I recently started preparing for a solo elk hunt in the Flat Tops of Colorado. This area is ideal because they sell over-the-counter elk tags for both cows and bulls. You would think this area would be swarmed by hunters considering almost all other elk hunting land is either private land or requires a lottery to acquire a tag. This means coughing up around $5,000 for a guided hunt or waiting on the lottery. If you wait on the lottery, you do not definitively know that your hunt is happening until summer. For somebody like myself, that is just not enough time to prepare. Choosing MRAD vs MOA scopes would be a major part of my preparation.
However, the Flat Tops continue to be a reasonable place to hunt. One reason for this is motorized vehicles are not permitted. This area has no roads, and trails are only for horseback or hiking in on foot. Because of this there is a good amount of hunting pressure within a mile of the roads, but not much after that point. The other reason there is limited hunting pressure is that the altitude is great and the terrain is intense. Most of this area falls between 10,000 feet and 15,000 feet. Therefore, some of the shots you may take could be 300 feet to 1000 feet long.
I planned to borrow or buy a rifle and scope specifically for this hunt. However, this is the first time I would be shooting at distances for which windage and elevation adjustments would be a major factor. Here are the important points I learned before making a purchase on a scope.
What is MRAD vs MOA?
Both of these terms are conical measurements that show your accuracy at distances between the tip of your muzzle and your target.
Minute of Angle (MOA) is normally about one inch at 100 yards. This means your rifle should hit a one inch circle at 100 yards. You may be much more accurate than that, or variables like wind might move it outside that circle. This is where adjustments come into play. The turret adjustments on an MOA scope are typically ¼ inch at 100 yards. This means that it takes four clicks on your turret adjustment to move your target spot by one inch.
Milliradian (MRAD) is actually closer to 3.6 inches at 100 yards. While this gives you a larger initial circle of impact, the adjustments on the turret are normally .36 inches per click at 100 yards. This allows for a much finer adjustment for longer distances.
Which is better?
This question really comes down to ease of use. Understanding this means understanding how you make adjustments. Most scopes have a dot-reticle to help with these adjustments. This is simply a series of dots along your crosshairs that show distance. Dot-reticles are almost always measured in MRAD. However, turret adjustments are sometimes in MRAD and sometimes in MOA. This is where it can get complicated. Let us just say for the time being that having both MRAD dot-reticles and MRAD turret adjustments is a much better option. I will explain why in the next few paragraphs.
Understand that there are two ways to adjust for windage or elevation. The suggested method really comes down to the distances and amount of wind you are dealing with. The more bullet movement you have, the more accurate you must be on your adjustments. If you are adjusting for just a few inches, Kentucky Windage is fine for an adjustment.
This process works the same for either an MOA dot-reticle or an MRAD dot-reticle. So let us say you are shooting at 200 yards with a decent crosswind from right to left. You take your first shot and notice through your scope that the elevation was perfect but the bullet hit two dots (MOAs or MRADs) directly to the left of the bullseye. With Kentucky Windage you would simply aim your next shot two dots to the right of your bullseye and fire. If the windage has not changed, it should be a direct hit. The same adjustments can be used for elevation if needed.
One benefit of using Kentucky Windage is that it is a much faster process. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, but with hunting you typically want to take your second shot as quickly as possible. The other benefit is that Kentucky windage works exactly the same in MRAD or MOA.
The downside is that you are having to focus on an imaginary crosshair. If you are dealing with both elevation and windage adjustments, you are now lining up your target with a spot that is out in the middle of space in your scope window. You no longer have crosshairs to pinpoint the perfect shot. For some people, this can be difficult to envision. With turret adjustments you can make your clicks and then just line up your crosshairs like any other shot. The further your shot is, the more important this becomes.
MRAD to MRAD Turret Adjustments
The beautiful part about a standard conversion from the dot-reticle to the clicks on your turret adjustment is that distance does not matter. In the previous example we were hitting two dots to the left. We know each dot is one MRAD and each click on the turret is .1 MRAD. In this case it would take 20 clicks to adjust for the wind and nail the bullseye on the next shot. Whether we are at 100 yards or 1000 yards, one MRAD off on your dot-reticle requires 10 clicks on your turret adjustment. Simple, right?
MRAD to MOA Turret Adjustments
This is the scenario where it gets complicated. You now have dot-reticles measured in MRADS, but each click on your turret is ¼ MOA. So let us look at our previous example and try to do the math. We are at 200 yards and hit two dots to the left. One MRAD = 3.6 inches at 100 yards = 7.2 inches at 200 yards. We were 2 MRADs to the left, so that equals 14.4 inches to the left. Each click on your turret is ¼ MOA at 100 yards = ½ MOA at 200 yards = ½ an inch. So 14.4 inches to the left would be 28.8 clicks on your turret. Now try doing that in your head while you are staring at a monster bull elk. See the problem?
MOA to MOA Turret Adjustments
Some manufacturers make MOA to MOA scopes. However, keep in mind that an MRAD is 3.6 inches at 100 yards and an MOA is one inch at 100 yards. This means your dot reticles are four times closer together in MOA. They are so close that it really becomes hard to distinguish your distances, especially in low light scenarios. I am not a fan.
Tactics for Turret Adjustments
Remember that adjusting for your shot is not as simple as adjusting and firing. Some of these variables can change on a dime, and you must be ready to change with them. When dealing with strong winds, you may want to adjust your turret for elevation but leave the wind adjustment alone. You can then use your crosshairs for elevation and use the dot-reticle to apply Kentucky Windage on the fly.
When adjusting elevation based on distance, do not let your eyes play tricks on you. I normally will only eyeball distance out to about 300 yards. After that point I use a laser rangefinder to determine the exact distance of my target. No matter how good your eyesight is, you should always use a rangefinder past 600 yards.
If you are shooting at a moving target, it is important that you make the adjustments on your turret for both windage and elevation. The reason is because you will likely use your vertical axis to help you lead your target by a few feet. Your other variables need to be adjusted in so you can completely focus on your lead.
Beware of Variable Power Scopes
The most common types of scopes available these days are variable power scopes. These allow you to change the magnification based on how far out your target is. However, most of these scopes do not adjust the reticle as the magnification is adjusted. While your turret itself will always be accurate based on your distance, your dot-reticle will not always be accurate. This means that Kentucky Windage or converting from MRAD to MOA turret adjustments may be completely useless. If you are going to use Kentucky Windage or convert for turret adjustments on a variable power scope, I suggest you get lots of practice. I keep mine set on one specific magnification 95% of the time to prevent issues such as this.
I hope that I have been able to break down this topic in a way that is easy to understand. I know that the first time I read the comparison of MRAD vs MOA, I was completely confused. If you still do not quite understand the topic, you may want to consult your local gun shop or long distance shooting range. They could possibly show you a few examples on a scope, and for some people that visual aspect is important. Take your time and find the option that is going to work best for your needs.