Maybe you’re buying your first scope, or maybe you’ve tried one and are curious about the other. MRAD and MOA are the two systems you will be deciding on, but which is best for calculating distance and correction to hit the target? And, for hunting, does one have more advantages?
In the end, it might come down to just user preference. It’s only a difference of units- metric vs imperial system. However, there are some caveats to this. Hunting is usually done at short ranges, while competition and military shooting can include longer distances.
Some people say MRAD and MOA do have pros and cons in certain situations. The police and military in America favor MRAD, for example, even though MOA uses American units of measurement. I’ll break it down as simply as I can, and explore the thinking on this. Hopefully, a better understanding will help in choosing the right system for you.
Same Goal, Different Math
Rifle scopes, turrets, and reticles are calibrated in milliradians (MRAD) or minute of angle (MOA). Both are ways of expressing all the angles that make up a circle. Whether hunting, competing, or warring, every image at the end of a scope is encased within a circle.
MOA a Brief Summary
Minute of angle is a measurement based on degrees. A circle has 360 degrees. These 360 degrees are broken down further, into minutes, and similar to calculating time, there are 60 minutes in each degree. 360 x 60 = 21600 minutes.
So what does this mean in relation to hitting a target? It’s easier to understand it with simple numbers. Assume I am shooting at a target 100 yards away. 1 MOA has a spread of 1 inch per 100 yards, (actually, 1.047 inches, but the extra digits are pretty negligible for most shooters).
If I need to move my bullet impact by 1 inch at 100 yards, then I need a full 1 click of MOA. Clicks vary by model of equipment, so if it’s ¼ MOA increments, I’d need to make 4 clicks to equal 1 MOA.
But keep in mind that 1 MOA is a different spread at different distances. At 500 yards, for example, 1 MOA now equals 5 inches of impact spread. If I need to adjust my shot by 5 inches at that yardage, I do so by only 1 MOA.
A formula that can be used with MOA looks like this: distance (yards) ÷ 100 = the size MOA will be in inches. Or: adjustment in inches needed ÷ inches per MOA at that yardage = number of clicks (if one click is 1 MOA or not must be determined).
By thinking of it in this way, it’s easy to see why shooters used to the American style of units find MOA simple. The fact that 1 MOA does not exactly equal 1 inch can complicate the math at longer distances, however. And after going over MRAD and comparing the two, you might see that MOA could be more limited, as well.
MRAD a Brief Summary
Mil-Dot scopes, also known as MRAD, is another system of dividing a circle into angles, this time into milliradians. A milliradian is 1/1000th of a radian, and a radian is a particular distance around a circle.
You can visualize two lines that meet in the center and open away from each other as they travel to the outside of the circle, making a ray, (or a piece of pie). Make the measurement of the arc- the distance from one point of the ray on the circle’s circumference to the other, (the rear piece of that pie)- be 57.3 degrees, and it becomes a radian. 6.283 radians can be cut into a circle. With 1000 milliradians in every radian, there are therefore 6,283 milliradians in every circle.
Also, and importantly, all three sides of each radian are equal in length. That means an MRAD is the same no matter the distance. The Mil-dot nomer comes from the fact that many MRAD scopes have dots. The space in-between the center of one dot and the next is 1 MRAD. 1 MRAD has an impact spread of 3.6 inches at 100 yards.
A formula for calculating MRAD size at any distance looks like this: (distance in yards x 3.6 inches) ÷ 100 = 1 MRAD at that distance. Converting this into the metric system, into meters and centimeters, would look like this: 1250 meters / 10 = 125 cm, or 1 MRAD is 125 cm at 1250 meters.
So, Which Is Better?
Now, you may have noticed that both MRAD and MOA are angular measurements, and not linear. That’s because we are dealing with ballistics here, and trying to put a bullet on a target. It’s very similar to shooting a cannon or artillery. You’ll hear artillerymen say things like, “angle it up” when trying to hit targets, and a rifle is pretty much just a tiny cannon.
So, is there any inherent advantage between one system and the other, besides familiarity with inches or meters? Well, some people look at the numbers I’ve already shown. Obviously, 21,600 minutes is a lot more than 6,283.2 milliradians.
MOA has a spread of a little over 1 inch at 100 yards, while MRAD subtends 3.6 inches over the same distance. But most MOA scopes adjust at ¼ MOA, while most MRAD do so at 1/10th. These fine adjustments mean that at 1000 yards, the 1/4th MOA subtends at about 2.6 inches, and the 1/10th MRAD at only 3.6 inches. Making the difference between the two pretty negligible for most shooters.
MOA vs MRAD When Talking About Turrets
But these adjustments to the turrets can be time-consuming, if not downright confusing in their own right. I’ve seen most MOA adjustable at 1/4th, but I know it’s not uncommon to find some that do so at ½ or even 1/8th. 1/8th will make aiming more precise, but for hunting, the target better be stationary during the process to get a good shot off.
MRAD scopes, conversely, have a single adjustment in 1/10th of a milliradian. This equates to about ⅓ of an MOA click. And that’s where the thought process starts for long-distance and moving target shooters preferring it over MOA.
That 1/10th of a milliradian is more precise than a ½ MOA click. And although it’s not as precise as a ¼ MOA click, it still gets the bullet very close and with less fidgeting with the turrets. That’s great for tactical snipers and spotters, but, for most hunters, MOA is extremely precise for closer, stationary targets.
MOA vs MRAD When Talking About Reticles
A lot of that same argument is used by MRAD fans when talking about the scope’s reticles, as well. Reticles can provide plenty of information to shooters, one of the most important being triangulation. Those who like to use MRAD reticles claim the math is a little easier.
Triangulation, as you know, is using two known points to find a location or, as in this case, distance. Mil-dot crosshairs make for an easy-to-read ruler to measure shot accuracy with the help of a rangefinder.
If I know the distance to be 1000 meters, and I see my impact falls 1 mil to the left, I’m off by 100 cm. By looking through the scope and using the mil-dots as my guide, I can also quickly measure my groupings. The MRAD system’s divisibility by tens instead of MOA’s fractions is easier for some to comprehend in the field. When hunting, being able to do quick calculations before the animal moves out of range is essential.
It’s Mostly About you And Your Applications
As if choosing a rifle scope isn’t hard enough, you have magnification, ranges, first and second focal planes, objective sizes, elimination, etc. So when the guy behind the counter throws “MOA or MRAD?” at you, already stressed brain cells can pop. But it doesn’t need to be complicated at all.
For me, MOA works great. I have lived in the southern United States most of my life and have never had to consider a meter or the metric system. I am abundantly comfortable visualizing inches and yards, and all of my rifle applications use American measurements, anyways.
This is not to say that I cannot use MRAD. There is nothing inherently difficult about metric units more so than American. I simply prefer MOA because I grew up with it, and so did the hunters I hunt with. The best system is the one you are most comfortable with.
Be sure to match the reticles and turrets. If one is in MOA increments, pairing it with MRAD is going to just make shooting more difficult than it needs to be. And it’s already difficult enough, so why add complex conversion math to it?
Then Why Has The U.S. Military And Police Standardized On MRAD?
Long-range competition shooters have definitely drifted towards the MRAD system. I and most other gun users still don’t think it’s a better or worse system, not for hunting. It’s just the incremental adjustments that are more practical for that style. But some will say that if the U.S. military has adopted it, it must be better.
I think the more likely reason it’s used by the U.S. military is simply because all of their allies do. There are actually only three countries that haven’t officially adopted the metric system, which, besides us, are Liberia and Myanmar.
Standardizing weights and measurements is a tactical necessity. And I’m sure it has been a lot cheaper to teach just American soldiers metrics than it would all of NATO.
That MRAD is used so widely in American police forces should be no surprise, then. Most police officers are former or current servicemen. They also work in concert with the national guard pretty regularly and would have noticed that potential communication hurdle early on.
MRAD VS MOA In The Future
I definitely see more people who are new to hunting or shooting in general adopting the MRAD unit of measure. But that’s to be expected. If I was new to scopes and the practice of precision shooting, I’d look it up online. There, I’d see that the military uses it and I’d be sold. Why not?
Scope makers are aware of the trend, and I’d say most of the “high-end” models coming out use MRAD. I highly doubt, however, that MOA will decline any time soon. If anything, with the way technology is quickly moving, it will be both that fade out together, eventually.
Oh, I’m sure there will always be shooters who keep practicing arcane arts. Some guys like to be able to do the math on paper in case technology fails. But, even now, a lot of the hard work is unnecessary. Laser beamed range finders, ballistics calculators- wait till 5G internet takes off and I bet it’ll get to the point you couldn’t miss a shot if you wanted to.
There Is No Clear Cut Winner
I know. I hate when it ends like this, too. But neither MOA nor MRAD has a definitive edge over the other. There may be a slight reason to go with MRAD if you’re doing the Annie Oakley thing. That’s because there is less knob turning on the turrets than MOA, although it’s probably not much of a bother for competition shooters, anyways. For hunting, most hunters aren’t shooting far enough to need complex adjustments.
It’s best to go with your intuition on this one. If you grew up using yards and inches, then you can intuitively visualize in those measurements. That’s going to be immensely helpful in any shooting scenario. And if everyone you know drives on the left side of the road at whatever kilometers per hour, then choose MRAD. You’ll all be talking the same language at the range or when telling hunting stories.