FORT McCOY, Wis. (AP) _ Army reservists are shooting at targets placed in snowbanks and practicing maneuvers in freezing temperatures as they train for a war that would be fought on hot desert sands.

Commanders at this turn-of-the-century fort, where winter temperatures of 20 below are not uncommon, say it doesn't matter where the training takes place.

''What I have been told is that driving on snow is somewhat similar to driving on sand,'' Fort McCoy spokeswoman Mary Binder said. ''Our soldiers are trained to go to any environment.''

On Monday, soldiers bundled in heavy camouflage jackets trudged through ankle-deep snow, fumbling to get their gas masks on during a simulated chemical attack.

''I hope you don't have problems getting that gas mask on 3/8 Hussein won't be patient 3/8'' Sgt. 1st Class David Vesper barked.

Heavy snow storms have twice forced the cancellation of exercises, and soldiers spent two straight weeks in subzero temperatures during a December cold spell.

Fort commanders said the soldiers are adequately equipped and noted that many are natives of the Upper Midwest and are used to the cold.

Some of the soldiers acknowledge the irony of training for a desert war in conditions more like the Arctic.

''It is a rather well talked about subject,'' said Sgt. Willard Hoewisch. ''When your troops get sick and cold, it gets to be a pretty big issue.''

Col. Raymond Boland told the reservists that conditions at a training site often don't match those of a war front. He said soldiers in Vietnam didn't have jungle training before they were deployed.

Fort McCoy, 35 miles east of the Mississippi River, sprawls over 60,000 acres of forest. With the capacity to train 40,000 soldiers a day, it is the nation's largest military mobilization site.

Opened in 1909, it has been largely inactive in recent years, usually maintaining a peacetime staff of about 2,000. In 1980 its coal-heated barracks housed several hundred refugees of Cuba's Mariel boatlift.

It sprang back to life after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August, and Congress recently agreed to spend $26 million to renovate it.

So far, about 5,000 Army reservists and National Guardsmen from nine Upper Midwest states have trained at the fort before shipping out to the Persian Gulf. With 3,000 troops in training, the fort is responsible for preparing about 8 percent of the 115,000 reservists being called to action because of the crisis.