MIL vs MOA: An Objective Comparison

20 Jul

MIL vs MOA Comparison Article

There are a lot of articles and forum threads out there comparing MIL and MOA, but most either aren’t objective or they’re overly complex. I’ll try to avoid both of those pitfalls in this article.

Executive Summary

A few months ago I asked Bryan Litz whether he personally used MIL or MOA. Bryan is an expert among experts in the shooting community, and after reading his books I’ve gained a respect for his scientific approach to decisions like this. His response was so concise and objective, I thought it could serve as the executive summary for this whole comparison:

You can’t really go wrong with either (MIL or MOA). They’re both equally effective, it comes down to how well you know the system. If you’re comfortable with MOA, I wouldn’t recommend switching to MIL. I have a few MIL scopes but primarily because they’re on rifles used for military evaluation projects, and that community is now mostly converted to MILS, so when in Rome…

So if you have a hunting buddy that you want to be on the same page with, that might be a factor. But for your own use, neither has an inherent advantage.”

Bryan Litz, Author of Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting & Chief Ballistician at Berger Bullets

There are a handful of minor differences/trade-offs between MIL & MOA, but there are no inherent advantage to either system. Most people blow the small differences WAY out of proportion. So if you are like I was and stressing about what to go with … relax, neither is the wrong decision. Here are the biggest differences and things to keep in mind. The rest of the article will expand on these in more detail:

  • 1/4 MOA adjustments are slightly more precise than 1/10 MIL
  • MIL values are slightly easier to communicate
  • If you think in yards/inches the math for range estimation is easier with MOA. If you think in meters/cm the math is easier with MIL.
  • If you have a friend that is already using one, there is some advantage to being on the same system.
  • Around 90% of the pros use MIL
  • More product options in MIL
  • Whatever you decide, go with matching turret/reticle (i.e. MIL/MIL or MOA/MOA)

The Factual Differences

There are only a couple differences between the systems that have much merit. They are very slight, and barely worth mentioning.

1/4 MOA Is Slightly More Precise Than 1/10 MIL

The most common adjustments are 1/4 MOA or 1/10 MIL. Technically, 1/4 MOA clicks provide a little finer adjustments than 1/10 MIL. This difference is very slight and it’d be hard to claim you could “shoot between those numbers.” It only equates to 0.1” difference in adjustments at 100 yards or 1” of at 1,000 yards, and there are very few shooters who could hold well enough to notice that difference (or isolate it to that single factor). I can’t.

MIL vs MOA Adjustment Precision At 1000 Yards

If finer is better, why not go to 1/8 MOA clicks? Some scopes have that, but most long-range shooters feel like that is too fine. In fact, at the 2013 Steel Safari competition Ray Sanchez said he actually thinks 1/4 MOA is too fine, and actually prefers 1/2 MOA adjustments on his scopes. Ray is a very accomplished shooter, having won national long-range shooting competitions and is well respected in the shooting community. He thought for practical long-range shooting he would rather be able to dial quickly (15 MOA of adjustment is 60 clicks with 1/4 MOA adjustments, but only 30 with 1/2 MOA), and his experience has taught him that having adjustments as fine as 1/4 MOA just isn’t as important as the rest of the things that go into executing a good shot. I can’t say I totally agree with him but there does seem to be a balance point there somewhere, between too fine of an adjustment but fine enough to dial in the spot you want to hit. Most shooters agree that 1/4 MOA or 1/10 MIL are both right around that sweet spot, which is evident in the scopes used by the pros.

MIL Values Are Slightly Easier To Communicate

You can see in the range card examples below, 1/4 MOA adjustments take up more room and are a little harder to read than 1/10 MIL adjustments. The adjustment for 725 yards is “22.75” MOA (4 digits), or “6.6” MIL (2 digits). That is essentially the same angular adjustment (dope cards are both for the same ballistics), but MILs are larger units so they are represented by significantly smaller values than MOA. Also units in 10ths fit our numerical system (base 10) more naturally than fractional units. Not only does that make a range card simpler and quicker to read, it also is slightly easier to communicate elevation values to a partner. It’s just easier to process “6.6” instead of “22.75”.

MIL vs MOA Range Card Examples

How Do You Naturally Think?

If you naturally think & talk in terms of meters and centimeters, the math for range estimation is easier with a MIL system. But if you naturally think & talk in terms of yards and inches, the math is easier with a MOA system. If you don’t plan to do range estimation with your scope (which few do), then both are equally effective.

Here are a couple questions to help you figure out what you naturally think in:

  • When asked how far away a target is, would you answer in yards or meters?
  • When asked how wide a target is, would you answer in inches or centimeters?
  • Is your rangefinder set to give units in yards or meters?
  • Is your dope card in yards or meters?

If you typically think in yards & inches (i.e. U.S. Standard Units), that doesn’t mean you can’t go MIL. But if you are around guys like Todd Hodnett or members of the military that use that system … you will quickly notice they talk in terms of meters (i.e. metric units). Overtime you can train your brain to think in metric, but it is almost like learning to speak another language. It just takes time/discipline and/or immersion in the new system to make the switch.

If you try to do range estimation in yards with a MIL based system, the math will be more difficult. I’ve provided several examples that illustrate this at the end of this article. It is actually too difficult for a lot of people to do in their head, so they end up relying on an index card filled with sizes of targets in inches, the measured size in MILS and the range those equate to. In fact there are even many tools out there to address this exact problem (e.g. Whiz Wheel, Mildot Master Slide Rule). You can avoid needing to carry something like that altogether if you simply stick to doing range estimation in meters with a MIL based system, and in yards with an MOA based system.

Like Bryan Litz mentioned, if you have a friend that you shoot with a lot that has already committed to either a MIL or MOA system, there is some advantage to you both being on the same page. I have friends that shoot both (2 of us MIL, and 2 of us MOA) … and I can testify firsthand that it can get confusing when asking what someone’s wind hold was. If you compete as a team, then the communication you need to have to compete makes it virtually a must to use the same system.

What Do the Pro’s Use?

MIL MOA What The Pros Use 2013 Precision Rifle Series

That’s right, 46 people in the 2013 Precision Rifle Series said they used a MIL based reticle, and only 3 said they use a MOA based reticle. 7 said they used a reticle that is available in both MIL & MOA, so I threw those out because I couldn’t say with certainty which camp they fell in. But a 49 person sample size containing people willing to compete in up to 15 national matches each year can be very telling.

This does NOT mean MIL is better. It just means MIL based scopes are more popular, even among the top 1% of shooters out there. It also might be a chicken and egg question or even almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, because high-end MIL scopes are more readily available.

Military & Manufacturer Influence

The popularity of the MIL system is undoubtedly heavily influenced by the military standardizing on the MIL system. When the military standardizes on something, it suddenly becomes very popular in the civilian world as well (sometimes regardless of how it compares to other options available). For example, look at the popularity of the civilian equivalent of NATO-based cartridges like the 223 Rem, 308 Win, 300 Win Mag, 338 Lapua, and 50 Cal. There may be other cartridges that are ballistically superior to some of those rounds … but that short list still continues to outsell every other cartridge year over year.

Many manufacturers choose to focus on MIL-based systems because they are competing (or hoping) for military contracts. And since the two systems are so similar, and there isn’t an inherent advantage to either … why have to tool your entire assembly line to offer both? Also since there doesn’t appear to as high of demand for MOA based systems, companies may make a business decision to only offer MIL based systems to reduce their internal complexity and increase efficiency. Many of the high-end scopes are made by European companies like Schmidt & Bender, and virtually every country outside the U.S. has switched completely to the metric system. So it may not be as big of a sacrifice in their eyes to only offer MIL based systems.

The fact remains, whatever the reason, that there are more products based on MIL than MOA. For example, try to find a spotting scope with a MOA based reticle (used for ranging targets). I personally looked a couple months ago, and slowly became convinced they simply don’t exist (at least at that time).

Matching Reticle & Turrets

Whatever you decide, don’t mix reticle & turrets of different units. Many entry-level scopes may have a mildot reticle (MIL based), but the turret adjustments are in 1/4 MOA clicks. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, and can limit how quickly you can make 2nd round corrections. If you are using a reticle/turret system that is either MIL/MIL or MOA/MOA, and you see your 1st bullet splash impacted low, you can quickly measure how far low using your reticle and dial that extra adjustment for a speedy follow-up shot. For example if it was 1 MOA or even 1 MIL low, just turn your knob an extra 1 MOA or 1 MIL respectively and you should have a second round hit. You could alternatively hold high by whatever amount you measured instead of dialing it and avoid the conversion, but I like to know what the correct dope should have been so next time I can dial it in and get a 1st shot hit.

When you mix the units you are essentially trying to live with one foot in each camp, and it can make life harder than it needs to be. For example, if you had a scope with a mildot reticle and MOA adjustments and saw the bullet splash was 1.5 mils low. You would have to do some math to figure out what the equivalent adjustment would be in MOA. The math below would indicate you need to dial an additional 5.25 MOA (if you were using 1/4 MOA clicks).

How To Convert MIL to MOA Math Formula

I have a very smart friend that is an accomplished long-range shooter, and he actually prefers a MIL reticle with MOA turrets. It blew my mind when he said that, but he prefers to talk about wind holds in mils because that is what most other people are talking in. But he prefers the finer adjustments 1/4 MOA clicks provide, and to him the dope card is just a number he turns his scope turret to … he doesn’t care if it is MOA or MIL. So on his dope card, his elevation adjustments are in MOA and his wind adjustments are in MIL. I’ve had to do that for one of my scopes in the past, and I personally didn’t like it. But there are at least a few opinions out there on this.

Range Estimation Math Examples

The examples below illustrate how easy it is to use the MOA system to do range estimation in yards, and how well the MIL system can do range estimation in meters. There are also some examples that illustrate how difficult the math can be if you try mix the metric/standard systems by trying to use the MIL system to do range estimation in yards. Here are the range estimation formulas we’ll use for these examples:

MIL MOA Range Estimation Math Formulas

You can see in the formulas that we have to multiple some things by 10 or 100 … but when you mix yards and MILS you end up with strange constants like 27.8 to account the necessary conversions between the standard and metric systems. Some people even show that number to be 27.778, but that level of precision just isn’t necessary for range estimation when using small arms. Multiplying by 10 or 100 is simple compared to multiplying things by 27.8. Even the best math whiz would have difficulty doing this level of math in the field under any type of stress or time constraint.


MOA Example 1: Simplest Math Scenario

Using your MOA reticle, you measure Target A to be 2.0 MOA wide. You know the actual target is 18” wide, and you want to find the range in yards.

MOA Range Estimation Example 1

MOA Example 2: Complex Math Scenario

Using your MOA reticle, you measure Target A to be 3.5 MOA wide. You know the actual target is 18” wide, and you want to find the range in yards.

MOA Range Estimation Example 2

MIL Example 1: Simplest Math Scenario

Using your MIL reticle, you measure Target A to be 1 MIL wide. You know the actual target is 18” wide, and you want to find the range in yards.

MIL Range Estimation Example 1

MIL Example 2: Complex Math Scenario

Using your MIL reticle, you measure Target A to be 0.7 MIL wide. You know the actual target is 18” wide, and you want to find the range in yards.

MIL Range Estimation Example 2

MIL Example 3: Sticking with Metric (Size in CM & Range in Meters)

Using your MIL reticle, you measure Target B to be 0.4 MIL wide. You know the actual target is 30 cm wide, and you want to find the range in meters.

MIL Range Estimation Example 3

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Best Rifle Scope For The Money

Best Long-Range Scope: Buyers Guide & Features To Look For: Advertising around long-range scopes can be misleading. This post boils it all down to the biggest features you should focus on when comparing long-range scopes. This guide explains what all the different features mean, gives you an idea of which are more important important, and helps you filter out some of the marketing noise when researching rifle scopes. I also make specific recommendations for different price points, to help you get the best rifle scope for the money.


Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Ballistics, Long-Range Shooting, Optics, Scope


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27 responses to “MIL vs MOA: An Objective Comparison

  1. Savagebob

    July 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    I totally disagree that 1/4 MOA clicks are adequate for long range shooting. Most F-Class shooters (myself included) need the precision of 1/8 minute clicks. This is critical when you want elevation spot on and hold off for wind.

    • Cal

      July 4, 2014 at 7:27 pm

      Yes sir, valid point. I could see 1/8 MOA adjustments being ideal for benchrest or F-Class use. My primary focus is on long-range hunting, extended long range plinking (up to 2000 yards), and practical/tactical competitions. In those cases, it may be too fine. But ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. This is one of those times were there isn’t a wrong answer, just whatever works for you.

  2. James

    September 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for a well-written and informative article. I’m an American living and hunting in Sweden and this is a topical issue as my local hunting buddy and I think in different measurement standards.


    • Cal

      September 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      James, this is becoming an age-old debate that virtually everyone (at least every American shooter) has been part of. It seems like houses have been divided over this argument! I just attempted to bring some objectivity to this heated topic. Glad it helped!

  3. Tony

    October 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Cal, Have you tried this formula for ranging a target with a Mil reticle?

    (Target size in YARDS x 1,000) / Target size in Mils = Range in yards. It is a bit easier than that other formula you used as an example.

    • Cal

      October 23, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Hey Tony, thanks for sharing! I’m not sure I’ve seen that formula. It seems to work, and certainly seems a easier for larger targets. It may be still make the math tough in some scenarios, like an 8″ or 10″ target (0.2222 yards and 0.2778 yards respectively). I guess you just round, but that could lead to range precision issues.

      But honestly, I don’t find myself milling targets a lot. I’m sure there are guys out there that still do it, but I just don’t know any. I carry a rangefinder. So I don’t find myself doing a lot of math (in yards or meters) in the field. I’d expect there were more shooters who fall into that camp than guys who mil targets. But that’s a guess. I’ve heard some guys claim milling was more accurate, and it might be in some scenarios.

      Thanks again for sharing! I’m always open for a better way to do things.

    • Frank

      March 21, 2015 at 10:46 pm

      THAT’S exactly what I was going to say. The 27.8 number is because you mesure your target in inches and you want to end up with yards. By the way milrad is NOT a metric system, but it is easy to compare it with that system. Milrad ( comes from milli radian ) is based on 1 / 1000 of radian. So, it is easier to calculate even with SAE system. Lets say for example that 36 inches at 1000 yards is the sams as 3.6 inches at 100 yards for 1 milrad. (Or 1 mildot).

      • Cal

        March 22, 2015 at 12:35 pm

        Regardless of the semantics, at the end of the day they’re both just angular units of measure. There is NO inherent advantage to either system.


  4. Mike Rebel Carman

    February 3, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    How do you tell if the reticle is Mil or MOA?

    • Cal

      February 4, 2015 at 8:29 am

      That’s a good question. You can’t really tell by just looking at the hash marks, but there are usually number index marks. MOA will always be a much larger number than mils, because 1 mil = 3.38 MOA. Here is a link to two Nightforce reticles that are very similar, the MIL-R and the MOAR … except of course one is MIL and the other is MOA. Every mark on the mil based reticle is 0.5 mils, and the number indexes printed on the reticle are relatively small number (2 & 4 mils). On the MOA-based reticle, every mark is 1 MOA, and the numbers indexes are much larger (10 & 20 mils). So if you have numbers on the reticle, usually if they’re double-digit it’s MOA.

      If you don’t have number indexes printed on the reticle, it’s probably a mil-based scope. Not only are they more prevalent, but the dots (or hash marks) are just understood to be 1, 2, 3, 4 mils and so on. So it’s common on mil-based scopes to not include any number indexes. But, you can double-check that by drawing a line that is exactly 3.6″ on a target and set it at 100 yards, which is what 1 mil should be at that distance. Look through the reticle and see if that aligns with the marks. If it does, you’re mils. If it doesn’t you’re likely MOA.


      • Mike Rebel Carman

        February 4, 2015 at 9:13 am

        Well now I’m really confused! You said to make sure the reticle & turret are both either MIL or MOA. No one seems to know how to tell the difference on the reticle. I would need to know before buying, so drawing lines on cardboard @ 100 yds isn’t going to work.

      • Cal

        February 4, 2015 at 10:25 am

        Ha! Sorry, for the confusion. I thought you had a scope and you didn’t know if it was in mils or MOA. So sorry.

        Every reputable scope manufacturer I’ve ever seen will somehow indicate whether the reticle is mil-based or MOA-based, along with what the turret click values are. But you may have to dig, or at least know what to look for.

        Here is a screenshot from that shows what I’m suggesting you avoid. This scope has MOA-based turret clicks, but the reticle is in MILS. You either want a MIL-based reticle and MIL-based turret adjustments, or a MOA-based reticle with MOA-based turret adjustments. You can see this example mixes the two. You essentially don’t want the words MIL and MOA to both appear in the product specs.

        How to tell if a scope is MOA or MIL

        If you aren’t sure if the reticle is in MILS or MOA, visit the manufacturers website. One of the reasons I like, is because they usually have a link to the reticle subtension diagrams right there for you. You can see in the screenshot under the photo of the scope there is a link for “Nightforce Mil-Dot Reticle Subtensions”. That will tell you whether the reticle units are in mils or MOA. Of course, you could always go to Nightforces website and they provide that info there as well. Here is an example of how they publish that data: But every manufacturer has something similar. If they don’t … I’d run. They are missing some of the fundamentals, and I bet their product is too.

        Oh, and one more tip … Shooter’s MOA (aka 1/4″ clicks at 100 yards) is NOT the same thing as MOA. Just avoid Shooters MOA all together. It’s intended for hunters … not precision rifle shooters.


      • Cal

        February 4, 2015 at 10:30 am

        And if the spec says that the adjustments are 0.1 mrad … that is mil-based. MIL and MRAD both stand for milliradian.


  5. Jim

    February 26, 2015 at 10:08 am

    This site is very very good for those of us that are considering purchasing long distance shooting gear, but don’t really have any experience. I know it is a nit, but in checking your distance equations using MIL and MOA, I find the MIL equations to be correct, however I believe the MOA equation should use 95.493 rather than 100. At 1000 yds, it is only a 45 yard difference in distance. As you say, since most are using range finders these days, it may be superfluous.

    Again, great job on the site. It is most helpful !!

    • Cal

      February 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

      Thanks, Jim.

  6. Raz

    March 2, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Cal, thanks for the great article. By necessity I came up with a way to use MILS and Yards/Inches in an easy way:

    Range in Yards = (Target Size in Inches + 10%) x 25 / MILS

    This gives some nice numbers for targets of 9″ (head), 18″ (shoulders), 36″ (belt up), 72″ (height) (rounded with +10% as 10″, 20″, 40″, 80″).

    In addition, you can also quickly convert to Meters by doing -10% of the Yards.

    • Cal

      March 3, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks for sharing.

  7. Frank

    March 22, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    I agree with you! As long as you buy a scope that has the same “system” with the reticle v/s the tourets. I bought myself a milrad/millrad type scope while one of my friend bought a scope with millrad reticule v/s MOA tourets. Believe me, it’s not easy to work with… but he bought a “price”.

  8. MRoy

    May 15, 2015 at 10:04 am

    One MOA is about one inch at 100 yards. But the true value is 1.0472 inches, an increase of 4.72%. That inaccuracy will adversely affect range estimation. A 20 inch target measuring 8 moa is not 250 yards away, but 238.7 yards away (error of just over 10 yards). The error at 20 inches and 4 moa is over 22 yards (477.5 instead of 500 yds). By comparison, mils is exact. A 500 millimeter target measuring 2 mils is 250 meters away. So the mil-dot system is more accurate.

    • Cal

      May 15, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      Thanks, MRoy. That is certainly all true. However, there honestly aren’t many guys milling targets for range estimation on small targets at long-range. I’ve actually never seen one. I’m not saying it isn’t good to have that skill in case electronic rangefinders fail, but lots of guys get really worked up about the precision of milling targets like what you’re talking about … when in reality, milling targets is already very prone to error. Your reticle just isn’t a fine enough ruler relative to the tiny angles we’re dealing with to give you a good range estimate.

      I touch on this in more detail in a post last week: How Much Does Accurate Ranging Matter?

      A marine scout sniper said “Most experienced snipers can measure down to five hundredths of a mil or 0.05.” I really analyzed that in the post, and that could easily cause you to have up to 45 yards of error. There are lots of photos and examples in that post to help illustrate the problem with that approach. If you’re shooting a man-size target or a vehicle … it might not matter. However, if you’re trying to shoot a 1-2 MOA target … it seems very unlikely you’d be able to get a 1st round hit if you were estimating the range by milling the target.

      I don’t want to get in an argument over this, but have noticed how easy it is for people to get caught up in the details and not realize that isn’t a situation you’d probably ever find yourself in.



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