If you’re a rifle enthusiast who likes to shoot targets at long range, you’ve probably come across the terms MRAD and MOA when looking at scopes. But what do these two angular measurement units actually mean, and what are the differences between them? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a friendly, down-to-earth look at everything you need to know about MRAD vs. MOA to decide which system is right for your shooting style and preferences.
Before diving into the nitty gritty details of MRAD and MOA, let’s do a quick review of how scopes work. Rifle scopes have two main components that allow you to dial in your aim precisely:
- The reticle: The reticle provides the aiming point when you look through the scope. Back in the old days, shooters would tie two strands of horsehair in their scopes to create a crosshair for aiming – hence where the term “crosshairs” comes from! Now reticles are etched on glass or made from wire. Some advanced reticles even account for bullet drop at different ranges.
- The turret dials: Turrets are the rotating dials on the scope that move the reticle to adjust your aim. Turrets come in two main types: target turrets and ballistic turrets. Target turrets are designed for competitions and make very fine adjustments. Ballistic turrets are calibrated for specific bullet drops at set yardages to allow quicker adjustments in the field.
By carefully turning the turrets to move the reticle up/down and left/right, you can dial in the perfect shot, even at long ranges. The two measurement systems used for these adjustments are MRAD and MOA. Keep reading to understand these units and how they differ.
What is MRAD?
MRAD, which stands for milliradian, is a metric unit of angular measurement used in many scientific fields. The word “radian” refers to the angle created when the length of an arc equals the radius of its circle. A radian is about 57 degrees. MRAD represents 1/1000 of a radian, or 0.057 degrees.
In shooting applications, MRAD measures angles in 1/10 mil increments. At 100 meters, .1 MRAD equals 1 cm of deviation. This consistent relationship allows you to quickly calculate adjustments in your head based on the bullet drop or wind drift at different distances.
Here are some key facts on the milliradian system:
- Based on the metric system using meters and centimeters.
- Originated in the late 1800s for artillery use.
- 1 MRAD = 3.43775 MOA.
- At 100 meters, 1 MRAD = 10 cm.
- Adjustments are usually in 0.1 MRAD increments.
- Constant relationship between angle and deviation at any range.
- Commonly used by military and law enforcement.
The consistent 10 cm per 100 meters relationship is what makes MRAD so useful. If you need to correct for 33 cm of bullet drop at 300 meters, you simply dial up 11 MRAD on your scope. MRAD retains this handy relationship at any range, allowing fast mental calculations.
MOA, which stands for minute of angle, dates back thousands of years to the ancient Sumerians who divided circles into 360 degrees. Later civilizations broke degrees down further into 60 “minutes” of angle or arcminutes.
One MOA represents 1/60th of one degree, or roughly 1 inch at 100 yards. This relationship between the angle MOA and the inches of deviation at set yardages is the basis for the MOA system.
Here are some key facts on MOA:
- Based on the imperial system using inches and yards.
- At 100 yards, 1 MOA ≈ 1 inch.
- At 200 yards, 1 MOA ≈ 2 inches.
- Civilian origin for shooting and hunting applications.
- 1 MOA = 0.2908 MRAD.
- Adjustments typically in 1/4 MOA increments.
- MOA vs. deviation varies at different yardages.
- Popular with civilian recreational shooters in the US.
The MOA system provides great precision at shorter distances out to 300 yards. But at longer ranges, the relationship between MOA and deviation in inches varies. This requires some calculations when figuring your corrections. Despite this downside, MOA remains popular, especially with civilian shooters more familiar with imperial units.
Now that you understand the basics of MRAD and MOA, let’s do a direct side-by-side comparison:
- MRAD was created for military artillery use in the 1800s.
- MOA dates back thousands of years to Sumerian astronomy.
- MRAD is metric using meters and centimeters.
- MOA is imperial using yards and inches.
- MOA offers finer measurements within 300 yards.
- MRAD maintains its useful relationship at any range.
Ease of Use:
- If you think in yards/inches, MOA may be more intuitive.
- If you think in meters/centimeters, MRAD is likely easier.
- MRAD is the standard for military and law enforcement.
- MOA remains popular with civilian recreational shooters.
- MRAD adjustments are usually in 0.1 MIL increments.
- MOA adjustments typically click in 1/4 MOA.
So in summary, both systems have their origins in history and useful applications today. MRAD offers simpler calculations and adjustments at extreme ranges, while MOA provides finer precision at shorter distances. The choice often depends on your shooting context and personal preference.
To help build your understanding of these angular units, let’s look at the formulas that define them:
1 MRAD = 0.057 degrees
This relates to:
- π radians = 180 degrees
- 1 radian = 57.296 degrees
- 0.001 radian = 0.057 degrees
- 0.001 radian = 1 MRAD
Based on these relationships, at any range:
Deviation (m) = Distance (m) x MRAD
So at 300 meters with a 3 MRAD adjustment, deviation = 300 x 3 = 900 mm or 90 cm.
1 MOA = 1/60 degree = 0.01667 degrees
Since there are 360 degrees in a circle, this means:
- 1 degree = 60 MOA
- 360 degrees = 21,600 MOA
The deviation formulas for MOA are:
Deviation (inches) = MOA x Distance (yards) / 100
Deviation (inches) = MOA x Distance (yards) x 0.01667
So at 500 yards with a 2 MOA adjustment, deviation = 2 x 500 x 0.01667 = 16.67 inches.
As you can see, the MRAD formula is much simpler since the units remain constant. The MOA formula requires including the yardage to calculate inches of deviation.
Now that you understand these angular measurement units in depth, let’s recap the major pros and cons of each system:
Pros of MRAD:
- Cascade calculations at any range.
- True milliradian relationship.
- Easier to make quick adjustments.
- Less math involved.
- Aligned with metric system.
Cons of MRAD:
- Less precise for short range (under 300 yards).
- Less familiar for shooters used to imperial units.
Pros of MOA:
- Very precise at shorter ranges.
- Works well for target shooting.
- Familiar units for US civilian shooters.
Cons of MOA:
- Requires calculations at long ranges.
- Adjustment math is more complex.
- Not aligned with metric system.
As you can see, both offer advantages depending on your shooting context. MRAD excels for quick adjustments at long ranges, while MOA provides finer precision for target practice within 300 yards.
If you ever need to convert measurements between MRAD and MOA, these quick conversion formulas will come in handy:
- 1 MRAD = 3.43775 MOA
- 1 MOA = 0.2908 MRAD
So some examples:
- 2 MRAD x 3.43775 = 6.875 MOA
- 5 MOA x 0.2908 = 1.454 MRAD
It’s also handy to know that:
- 3 MRAD ≈ 10 MOA
- 10 MOA ≈ 3 MRAD
So if your buddy tells you he dialed up 10 MOA to compensate for a 10 mph wind, you can set your MRAD scope to about 3 mils with no calculations needed.
At this point, you have a solid grasp on how MRAD and MOA work and how they compare. But which system should you actually use? Here are some key factors to consider:
- Your shooting contexts: If you primarily target shoot at under 300 yards, MOA makes sense. For extreme long range shooting, MRAD is superior.
- Your existing gear: If you already have scopes and reticles in one system, it’s best to stick with it.
- Your preference: Think about whether you naturally work in imperial or metric units easier.
- Friends and mentors: Using the same system as your shooting buddies simplifies communication.
- Military or civilian use: MRAD is the clear choice if you ever plan to shoot competitively or professionally. MOA remains popular for civilian sport shooting.
Rather than viewing it as an either/or choice, many shooters actually use both systems! Having both MRAD and MOA scopes in your arsenal gives you the specific advantages of each for different applications. If you’re committed to one system, go with MRAD for its superior performance at long ranges. Or pick the one that best matches your existing gear and the yards/units you think in naturally.
The most important thing is understanding how both MRAD and MOA work. This allows you to leverage the strengths of each to take your shooting skill to the next level.
Whether you’re a US Marine sniper or an avid long-range competition shooter, understanding MRAD vs. MOA is crucial for choosing optics and dialing in accurate shots. Both systems have stood the test of time and have distinct benefits depending on your needs and preferences.
Now that you have a complete understanding of MRAD and MOA, you can determine which approach works best for you. Rather than just going with what others use or what your gear defaults to, make an informed decision based on your specific shooting contexts and style.
The next time you’re debating which optics to upgrade to or hear fellow shooters debating “MILS vs. MOA,” you’ll be able to join the conversation as an expert. As your long-range shooting skills improve, you’ll also be able to leverage the unique advantages of both systems where appropriate to get the most out of your gear.
The important thing is choosing what works best for you and mastering that system. With practice and the right knowledge, you’ll be ringing steel at distances that seem impossible to the average shooter. So get out there, setup some challenging targets, and start honing your skills – the fun of long range shooting awaits!