3 MOA vs. 6 MOA Reticle: Details Explained

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By Dennis Howard •  7 min read

Many shooters who consider moving to a red dot sight get quickly confused with the difference between the way a red dot sight works and how a traditional scope with a reticle is used.

When confronted with just a red dot in the sight picture instead of hash marks on a crosshair, uninitiated shooters are easily confused about how to use the red dot and what the red dot means other than an aiming point.

What is the major difference between a 3 MOA red dot and a 6 MOA red dot? To effectively understand the difference, it is necessary to understand MOA measurements and how they are used in a red dot sight. Essentially, MOA, or Minute of Angle, is an angular measurement that can be translated into width or distance.

MOA is a common method of measurement for traditional optical scopes with crosshairs that are graduated for MOA. The difference between a 3 MOA red dot and a 6 MOA red dot is important depending on the distances at which you shoot and the style of shooting in which you usually engage.

visible difference between 3 moa vs 6 moa

MOA – Understanding the Measurements

Essentially, MOA is an angular measurement based on the view you see through your scope. One MOA is equal to 1/60th of a degree.

Imagine standing on a huge clock face at the center where the hands of the clock pivot.

If we divide the clock face into 360-degree segments, each of those one degrees on the clock face has 60 Minutes of Angle. A circle of 360 degrees has 21,600 MOA. This sounds like a very small measurement, but you must remember this is an angular measurement.

Tiny Measurements Add Up

If you think of that one MOA where you are standing as a slice of pie, it gets wider the further away you get from the center of the circle. A foot away from the center of the circle the width of one MOA is tiny.

However, as you move further away the width becomes more apparent. At 100 yards, the width of one MOA is equal to almost exactly 1 inch. (It is actually 1.047 inches, but for us, it is close enough to 1 inch.”)

MOA and distance

The 3 MOA vs 6 MOA Red Dot Sight

This is very important information to understand. It figures greatly in deciding which size of red dot sights are best for your application and shooting needs. If you consider that a 3 MOA red dot appears to cover a one-inch diameter circle at 33 yards and represents a 3-inch circle at one hundred yards should tell you a number of things right off the bat.

A 6 MOA red dot is twice that big. At 33 yards, a 6 MOA red dot coves about 6 inches. At one hundred yards the red dot appears to cover an area 6 inches in diameter. Obviously, neither a 3 MOA red dot nor a 6 Moa red dot is meant for high precision applications.

What are the Strengths of Red Dot Sights?

Red dot sights were never meant for long-range shooting. The entire concept of the red dot sight was to provide several advantages in certain situations. Among these advantages are the following.

red dot sights

Target Acquisition

Red dot sights give the shooter fast target acquisition to the shooter. Most shooters find target acquisition easier than with traditional optical scopes in short-range applications during close-range situations.

These situations are not particular to law enforcement situations or combat situations. Many homeowners who are concerned about home defense situations appreciate these advantages as well. In these close-range situations, the accuracy of red dot sights is acceptable.

Precision and Accuracy

At close range, red dot sights can be extremely accurate. Remember that at 25 feet, a 3 MOA red dot sight appears to cover a three-quarter inch circle on a target. Hold a quarter up to your chest and you should get the idea. If your rifle is sighted in reasonably well, your shots should hit consistently on or very close to that quarter.

A 6 MOA red dot sight covers an area twice as large as a 3 MOA sight at 25 yards. At this distance, a 6 MOA red dot will cover about 1.5 inches of the target. This still is not a very large area at this distance.

For home defense, 25 to 50 yards is a typical distance that you would engage a target. If you need to make accurate shots and longer distances, I suggest you consider a traditional optical scope with a simple reticle.

Ease of Use

Without a doubt, red dot sights are easy to use. Put the red dot on the target downrange and shoot. That is the general thought among many shooters. Unfortunately, it may not be as simple as you think.

Physics still applies. If you sight in your red dot sight for 50 yards and want to go target shooting at 100 yards, you must still contend with the ballistics involved. This may be harder with a red dot sight if you haven’t practiced estimating holdover or hold under with a red dot sight.

What Are the Down Sides of a Red Dot Sight?

Daytime Shooting With Red Dots

Some red dot sights have a tendency to wash out if you are shooting in bright sunlight. The power of the LED that creates the dot in the scope just isn’t powerful enough to overcome bright sunlight.

This can make acquiring a target harder, especially if your scope has a smaller dot. A larger dot size may not help as the bright sun can blur the edges of the dot and leave you with poor aiming conditions.

In most light conditions a red dot is highly visible.  However, your target may be hard to aquire if glare affects your sight picture

Battery Dependence

If you don’t have backup sights, you are totally dependent on the battery in your sight. Red dot scopes, for the most part, don’t have any other reticle in the sight window. If your battery fails, the scope becomes useless.

Many shooters address this issue by leaving their iron sights on their rifles and mounting their red dot scope so that the red dot will co-witness with the front sight of their rifle.

Can You Shoot Longer Distances with Any Accuracy?

I routinely shoot an AR-15 pistol ut to 100 yards using a Vortex Viper red dot scope. I can consistently ring a six-inch steel gong at 100-yards with this little rifle.

The Vortex Viper is an excellent red dot. However, the quality of the gun, the right ammunition, and the skill of the shooter still have a big impact on accuracy in the long run.

So, Which is Better? 3 MOA vs 6 MOA

I think that the biggest factor in choosing between 3 MOA vs 6 MOA is shooter preference. If you kick is target shooting at short ranges, either size of the red dot may work for you. If you want to shoot accurately at longer distances, I recommend a smaller dot size.

Red dots are amazing little devices that bring a whole new dimension to your shooting. You can become enjoy quicker target acquisition and achieve better accuracy.

My Personal Preference

Personally, I prefer a smaller dot size over a larger dot. I like the precision a smaller dot affords. There is nothing more satisfying than creating tight small groups on the target area.

The smaller dot lets you go to farther distances with better results. If you want one sight for an array of shooting, my recommendation is to choose a red dot sigh

Dennis Howard

A life long hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman, after surviving a devastating tornado in his home town, he saw the effects on people's lives as they struggled to cope. He built his first bugout bag a few weeks later and has been a dedicated prepper/survivalist since that time. After a career as a fireman, Dennis opened a retail store (FFL approved) catering to the military, law enforcement, and like-minded individuals. The store built their own AR platforms. Furthermore, Dennis was also an NRA instructor in both long gun and handgun as well as a certified range safety officer. Read his full interview here.