRAD system if they haven’t already, and for simplicity’s sake, it makes sense to be on the same page as those you’re competing with or against.
As you begin participating in more and more competitive shooting events, you’ll find that most things—from wind holds to elevation holds to called misses to target size and beyond—will use an angular measurement (for example, “adjust one-tenth right and quarter MIL down”). As such, making changes to the scope’s reticle is easier when fellow shooters can provide instruction without you or others translating measurements.
MRAD to MOA Conversion
In general, it’s best to avoid mixing and matching MOA/MRAD turrets and reticles. Doing so results in some complicated math and having to do calculations on the fly, whereas sticking to one or the other requires fewer conversions and generally keeps it simple. For example, an MOA reticle with MOA turrets keeps measurements under the imperial system umbrella. However, if you do need to convert MRAD to MOA or vice versa, use the following formulas:
- MOA to MIL: MOA / 3.438 = MIL
- MIL to MOA: MIL * 3.438 = MOA
Which is Easier to Use: MIL (MRAD) or MOA?
The type of scope you choose will ultimately depend on what you’re more comfortable with. Those that prefer the metric system will find MRAD calculations easier, while if you use the imperial system, an MOA scope is ideal. Even though the two styles are very close in accuracy, the wide majority of shooters prefer MRAD due to the fact that it’s standardized in the military. For instance, one-fourth MOA gives slightly finer adjustments than one-tenth MRAD, but it’d be hard for even the best shooters to see a noticeable difference in precision. However, because of its popularity among these two communities, that popularity tends to carry over into the civilian realm, as well.
The Choice is Yours
Ultimately, it’s up to you which style of scope you purchase. The differences between MOA and MRAD mainly lie in which system of measurement you’re most comfortable with—metric vs. imperial—and your ability to conduct quick conversions or employ formulas that improve shot accuracy at long distances.
The best advice we can give you is to try both systems out. If you’re new to one or the other, put effort into learning that system of measurement to figure out what fits in with your shooting style. In general, each system provides a high level of precision, and just because the military and police stick to MIL doesn’t mean that it’s any more effective than MOA. At the end of the day, they’re both standard measurements that you can become proficient in.
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