The MIL vs MOA Debate – Breaking Down The Difference

If you’re new to long range shooting, there’s every chance you’ve encountered the debate about MIL vs MOA and wondered what it was all about.

MIL vs MOA is a hot topic in the shooting world, and it boils down to the choice between using MIL (milliradian) or MOA (measurement of angle) measurement systems in scopes and turrets. There’s little difference between them and they both do more or less the same thing, so to newcomers to the long range shooting world, the debate can seem pointless. But when you’re on the active side of a gun with a scope, it’s best to know what’s what, what works, how it works, why it works, and what’s most effective in your own particular situation.

We know what you’re thinking.

It’s not easy to know all that when the terminology and jargon gets thrown about, rather than explained. On the other hand, the good news is – there’s no objectively wrong answer. Both are good options, and ultimately, the right answer is the right answer for you because it works better for you subjectively.

The difference between MIL and MOA is like the difference between imperial and metric measurements. Between Celsius and Fahrenheit. Between Coke and Pepsi. They all work, but some prefer one thing, others another.

If you’re wondering whether to go with MIL or MOA, changing from MIL to MOA or more likely vice versa, there are some things to think about, but once you’ve gone through them, it should make your choice more straightforward.

On this page, we’ll outline:

  • What a scope is and how it works
  • The definition of MOA
  • The definition of MIL
  • Your reticle, your turret and how to match the two
  • The question of precision in MOA and MIL
  • Why you need to know how to convert MOA to MIL
  • Converting MOA to MIL
  • MOA vs MIL communication factors
  • Better or just different?
  • What everyone else is using?
  • Who’s choosing what and things to consider

By the time we’re done, you should be closer to making the MOA vs MIL decision that’s right for you.

What a scope is and how it works

To appreciate the difference between MIL and MOA, you need to understand what a scope is and why it matters.

Scopes on rifles make it faster and easier to see distant targets than it would be to line up the front and rear sights on the target. Scopes are also handy magnifiers, making the target easier to see and accurately shoot.

Scopes magnify your target using the reticle. Although there are a wide range of reticles apart from the classic crosshairs, people tend to use ‘crosshairs’ as a shorthand for the reticle, meaning you can – and we will – use the words synonymously. We’ll also mention dot reticles, a popular crosshairs-alternative, but essentially, the meaning is the same – the reticle is the thing in a scope that lets you pinpoint your target.

Scopes also have a turret which manages elevation and windage. Changes to the turret let you change how and where your bullet hits your target. Raising, lowering or moving the reticle crosshairs can give you an accurate aim point.

MIL and MOA are measurements used by the turret to make these adjustments. They’re critical, because if you don’t choose a consistent unit of measurement, you can’t know how to adjust your turret – or communicate what you’ve done to other shooters. Imagine being in a military unit where some of you were using inches and some were using centimeters – that’s the potential for chaos of not consistently using a single frame of reference.

Surprisingly, this is what trips a lot of people up. When presented with two systems, MIL and MOA, they think one must be objectively better than the other, and in asking which one that would be, the begin their trip around the MIL vs MOA debate. Hopefully though, now you know the basics, you can decide which angle of measurement works for you.

The definition of MOA

MOA stands for ‘minute of angle.’ That’s a unit of measurement in long range shooting. It has a value equal to 1.0473 inches at 100 yards, generally rounded down to 1 inch. So the definition of MOA is a measurement of 1 inch at 100 yards. Clear?

Hunting scopes generally have 1/4 MOA adjustments, which means you can change the bullet impact point by ¼ inch per click at 100 yards. That in turn means that at 50 yards (half the distance) one click moves the impact point half as much as at 100 yards, 1/8 inch, , and at 200 yards, twice as much as at 100 yards - ½ inch per click. What you have there is an expandable distance-based adjustment system at the click of a dial.

With lots of numbers and jargon going around, it can be tricky to tell if MIL or MOA is the measurement system for you. A majority of American shooters prefer MOA over MIL because the math it uses is easy to understand, and it makes for rapidly useable adjustments.

That said, Americans are practically alone in using this scale. Most of the rest of the world favors MIL, which becomes a factor in people’s choice because they want to be able to use the measurements in a hurry and with accuracy – if you can’t do that, the point of your scope is significantly reduced.

Some argue MOA is easier because the measurement, the increments and the scalability are more satisfying and consistent. Quarters, eighths, halves etc make some some sense in any country with a decimal currency – eighths maybe less so than most gradations on the scale. But that relative simplicity helps the shooter to do the necessary math in a hurry and act with greater speed.

To go into the scale in more detail, where 1 MOA at 100 yards is 1 inch, 1 MOA at 600 yards would be 6 inches. Simple multiplication (or division) of whole numbers, because MOA rounds down its decimal figure to a simple, single inch.

1 MIL at 100 yards is around 3.6 inches.

Quick, without a calculator, what would 1 MIL at 600 yards be?

It’s OK, we’ll wait.

Exactly. It’s not surprising then that many people feel MOA makes for more enjoyable shooting. But let’s take a look at MIL and find out why in spite of this, it’s so popular.

The definition of MIL

MIL is short for milliradian. No, that’s not the Star Wars show with Baby Yoda in it. MIL is also known as MRAD, but to avoid confusion, we’ll use MIL exclusively here – just be aware if you hear MRAD used, it means MIL.

1 MIL is 1/1000 the distance to the target, wherever the target it. It doesn’t matter whether the distance to the target is measured in yards or meters. Divide the distance by 1000 and you have 1 MIL. So for instance, at 100 yards 1 MIL is 3.6 inches, while at 1000 yards, 1 MIL is equal to 1 yard.

It works on the basis of a 360-degree circle made up of radians. Radians are angles based on the radius of a circle, and they’re equal to 1000 MIL. Each of the radians then is made up of several milliradians, so there are 6283 milliradians in the full circle.

It’s not that the MIL system is metric. It’s not imperial either – it can be used with any measurement system because it’s a system that uses whatever measurements you feed into it. It does feel more metric than imperial though, which is one reason it’s historically been less favoured in the US.

The MIL system is used on turrets and integrated into the reticle of scopes. At 100 meters, 1 MIL equals 10 cm, whereas at the same distance, 0.1 MIL, or one click, equals 1 cm. So at 1000 meters, 1 MIL is 200 cm.

You can think of MIL vs MOA as a system that can be broken down into tenths vs one that can be broken down into quarters. A MIL is a large area. Break a large area into tenths and what you have is a system that can give you exact adjustments. Exact adjustments mean accurate shooting – if you can do the math in your head when you need to.

The division by ten can be tricky if you’re trained in an imperial system of weights and measurements, which is why the MIL system has more in common with the metric system.

Some shooters prefer the MOA for the straightforward reason that MIL demands you do what is often some hard mental math on the spur of the moment. But many who choose MOA do so because they simply don’t understand how to use MIL. That’s not to say you can’t use MIL if you’ve grown up with the imperial system – you absolutely can, that’s more or less the point of it, you can use it whichever measurement system you’ve learned. But whether you go with MOA or MIL, you need to learn it till it’s instinctive, so that you can use your scope properly and get the best shooting performance out of it.

Your reticle, your turret and how to match the two

As we’ve discussed, the choice of MIL or MOA is mostly just a personal one, and either way will work. However, there is one thing it’s crucial to know. You absolutely, positively have to match your reticle and your turret. Doing this will give you better, more satisfying and more pleasing results, every time. Why? Simple – if you use the same system on your reticle and your turret, it’s quick and consistent and you’re not having to jump through hoops of mental math to covert from one system to the other and back again. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which you’d actively want or need to add that hassle into your life, so match them up and make everybody happier, most of all you.

If your reticle and your turret adjustments match, you can more or less point and shoot. No tiresome conversions in the handful of heartbeats between aiming and firing. So under no circumstances mix and mismatch. A MOA scope and a MIL reticle is just a hunter’s heartbreak waiting to happen.

Imagine driving down the highway with a map written in English when all the street signs are in Russian. It’s not impossible if you’re familiar with both languages, but it adds unnecessary thinking time to the job. That’s the feeling of a mismatched reticle/turret combo.

The upshot of all this is that when your systems are the same in your turret and your reticle, you remove a level of math from the operation, and are able to make adjustments without having to convert the numbers from one system to the other in your head.

Just in case you’re still not convinced to maintain a matched set, let’s have some fun with math.

1000 yards equals 36 inches, except in minutes of angle, where the result you get is actually 3.44 MOA. 1 MOA at 1000 yard translates as 10.49 inches. Which is 0.29 MIL, obviously…

Lost?

Exactly.

3.44 is not easy math. It’s surprisingly close to Pi, the never-ending number with which math teachers torture you in your school days. And when teachers start asking you to multiply or divide by Pi, they always give you either a sheet of paper and a pen or a calculator, because multiplying by decimals gets messy in a very big hurry.

Avoid the mess. Keep your turret and your reticle on the same system. Live an altogether happier life. You’ve earned it.

The question of precision in MOA and MIL

You know those people who could have an argument in an otherwise empty room? Ever wondered what they’d talk about during that argument?

Chances are they’d debate whether MOA or MIL was more precise for long range shooting.

If you don’t want to get trapped in the room with them, or in the debate, let’s cut to the chase – neither system is ‘more precise’ enough to make a material difference long term, but let’s consider the facts so you’re not just forced to take our word for it.

MIL vs MOA is tenths vs quarters. ¼ MOA is actually closer to precision than 1/10 MIL. Why? Because ¼ MOA clicks have an adjustment that’s marginally finer. Very marginally, but finer. Marginally finer adjustment means a tiny bump in ease, precision and therefore accuracy. In any practical hunting application, the smallness of this accuracy-bump is likely to make no credible difference whatsoever. So there’s technically more precision, but practically, no difference on earth. If you’re looking for a practical precision improvement on which to base your MOA/MIL decision, it’s not there to be found.

Let’s take a look at the whisker-thin difference in practice. At 100 meters, one turret click is ¼ MOA. Which is 7 cm or 2.75 inches, and just 0.1 MIL… which equates to 10 cm or 3.9 inches. That means that at 1000 meters, you have a difference of 3 cm or 1.2 inches. At that distance, that’s little more than a mosquito-sneeze. So we can safely remove the precision question from the MOA/MIL discussion and all move on with our shooting lives.

Why you need to know how to convert MOA to MIL

It’s still a good idea to understand both systems when you use a scope though, not least because MOA was the more popular of them for some time, so target sizes still sometimes use MOA.

Also, what happens if you’re shooting with someone who’s using the other system? Knowing how both systems work is going to make your life so much easier when it comes to telling them what they need to know. It’ll save time, remove a source of frustration from both your lives and allow you both to have a better day.

How to convert MOA to MIL

3.43.

That’s more or less the answer to how you convert from one system to the other. 3.43 MOA equals 1 MIL. So remember that number and you can use it to multiply or divide against the number of adjustment in the opposite system and bingo! You have yourself a conversion method.

X MIL x 3.43 = X MOA.

Or alternatively, X MOA/3.43 = X MIL.

Yes, it might sound like a mouthful, and a headful, but people remember E=MC2 and the lyrics of their favorite songs every day, and those are going to have significantly less impact on your day’s shooting,

Now, granted, multiplying or dividing by 3.43 is more mathematical pain than anyone wants to deal with on any given day of the week. If you find it easier, you can round up to 3.5. Sure, then you’ll actually sacrifice some accuracy, but dealing with 0.5 (or a half) in any mental math has got to be easier than dealing with 0.43 when you start multiplying or dividing. Right? 

MOA vs MIL communication factors

Both within and beyond the MOA/MIL debate, if you’re shooting with someone else, it’s a good plan to use the same system. It’s a language of action – if you’re speaking different languages, sure, you have your conversion equations to allow for translation, but if you can, why not speak the same language for the day as a courtesy? Again – less headache, less hassle, better communication, better shooting. The same is true of measurement systems, which in their way are languages of action and intent. Stay on the same scale, use the same language, and everyone has a better day with less brain strain from conversion.

MIL is in the ascendancy with shooters these days – so learning it and choosing it gives you a good default position, a language in common with the majority of shooters you’ll likely encounter. That can be helpful if you’re spotting for someone when you’re hunting with others, and again increases the courtesy factor – when in Rome, you can certainly speak English if you want to, but see how far it gets you. 

That said, if you’re shooting solo, feel free to use whichever system is more comfortable to you. When not in Rome, do whatever you like. Who’s gonna know? Who’s gonna care? Get the best results you can.

Better, or just different?

You know how you can hit your head on a rock repeatedly and the rock doesn’t get noticeably smaller?

It’s been said time after time that there’s so little in it that neither MIL nor MOA is inherently better than the other. The rock of the debate remains undamaged.

Both systems both work well, and if you know and understand either system, you’re set. If you know both, you’re the equivalent of a bilingual sophisticate, and can be courteous to other shooters who use the system other than your regular one.

Bottom line, there is no better, there’s personal choice and personal freedom. Decide which system is comfortable for you, and go with it. Learn both if you can, for the sheer courtesy value, but when shooting alone, use whichever system is more logical in your head.

If you see the world in feet and inches, you might make faster sense of MOA. If you’re a new shooter and haven’t had experience with MOA, it will pay you dividends to learn MIL, as that seems to be the way the wind is turning.

What everyone else is using

Military and law enforcement personnel have historically used scopes with a MIL reticle and a MOA turret. There are probably reasons, buried in appropriations files somewhere. These days though, they’ve mostly switched over to MIL in reticle and turret both, for those benefits of speed and a lack of tedious mental math we outlined earlier. And where the military has led, others have followed.

More people are now using MIL. That means the scope market will inevitably drift that way, with supply following demand. So if you’re looking for a brand new scope, it’s good advice to go MIL, whether or not you’re traditionally a MIL user. The times, they are a-changin’, and the measurement systems are a-followin’ suit. While you’re absolutely free when shooting solo to use whatever makes more sense to you, it’s probably time to get on board the MIL bandwagon because at least for now, the future looks pretty MIL.

Repeat after us – it’s not better, it’s more popular.

Not better, just more.

That said, the fact that more people are using it, and that even more will do in the future, is as good a reason as you should really need to learn MIL, either in isolation if it works best for you, or in addition to MOA if that’s more comfortable. It’ll help you shoot more sociably as time goes on.  

When you’re on your own, you can use whatever measurement system you like, whichever is more comfortable for you, whichever one makes sense.

Once more with feeling: neither is ‘better’ than the other. Just different.

With MIL becoming more and more the standard shooters are using, it would certainly be useful and courteous to get it under your belt so you can shoot in company without having to do laborious mental mathematics. Always, always, always, match your reticle to your turret, because to do otherwise is like tying your trigger-fingered arm behind your back. But when you shoot on your own, embrace the freedom of the sport or the freedom of the hunt, and use the system you actually enjoy most.

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