Buying a dot sight can seem overwhelming at first, not least of all because of the technical jargon involved. If you see terms like MOA or milliradians and start to scratch your head, don't worry - you're definitely not alone. That's why we've put together this short guide to explain some of these terms and give a brief run-down on the pros and cons of two of the most popular dot sizes for both pistol and rifle builds.
What Is MOA?
MOA stands for "minute of angle," an angular measurement equivalent to 1/60th of a degree. In the context of shooting, it is used to refer to the mechanical precision of a weapon and its optic - since neither of them are 100% perfectly consistent with every shot, MOA allows us to express the size of the target area that shooters can expect their rounds to land in (not accounting for the skill and ability of the shooters themselves) . If that still sounds a bit complicated, don't worry - we've got a few quick examples to demonstrate how this works.
A Brief Example
The convenient thing about MOA is that it's relatively easy to measure. 1 minute of angle is roughly equivalent to 1 inch at 100 yards.
That means that if you're taking a shot with a pistol or rifle with a 1 MOA optic at 100 yards and your aim is perfect, all of the rounds would land within a 1-inch circle measured from the direct center of your point of aim.
And because MOA also expands about 1 inch per 100 yards, it's also easy to calculate it when you want to shoot targets at longer distances. That same 1 MOA optic shooting at 500 yards would produce 5-inch groupings instead.
Keep in mind that this is for the sake of example - in real life, the shooter's aim isn't going to be perfect, but MOA is still a useful benchmark for knowing what the potential limits of your gun's precision are.
Difference Between 3 MOA And 6 MOA
The immediate difference between 3 MOA and 6 MOA will be the size of the red dot and how precise it will be for the average shooter.
Based on our explanation above, you can probably deduce that a 3 MOA dot would fire 3-inch groupings at 100 yards, while a 6 MOA dot would fire 6-inch groupings.
This isn't because one sight is mechanically superior to another - it's because the size of the dot inherently limits how precise the shooter can be. The diameter of the 6 MOA red dot is twice as large as the 3 MOA - that means that at 25 yards, a 6 MOA dot is covering up a circle 1.5 inches in diameter.
While there is a wider variation of red dot sights available on the market, ranging from 1 MOA all the way to 12, we're going to stick to a comparison of 3 MOA vs 6 MOA for the purpose of this article.
Is 3 MOA Or 6 MOA Better?
I know what you're thinking - if a 3 MOA dot produces tighter groupings, why the heck would I want a bigger dot? The answer comes down to whether you are prioritizing speed or precision when you are shooting.
A 6 MOA dot may not make tight small groups, but because the dot reticle diameter is larger, it is also brighter, more visible, and easier to track with the eye - and that intensity makes it faster to get on target. For that reason, bigger dots are popular options for a pistol or shotgun, as well for self defense use or active competition shooting like 3-gun.
Conversely, a 3 MOA sight's smaller dot allows for much more precise shooting, which makes it more suitable for long range shooting, bullseye target shooting, or other high-precision applications, which is why low-MOA optics are so common on rifles.
In other words, the "best" choice is going to come down to the type of guns you're using and your own personal needs. Let's break down the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Pros And Cons
3 MOA Pros
3 MOA Cons
6 MOA Pros
6 MOA Cons
What Is The Best MOA For Red Dot?
As you can probably guess, there is no definitive answer - which dot size you prefer will largely depend on the specific uses you have in mind and what kind of weapon it will be mounted on.
Generally speaking, a 3 MOA dot is a more common choice for rifles, while pistols and shotguns can benefit more from the larger dot diameter of a 6 MOA sight. And if you are using accessories like a magnifier to increase the size of the reticle, you may find that a smaller dot is probably a better choice.
What MOA Is Best For A Pistol?
If you are specifically looking at a dot sight for a pistol, there's definitely a case to be made for the 6 MOA dot. Unless you're doing a very specific type of competition or target shooting, you will most likely be engaging any targets at a close distance - whether it's plinking, training, or using it for personal defense.
In those scenarios, many people are looking for speed - you don't need a small dot to hit that sweet spot at 10 yards, and 6 MOA is plenty accurate even out to 50 yards.
That being said, what works for one person doesn't work for another - some shooters like their sight picture to be as clear as possible, in which case dot size is a factor, and a larger dot may be more of an obstruction than the shooter wants.
Personally, I prefer a 6 MOA dot on my pistols, but that's because I mount my sights with home defense and 3-gun use in mind. I rarely need to hit anything farther than 25 yards out with a handgun, so that's the setup that works for me.
Recommended Red Dot Sights
So now that you've got an idea of where you stand in the 3 MOA vs 6 MOA dot size debate, which model of sight should you actually buy? Here's a few red dots that I'm partial to, with an emphasis on handgun options:
When it comes to picking the best sights for your weapon, different guns have different needs - and the same goes for shooters.
If you want to nail bullseyes at a distance, a smaller reticle will let you hit your target more consistently.
If you're looking for a defensive tool, want to get into 3-gun, or just like plinking at targets and aren't too concerned about squeezing the most accurate shots possible out of your handgun, then mount a 6 MOA dot and hit the range!
We hope this article helped you find out which sights are the best choice for you. If you still have questions about the topic, or if there's something we forgot to mention, sound off in the comments and let us know what you think! We love hearing from readers, and your feedback helps us choose what to write about next.
If you're looking for some more recommended reading on the subject of dot sights, check out our hands-on reviews in our most recent list of the best reflex sights!