MOA and MRAD Scopes: The Differences

Some debates will never die, no many how many times they’re had and won. The MRAD vs MOA debate is one of them. Every shooter and every hunter who comes across MRAD and MOA (two different systems of measurement in reticles and scope-turrets), demands to know ‘Which is better?’

When looking at MRAD vs MOA, or even conversion from MRAD to MOA, we discover there are only a few unique features by which you can tell MOA from MRAD, only a few questions that really count towards the question of which is better.

First, what is this MRAD thing anyway?

Second, what is MOA?

Third, how do you convert from one to the other, and why would we do it?

Defining MRAD

Mastering the difference between MRAD and MOA demands more of us than understanding the math conversion from one to the other. It demands we understand the different views of space and time in each system which lead to their particular ways of measuring the distance between us and our targets.

MRAD, also known as MIL, is short for “milliradian.” When dealing with milliradians, we’re dealing with circles, degrees, angles and calculations. Strap in, it’s about to get a little complicated, but we’ll build it up in stages for you.

A milliradian is an angular unit of measurement within a great circle.

Every circle, great or small, has 360 degrees in it.

Every 360-degree circle can be divided into 6.283 radians, each of which has 57.3 degrees. Why 6.283, rather than 6? Why 57.3 degrees, rather than a flat 57? Not our call – maybe talk to the ancient Greeks.

Each radian is split into a thousand milliradians.

So, ultimately, 360 degrees = 6.28 radians = 6,280 milliradians.

That would be fine, but it’s numerically inconvenient, so NATO adds an imaginary 120 milliradians per circle to even it up to 6,400 milliradians per circle.

Why not just add the 20 to make 6,300? Again, not our call – this time, talk to the crew at NATO. But remember the number – 6,400 milliradians in every circle.

What does MRAD mean?

Lots of milliradians, all well and good, but what’s that got to do with the price of fish, or more importantly with the distance to target when seen through a rifle scope?

OK – when you look through your rifle scope, you’ll see the reticle or crosshairs. You can get reticles of several types, but the important thing is how the adjustments in the scope alter your aiming point. Your scope’s turrets can be graduated in MOA or MIL (usually, each turret click is .25 MOA or .1 MIL). The clever, complicated thing is that the degree of change in the aiming point changes the further away the target is. For instance, at 100 meters, 1 MIL is 10 centimeters, which means one turret-click, equivalent to 0.1 MIL, equals 1 centimeter of movement to the point of impact – at that distance. At 500 meters though, the same 0.1 MIL click represents 5 centimeters of movement to the impact point. At 1000 meters, 0.1 MIL is 10 centimeters of movement, and so on. Ultimately then, you can think of 1 MIL as being equal to 1 meter of movement at 1000 meters distance. Make sense?

You might want to hold the celebration. It’s about to get a little more complicated over the question of MRAD vs MOA, and MOA to MRAD conversion.

Usually, you need to choose either MOA or MRAD when selecting your reticle, and then choose again when it comes to your scope’s turrets.

In the baffling but by no means unlikely case that your reticle is marked in MRAD but your turrets are graduated in MOA, you’re faced with having to do a conversion in your head between the milliradian-crowded great circle of MRAD and the more straightforward whole-unit inch-based measurement of MOA.

For this reason if for no other, it makes sense to get a reticle and turrets that match in terms of their measurement units. It just makes everyone’s life better and easier, most of all yours.

So what’s the deal with MOA?

As with MRAD, you need to understand what’s what with MOA if you’re to use it effectively in the field or convert from MRAD to MOA or vice versa.

MOA stands for Minute of Angle.

Well, exactly.

Again, remember your circles. Every circle contains 360 degrees. Every circle can also act like a kind of complex clock-face, with not just 60 minutes, but every degree divisible into 60 minutes. Let us save you a moment’s calculation – that’s 21,600 minutes of angle in every circle. Minutes of Angle meaning MOA, that gives you 21,600 MOA in every circle.

What does that mean in the grand scheme of shooting?

It means there are two different measurement systems available – MRAD and MOA. And for complex historical reasons, it’s entirely possible your reticle and your scope will use one system each. If at all possible, skip the whole issue by making sure your measurement systems match. If you can’t do that, you’re faced with the business of converting one to the other.

The change in your point of impact still changes with distance, whichever system you use. It just changes…differently. For example in MOA, at 100 yards, 1 MOA equals 1 inch, meaning one turret-click is a quarter-inch change to the point of impact at that same 100 yards.

At 1,000 yards then, 1 MOA equals 10 inches, and one turret-click is 2.5 inches.

If you have different measurement systems in your reticle and your turrets, you’re going to have to get down and dirty with the mental math of conversion, because the numbers don’t line up between the two systems. One MOA click is 3.5 inches at 1,000 meters (meters, not yards). Meanwhile, one click in MIL at that distance is 0.1 milliradians…which is equivalent to 3.9 inches.

Bottom line, then, MOA is a couple of hairs more accurate at that distance, though usually, the accuracy improvement is meaningless in practical terms.

Let’s convert: MRAD vs MOA

So where does all the math leave you?

In a very simple place which gets complicated in a hurry.

1 angular MIL (1 milliradian) is equal to 3.38 MOA (minutes of angle).

So far, so straightforward. The decimal numbers are clunky, but the principle is easy.

That’s step 1 of the math involved. That’s the number you’re given to work with. To convert from MRAD to MOA, you’re finding the MIL range at any distance…and then multiplying by 3.38 to get your MOA value, and then adjusting your MOA reticle or turrets accordingly.

If we’re cutting to the chase, there’s no real winner on accuracy – yes, MOA is technically more accurate, but it’s accurate in a way that 99 times out of a hundred adds up to diddly-squat squared in a real hunting environment. So the technical accuracy improvement doesn’t really translate to a practical accuracy improvement in MOA, meaning it’s more or less a moot improvement. Never let that confuse you into thinking hunters won’t argue black is blue all day long with a pause on Sundays over this technical ‘betterness’ of MOA though. Because they will. And do. Doing the math, checking comparison charts, consulting range cards, you name it, hunters will do it to prove their favored system is objectively ‘better’ than the alternative.

If it all begins to seem overwhelmingly complicated, relax – mental math like the kind you need to do the MRAD to MOA conversion is complicated and tricky. Hence the charts and cards and the like.

Call the cops – what system do law enforcement officers use?

Here’s the thing. The math is complex, but the debate’s not just about the math. The improvements in accuracy are marginal at best, but the debate’s not just about the accuracy. There are convoluted reasons why equipment comes with one system or another, but the debate’s not just about the equipment.  No, what the debate is about as much as any of these things is popularity.

Nothing succeeds like success, and in terms of shooting and accuracy, we instinctively believe that no-one succeeds like law enforcement officers and military personnel. Their jobs, their lives and the lives of others often depend on their ability to hit a target reliably, relentlessly and precisely. So the choice of the military and of law enforcement becomes immensely popular – if it’s good enough for them, we reason, it’s good enough for us. And if it’s not a system good enough for those who use firearms at the life-or-death end of the spectrum, we’re not sure why anyone would think it’s good enough for us.

We buy what they use to feel connected to them, to feel supportive of them, and also of course because we believe that what they use must be the best, must be better than anything else – otherwise, they wouldn’t use it, right?

As it happens, around 90% of professional users use MIL/MRAD-reticle scopes. That means that increasingly, MRAD reticles are more popular than MOA one.

Because of the very very limited accuracy improvements though, it would be a mistake to equate more popular reticles with better reticles.

If not them, then what?

Let’s park the MRAD/MOA debate a minute.

Forget the this or that left or right, imperial or metric, Coke or Pepsi battle. Forget the complicated multiplication and division math of converting one thing to another and back again.

Let’s go back to the 1980s for a minute. Grab your hairspray and puffy shoulders, and let’s talk about the crucial technological debate of the time.

If you’re of a certain age, you know what that was. If you’re too young to remember that, firstly, we hate you just a little bit. And secondly, we’re talking the techno-showdown that was: VHS vs Beta.

It was on like Donkey Kong between these two formats of home entertainment. They were both based on magnetic tape technology, but if you twisted an expert’s arm (and believe us, we did, it was the eighties, it was how we learned things before the internet), they would readily confess that overall, Beta gave a higher quality reproduction than VHS. It delivered 250 lines versus VHS’ 240 (think megapixels for a comparison), slightly better sound, a slightly more stable image and usually a sturdier, though more clunky build quality of player.

Go ahead, ask your family if anyone has a Betamax player today, we dare you.

Didn’t think so. Here’s why. Firstly, VHS was slightly cheaper than Beta. Secondly, the difference in quality didn’t level the playing field on price. And thirdly, VHS had much longer recording times – Beta tapes could record up to 60 minutes, VHS up to 240 minutes. You can’t fit many movies into 60 minutes. So while any expert would tell you Beta was a ‘better’ system in terms of the fundamentals of what it did (reproduced moving pictures and synced sound), VHS became way more popular. And popularity wins out almost every time.

OK, say goodbye to the high hair and questionable pop music.

Well, say goodbye to the high hair at least. Come on back to the 21st century.

MRAD and MOA are the Beta and VHS of modern shooting. The differences in delivered quality are so miniscule as to be inconsequential. If more people use a thing, more people will hear of it, and more people will want to use it because everybody else is using it, till the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘betterness.’ Today, more people are using MRAD than MOA. That means there are always going to be more MRAD products and product options available than MOA ones.

But which is better though?

Ultimately, the system that’s better is the one that works best for you. No really, there’s nothing more scientific to it than that. The debate will continue to rage – believe us, there are still butthurt Beta fans out there demanding we acknowledge that yes, technically, side by side, Beta was the better system. Likewise, people will be arguing about MRAD and MOA scopes as long as both types are still being manufactured – and then probably for some decades afterward. That’s not a mark of how important the debate is, it’s a mark of how ornery human beings can be. But let’s not claim there are no take-homes from the MRAD vs MOA debate.

What do we learn from the to-and-fro of the MRAD vs MOA debate? First, the debate is redundant compared to your own experience – use the system that works for you and shoot happy and accurate. Second, the systems are more or less identical when it comes to measuring and ranging. Third, because MOA is the older system, older shooters (the ones who remember the days of big hair, big shoulders and a world without mobile phones and the internet) probably like it more, because they probably learned to shoot using the MOA system. And ultimately, the military and law enforcement communities overwhelming choose the MRAD system, all else being equal. But if we’ve taught you one thing, it’s this:

Wax on, wax off…

No, wait, that’s just a rogue 80s reference. If we’ve taught you one thing, it’s this: If you have the chance, if you get a choice, if ever you find yourself at a crossroads at midnight, with your shooting destiny laid out in front of you, whatever else you do, match your reticle system with your turret system. Do that, and every shooter in the world can argue till the cows turn green. You won’t care, because you won’t have to do the conversion math in your head. You’ll be busy shooting.

Which has the easier conversion math?

No, no, no. Did you miss the thing that wasn’t a rogue 80s reference? Match your turrets and your reticle and you have the ultimate in easy conversion math – no conversion math at all! Seriously, it’s the way to live a happier life, match ’em up and ignore the need to convert anything.

We understand you might be used to one system or the other, and that’s great. Just make it a matching system and avoid the MRAD/MOA conversion of decimal inches to milliradians and vice versa. The math in either case is probably beyond the capacity of most people to do in their head in a full-on hunting scenario anyway, which means you’ll end up rounding up or down. And when the accuracy benefits are already negligible for one system over another, why would you go about adding complexity into your life, only to have to fudge the math on a maybe and probably lose the precision you’re aiming for in the first place?

Repeat after us:

Match your turrets to your reticle,

To do otherwise is almost heretical,

Match your reticle to your scope’s turrets,

Then you’ll shoot all day, no math, you’ll love it.

Clear?

Which system should you pick?

You should pick the system that makes the most sense to you. The one with which you’re most familiar, and the one that gives you the best, most consistent results.

If you think first and foremost in yards and inches, you’ll be more instinctively comfortable with MOA. If you’re more or a metric person, MRAD will make more fundamental sense to you. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking one system is objectively better than the other. It isn’t. One system might be subjectively better for you than the other, absolutely.

Use that one.

Though granted, that advice comes with a caveat. When you’re shooting alone, use whichever system makes most sense to you and gets you better results.

If you’re hunting in a party…y’know that thing they say about ‘When in Rome…’? That has some mileage when you’re in a shooting party, because – as with the military or law enforcement – all speaking the same language of scope and action brings definite benefits to the whole team.

Still confused? More confused?

OK, we understand the math of conversion between systems is enough to melt most brains, especially in a pressured hunting situation – that’s why our golden piece of advice is what? Yep – match your reticle to your turrets, and cut out the ugly decimal math altogether.

Also, it’s always the way that when presented with a choice between one thing and another, it’s human nature to look for the one that’s objectively better. Between MOA and MRAD though, there is no practically objectively better. So choose the one you’re more comfortable with, or, as with VHS technology back in the day, choose the one everyone else is using, for ease in groups and parties, so you’re one of the in-crowd. Right now, that means going MRAD, not because it’s objectively better, but because more people are using it, so you’ll be able to have a broader conversation with them if you use the same system. Always remember – when choosing between two things, layers and layers of debate grow up on either side, and those layers will often make the choice seem more complicated than it needs to be. Choose the one you’re comfortable with for your personal shooting. Use the more popular system (MRAD) when shooting in groups or teams, so you all speak the same language.

Which is better for accuracy? MRAD or MOA?

Once more with feeling.

There’s barely anything to choose between MRAD and MOA on accuracy.

Yes, if you want to get down to the nittiest of gritties, MOA is technically or theoretically more accurate by a percentage of an inch at 1000 yards, because the click-divisions are slightly finer.

But in all practical terms, if a percentage of an inch matters to your accuracy at 1000 yards, you’re probably Robin Hood in any case, and you really don’t need to worry, so pick the system that suits you best and shoot happy with it.

Bottom line, most people don’t buy their scope with the MRAD/MOA choice in their mind. They buy according to personal preference, and then, sometimes, get caught in the crossfire of reticles and turrets operating on different systems, and so have to learn the conversion math.

Our advice would be absolutely continue to buy according to personal preference. But give at least a cursory glance to the equipment you’re buying, and ask a brief handful of questions: first, are you buying based on popularity? If so, are you going to do a lot of group hunting, that will make that choice worthwhile? Second, Are you sure you’ll be comfortable using what you’re buying? Third, does what you’re buying match the industry or the application you want to put it to? Fourth, are you buying because you have an existing preference. And fifth, final and most important, does your reticle match your turrets in terms of the system you’re using?

The Last Word

The MRAD vs MOA debate will never end. The disagreement people who support systems with which they’ve grown up and which have given them consistent results versus ‘incoming’ systems which work just as well but are different to what they’ve learned will rage for decades if not centuries to come.

MRAD is the military’s favorite, but it will face some backlash from older users who understand MOA more instinctively. What’s more, there’s the fact that MOA is at least technically more accurate to contend with. We can demonstrate that the technical supremacy equates to little more than baby’s breath in practical terms, and we can do it till we talk ourselves hoarse or type ourselves crippled, and it won’t make a lick of difference to die-hard MOA fans.

And the thing is, that’s absolutely fine.

As MRAD gets more and more popular, like VHS before it, the chances are that MOA will become more and more of a rarity in American hunting circles, but rarities are OK too. Rarity just adds to the cult value of objects and disciplines – it adds a touch of ‘windswept and interesting’ to your repertoire if the whole world does something one way, and you have an alternative.

Bottom line, while the market is happy to supply MOA scopes and turrets, there’s precisely nothing wrong with choosing an MOA product if that’s what makes more sense to you. You do you, and get the results you want however you can.

Keep a conversion in your back pocket though

With the march of MRAD though, if you don’t want to be increasingly isolated in your shooting, it’s worth either having an MRAD set-up for use among groups and teams, so you can still have that that shared experience, or at the very least, having an MRAD to MOA conversion to hand, so you can translate everyone else’s intentions to your own firearm should the need arise. Make sure whatever scope you have serves your needs every time you use it. But also make sure you know how to convert from one ‘language’ of aiming to another, so you can continue to shoot at the best of your ability if you suddenly find yourself having brought an MOA scope to an MRAD-shoot.

Repeat after us: math and preference, nothing more

If you’re still worrying about the difference between MOA and MRAD, take a deep breath. Repeat after us: I can shoot with any darned scope I like, confound it.

If you match your reticle to your turrets, when you’re shooting alone, go nuts, there’ll be no conversion math to deal with – just shoot the way that’s most comfortable to you.

If the way that’s most comfortable to you is with MOA reticles and turrets, and you find yourself on a group-shoot with people using MRAD, there’s no need to worry. Have your conversion to hand, and it should be relatively straightforward. Remember – this is all about how you decide to divide a great circle, into milliradians or minutes of angle, and about how the one relates to the other. Do the math. Click the turret the right number of times. Aim. Fire. A good day’s hunting all round.

Remember, while people are unlikely to stop discussing it like it’s the fate of the world on their shoulders, the MRAD/MOA decision is just one of a handful of factors to take into account when you’re buying a scope, and it by no means has to be the most important one. But the scope that works for you, that speaks to you, that on balance convinces you that it’s going to give you solid, reliable hunting, trip after trip after trip.

MRAD or MOA – which do you prefer? Is the choice between them even a factor in your consideration? Make sure to take into account what kind of shooting you’re actually going to be doing – will the measurement systems be of crucial importance to you when you shoot?

Ultimately, buy a scope you can trust to get you on target with every shot you fire. Whether it’s MOA or MRAD is just a factor in that, an arguable aid to improving your hunting. Go with your gut, buy the scope that speaks to you, and you’ll have years of happy hunting, whichever system you use.

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