I recently really started obsessing over long-range shooting, which inherently resulted in doing as much research as possible on the topic. Combine that with researching different rifle brands, calibers, & scopes best suited for hammering steel at over 1,000 away, and I’ve learned a lot from the experts in the industry. From Gunwerks to military snipers, there is a huge amount of information out there. I inevitably started down the rabbit-hole of information and realized I better get to know more about the different terminology. One of my first stops was researching what the apparent battle between different was all about.
A QUICK DISCLAIMER ABOUT THE BATTLE OF MRAD VS MOA
Before I get into this too much, let me start off by saying that there are about 100 different directions you can easily go in the sport of long range shooting. Which direction you pick really comes down to a few things. The first is obviously your budget. If you’re strapped for cash you aren’t going to be shelling out $13,000 for a custom-built Gunwerks Magnus with a $2,500 Vortex Razor HD on it.
The second item is the different scenarios that you are actually going to be shooting in. A military sniper is going to go about things a heck of a lot differently than someone trying to hammer a bull Elk across a mountain range. Not only will your gear be affected by this, but also your mindset. A military sniper will almost always have a spotter, while a hunter might be on a solo hunt.
The third factor is ultimately going to come down to your own personal preferences. For example, someone with poor eyesight might favor a second focal plane scope over the best first focal plane scope. The shooter at the range next to him might have exactly the opposite preference. One might prefer to manually hold over using the Kentucky Windage method, while the other would rather make adjustments via their turrets.
The point here is that there is really no “right” answer. There is only what works best for you & your shooting ability. If something in particular works for you, awesome! It might work for someone else just as well, but it also might throw them off. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as everyone is hitting steel consistently!
WHAT IS MRAD VS MOA?
Before we get into this “battle” of preferences it is important to understand what we’re actually talking about here. Both MRAD & MOA are conical measures to gauge your accuracy at any distance between you & your target.
Minute of Angle (MOA)
Minute of Angle, or MOA, is a measurement system that ultimately equals 1 inch of movement at 100 yards. If your rifle is set up to be a sub-MOA rifle, that would mean that you should be consistently hitting within a 1-inch circle at 100 yards. There are obviously outside factors that will affect this such as wind & elevation, but the concept still holds true. If there is wind and/or elevation, adjustments to the shot placement must be made. Typically a turret adjustment on a long-range scope will equal 1/4 MOA per click. In other words, if you are shooting 2″ high at 100 yards & want to be dead on, you would need to adjust your turret 8 clicks down.
Milliradian, or MRAD, is a similar measurement system, but with different increments. 1 MRAD is going to equal 3.6″ at 100 yards. While this initially sounds like you would have significantly less adjustment with an MRAD scope, a closer look reveals that isn’t quite true. Most MRAD scopes come with 0.1 MRAD click values, allowing you to make 0.36 inch adjustments at 100 yards. This isn’t as fine as the MOA system, but it isn’t as far off as it appears at first glance.
|Distance||One MOA equals||One MRAD equals|
SO WHICH IS BETTER?
The battle of MRAD vs MOA is really simply going to come down to ease of use & how you make adjustments. It could also ultimately depend on what setup you currently have on your rifle. If your scope currently uses the MOA system & you don’t want to buy a new one, well, your decision has already been made.
The longer the shot you are taking, the more adjustments will come into play. At 1000 yards, being off 1 MOA will equal 10″ of movement, while 1 MRAD would equal 36 inches. This obviously makes a huge impact on your accuracy, so being precise in your calculations is critical.
If you are precise with your calculations & adjustments there really isn’t a “better” option here. The most important factor is simply consistency. Having a scope where the turret adjustments & the reticle subtensions use the same measurements is critical. Having to make conversions all the time before shots is a recipe for a clean miss. Stick around & I’ll show you why.
MRAD TO MOA TURRET ADJUSTMENTS
Now back to our point earlier about consistency between your reticle & turrets on your scope. Imagine a high-pressure, fast-paced scenario where you need to get an accurate follow-up shot off quickly. You saw the impact of your first shot hit roughly two dots to the right of your target & need to adjust. Distance ranged out to 200 yards, which would equal about 14.4 inches off if we calculate it using the MRAD system.
Now the issue is that your reticle has MRAD measurements, while your turret has 1/4 MOA adjustments. In order to accurately correct for those 14.4 inches, quite a bit of math is going to need to be done on the fly.
We know one MRAD = 3.6 inches at 100 yards & 7.2 inches at 200 yards. Since we were 2 MRADs to the right, we will need to bring it back 14.4 inches to the left. If each click on our turret is 1/4 MOA, that would equal 1/2 an inch per click at 200 yards.
In order to bring the shot back those 14.4 inches, we would end up arriving at 28.8 clicks to the left.
That was hard enough while we were sitting here working through these calculations on paper. Imagine doing all that in a high-pressure situation as a military sniper or as a hunter staring down a massive whitetail. Not exactly ideal, is it?
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Now imagine how much easier that same situation would be if the reticle had MOA marks or the turret adjustment was in MRAD. Instead of needing to work through all those conversions in our heads, it becomes a simple adjustment followed by putting our shot right where we want to.
For example, let’s say we have an MRAD reticle & turret setup on our scope. We’re shooting that same 200 yards, and need to adjust back 2 MRAD, or 14.4 inches left. That’s simply going to equal 20 “clicks” to the left on our windage adjustment, and we’re right on target.
So as you can see, having the same units for both reticle & turret is not only ideal, it’s common sense!
GOOD OL’ KENTUCKY WINDAGE!
Most long range shooters are going to adjust for long range, 1,000+ yard shots using the turrets on their scope. This is by far the most common way to prep for shots, since you can still use the crosshairs to pinpoint your shot. However this is a time-consuming method, and in some situations, you may need to adjust using the Kentucky Windage method.
The Kentucky Windage method is essentially where you compensate for windage & elevation using the hash marks or mil dots on your reticle. For example, instead of adjusting your elevation with your turret up 2 MOA & putting your crosshairs directly on target, you would simply hold 2 MOA over the target using indicators on your reticle. The advantage to this method is that it is considerably faster than making adjustments via turrets. Military snipers & hunters alike will both likely need to use Kentucky Windage in fast-paced shooting situations.
The issue with this method is that if you have to adjust for both windage & elevation you are essentially going to be aiming using an imaginary set of crosshairs. At shorter distances this isn’t that big of a deal simply because you have a larger margin of error. However, when we’re talking about long range shooting it doesn’t take much to be incredibly far off.
WHY FOCAL PLANES MATTER
Most scopes built for long range shooting are going to have variable magnification. In other words, you can zoom in and out from the target using your scope. These are incredibly useful for so many different situations, and unless laws prevent me from using a variable power scope I’ll always have one on my rifle or muzzleloader.
It should be noted, however, that just because your scope has mildots or MOA marks doesn’t mean that you can use them at all magnifications. The accuracy of these marks on your reticle are going to depend entirely on the focal plane that your reticle is set up on.
FIRST vs SECOND FOCAL PLANE
First focal plane scopes’ reticles are always going to be accurate, regardless of magnification. These scopes are great for long range shooting, although some shooters complain about the subtensions being too narrow at close ranges. I personally haven’t experienced issues with this, but for someone with poor eyesight, I could definitely see this being a problem. If you want to check out our list of the best first focal plane scopes you can read our article here.
Second focal plane scopes are where this becomes a problem at different magnifications. A second focal plane scope’s reticle is always going to remain the same size regardless of magnification. While initially this looks accurate, there is an issue here. As you change the magnification of your scope the marks become inaccurate. If you make adjustments via your turrets this isn’t an issue. However if you are making adjustments via the Kentucky Windage method you could be way off.